Vai speaks with Vai.com about The Secret Jewel Box...
The long-awaited Steve Vai box set represents nearly 7 years of
focused preparation, and 21 years as a recording artist, for the
Grammy Award-winning musician. "I remember when I was working
with Frank Zappa, and he had a vault just filled with recorded material,"
says Vai. "He said it was a reflection of his desire to release
everything he's ever recorded, and I just loved the idea of attempting
to release everything you've ever recorded, or at least all of the
good stuff." For Vai, whose discography is more than 60 titles
deep and includes work with artists like Frank Zappa, Joe Jackson,
David Lee Roth, Public Image Limited, Alice Cooper, Chick Corea,
Alcatrazz, and many more, the project looked like a very exciting
endeavor, but hardly an easy task. "Through the years I've
contributed a lot to various projects, so I thought it would be
interesting to somehow pull them all together to create a comprehensive
catalog of all the professional releases that have fallen outside
of my solo albums. One thing led to another and soon the idea of
putting it all out in a box started making the most sense. Next
thing I knew, it looked like a 10-CD box set."
For Vai, who in just the past 4 years has released a double live
CD Alive in an Ultra World, the studio solo record The
Ultra Zone, and an archives disc called The Seventh Song
while he was also busy touring the world, finding the time that
a project like the box set demands was not easy. "Every time
I went to actually complete the box set and get it out, a project
would come along that I couldn't pass up mostly because the
box project was very expensive and time consuming, and if I dedicated
all of my time and energy to that, it would have jeopardized the
flow of my solo albums and my ability to tour, etc. So it's been
chipped away at, then put back on the shelf, then chipped away again,
and now finally there's light at the end of the tunnel." The
internet presale on Vai.com began on October 22, 2001, and The
Secret Jewel Box was released December 11, 2001.
The Box ships with three discs inside [The Elusive Light and
Sound; Alcatrazz Disturbing the Peace, and
Archives Vol. 2 - Original Recordings of Frank Zappa,]
and the remaining 7 CDs will be released and sold separately over
the next couple of years. Only 10,000 boxes will
be made and all 10 of the CDs will fit into it, spelling out a secret
phrase on the CD spines. There are various aspects of the design
that fans will find very interesting and surprising, but we can't
talk about all of those yet...
In a recent interview with Vai.com, Steve discusses the 10 CDs...
us about the 10 CDs in The Secret Jewel Box, and your decision
to release 3 of them in the box now and the remaining 7 CDs separately
over the next few years...
The first thing that came to mind when I started developing the
box set was getting a compilation of all the music I've ever contributed
to film. I started putting this record together called The
Elusive Light and Sound light and sound being the
film world and I set out to license that material from various
film and record companies. There's a lot of great stuff on there.
It has the entire Crossroads duel, which has never been released
on record, plus a lot of material that never made it to that film
there was a duel that took place before my duel with Ralph
Macchio's character Eugene, and that duel was with Shuggie Otis.
It also has "Love Blood", an intense rock track I recorded
for Interview with the Vampire (but it never made it to the
film) it's one of my best solos of that whole era. It's got
this version of "Celluloid Heroes" [The Kinks] that I
did too, and "The Reaper Rap" and other material from
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. "Amazing Grace"
from Dudes is on the disc, plus the tracks I did for Encino
Man, "Get the Hell Out of Here" and "Drive the
Hell Out of Here." All of the cues and bits from the PCU
score. When you're writing for a film, of course, it's very different
than writing for a record, or for anything where there isn't that
kind of visual. Some of these pieces are just 15 seconds long, but
I decided to include everything.
The second CD is Disturbing the Peace, a record I
did on Capitol Records with the band Alcatrazz, which was released
in 1985. It was well received among the fans, but it wasn't really
a terribly popular record it never broke into the mainstream.
I do find copies now and then, and there are people who are very
interested to hear what it sounds like, so I licensed that and it's
in the box. It's actually a terrific CD and if you compare it to
the material that was being released by various bands at that time,
this CD stands out as being accessible, slightly eclectic and different
for it's day.
Then there's a series of CDs called Archives, Volumes
1 through (hopefully and eventually) 12. The archives CDs are compilations
of music I've contributed to other artists, bonus tracks for Japan,
variations of vault material, etc. The first of the archives discs
was The Seventh Song - Archives Vol. 1 - Enchanting Guitar Melodies,
which is a compilation of the 7th songs from all my CDs, and it
was released on Epic Records in September 1999. The Seventh Song
was an archives disc because the material was previously released
on my records, though there are 3 new tracks too. Although this
CD is not made available in the box, it is part of the Archives
The second Archives disc is Archives Vol. 2
- Original Recordings of Frank Zappa, and it will only be
available in the box set. I selected a handful of songs from my
work with Frank, which I think showcased my "strat abuse"
and "impossible guitar parts", as Frank would credit me
on those records in the liner notes.
To keep the costs down on the box and keep it interesting, and also
to make it possible for me to release it at this time, we're doing
it a little bit differently. The box will have slots in it for all
10 of the CDs but the box will come with only the first 3 CDs inside,
which helps keep the initial cost of the box down and gives collectors
something to continually look forward to. The subsequent 7 CDs will
be released and sold separately within a few years. Most of the
box's limited edition of 10,000 will be sold through my website
Vai.com, and a small handful will be distributed in the world by
Favored Nations. But primarily it will be exclusive to the website.
The remaining 7 CDs include Archives Vol. 3 and Vol.
4, which are compilations of the music I've contributed
to other projects and records, and includes the bonus tracks from
Japan. There's the Angelica track, the Jimi Hendrix In
From the Storm performances, with the London Symphony Orchestra,
and a song from Songs of West Side Story the duel
with Chick Corea. There's a lot of stuff, some of which hasn't been
heard yet. These will be released on my birthday, June 6, 2003.
And then there's a CD of 11 of my songs performed and arranged on
solo piano by Mike Keneally. I'm not sure of the title yet
but it's a beautiful CD, it's acoustic piano and he plays these
brilliant renditions of "Bledsoe Blvd", "Junkie",
"All About Eve", "Ballerina 12/24", "Die
to Live", "Salamanders in the Sun", "Touching
Tongues", "Kill the Guy With the Ball", "The
God Eaters", "Pig", "Sisters" and "Dying
Then there's a double live Alcatrazz CD called Panic
Jungle, recorded in Japan, which was never released.
It's very raw, and captures the essence of my playing during that
The next disc is called The Classified. When I left
Frank Zappa's band, I started my own band called The Classified.
It was right before Passion and Warfare some really
cool stuff, with Stu Hamm, Chris Frazier, Tommy Mars, Sue Mathis.
I have a lot of recordings of that band that have never been released,
so I want to pull a lot of those together and put it out. It has
songs like "No Pockets", "Mighty Messengers",
a piece called "Millions of Tiny Hearts", "Prelude
to Lowengrim". There's a really wicked piece on there called
"The Lights are On", and a great song called "Fast
Note People". There is a lot of other material from that period
too, which will be added to round out the record it may include
stuff I have from that period but not necessarily of the band.
And the last disc is still in the conceptual stages right now. It's
called Hot Chunks, it's an odd potpourri of little
dialogs, music... I'm an audio pack rat. For years I would always
carry around a tape recorder or a DAT recorder or just anythng that
could record, and I'd record everything my parents, source
music, parties, interesting conversations, weird stuff that happens
on tour. It's a completely eclectic art thing.
How much fun is it, as a musician and a
music lover, to be talking about the release of your very own box
I'm really into these eclectic, ambitious projects, and whenever
I'm preparing to release a CD I see it as another opportunity to
do something interesting and creative. To have this box set on the
horizon now, it's like Christmas.
Why did you choose to release those 3 CDs
in the box? Why these three in particular...
Two of the three the second Archives CD and the Alcatrazz
CD I don't have the rights to release them outside of the
box, so that's the only way I can release those records. But I didnt
want to release the box with just those CDs, I wanted something
with a little more substance, so The Elusive Light and Sound
is really a brilliant CD.
Will there be an aspect of the design which
threads the releases together? Could that explain the puzzle piece
in the booklet for The Seventh Song?
Well, the Archives volume is constructed so that hopefully
by the time Im dead, there will be 12 Archives records
released [laughs], and if you open up the artwork on each
CD, the artwork will be part of a puzzle. Bit if you line up the
spines of all 10 CDs in the box, theres a message thats
How difficult was it to pull this thing
together from a legal and licensing standpoint?
Thats the hardest thing. You cant do anything if people
dont return your phone calls. The stuff from Bill &
Ted took years of constant pounding and legal fees and negotiating,
because nobody cares about the cues that Steve Vai wrote for Bogus
Journey. I dont own them, and I have to get the rights
to them, so they went from the movie studio to the record company
that was associated with the movie studio, then that company was
sold, and then that company was sold, and its just extraordinary
how complicated it gets, and how many phone calls need to be made
to deal with that stuff. Its extremely expensive and time
consuming, its so much harder than making music. Its
harder than anything, because you have to deal with people who just
dont care about what youre doing. And thats so
absolutely frustrating, because when Im here in my studio
I can do anything I want, and nobody can stop me. I have complete
artistic freedom when Im here, theres nothing in my
way, and my only problem is that I have more ideas than I have time
to complete them. But when we have to rely on so many different
companies that control the rights to the various music, that's the
most difficult thing we have to deal with, because they're big companies
with a different agenda.
Why have you decided to release it independently,
and will there be any distribution beyond the website?
I had engaged in negotiations with Sony but
this project is
very dear to me, its very important to me how it comes out.
It's completely a labor of love, really. Theres no real money
to be made, its an eclectic art project for me. I mean, 10
CDs from Steve Vai? That arent his past releases? I'm sure
Led Zeppelin could get away with that.
But thats how I wanted it, and the box itself is very elaborate.
Most labels would never consider this kind of project. Its
so expensive and theres not enough profit margin. Its
all those things that an artist wants to do but a label may not
want to do.
And as far as the financial burden of constructing something like
this, I didnt want to put that burden on Favored Nations.
I did it all myself, and the idea is to release it exclusively on
the website, though there will be a number of them available through
a distributor. Its not the kind of thing where people are
going to order fifty thousand copies. Its a huge box that
retailers dont want anything to do with. Who wants a 10-CD
box set from Steve Vai in their store? It takes up space, you know?
That kind of stuff never stops me, though, because I'm really excited
about this box. It's a vision and a dream and I want to make it
real. That's how I get my kicks. That's what I'm here for.