David Lee Roth approach to lyric writing for Van Halen is that they matter — but they don’t matter. In fact, he’s not even sure you have to know English for them to make sense.
“Bob Dylan fans will probably tell you that No. 1 on their list is the lyrics,” Roth says on this Opie and Anthony clip. “No. 2 is the melody, or whatever. With material like Van Halen, you don’t have to speak English as a first language at all. It’s probably even better. Like Stravinsky said, my music is best understood by animals and small children. You don’t have to speak English.”
That’s not to say that he’s passing off throw-away sentences. In fact, Roth says he keeps copious notes in the time between albums, writing down ideas and phrases for later use.
Put them together, he says, with the band’s family-driven groove, and something magic happens — whatever your native tongue.
“We can’t fool you with it,” Roth says, with a zen-like attitude. “It’s authentic in its confidence. It’s authentic in its sense of humor. It’s authentic in its sense of confrontation. You can sense that you’re not fooled by the language. There are very real stories there, and there’s a lot of questions that are presented.”
He mentions, specifically, the song “Tattoo” from the 2012 reunion disc A Different Kind of Truth: “On the surface, it’s another song about girls, cars and partying,” Roth adds. “But it asks a whole lot of questions — like: ‘Why does the crazy shit we would never say become poetry in ink?’”