Three-time Grammy award winner Steve Vai, guitarist for Frank Zappa and Whitesnake throughout the 80s, has also released eight of his own studio albums over three decades amassing over 15 million album sales worldwide. In addition to his recordings, Vai has created several lines of signature guitars through Ibanez, including 1985 original JEM guitar and the first commercial seven-stringed electric guitar.
Don’t miss guitar god Steve Vai, with his band, performing around Australia this July.
When you were a young adult who would have loved to be able to talk about music with?
When I was a young adult, 20-21 years old, I was working with Frank Zappa and talking with him a lot about music. He was the one I always hoped to talk about music with, and there I was working for him.
You’re back in Australia this July with a six-stop national tour with the added option for fans called the EVO Experience. As a performer, what do you enjoy the most about meeting your fans?
I very much enjoy the “EVO Experience”. The folks who participate get a bag of swag, I can’t remember all the contents but you can check it out on vai.com, also they are invited to sound check but the thing I enjoy the most is during the afternoon before the show I sit in an intimate setting with them and just answer questions and share thoughts.
I do a lot of press at times and sometimes the writers know about you but much of the time they just get the press release and ask you the same questions for 20 years, sometimes 30 years, but the fans have an emotional investment in the music and in you so their questions are sincere and genuine. I feel at ease discussing more personal and intimate things with them during the EVO experience. Sometimes they seem to know more about me than I can remember, ha.
The discussion is scheduled to last only around 30 minutes but I usually go an hour or so and then need to be dragged out because I don’t like leaving if there are people that have un-discussed questions.
The package includes the opportunity for fans to sit in on the sound check. What is the most important thing to achieve at a sound check, especially with fans sitting in?
The first thing that usually happens at a sound check happens while I am not there. The band comes in and they all check their gear and make sure everything is working. Then we have this policy that when I come in everything is all set (for the most part) and I pick up my guitar and just start to play.
I don’t know what I’m going to play but the band just follows. All this is recorded so you can imagine how many little snippets and sound check jams I have. The first two legs of the Story of Light tour we did 99 shows and something was recorded during most sound checks. Sometimes what we play is very inspired and sometimes it’s crap but hey, it’s there.
The fans get to see this happen. Then I do a normal sound check where we run a few songs for the sound guy and tweak our monitors etc.
You regularly join the line-up for G3 alongside your old guitar teacher Joe Satriani, what is the main thing you love about G3 that keeps bringing you back to play again?
The celebration of the electric rock guitar is at the core of G3 and I always enjoy that. You can imagine how inspiring it is to play alongside such amazing talents. You are pushed to find the deepest voice you have on the instrument because you are surrounded by musical giants. They just bring it out of you. It’s always a good atmosphere on those tours too. Joe is really quite a goof sometimes. He has a very inspired sense of humour and a total stimulation to be around.
Speaking of Satriani, do you still consider him a teacher? And are there any lessons or tips from that era that still stick with you today?
Yes, Joe and I have a very special relationship. I was 12 or 13 years old when I started lessons with him and he was around 15 and he was great even back then. When you’re 12 a 15 year old that can play Led Zeppelin is like a God. Joe was a mentor and in many ways still is. He lives a relatively simple life, he loves what he does, he keeps doing it and evolving etc.
The thing that sticks with me most about my lessons with Joe when I was a kid is that whenever you play the guitar, whatever comes out should sound like music, even if it’s noise.
Last year you released The Story Of Light which is part two of an unconventional concept album. Do you have plans to release the final album soon or will fans have to endure another long wait? What can we expect from the final instalment?
The Story of Light is the second installments of songs in a quadrilogy I am working on. The first record was my last studio record and it’s called Real Illusions: Reflections. The new record is actually called The Story Of Light, Real Illusions: Of A.
In the last scene of the story the main character, Captain Drake Mason, presents a book that he wrote to the townspeople. The name of the book is Under it All and the first chapter is called, “The Story of Light”. The Light that is referred to is the light of consciousness. The title just came to me.
The story does not unfold in the proper order and at this time you can only get elements of the story by reading the liner notes and listening to the lyrics. The 4th and final installment will be the first three records with the songs in the proper order and many of the melody songs will have lyrics and vocals and there will be another CD of material that has narrative and glue music so those who are interested can follow the story in a cohesive, accessible linear experience.
I don’t believe my next few records will be part of the quadrilogy. I want to let it cook for a while. It’s a lifelong project.
In the first minute of “Erotic Nightmares” it sounds like you must have grown an extra few fingers to play all of the notes. How do you hit that many within the time frame?
By first imagining that I can, and then focusing on it.
You have recorded your own vocals on a small number of songs over the years, would you ever record a full lyrical album? Can we expect more vocal tracks following on from the style of “John The Revelator” in future albums?
S- I couldn’t say that I would record something like John the Revelator again. That takes a special person to sing such as Beverly McClellan who sang it on the record. But through the years I have written many simple vocal songs that I believe suit my voice very nicely and I would hope to one day make a record of just these types of songs. They are kind of sweet tracks, along the lines of some of my past tracks like “Underground Garden, Brother”, “I’m Your Secrets”, “No More Amsterdam”, etc.
You always have comedic elements in your albums such as Little Pieces Of Seaweed and Fuck Yourself. Where do you get the inspiration to add comedy to your music?
It’s just there. When I was a kid in school I was sort of the class clown. I always found total silliness a hoot. Some of my records don’t have any comedy in them, but some have those moments. There no specific inspiration. If I think something is funny and it fits, I include it.
You’ve been known to take part in meditation frequently, is this something you believe aids your performance ability?
Meditation is one of the best ways to find inner peace and balance in your outer life. It has an effect on everything you do. There are many methods of meditating and if someone was interested I would recommend finding a good teacher.
The David Lynch foundation promotes Transcendental Meditation. I highly recommend checking out his site and seeing firsthand the testimonials and benefits of that kind of meditation. More and more people are understanding the deep value in taking control of their minds because most of us do not have control of it. It controls us, and until a shift is made out of the egoic thinking stage, all bets on awakening to our own consciousness are off.
You have spoken a little about your hobby of bee-keeping, is that something you still partake in?
Yes, I still have a few hives. It’s really quite a simple and rewarding hobby and more and more common folks are taking to it in the USA. You can even buy bee supplies at some of our local supermarkets. Bees are vital to our delicate ecology and being a bee keeper helps them to propagate and grow. And they really are fascinating beautiful little creatures.
You co-designed the Ibanez JEM with the signature handle on the side of the guitar body. What was the inspiration to build a guitar with a built in handle?
I knew there were many aspects of the Jem that were unique at the time I designed it and that many of its elements would be incorporated into the evolution of the electric guitar design but I knew that nobody would ever be so bold as to start making guitars with handles in them like that.
Plus, I wanted to be able to grab the guitar and swing it around without it slipping.
Again, what an absolute honour to be able to converse with a legend of the art. Thank you for your time and most of all for your music.
You are very kind, thank you.
Steve Vai 2013 Australian Tour Dates & Tickets
Perth, Concert Hall – Wednesday July 10
Adelaide, Her Majesty’s Theatre – Friday July 12
Melbourne, Palais Theatre – Saturday July 13
Canberra, Canberra Theatre – Sunday July 14
Sydney, Enmore Theatre – Monday July 15
Brisbane, QPAC Concert Hall – Tuesday July 16