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Sammy Hagar on How the Pandemic Inspired His New LP, Why He’s Down on Both Trump and Biden

Nashville producer Dave Cobb is best known for his work with country icons like Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, and Jason Isbell. But when he was a kid in the Eighties, he listened mostly to hard rock bands like Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Van Halen. He was 11 when Sammy Hagar took over as lead singer of Van Halen, and their early albums together left a huge impression on him.

“I remember playing drums along to ‘Dreams’ and just freaking out,” Cobb tells Rolling Stone. “I watched [their 1986 concert film] Live Without a Net every day after school. They really informed what I thought about music. And not just rock & roll, but music in general. Sammy has always been a centerpiece to me. I’ve always just loved his raspy voice.”

Cobb finally got to team up with his hero this year when he produced Sammy Hagar and the Circle’s new LP Crazy Times, which arrives Sept. 30. The songs touch on everything from corporate greed to the wisdom of old age, but the pandemic is the common thread that ties it all together. “It’s a concept record,” Hagar tells Rolling Stone. “It’s about how I feel about everything that has gone on since the pandemic started.”

The roots of Crazy Times go back about seven years when Hagar reached out to Cobb about the possibility of making an acoustic Americana record. “I’ll write songs about things around America and farmers and things,” Hagar told him. “Kind of like a John Mellencamp record.”

“Nah,” Cobb said. “I’ve made plenty of those. I want to make the definitive Sammy Hagar record. I grew up on your music, and I want to capture what I love about it.”

Hagar put the idea into the back of his mind until the pandemic hit and he suddenly found himself at home without a lot to do. As the months ticked by, Hagar began scribbling down lyrics about the state of the world, and writing melodies to go along with them. “I started sending them to Dave,” says Hagar. “I’d say, ‘What do you think of these songs?’ He said, ‘Fuckin’ love them. Let’s make a record.’”

Cobb wanted the record to draw inspiration from all eras of Hagar’s career, with a special emphasis on his time in Van Halen. The presence of Van Halen/Circle bassist Michael Anthony made that pretty easy. “The first thing I told Michael when we got to the studio was that I wanted him to do that classic Van Halen harmony,” says Cobb. “He was such huge part of their sound, and we really tried to get those classic Van Halen vocal sounds. He’s just such an incredible singer, and the way he stacks harmonies is amazing to watch.”

They cut the record last October in Nashville over the course of just one week. It was an old school operation where the band played live and cut directly to analog tape. Very early on, Cobb essentially joined the Circle — rounded out by lead guitarist Vic Johnson and drummer Jason Bonham — as a rhythm guitarist. “To be honest with you, I am scared to death to pick up a guitar around Vic or Michael Anthony or any of those guys,” Cobb says. “But I was showing them on the guitar, ‘Maybe we can try this?’ And they were like, ‘Keep the guitar on.’ And so then I just kept playing with them. It was a total dream.”

A big focus for Cobb was making sure Hagar was singing at the absolute peak of his abilities. At one point, he told him to pretend he was 23 years old again before stepping up to the mic. “I was going, ‘Dude, you’re 50 years off,’” says Hagar. “But he was determined and he just kept saying, ‘Sing it again.’ He really got something great out of me.”

Most of the songs were written after the pandemic, but “Father Time” goes back to 2017 when Hagar turned 70. “Father time is over there,” he sings. “Looking over my shoulder/I’m here soaking up the sun and thinking I ain’t gettin’ no younger.”

He wrote the tune in Hawaii one afternoon in a reflective mood while his wife was out shopping. “I turned on my cell phone and it just recorded itself,” he says. “I had all the lyrics and I only stopped once or twice. I listened to it a couple days later, and it broke me down. I went, ‘Man, this is fuckin’ good.’”

The other songs took slightly more work, and most of them reflect his frustrations with post-pandemic America. They include “Slow Drain” (“You’re sitting on top of the world/Just counting your money/With all that shit going down below”), “Feed Your Head” (“You better feed your head/Your head is dead”), and “Crazy Times” (“We’ve got so jaded fat and faded/In these crazy times.”)

Who exactly does Hagar feel grew jaded, fat, and faded? “I think everyone who just accepted what happened,” he says. “And everyone gained weight during the pandemic including myself. I was talking a little bit about myself, but I say ‘jaded and faded’ since a lot of people gave up. Look how many people haven’t gone back to work yet. They don’t want to because they got used to the frickin’ free handout. That bothers me.”

The cover of the album shows a man engulfed in flames riding a bicycle through Times Square. To Hagar, it symbolizes America’s response to the pandemic. “Everyone is watching the guy on the bike instead of the fucked-up shit happening in the streets,” Hagar says. “We always gravitate toward the big distraction, but fuckin’ Covid was the big distraction. We all took our eye off the ball. The government just seemed to get away with murder. All of a sudden, everyone turned back into sheep because they were so afraid. And I just think we lost our freedoms during that time. The government started pushing us around telling us what you gotta do. ‘You gotta get shots, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. You can’t go here. You can’t go there. You gotta wear masks.’ Maybe all that was necessary, and I did get the vaccine, but I know more people that got Covid this year than last year, including myself.”

Rhetoric like this makes it seem like Hagar’s politics have shifted towards the right, but he says that is simply untrue. “I do not get involved in politics,” he says. “When the right is right, I’m on that side. When the left is right, I’m on that side. The one thing I don’t like is fuckin’ evil, greedy criminals that fuck this country over and fuck the land over. We have to take care of the air we breathe and the water we drink. That’s who I vote for.”

That person will not be Donald Trump. “He’s an asshole,” Hagar says. “I don’t like the fact that he was down on Mexicans because I think the Mexican people are some of the greatest people on the planet. I live in Mexico. And those are God-loving, family-oriented, hard-working people. Without them, we can’t do shit in America…I liked that Trump wanted to clean up politics, but I’m not sure what his motives were. He’s just so arrogant.”

He’s not a big fan of Joe Biden either. “I don’t think he’s done very well,” he says. “I think we need a younger, stronger mind. Biden does know politics because he’s been in there so long, and he’s got a lot of people around him, but I don’t like this administration. I didn’t like the last one either though.”

Right now, Hagar is focused much more on Crazy Times and his ongoing tour with the Circle than anything related to politics. He has dates booked through the end of the year, but his plans in 2023 and beyond are murky even to him. “I’m not taking one obligation for next year until I decide what I want to do and I see how this album does,” he says. “It’s very hard at my age to go out and be as great as I’ve always been. That’s important to me. I don’t ever want to be that guy where they go, ‘Yeah, he was a lot better last time.’ They’ll never say that about me. I’ll quit before that happens.”

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