As we made our way into Rochester, New York for our interview with Vanilla Ice, we began reminiscing about his heyday in the early ’90’s when he was truly the king of pop. Although his days on top were numbered, it was strange to think about how this one individual who sold over thirteen million albums world-wide and was at one time playing arenas was now starting all over again, playing small clubs throughout the country.
As we walked alongside the bus, a member of his band exited and said hello. We struck up a conversation and asked for Vanilla Ice’s tour manager.
We waited as the guy came off the bus again and told us to hold on, he’d be right with us.
Our anticipation was growing, but before his manager came off the bus, out stepped Vanilla Ice. He sported a pair of navy blue Adidas, jeans, gray T-shirt from an unknown tattoo parlor, and ball cap. Around his right arm was a piece of cellophane taped to his bicep and forearm. It was covering a fresh, new tattoo that he just received that afternoon. The tattoo around his elbow was still quite red and a bit bloody.
He approached us and shook our hands. At this point he was not even aware that we were journalists, yet he approached us anyway. He was quite nice and once we told him that we were there for an interview, he graciously led us to a room in the back of the club.
Once we sat down and let the tape roll, we found ourselves thoroughly enthralled and enjoying his company. What we have for you is a transcription of an unedited half-hour of music history.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been going awesome, man. Shows have been sold out. It’s overwhelming, you know. I had no idea what to expect with this new sound and everything and just to see so many people just come out and embrace it, it’s overwhelming.
How does the audience react? Do you interact with them at all?
Oh yeah. I don’t have that rock star mentality where you clear a path to the bus and do stupid shit like that. I go right through them at the end of the show, go right back to the T-shirt booth and sign some autographs and shake some hands and interact with people and see where I really stand with them. That way I get a better picture of where I’m at.
How did you make the transition to your current style of music?
Personal changes in my life. I’ve just been through a lot of shit. And a lot of the stuff that I am writing about now seems like it is all of the fucked up shit that really kind of stains your brain and tattoos there where you kind of remember it, more than you remember the great stuff. But I use the music to vent, and a lot of the stuff that I am writing about or was writing about contained a lot of anger and anxiety, stress and depression, so that’s how the album came out so dark. We had no idea how dark it was going to come out, but to match the intensity that I wanted to deliver, there was just no way that it was going to get done with a drum machine or another sample. So it had to have the band to match the intensity I wanted to deliver.
When you were working with producer Ross Robinson, how difficult was it to get into the groove?
At first I thought it was going to be hard and it’s just amazing how fast that it happened. The album was started and completed in a month and a half. And Ross is so super talented, it’s unbelievable. I just can’t say enough nice things about the guy; he’s just awesome. We did the album up at Indigo Ranch where Korn and Limp Bizkit did their records and everything. It’s on the top of this mountain, and we like camped out there for a month and a half and really got to know each other. We had caterers and everything and really didn’t go down the mountain too much and really got to know each other. And Ross had a way of capturing this really emotional moment on tape and it was really rare. And that shows his talent. I mean, we like sat around a camp fire and smoked a joint and really got to know each other and let out all of the shit that is inside of you that you really wouldn’t let out to someone that you really don’t know. So I felt real comfortable around Ross, and I was able to open up.
How was the whole songwriting process different this time around?
[It was] a lot different because of the shit that I’ve been through. The stuff that I am tapping into now contains that anger, that anxiety, but it also contains a lot of shit that it fucked up in my life with my family and stuff. I’ve got a song called “Scars” on my record that was very unpleasurable writing about it and actually tears came to my eyes at certain moments because I had to relive those moments. I really kind of had them trapped up in me and I never really talked about them to people or anything but I used the music kind of as therapy, and it’s just amazing that I feel so free after doing that. I feel like I had it trapped inside of me and now I feel free. So it’s been a very good therapy session for me as well.
Did you have any musical influences for your new album?
Not at all. This was totally influenced by me and the direction that I am writing about and the stuff that I am writing about. There is just no way that you can be as intense as what I have been through in my life over a drum beat machine, sample, or loop; it’s just not going to happen. And Ross had a way of feeling me out emotionally and matching that with the energy that I was delivering with the band. That’s how it came together and why we had no idea it was going to come out so dark. It just did. And I just kept it real and had the freedom to do what I want. It’s not designed for any age group. It’s not made for radio. There are no edits. The whole album contains explicit lyrics but that’s because you need it. And with radio limitations as far as length of songs and content, sometimes if you are being conscious of that then that effects the outcome of a song. And nobody knew the direction of the album until the very end. It was really amazing because we had no idea what we were going to come up with. We said, ‘Whatever we come up with, we come up with.’
Do you find a lot of your fans from the past coming out to your shows to support the new sound?
Some, because they did listen to Vanilla Ice back in the days, but they probably listen to Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam now and they can appreciate what I am doing now more than if I came out with another pop album. But then there is that other crowd that might snarl at what I am doing now and go, ‘I don’t like that shit,’ and wish that I would come out with another hip hop album. But you can’t please everybody, and basically I just decided to please myself first on this record. This record is more like my diary and I am expressing myself through my music. And that’s what it should be about. That’s why I didn’t change my name or anything. It’s not about the name; it’s about the music. The old saying goes that video killed the radio star and it’s very true. And now I’m just letting everything revolve around the music. There is no image; I am just being myself. People are going to label and say that I am trying to be different, but what I am really doing is being myself and everything before this wasn’t me, so it’s dramatically different. I was playing a record company whore back in the days, a puppet. Everything was staged. I wasn’t really designed to be this novelty act; I was turned into one. When I first came out, I was opening for Ice-T, EPMD, and Public Enemy. All of my audience was black. I had two record deals, one with Def Jam Records for thirty grand, and that would have been more credible if I could have seen the outcome of everything. And I had a million-five offer to turn my hip-hop record into pop. So I took the million-five to go with SBK and it crossed over onto the pop market and all of a sudden I ended up this novelty act, so I decided to just ride it out because we were selling so many records, charts, everything. The Grammies, the fucking music awards and everything else. And I was just thinking that it was all about the money. And it wasn’t until ’94 when I tried to commit suicide that I realized that it wasn’t about the money.
Because I had millions of dollars, all of the material things that anybody could want, but I just couldn’t find happiness. And I would have gave it all back, if I could go back in time and sign that thirty thousand dollar contract with Def Jam, just to have my credibility and to not be the butt end of a lot of jokes. But it happened and it was too late to turn it around. So I had to ride it out and roll with the punches and now I really feel like I’ve been given a second chance and to see so many people coming out to embrace my new sound is a blessing. And a lot of people, after seeing the VH1 special, feel like they get to know me personally because my whole life has been a big misconception about me personally. And everybody tries to listen to my music and tries to judge me upon that because I tap into a lot of fucked up instances in my life. And I do a lot of boasting on my records and they think that I am an asshole with a stuck up attitude. And everybody that I meet says, ‘You’re nothing like I thought. You’re pretty cool,’ and I’m like, ‘Thanks,’ and I don’t know if it’s like a compliment or what, but I just kind of ride it out. But it’s pretty cool that they can see what I am about.
Did you personally get to see the VH1 Behind the Music special?
Yes. I saw it when it first aired. It was emotional for me and I didn’t know what to expect, so I try to look at what the response from everybody else has been. And it has been great. People are saying, ‘I wasn’t a fan before, but I am a fan now because of all the shit that you have been through.’ Honestly, a lot of people thought that I was on top of the world selling so many millions of records, and that this is the life that everybody would want, but I never got to enjoy any of my success. Since the day that it has happened, it has been a nightmare and a rough road, and I wouldn’t wish my life upon anybody. And just right now, to be honest with you, I am just starting to enjoy it.
Do you think that a lot of people would make the same decision you made if they were in your shoes?
Anybody in my shoes would have done the same thing back in the days because at that point when I was signing, not only did I think it was all about the money, but there was no way that I could see selling fifteen million records or being turned into a novelty act. And the deal at the time was like winning the lottery because I was three payments behind on my 5.0 and I couldn’t even pay my share of the rent.
I noticed that you were friends with Hammer. Do you still talk to him?
I have talked to him and it was really funny because there was like a big controversy thing between the two of us and he came to me first because we were friends and said, ‘What the fuck is this? You saying shit about me?’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, I didn’t write that shit. What are you talking about?’ Then I came to him on an article that I read and said, ‘What are you saying about me, motherfucker?’ He goes, ‘I never said that,’ and at that point we realized we were on the same record label and they were just stirring shit up and fabricating stories and shit to stir controversy to sell millions of records. And it worked.
How was it that you managed to hold on to your earnings while Hammer went bankrupt?
Fortunately, that was a good thing that happened to me; I didn’t end up going bankrupt like him. I made some great investments and I held on to my money, which also enables me to have the freedom to do what I want now. But it’s not about finances. No matter what, it’s about keeping it real. And it’s amazing because this record deal, when I was first offered it, I turned it down. I said, ‘No thanks’. So then they called me a week later and doubled the money on me. I said, ‘It’s not about the money,’ and they realized that they weren’t going to be able to influence me with the money anymore. So they said, ‘What do we have to do to have you do this record?’ I said, ‘Number one, you have to believe in me, and number two, you have to give me the freedom to do whatever I want to do and listen to my direction, not yours. And don’t make a decision without asking me.’ Which is rare. ‘And now, I want to go to the meetings, and want to know everything that’s going on because I am not your puppet anymore.’
Does it make it more difficult to handle knowing that it was the marketing by your previous label SBK that put you through what you went through rather than something you did?
I take the blame though. I took the money and sold out. I take the blame. Even though I didn’t know where it was going and anybody probably would have done the same thing, I still take the blame. I’m not blaming anybody else. It was my decision to take that and I should have gone with Def Jam, but I was young and dumb and it was impossible to see what the outcome was to be.
And it just happened so fast. That must have added to it.
Yes. And the books and everything that you have read on me to this point right now is all fabricated. I never wrote a book. There was a book titled “Ice by Ice”, and it says authorized. They paid me a million dollars just to have that authorized signature on it because there were five other books that said unauthorized. All of it is fabricated. I never wrote a book.
Ever thought about it?
Yeah, I’ve thought about it, but that was basically my book the other day on VH1. I have a lot more details that I could put in to make for a really interesting book. Maybe in the future.
Do you think they left anything out of the VH1 special?
Yes, they did. Lots of things. Which opens the door for a book I guess. (laughing) To be honest with you, I was promised that before the special gets aired that I would have the opportunity to view it and if I wanted to make any changes or there were any inaccurate things, I could. But there were a lot of inaccurate things in there. But it was like minor shit like dates, dates that things happened. They really didn’t happen on that date, but they happened. But just minor shit. They were pressed for time. They supposedly sent a video to me and it never got to me. I turned them down like twenty times for the special. I said that I didn’t want to do it and bring up anything from the past. I said, ‘I’m trying to get over that hurdle.’ Fuck all that. Then they offered me money, and I said, ‘It’s not about money.’ People try to influence you with money in the record industry and it works a lot. It just doesn’t work with people like me or David Bowie, the Stones, or groups that saved their money.
We saw Lenny Kravitz on the special. Does he give you any advice?
No. Actually, I’m the one that gives him advice. I’ve been in the business a lot longer than him, believe it or not. He asks me for advice and financial advice. I’m like his financial advisor. He’s blown a lot of money and I’m showing him how to save it now and he’s very grateful. He’s like my brother; he’s my kid’s godfather so he’s very close and personal.
Any plans to work with him?
We were going to do some things together on this album, but he had some problems with his ex-wife. But the next record definitely.
Lastly, what are your goals with the album and the tour?
My goals have already been reached, my brother. Just to have an audience that appreciates what I am doing is great and I am going to basically cater to them. I’m very grateful to my fans and I need to make my next record because I need more therapy. (laughs) I just want to keep it at the level it’s at. I don’t judge the success of a record by how many copies you sell, but a lot of people do, and that’s wrong. By doing that you would have to say that an N’SYNC album is better than a Pearl Jam album and you can never convince me of that. It’s not about the record sales. It’s about creating a fan base that appreciates what you do this year, next year, the next year, and the next year; not creating a radio hit that they hear and want to come out and see you once and they’re off to see the next hit. It’s about really relating and getting to know your fans and letting them embrace you to where they are going to be around and feel a part of it. In other words, relating to them through the music.
+ charles craine & sam conjerti