The producer of Sammy Hagar and the Circle’s new album Crazy Times talked him out of making an acoustic Americana LP and pursued a Van Halen feel instead, the pair revealed.

Dave Cobb is best known for his work with country music artists, and that’s how he and Hagar connected seven years ago, they explained in a new interview with Rolling Stone.

When Hagar said, “I’ll write songs about things around America and farmers and things” that would be “like a John Mellencamp record,” Cobb responded, “Nah. 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.”

Cobb explained he became a fan at the age of 11 when Hagar joined Van Halen. “I remember playing drums along to ‘Dreams’ and just freaking out,” the producer said. “I watched Live Without a Net every day after school. They really informed what I thought about music. And not just rock ’n’ roll, but music in general. Sammy has always been a centerpiece to me. I’ve always just loved his raspy voice.”

Hagar began writing lyrics and melodies for the record – featuring bandmates Michael Anthony, Vic Johnson and Jason Bonham – during his lockdown period. “I started sending them to Dave,” he recalled. “I’d say, ‘What do you think of these songs?’ He said, ‘Fuckin’ love them. Let’s make a record.'”

A key element in Cobb’s vision was making maximum use of former Van Halen bassist Anthony. “The first thing I told Michael when we got to the studio was that I wanted him to do that classic Van Halen harmony,” he noted. “He was such a 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.”

Another “total dream” was made real for Cobb when his guitar parts were included in the album. “I am scared to death to pick up a guitar around Vic [Johnson] or Michael Anthony or any of those guys,” he admitted. “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.”

Hagar described the resulting record as a concept album “about how I feel about everything that has gone on since the pandemic started.” Referring to the sleeve illustration of a burning man riding a bicycle, he added, “Everyone is watching the guy on the bike instead of the fucked-up shit happening in the streets. 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.”

Crazy Times comes out on Sept. 30.

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