Wolfgang Van Halen Explains Why He’s Against Using Backing Tracks Live, Shares Opinion on Meshuggah

Over the past few years or so, the phenomenon of bands and artists using backing tracks for live shows has either been getting more common or is just getting more attention. And it’s a pretty divisive topic with the rock-focused world weighing in more in favor of avoiding them altogether. In his recent interview with Ola Englund on the Coffee With Ola segment, Wolfgang Van Halen also weighed in on the issue. Eddie Van Halen’s son and the leader of Mammoth WVH commented (transcript via Blabbermouth):

“Hell, half the people live, it’s tracks nowadays, which is such a huge… It’s just a fucking bummer, man.

“Look, I think everybody else draws their own line with what tracks are acceptable or not, but it’s, like, if you’re pumping in the main guitar riff and the lead vocals and actual fucking drums — like, pre-recorded drums — that’s a problem. You should be able to play your shit.

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“I can understand [if] you don’t have a keyboard player, so [you] need the pad. That’s fine. You can’t carry around a 60-piece orchestra, so you’ve got the strings. That’s fine. But lead vocal, main guitar, main bass, and the drums — you should be playing that. [Laughs]”

Going more into this matter, Ola Englund also asked Wolfgang whether he saw any connection between the modern trend of overproduction of music and the necessity to use backing tracks live, whether one led to the other. Wolfgang then replied:

“I never do anything in the studio that I can’t do live. Sure, there are tricks that you can do to do stuff that you wouldn’t normally be able to do, but why would you wanna do that? ‘Cause it’s about creating music that you’re capable of doing and that you can do live.

And to further prove his point, Wolfgang gave two examples of metal bands today — Meshuggah and Tool. He continued:

“I go to a concert to see bands play the fuck out of their music. Like Meshuggah — that was my favorite concert I’ll ever see. Because they just kill it. They just stand there and they just play the fuck out of their music.”

“I don’t go to a concert to see a guy going around and be, like, ‘How are you feeling tonight?’ That’s not my shit. Like Tool — they stand there and they destroy. That’s what I love about music. And that’s what we try to do with Mammoth, is that first and foremost, we are playing everything and we’re doing it to the best of our ability.”

Meshuggah - Live at Summer Breeze Open Air in Germany 2019

Some of the old-school rock musicians have been accused of using backing tracks live, outright miming their shows. The two biggest names to be accused of this are Mötley Crüe and Kiss.

However, for vocalist Michael Starr of Steel Panther, using backing tracks is perfectly fine. In fact, the whole band is pretty transparent about it and, in a recent interview, Starr even admitted that he sometimes even openly mimics some brief vocal parts live. He explained:

“We tried to make the tracks subtle. So you hear them almost subliminally. You expect them to be there anyways. So if you hear just a little taste of the rhythm guitar and a little taste like…

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“Some of the choruses are doubled and I’ll sing over them so it gives that double effect. And then some, there’s just blatant cheaters in there where I just lip-sync to. I’m not ashamed of that, man!

“But all joking aside, it just enhances the whole live experience. And we truly thought about, ‘Okay, let’s bring a keyboard player out.’ That way, they can hit one note during a chorus and play the shaker and do all that.

“And then we thought, ‘Well, that’s just going to take out of our bottom line.’ So we just hired a multitrack and just put that on there. It was way cheaper. No per diems.”

The biggest fuel to this fire was probably when drummer Carmine Appice, who is a close friend of guitarist Mick Mars who is now in a legal battle with his band Mötley Crüe, said this in an interview with Ultimate Guitar:

“Well, I tell you what I’ve been talking to Mick, and he told me, ‘When I was on the Stadium Tour, I was not happy.’ Basically, everything was on tape; it was all planned out and ultimately a lot of crap.

“And Mick is a pretty good player, and so, to now let him loose and play the way he wants, that was never going to work for him. The truth is that everything has been weird for a while with Mötley Crüe, and Mick didn’t like that everything was on tape. Mick told me that people that came to see it could tell that it was all pre-recorded and that everything was on tape.

Motley Crue - Mick Mars's IEM (In Ear Monitor) - Girls, Primal Scream and Kickstart My Heart 2022

“When you play in a stadium like that, you can hear a lot of things come to the monitors or what doesn’t. And with Vince’s vocals, bass, drums, guitars, and all the other stuff, it was obvious that it was all on tape.

“And Mick was pissed off and said, ‘I can play these things. I want to play them. I don’t want to make believe I’m playing them.’ So, I think that’s one of the reasons why he said, ‘I’m done.’ Sure, the disease that he has doesn’t help, and it doesn’t make life easy on tour, but Mick can play all the licks, and he was allowed to.

Photo: Thomson200 (2021 Shaky Knees – Mammoth WVH (1) Wolfgang Van Halen)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.