David Lee Roth Says He Was ‘Butchered’ Over Van Halen Earnings
David Lee Roth said he’d been forced to watch his Van Halen earnings “walk off into another man’s pocket,” and that his financial situation had been resolved only in the past 18 months.
In a rare interview, the singer told Vogue he’d been “butchered” during the band’s classic era, but that he was bouncing back with a new venture called Laugh to Win, financed from Van Halen’s most recent activities, which appear to have fizzled out in 2015.
In a wide-ranging new interview, Roth recalled that he’d been a qualified EMT in New York City around 12 years ago. “My badge number was 327466,” he said. “So, yeah: You’re better off if I’m in the room. It’s part of my family: Be of value; have a job. If trouble strikes, what good are you? Things like this kind of inform and give the day shape. At family reunions in the Roth family, we usually go around in a circle, and everybody picks a word. My word is always the same: contribution. What can you bring to the greater good?”
Roth said that attitude was behind Laugh to Win, which is involved in cutting-edge tattoo-care products and outdoor activity equipment, among other potential avenues. “It’s about go anywhere," he noted. "It’s about communication. My idea for a line of outdoor gear started eight or nine years ago, and at the moment, we’re working on some 60 products. I’m not going after just the tattoo world – we’re going after Procter & Gamble. I took most of what I made off the last couple of Van Halen tours – I didn’t actually touch the check; I just watched it walk by – and that’s how I financed this.”
Reflecting on a lifetime of seeking out educational opportunities -- including kayaking, ancient Japanese strategy games and more -- he refuted the suggestion that he was just having fun. “It’s challenge. It’s chasing. It’s trying out,” he said. “Most of the things I’ve done, ounce for ounce, weren’t fun at the moment. They’re really fun in the retelling, and let’s face it, we do things sometimes just for the story. Fuck it – I’m going for the summit. I gotta have the story. As guys, we rarely admit that. So when we talk about ‘fun’ – fun’s for kids.”
Roth added that "up until 18 months ago, I was making pennies in royalty on a $20 Van Halen record.” Asked to elaborate, he replied, “It means I got butchered 40 years ago. I made over a billion dollars for Warner Bros. I watched my whole fortune walk off into another man’s pocket.”
He suggested Laugh To Win was his antidote to those negative experiences. “However far we get with [this], I did it as a free man," he said. "I spent my own money. I built the team. This is my shot. This is the second half of the Super Bowl. And whatever happens? I’m a free motherfucker!”
The Best Song on Every Van Halen Album
See Rock’s Epic Fails: Van Halen Edition