The Well Rounded Interview
Perhaps no performer in the last ten years has been through what Vanilla Ice has. He sold 15 million copies of his 1990 debut album, To The Extreme, and two years later, you'd have been hard pressed to find one person who admitted to buying it. After being ostracized from the music community, he descended into the predictable spiral of self-destruction, but now, eight years later, a phoenix--or perhaps it's more of a pigeon--rises from the ashes. In the midst of a tour promoting his new, rap-metal album, Hard To Swallow, the former Robbie Van Winkle spoke--at great length--about his rocky past, his unlikely resurrection, and why he would never buy a Vanilla Ice record.
What's going on?
Just doing the tour bus thing from Miami to Jacksonville now.
How is touring different now than in the olden days?
(Laughs) Completely different. It's a whole new audience, a whole new crowd. It's a body piercing, tattooed crowd now. It's dramatically different.
How did you expect people to react to your return and the change in styles?
I didn't know what to expect and its really overwhelming to me what's going on. It's a lot of people showing up to embrace it, and it's really great. Because I'm starting all over again, and I'm starting all over again with a stigma attached to me, so it's a rougher road. I didn't know what to expect really.
Especially at the beginning, were there a lot of people coming out, expecting to hear the old Vanilla Ice?
Well, at the beginning, yeah, because they didn't know about the new record but now everybody knows about it, and I can see a change
in the crowd and everything. It's really cool what's going on. Nine, ten months ago I was out performing my last album, Mind Blowin' and those shows were doing really well as well. We were playing the old-school stuff and the crowd was still changing on me. It was more a body-piercing, tattooed-type crowd, doin' a mosh pit even if it's my hip-hop, cause y'know, the Mind Blowin' record is a lot higher energy than To The Extreme. So that tour did really well, as well. It's amazing because, like I said, it's a whole new thing.
"If I was me, being me right now, would I go buy a Vanilla Ice record? Fuck no, I would not. And if I did I wouldn't even admit it to my friends. That's how cheesy it got."
Do you think people in general are rooting for you to succeed or fail?
Oh, we get both of them. We get all of `em. Once you mention the world Vanilla Ice, first of all, without lending the new record an ear, you don't want to give it a chance, it's just like something that's stained in your brain that haunts you from it or something. Because -- I'll try to take you through this as briefly as I can but it's a long story.
Back in the late 80s when I made To The Extreme, I made that for an all black crowd. It was all hip-hop. I was the opening act of Ice-T and Stetsosonic and EPMD and Mix-A-Lot, did the Stop the Violence Tour, so my whole crowd was always black, and that's what I made the record for, that's what I did "Ice Ice Baby" for. The stuff I was talking about, everything is real in there, y'know.
And then I signed with SBK in 1990 and I basically let the record company, they took over. I went in there and they said, "Well we're going to take your hip-hop record and cross it over to the pop market." And I was like, "Well, I really don't want to do that. I don't even listen to pop music and I ain't about that." And I actually saw checks for like $1.5 million to make me change my mind. So I did, I sold out, I'm a sell-out. I took the money and let it influence the direction that I was heading and it was very successful. We sold millions and millions of records and I was just kind of going along with it and playing this puppet role.
Any time there was something I didn't want to do they would just manipulate me with money. It was like Jerry Maguire. I was just like "Show me the money." So I sold myself out and I had a huge price to pay for it which was getting thrown into this novelty-type category, which I never intended on being. I didn't start out like some `N Sync or some Backstreet Boys or some bullshit like that. I was playing at all black clubs and raw. Fat gold rope chain, y'know, like little breakdancer. I grew up listening to like, "Egyptian Lover" and shit, and to be crossed-over and put into this position that I was in, was like really weird. And I was just going along with it because it was selling so many fucking records, and I was getting paid so much money.
I was just this puppet, this total puppet. I think anybody in my shoes would have done the same thing but it built a huge hurdle for me to ever get back over musically, to people accepting, serious, that this wasn't--like any novelty act, that they are here today, gone tomorrow. And what's cool about this new thing was that, one of the plusses about that is that it made me financially set for life, and I've made great investments. I'm set right now, which enables me to do what I want on this next record. So this is what I'm doing.
I'm bored with the drum machines, I've been doing that for over 10 years and this is just a new musical adventure for me, and what I have to say and the subjects that I'm tapping into in my life, on this record, contain a lot of anger and anxiety. There's the reason why this record came out so dark and plus it's very intense and there's no way I was going to be able to match the intensity that I wanted to deliver with a drum machine so I had to have the band to match the intensity that I wanted to deliver.
About three years ago I started working with this band in Miami--I've got this studio in Miami--and I started working with this band called Pickin' Scabs. It's like a grunge band. Really good band but being from Miami, they don't have much hip-hop influence. They didn't know how to play this sound that I was looking for. So I told Monty [Lipman] over at the record label and he says, "Have you ever heard of Ross Robinson?" And I was like, "No." And he goes, "Well this guy produced Korn and Limp Bizkit and Sepultura and the Deftones." And I was like, "Wow!" And he says, "The guy is interested in doing an album with you." And I was like "Really!" Y'know, what have I got to lose? I'm like "Yeah!"
So Ross flies down and he walks in and sees my motorcross trophy and he's a motorcross racer himself. We were like totally clicking right off the bat. We had something in common. He was like, "Yeah, man. I would really love to do your record." I was like, "Really, this is incredible." I flew to LA right away and within a month and a half we had the album finished, completed. It was so incredible, and Ross was so incredible. It's unbelievable how this whole thing just came about. I really believe that it was an action of God. God pushing my wave and riding it. And Ross is one of those people and Monty is one of those people that God put in front of me and I'm being blessed right now.
A skeptic might look at your last two albums and say, "Well, in 1994 he was try to cash in on the popularity of all the blunt-smokin' rappers, like Cypress Hill and Snoop, and now he's just trying to capitalize on the popularity of Korn and Limp Bizkit and stuff like that."
Yeah, I've read that stuff already. I know people are going to say whatever they want and I'm an open door for people to say stuff like that. To be honest with you, I expect it. And I deal with it. I don't focus on the haters out there. There's plenty of hate in this world. I don't focus on that. I don't even really pay any attention to it. What I do is I cater to the ones who appreciate what I'm doing and it just so happens that there's a shitload of them out there. It's great. I'm way beyond that. I'm married now, I have a daughter now. My life revolves around what I do at home--who I wake up and have breakfast, lunch and dinner with and who I'm going to be with for the rest of my life. Basically everything else out in the world is just entertainment and I'm just an entertainer doing my own thing. It's just music...
But would you say what you're doing now is more like the real you, as opposed to the stuff you were doing....
Well, it's totally me. And the thing with `94, I was just basically upset with what had happened. Because the first record almost killed me. From `91 to `94 I was heavily on drugs. I was doing heroin and blow and ecstasy and everything on a daily basis and ended up trying to kill myself in `94 on purpose. Overdosed. My friends were dumping buckets of cold water on me and I was just convulsing. I had millions of dollars in the bank and had like a huge mansion and a Porsche in the garage and a boat in the back and I couldn't find any happiness. I was really depressed.
Anyway, I ended up living through the whole thing and woke up the next day and go, "Wow, I got a second chance here," and go, "Fuck, that was heavy last night." I completely
had to make a change from that point on and it was really hard cause I had to quit running with the crowd that I was running with, because they were all doing the drugs. So I had no friends, and I was very lonely and I had to quit the drugs at the same time. So it was very depressing. I had to turn to my shrink and he got me on some anti-depressants, so through that and some counseling, I've pulled out of that thing.
"I didn't start out like some `N Sync or some Backstreet Boys or some bullshit like that. I was playing at all black clubs."
I've been clean for four years with the exception of marijuana, and I've been blessed tremendously, not just musically, but personally as well, with my baby and my wife. And I'm a pretty happy person today, even though it doesn't sound like that if you listen to the record. (Laughs). Cause it's kind of dark, but I was just tapping into a lot of moments in my life that contained a lot of anger and anxiety and Ross had a way of capturing that raw, rare moment on tape.
When Ross and I got together, we had no intentions or no expectations of how this was going to turn out. We didn't have a clue. We were just like "Whatever we come up with is what we come with." And we're all very, very happy. And I don't judge the success from this record on how many records I sell. In fact, I think you can tell by listening to the record that I'm not trying to sell millions and millions of records like I did before. First of all there's only like 3 songs that you can even play on the radio, so I'm not trying to make any songs for radio. And I didn't make any edits so it could be played on radio. I made it like I fuckin' wanted to make it, and if they don't want to play it, that's their choice. I wouldn't take out a curse word, or y'know how radio won't play a song over 3 and half minutes? Well, I couldn't even tell you how long any of these songs are.
I made this record straight up, with nothing in mind but the way I want to do it. That's it. You can either accept it or not. That's basically it. I just wanted to express myself in a very intense way. And like I said, this is not about financial with me. I'm set for life. I did not even need to make another record. In fact, when I was offered this record deal I turned them down. I told them straight up, "Why? I'm not about to go through that shit again. The first one almost killed me." And Monty just kept pushing the issue. He said, "I promise you that we can do this your way," and you can have seniority over all your musical direction. And I'm like "Well that's what it's going to have to be." And I gave it some thought, and I was like "Alright." I told him how it was going to happen and they backed me up through this whole thing. I'm being completely blessed right now.
Having been through all that you had been through, the depression and the drugs and everything, and knowing that there was going to be a big hurdle to get over, why would you want to throw yourself back out into the fire again?
Well, I just let the music speak for itself. There is no image revolved around me right now. I don't have any glitter or anything about that. It's really about the music. If the music wasn't worth a shit, no one would give a fuck about me anyway. So I wanted to make the record as real as I possibly could and do it my way. I'm not trying to be like any Korn or anything like that. In fact, I didn't even listen to them or any of them--I knew who they were--before I made this record. It's just we have the same producer, and some of the guitars between that and Limp Bizkit are gonna sound similar. That's what happens when you've got the same guy producing them.
But can't you understand people being skeptical both now and back in `94?
But I'm not trying to cash in, as you said, or like critics are gonna say, and in `94 I wasn't either. Like I said, I started off in hip-hop, that's what I was trying to go back to in `94, and at that point that record didn't have much success because the hip-hop community had basically turned their back on me due to the fact that being a white guy in an all-black market and outselling every single one of them, they took it offensively.
So I found that all the ones that were embracing me when I first came out, in the late 80s, from Ice-T to Stetsasonic, all kind of turning on me. That's what happened. Plus my record company went bankrupt and out of business, so all that together was in the mix of that whole Mind Blowin' record. But I don't try to cash in or follow anybody, or do anything. I do what I want to do and that's it. And I pretty much did what I wanted to do on the Mind Blowin' record. Like I said, that was an underground hip-hop record and I just told you the whole story behind that. That's pretty much what caused that to fail.
So you were saying you hadn't really heard Korn or Limp Bizkit before this new album...
I never heard of Limp Bizkit until Monty told me who Ross was and he sent me a CD of all the stuff that Ross did. I had heard the Deftones more than any of them.
So, having not heard most of the stuff Ross had done, what was pushing you in the new direction on Hard to Swallow?
Just being bored with drum machines. Y'know, I have a studio. This is not a comeback to me. A comeback is something that when you leave it, you come back to it. I've never left the music. I've had the studio for a while and I've been performing down there with this band Pickin' Scabs, trying to come up with some unique sound. Like I said, they just didn't have the hip-hop influence that I needed to generate the sound. And who better to do it than the guy, Ross Robinson, and find out that he was interested. They contacted me. I was like amazed the way the whole thing just turned out. It's got to be an act of God. It's got to be.
Was there a certain point back around 92-93, where you realized the direction that everything was going in and you saw it falling apart?
Yeah. Yeah. Well, it all started to happen, right after it was starting. It all happened so fast and we sold so many millions of records, and it was just incredible. So, like I said, I was just going along with it, and then actually when it kind of peaked and things were falling down and the criticism started and all that, is when I kind of jumped out of my skin and looked back at myself and go, "That's pretty fucked up." And I can even say, "If I was me, being me right now, would I go buy a Vanilla Ice record?" Fuck no, I would not. And if I did I wouldn't even admit it to my friends. That's how cheesy it got. And I didn't realize it until I got there.
It was just taking the money and doing what they said to do. They had the clothes, and the fuckin' baggy pants and all the glitter shit already set up for me. All the direction was already done. And anything that I didn't agree with, they would pay me to change my mind. We were just selling so many millions, I just thought, I was just going along with it.
What started to turn things around for you, personally, after....
It was just the image, man. The image got played way out. At first, everybody bought the whole record and everything was because of the fact that people thought I was black, and it was into hip-hop. The hip-hop crowd was buying it first. Not any huge record sales. I had a small record deal on Ichiban Records, out of Atlanta actually. And that was my whole direction, that was what I was all about was just hip-hop. And then when we signed with SBK is when they wanted to release this stupid fuckin' slow song, cause MC Hammer had a slow song on the charts at that time, so I had to make that retarded song, "I Love You," and let's bring out this shit called, what is it, that Turtles movie shit. They were milking it. They milked the whole pie. They made these dolls and shit. None of this was with my consent. this was all done on their behalf. They had it all set up. They were just milking all the crowd. It was amazing. They had keychains and all kinds of dolls and stupid shit and cheezed it way out.
Can you look back on some of that shit and just laugh now?
Yeah, yeah. Totally. I'm there now. Like I said, I've been four years sober and I'm on this drug called Aderil to help me for my A.D.D. and it helps me focus, and I'm on some anti-depressants, so I'm really focussed now. And I do look back at it and laugh because everything now, the way I look at, it revolves around my family. This is who I live with and be with every day. Y'know, I don't see everybody else every day. I ride motorcross and that's my hobby, and I live and revolve around my family and everything else is just entertainment.
I know you had mentioned you wanted to turn over a new leaf...
When people bag on me or whatever--sorry to interrupt you...
So when people bag on me or whatever, I read articles or whatever and people jump on that "I want to dis Vanilla Ice" bandwagon, I do laugh at it now. I'm like, "Whatever." Because I know that I have a strong fan base out there that appreciates what I'm doing, and all the haters, they can keep hatin'. I don't really care because as long as there's a lot of lovers out there, that's who I'm going to cater to and appreciate.
I think I remember reading that you had jumped on stage with the Offspring on their new song, "Pretty Fly for a White Guy." Was that your way of showing people that you're able to laugh at that stuff now?
That wasn't the idea. I had talked with the guys beforehand because I couldn't understand if they were trying to dis me or whatever. And they assured me that it wasn't. No way. They even went on the radio and assured everybody that this is in no way a dis towards Vanilla Ice. In fact, the lead singer's wife was a huge fan of mine back in the day. And they love the new record and everything. Those guys are super-nice. So then I agreed that we were going to do this thing. And right after that part, where it says, "Went to buy Ice Cube, but didn't have it so he bought Vanilla Ice," that's where he stopped and they came in with "Ice, Ice Baby," and then I walked out.
It was at the Shrine and it went fuckin' nuts. It was off-the-hook. It was sick. And then at the end, it was killer, they were jammin' so hard, the lead singer threw his guitar straight up and broke the neck and shattered it in 3 pieces. It was so killer. I love that shit. Like my favorite shit out right now is like Slayer. I'm totally into the hard-core thing now. My band has turned me on to it and I've completely changed my whole--y'know I've changed personally so my music's changed with me as well. I've got a whole new musical outlook on everything.
In that same vein, did you consider putting out this album under your regular name, or just under another name, so people wouldn't immediately associate it with Vanilla Ice?
Yeah. A lot of people were telling me that, even Ross and them, and then I told them my reasoning behind why I wouldn't. Because I look at like Prince: everybody knows who he is, what the fuck did he change his name for? To nothing. It's so stupid. And with me it would open up another door for people to just bag on it. It's really not about the name, it's about the music. People know who I am. I'm not running from anything, I'm not hiding from anything, and basically, I accept my paths and everything. And I look at like a complete learning experience. Like I said, I've been through some personal changes and I'm on the other side of all that. This is how I want to express myself now.
I heard you're a born-again Christian now. Is that right?
Well, sort of. I don't really believe in religion because the words Methodist, and Baptist and Catholic, all these words don't even exist in the Bible. In the Bible you will not find those words, so that tells me that those are man-made. I'm not going to follow what a man says because who's to say any man on this earth is closer to God than the next one. It's all speculation. Everything that they come up with. I just believe that there is a higher power and I've experienced it myself, spiritually, and I know for a fact that we were created because--it's really simple if you would get away from all the rumors and look at the facts. And fact number one is that we did not live on this planet with the dinosaurs. There's not one human bone fragment found anywhere in the dinosaur period.
If you ask me, a true earthling is a dinosaur. And I know we didn't come from a grain of sand. I really think we're aliens. We came from another planet and were dropped off on this planet. We've only been on this planet for 10,000 years or so. So that's a fact. That's not a rumor or speculation, it's straight up: we did not exist with the dinosaurs.
Uhh, it might be a fact that we didn't exist with the dinosaurs but I don't think that proves that we're aliens.
Oh, right. But where did we come from then? Do you believe in evolution? Because that's never been proven. All I can look at is the facts. Imagine, if we did come from another planet--like, look right now: fifty years ago we didn't have television, 150 years ago we didn't even have cars and look where this planet is today. It's amazing. Imagine if we were from--right now!--if we were here and we knew what we know now for four million years. Imagine if we were on this planet for another 4 million years, how far we would be developed.
We would be going to the moon for lunch. We would have space stations built where we could go out and have vacations on space stations. We could travel way beyond our galaxy and our solar
system. But why couldn't, if we came from another planet that was 4 million, 5 million, 10 million years old, and maybe they use 100 percent of their brain power--this is another thing that kind of baffles me. We are designed to use to use our full brain, but we only use like a fifth of it, if that. But why? Nobody can figure it out. The rest is flubber up there.
"I've just been this big-ass fuckin' puppet for all these motherfuckers and they all made huge amounts--millions on me. And they paid me to do it so I was a slut, I was a whore."
Maybe it's because if you look at Neanderthal man, maybe we had different gravitational fields and different forms of oxygen and we've learned to adapt to this planet. But maybe on our planet, we used our full brain power and had telepathy and all this stuff. Everybody could be like a rocket scientist. And if you look at the hierogryphics (sic) that were written back in the days of the Pyramids--they had these huge fields with these huge hierogryphics out in these fields to be read from the sky. They were like miles wide and they're still there today. Like Stonehenge, people still can't figure that out. Who were they communicating to? There was somebody up there. they didn't have helicopters and planes and shit. They were communicating with someone. And they even said it in the pyramids, in the hierogryphics (sic), about the sun god. And this is how you know that Lucifer is real because the Egyptian sun god, which is like--I don't know if you've ever looked at the back of a dollar, it says, "Annuit Coeptis," and there's a pyramid and a little eye up there, it's called the eye of Ra, which is the sun god.
Well, that's Satan. You look up all the names for Satan, and it'll tell you Ra, sun god, Satan, Lucifer, and all this stuff, and basically he visited this planet and taught people how to be civilized. How do you be civilized? You take slaves and you build cities. And one person has power over another person by how much power and authority he has. That's where this planet is and I believe that there's a whole lot more people on this planet going to heaven than they think. Cause we're all victims of today. We don't have a choice. We're born into this society and this is how our world is, on our short little, period of time that we're here. But if you look at it on a global time scale, it's so minor and so short, it's amazing.
Uh huh. Is it time for you to take your medicine?
(Laughs) Sorry. (Laughs) I'm running off and leaving you.
Oh, it's okay. (Pause) Getting off that, um, tangent, I wanted to talk about the early days a little. Back then, there was some controversy about your background, and where you came from and stuff like that. How did that all happen?
There was these agencies that they would hire--I was overseas at the time, and they would make these fabricated bios on me--and I came back from overseas and people would ask me these questions and my answers wouldn't match the answers on the bio, and they'd go, "Well that's not what your bio says." And I'd be like "What bio?" and they would pull it out and I would read it and I was like, "Well who gave you this shit?" And it was just they were trying to keep me more acceptable to the teenybopper crowd. To be like this role model-type of thing.
They didn't want to know that I sold ecstasy to pay for my studio time when I was 16 years old. They didn't want to hear that. That's not a role model or anything to set an example. They didn't want to know that I had two felonies against me for being a stupid fucked-up kid, for fighting and spraying these guys with mace because they threw a beer can at my car. They wanted to hide a lot of shit. They even tried to print books up on me and there were so many different, unauthorized books. Then they paid me this money for someone to write an authorized book, and really what they did is they paid me some money and I never wrote the book. And the book came out and it was called Ice by Ice.
The book was fabricated. The whole book was written by my ex-manager Tommy Kwan. It took me a few years to investigate this whole thing because nobody wanted to own up to it on who wrote it and who did it. And I'm sittin' here trying to investigate who fucked me all up like that and it all came back around. Because I thought it was the record company and I went straight up there to talk to Charles [Koppelman] himself, and he says, "No, we didn't have nothin' to do with it." And finally he folded in, him and Daniel Glass told me that it was all up to Tommy. Tommy Kwan did it all.
So how'd you react to that?
Well, it's pretty fucked up because in the book they say that I went to school with Luther Campbell and that I grew up in the ghettos of Miami. It's so whacked. It didn't even make any sense because I've got a whole high school sittin' here in Dallas that knows where I came from and I admit where I came from. Never had anything to hide, never cared about fabricating anything to make myself more "street" or any of this shit. Because it was a joke. And I was like really pissed off about that whole thing because Luther Campbell's like 10 years older than me, it's impossible for me to go to school with him. Why would I say anything as stupid as fuck as that for?
And like I said, it all started unravelling, and it took me a while to investigate the thing to figure out what was going on. It was so out of my control because of how huge it was. That's when I realized that I've just been this big-ass fuckin' puppet for all these motherfuckers and they all made huge amounts--millions on me. And they paid me to do it so I was a slut, I was a whore.
A lot of people have done embarrassing things or things that they regret when they were younger. Why do you think it's been so much harder for you to shed that image?
Because of how large it was. A lot of people didn't see Everlast's first record. Go look in the archives right now, I want you to pull out Everlast's first record. You think my shit was cheesy. His didn't have any success so he was able to break away from that and then come out with House of Pain. But look at the record before House of Pain. The cover, dude, he's got like winged hair, wings, and he's wearing this fuckin' Bolo, and he's trying to dance. And then he goes from that to "Jump Around". But if that first record would've had a huge impact and sold millions of records, he would have never been able to live it out, unless something like what I'm doing came along, an opportunity like Ross and stuff. But I'm just saying--mine had such a huge impact, it's hard to get away from.
With all that's...
Look at like Alanis Morissette too. Her first shit, you can see it. You gotta come from somewhere. It's just that my first time out went huge. So it's harder for me to break away from it.
With all that's happened to you, would you go back and change it if you could?
The day I crossed-over from hip-hop to pop, was like, I was so excited that day. Like instant millionaire out of nowhere. I just won the lottery so I was fuckin' overwhelmed, excited. I thought that this whole thing was about money. I'm just gonna get paid, I'm gonna sell millions of records, I got two American Music Awards, I got fuckin' People's Choice, and up for Grammys, and I was like "Wow, wow, wow, wow!" It was incredible. Never did I intend or expect this shit. And look back at it and go, this was in `94 when I looked back on it, "y'know what, none of that shit made any difference." I would've traded all of that shit in to not be in the shoes I was in in `94. Because the downfall from the whole thing almost killed me.
So would you...
It's not about the money, it's about family. I figured out what life was really all about now.
So do you think that...
I wished that maybe I wouldn't have done that so maybe I would have more longevity in the music but, y'know what? My blessings are being answered regardless of that. I'm doing great right now. The record is doing great. Like I said, I don't judge the success of this record on how many records I sell, I judge this record by what I get out of it. And what I've gotten out of it so far is just unbelievable.
I'm ready to make another record. Like I said, we only did this album in a month and a half. I was only scratching the surface on all these topics that I was tapping into and getting out of me. Because I did a song called "Scars" and "A.D.D.," which...y'know Ross had this way of pulling it out of me. I didn't really want to write about this stuff, because I didn't want people to judge me on it. And he says, "Well, if you do it, you'll be free afterwards." And I'm like, "Really?" And he said, "Yeah." He had a way of convincing me. So I did it and he was so right.
It was very unpleasurable for me to tap into these moments for me to write about these moments when I was writin' `em, but now I can, after I've performed it and everything--I can perform it without reliving it. It's like it's out of me. I had it trapped up in me all this shit for years. I'm a real private person and really didn't feel like telling anybody and now that I've let it out, I've come completely free and I'm over that. Now I've got all these other subjects that I'm ready to get over to for my next record. But I'm a happy person today.