Live In Minneapolis - Where The Wild Things AreTell us about the DVD.
SV: I had just finished a year and a half of work on a double live orchestra CD and DVD with the Metropole Orkest called Sound Theories and Visual Sound Theories that came out in 2007.
I was itching to perform so instead of jumping right back into the studio to make a new studio record, I booked a tour of Europe, USA, and South America to satiate the fingers and the ego for a while. I wanted to put a unique band together that could bring a different kind of life to my catalog of diverse musical tracks.
I always like the idea of having a violin player in the band but during auditions I started to have serious concerns because I could not find one violin player that could play in tune and melodiously. Many were shrill sounding metal shredders or classically trained players that sounded wimpy when plugged in.
Then the skies opened up and Alex DePue and Ann Marie Calhoun came into my life. Two elite virtuosos that can play challenging music, but also understand the attitude dynamic of rock music. They have complete control of their instruments and look amazing doing what they do.What do you look for in a musician for your band?
SV: I've been touring for 30 years and the first thing I look for in a band member is a person who will be road-able. A tour is a little chunk of your life and when you are living with people in a highway submarine, there are no secrets at sea. No matter how successful a record or tour, if there’s a jerk on the bus the whole experience can be hell so the first thing I look for is people who are essentially good people. They have to be able to do something special on their instrument too.
It helps if they can read music or at least have an understanding of it. The opening song on the DVD is in a brisk 25/32 time signature. It’s an extremely complex piece but tremendously heavy. When I brought it into rehearsal the music for each part stretched close to 25 feet. Poor Jeremy Colson had a full on anxiety attack. But I knew that they would be able to play it and I’m an expert at rehearsing complex music. We took it piece by piece and gave our patience and our soul quite the work out. The end result is a glorious artistic metal track that is melodic, seamless, entertaining and flows very naturally. The band performs it with fierce confidence.
The Gods of good band Karma shone loud and clear on me regarding this band and tour. I put together an extravaganza and hit the road. We traveled the world, living and loving the life and enjoying each other and the enthusiastic audiences that shared our stage nectar. This nectar was captured in high-definition in Minneapolis at the State Theater.Why did you choose Minneapolis?
SV: The city of Minneapolis spun its spell on me years ago. A magnificent metropolis that’s clean, cultural, and although cold and wet sometimes, the people are warm and friendly.What can we expect to see in this DVD?
SV: When I put a band and a show together I try to create an entertainment experience that I would like to see if I was sitting in the audience. I like to see great musicianship but nothing too cerebral or overindulgent, I like to be stimulated with a large dynamic range of emotional intensities, I enjoy when people love their instrument and it shows by their oneness with it.
I like to feel as though I’m part of a family with the audience and the band. I want to walk away feeling good and uplifted and not beat up by somebody’s ego or the things they hate about themselves and the world. I would love a free t-shirt but Vai would never go for that.
There are basically two elements that go into performing a piece of music, regardless of its level of difficulty. One of them is the technical side of being able to perform the piece on the instrument, and the other is the emotional investment a performer has with the music. I strive to find an equilibrium between the two because I believe that it takes both elements to be an effective performer. Technical ability and emotional investment walk hand in hand. Of course you have to employ your imagination muscle too.
There’s a very colorful piece on the DVD called “The Murder.” It’s more of a performance art piece. At the concert, I wielded the guitar around like a wizard and then in the studio I put all sorts of digital video FX and audio sweetening on it. I saw the whole thing in my head before I stepped on stage. It took many hundreds of man-hours to make it turn out as it did. But hey… what am I here for?Will the show be available on Blu-ray?
SV: Yes, absolutely. I know that there are relatively few rock concerts released on Blu-ray at this time but I believe that the medium, or at least the high-definition quality, will become very popular. After watching this on Blu-ray, hearing the 5.1 mix and seeing the brilliant colors just popping off the screen, regular DVDs seems very lackluster.
There will also be a single live audio disc released from the show. It consists of tracks that have never been released in live versions before such as “Oooo, “Tender Surrender, “Taurus Bulba, and “Now We Run“.You released a 5-CD box set of most of the tracks from your catalog mixed without the lead guitar. It’s called Naked Tracks. Sort of like karaoke Vai. Did you get the idea instantly or has it been in your mind for years?
SV: The idea for the Naked Tracks box set sprouted when I was mixing my first record and thought it would be good to have the tracks without the lead guitar so I could play along. So I decided that for all my records I would do a mix of the songs without the lead guitar, or the lead vocals if it was a vocal song.
Eventually when the technology to make loops came along I would create loops from different parts of the songs and just jam on and on. That is one of my favorite things to do, just play endlessly over a loop that seems as though it will go on forever. It will actually go on forever, or until the electricity in the house runs out.
Playing over a loop is how I come up with unique riffs. It gives you the ability to focus without interruption. It’s like a musical meditation. I thought other people might enjoy playing over these naked tracks too so I put them all together in a 5 CD box set.
Although it’s great to play over loops and to recorded tracks, it’s also important to play with real musicians because music is a sharing experience that involves intimate communication with others, but every now and then it’s nice to play with yourself by indulging in a steamy naked groove.I have never heard of anyone doing anything like this before.
SV: I make a conscious effort to create projects that have a uniqueness to them. I enjoy challenging myself to come up with ideas that I believe are unique like the Naked Tracks box set, The 7th Song, Alive in An Ultra World, the Jem guitar, and some other projects. These things give me a feeling of accomplishment.Most of your solo compositions require complicated techniques (and high-tech guitar equipment too), do you think people will manage to emulate it?
SV: Trying to emulate what I do on my records is one way of approaching it. Perhaps not the simplest way. Playing over these naked tracks is a great way to discover your own style. I suggest using the tracks as a bed to come up with your own parts and ideas. It’s a great way to challenge your imagination. I would also suggest making it a goal to put something on top of these tracks that is completely different than what I did. Use your own creative expression.
You can be at any level of proficiency and use any guitar and gear. You can even use an acoustic guitar. What you do is limited to your own imagination.
But I would suggest that if someone was going to try and play my parts over these tracks, they should strive to take them up a level. Just don’t hurt yourself, and don’t blame me if you do.
Flex-Able 25th AnniversaryBack in 1984, what was your overall concept for Flex-Able? And what did you actually do for the anniversary edition? Were there any ‘repairs’ made to this one?
SV: When I was 22 years old I purchased a house in Sylmar California and built a recording studio in the backyard that I called “Stucco Blue Studio.” I was completely fascinated with the idea of recording songs and was not even concerned with releasing them on records. The music I was making was not commercial nor did it sound anything like what was going on at the time. I was working for Zappa around that time and was very inspired by him.
Whenever we create something it’s usually a snap shot of who we were at a specific time in our life. Those early years in that house were a special period of living with friends and making whatever music we felt like making. We had no real concerns and we were not trying to be successful with what we were doing. We just wanted to make music and have fun. That music was meant to make us laugh. That’s why it sounds so silly and carefree. If you have a silly streak in you, you may enjoy its absurdity. I did not have intentions to release it but then I thought... eh, what the heck.
Life was easy and relatively carefree back then. A simple time before the internet, cell phones, computers, when there was only 6 TV stations and 8 radio stations. When I listen to Flex-Able it makes me smile. The Steve Vai that made that record seems so innocent and naive. Sometimes I wonder... “where did that sweet young boy go?”
I defy anyone to listen to Passion and Warfare and guess that the same guy made both records.
The 25th anniversary issue of Flex-Able is a digital re-mastering of the original 2 track master. I will also be re-mastering Flex-Able Leftovers along with the bonus material that was on those records and including them in the special 25th anniversary edition. It will include flyers and alternate art work from the period, photos and extensive liner notes.
There were no fixes in the re-mastering, only E.Q. and compression. Usually when I release something as far as I’m concerned there is no need for any repairs. It’s been thoroughly operated on. Plus, music is art and if the artist feels it’s done... it’s done! I would not touch a hair on Flex-Able’s head.
How many takes did you do and what equipment did you use during the Flex-Able session? And how do you feel about it now?
S- I cut my studio teeth with Flex-Able. What I mean by that is I did not know anything about producing or engineering when I made that record. But I am very resourceful. To me it’s always been easy to learn things that I’m interested in. I got some good books, I listened to some good records, and I worked with some great people. Frank Zappa taught me how to edit tape.
I built the studio, purchased the gear, wired the place, wrote the music, hired the musicians and recorded them, engineered it, mixed it, started a label and secured distribution for it, and paid for it all through teaching guitar lessons and collecting rent from the up to 9 people who would live in the house at any given time. The only thing I didn’t do was master it and now I’m doing that 25 years after it was first done.
I did it all myself for no other reason except I enjoyed all the various processes. The music was very personal to me and did not want it to be diluted by anyone else’s vision. I liked being independent and didn’t want to bother anyone else by taking their time on my music. I know this must sound odd but I’ve always felt that if someone else can do it, I can too. Plus, I knew exactly what I wanted every step of the way and knew that I could figure out how to get it through trial and error. Having said that, I was practical with my goals and never tried to do things that didn’t feel right to me.
I usually don’t play a song, I build it from the ground up. It all started with Flex-Able. I only had an 8 track machine and a handful of stomp boxes. I used a Carvin console and mixed everything to an ATR 2-track machine that Frank Zappa loaned me. I had to mix it in small pieces and splice them together. A song like “Little Green Men” probably has over 100 edits.You were involved in many bands after Flex-Able was released. Do you think Passion and Warfare – music wise - is the conclusion of every disappointing experience you may have had during that era? What would you say is the most important thing that you took away from the whole experience?
SV: I am primarily a rock musician, so playing in those big pop rock bands in the ’80s was fulfilling on certain levels. But I knew that one day I was going to have to leave all that to pursue the music in my head because that music was beyond the scope of an ’80s rock band.
There are important things that we take away from all experiences. If I had to pick some from those ’80s bands I was with I would say that it’s a good idea to try and make the best of every situation you’re in because later in life you will be left with the memories of the past and those memories have a tendency to shape you.
They can be fulfilling or haunting and it’s all how you choose to perceive the situation and act while you are going through the process. I was lucky because I did make the best of those years. I am still friends with all the people I worked with. As far as living the whole rockstar life, there was nothing cooler than being in a major rock band in the ’80s and touring the world, except perhaps being in a rock band in high school. I took full advantage of the situation.Are we also going to see a special remix or re-master of Passion & Warfare?
SV: I would like to do that eventually. Perhaps its 25th anniversary.You are such a massive influence as an electric guitarist. Do you have some tracks from your solo albums that you are particularly proud of?
SV: Each artist has their stand-out moments where certain inspired moments rise above others. What I might choose as stand-out moments for me may not be what others might see as my best. For me, the pieces that have seemed to capture the essence of who I am as a composer and guitar player are:
Within your guitar technique, what has been your biggest challenge?
“The Attitude Song”
“Die To Live”
“For the Love of God”
“The Fire Garden Suite”
“All About Eve”
“Windows To the Soul”
“The Silent Within”
“Whispering a Prayer”
“Dying For Your Love”
“I’m Your Secrets”
“Under It All”
“Helios and Vesta”
SV: Picking all the notes.
It takes a lot of practice and chops to be a fast picker and I’m only OK at it.
SV: The clock.Some guitarists seem to concentrate upon being extremely technical within their playing, but don’t concentrate upon writing a good tune.
SV: Musicians have various strengths and weaknesses. Some, like many classical performers, focus on being able to play their instrument very well and are not interested in composing or writing songs. They don’t see it like a songwriter does. Those types of performers are excited by playing their instrument and performing music that is written for them.
Consequently a composer is not usually a virtuoso. Nor is it even necessary for a composer to be accomplished on an instrument. A composer has the vision of music in his ear. He can hear and construct great oceans of sounds without even touching an instrument. He can write a piece for the most accomplished of instrumentalists, but he may not be able to actually play the instrument he is writing for.
For instance, I can see and hear music in my head that I can then write for the most accomplished of pianists or harpists, or whatever. I understand the mechanics and limitations, the dos and the don’ts of the instrument and how a musician who is playing that instrument would perform the piece. But I can even play a simple Beatles song on the piano. It’s odd.
These same types of brain muscles translate into all forms of music. That can be why you can find some guitar players that can shred their face off but are not very interested in writing. It’s all good.
But it’s interesting how people judge others like this when music is completely subjective. I hear it all the time. They think every musician should have it all. I see music as art and its perceived value is based entirely on the listener’s point of view or the composer’s, and there are as many different points of views as there are listeners.
I think there is every type of player. I have known guitar players that have an extremely technical mindset and write what I would consider great songs and I have known players who are very technical and also seem to be tone deaf. I know players that cannot play their instrument very well but write beautifully inspired songs and I know players that cannot play well and write awful music.
Then there is everything in between. You don’t have to play fast to suck! But my views are just opinion. As I said, music is mostly subjective. If somebody enjoys something that someone else feels is horrible, then that music is justifiably good and valid regardless of what it is, even if it’s Euro Pop crap.How do you work out an instrumental? Do you work out the melody first and then fast passages come later? Or do you have another formula?
SV: There’s no real formula. Sometimes the fast passages never come and sometimes it’s only fast passages. Songs come in various ways and I usually do not like to get formulaic because that can limit you, but for the most part I hear the entire piece of music in my head in an instant and then I am left with the task of making it real in the world. For about 35 years I have been capturing little moments of inspiration either on a cassette recorder (years ago) to DAT and now on my iPhone.
I may capture these little snippets of ideas by playing them on the guitar, piano, singing them, or I can just explain them on tape. Sometimes they are only one small riff. At the end of the year I usually go through these ideas and document them. I have it all organized into a digital library. It’s called The Infinity Shelf. There are probably thousands of ideas. If I’m looking for a song I just go to this library and the moment I hear one of these snippets I can thread a song together out of it. That’s how I write 90% of my music.
I would probably need a hundred more lifetimes to complete all the ideas on this Infinity Shelf. I have been dragging this stuff around for centuries and it keeps accumulating. One of my goals in this lifetime is to let go of the desire to complete all of these ideas into full songs and concepts and only pick a few of the realistic ones to do now, or else I believe I will have to keep coming back to this world to complete them. But I’m not unlike most people when it comes to fulfilling creative desires. Once I’m satiated I get hungry again.Back in the days before the Flex-Able era, were you one of those players who would sit in their room and run through scales for hours on end or did learn more from playing along to records?
SV: I did both.Of the parts of your style that get the most attention, which do you feel is most representative of who you are as a player?
SV: All of them.And you’ve got chops mastered, so what do you struggle with as a musician?
SV: Chops!!! But mostly I struggle with finding the time to develop new things. You can do anything if you have the time to focus on it. Chops are easy if you have the time and discipline, but developing ideas is the playground of the imagination. It’s the most rewarding for me.How do you expand your musical horizons today?
SV: By imagining myself doing things that I can’t do. If you can imagine it then eventually you will be able to do it. Of course you have to be practical and realistic. That’s how I have developed my style through the years. At night, when I am lying in bed, I imagine that I’m playing the guitar and I look for new ideas. I also imagine compositions. This imagination technique lends itself to exquisite mental freedom and liberation.Thinking back, which guitarists had the most impact on you when you first started playing? And where did you get the idea of exploring whammy bar/tremolo arm technics?
SV: When I was a teenager Jimmy Page was my hero. I liked Jimi Hendrix, Richie Blackmore, Brian May and others but Joe Satriani was my guitar teacher when I first started. He could always play great and was tremendously musical. He was a mentor.You’re using True Temperament right now, how this innovative technology effects your sound/tone?
SV: It affects the intonation more than anything else. It allows certain chords to sound in tune that would normally not be in tune because of the physics of the way a guitar is built. It also helps with the sustain.Joe Satriani is doing Chickenfoot, don’t you miss to perform or be in a band again?
SV: I have a band. But if you are referring to a rock band with a lead singer, no. I did that and it was great fun but I have no desire at this time to do it. Maybe in the future, who knows. I went to see Chicken Foot the other night and it was fantastic. Sammy sang great and Joe played his butt off. It was a good ol' rock and roll time and I think they are a good rock n’ roll party band.If you could do a one-off cover album project, whose songs would you choose?
SV: All Tom Waits.If you could do a once-off album project with any musician in the world, who would it be?
SV: My band. And I’m lucky because it does not even need to be a once-off.
Alien Guitar Secrets Master ClassTell us about the Alien Guitar Secrets Master Class.
I’ve always enjoyed teaching and talking about music, the guitar, and the music business. I have a wealth of experience and felt that someday I would like to share that knowledge face to face with music enthusiasts. Now is that someday.
The past 35 years of my musical career has been spent composing, making records, traveling the world performing, and learning to navigate the complexities of the music business. Through all of this my main focus was to identify and cultivate a unique musical voice, acquire business and financial independence, while striving for spiritual equilibrium.
Looking back through the years, I can identify with pivotal periods of growth and various circumstances or techniques that inspired moments of clarity. In this class I share these discoveries with people in hopes to inspire them on their own path in music.
There are usually 3 questions a young musician has. One is, how do I make a record and actually get it into distribution so the rest of the world can hear it, how do I identify with and develop my own unique voice on the instrument, or how do I decide if being a musician for the rest of my life is a good idea or not?
All of these are valid questions and I address all of them.
The academics of music can be found on any good Internet site or book on the subject, but in Alien Guitar Secrets I talk intimately about identifying with your own inner musical voice and expressing it through a cathartic exploration of self-discovery.
I talk about the importance of setting practical goals, the power of visualization and positive attitude, and how to break down your goals into achievable steps. I touch on everything from the core of creative expression to the mechanics of making your ideas real in the world. I even touch on the music business and some things I feel a young musician should know in order to protect themselves and develop independence in the industry.
It’s an intimate environment where the floor is open at all times to anyone to ask whatever questions they like. At the end of it we have a jam where I invite 5-10 guitar players from the audience, one at a time, to jam with me.
The Alien Guitar Secrets Master Class is vastly different than a Steve Vai show. In the class I sit and talk, demonstrate some things on the guitar, and play to a handful of backing tracks. At my shows I’m an entertainer in a self-induced hypnotic guitar trance.
I enjoy playing the guitar, composing, and touring but I equally enjoy sharing my experiences with folks who are interested. The success of the Alien Guitar Secrets Master Class has exceeded my expectations. But most of all it’s tremendously fulfilling for me when I see people’s eyes light up when they make that connection between what I’m saying and how it can take shape as an inspirational tool in their life.
You can see a general course outline and class topics here.
Miscellaneous QuestionsDo you have tapes from your school bands, and do you remember their names?
SV: Yes, a whole bunch. Just the other day I was sent a 9 minute Jam of “Purple Haze” (some of which I played the guitar with a violin bow, how original) that was a recording of the first band that I played the guitar in when I was 13 years old. The band was called Circus.
What album did you think was the best ever at that time?
1st band “Hot Chocolate” with my younger sister when I was 8 years old.
2nd band was Ohio Express. I played fake piano and fake vocals.
3rd band Circus First band I played guitar and gigged in.
4th band, Rayge. The coolest band I was ever in. We were all in high school.
5th band “Morning Thunder” Berklee band.
The rest is whatever.
SV: Led Zeppelin 4.What was your favorite record shop then and why?
SV: A place at the mall called “World Imports” because they sold black light posters, black lights, pipes, bongs and rolling paper. Hey, I was a teenager, whatever.Do you listen to music much?
SV: All day.What’s the last album you bought?
SV: Mastodon — Crack the Skye.The first?
SV: Frank Zappa — Freak Out. I was about 9 years old.What music moves you most?
SV: Tom Waits and Gyorgi LigetiDo you ever listen to your own music?
SV: More than any other music.What would you ask your own musical hero?
SV: Stop stalking me!When was the best time for music?
SV: When you’re a teenager.Who’s taken music forward in the last 10 years?
SV: Steve JobsWhat music makes you cringe?
SV: My face usually doesn’t do that unless I am writing a check to the government.What music lifts your spirits?
SV: Anything where I see the performer really trying and being sincere.What’s the best gig you ever saw?
SV: 1976, Return To Forever at the Hofstra Playhouse on Long Island, but Evo Papisov and his Bulgarian Wedding band runs a close second.Do you get involved with collectable editions, formats etc.?
SV: Only if it’s hot sauceDo you collect the music of anyone?
SV: Tom Waits, Igor Stravinsky, Luciano Berio, Edgar Varese, Ligeti, Antony and the Johnsons, Devin Townsend.What record are you looking for?
SV: I find everything online.What’d you swap to get it?
SV: $10.98What fact about you would surprise people?
SV: That’s a secret.What’s your worst habit?
SV: Not keeping a secret.Do you keep a diary, and do you plan a book?
SV: I don’t keep a diary, just songs. That’s where my story is. I am planning on writing a book called “Under it All” once the Real Illusions trilogy is complete. It’s a story about…. Oh never mind.Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
SV: A state of spiritual bliss.Which question do you wish people would stop asking you?
SV: Hmmmm, good question.Who would you most like to record with?
SV: I would say that question is the perfect answer for your last question.What unfulfilled ambitions do you have?
SV: To be free of all ambitions.31. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
SV: Ahhh, I thought this interview was only supposed to have 30 questions. (For the answer to this question please see question 28. It’s a close runner up to answer 29.)If you had to describe yourself in one word what would it be?
SV: Whatever.How did your love for music start and why did you choose a guitar of all instruments?
SV: I think we all have an inherent attraction for music. It resonates in our soul. When I was an infant I could distinctly remember thinking, while swooning in my mothers arms as she whispered lullabies into my soul, “hmmm, I can make a living out of this”. I think I chose the guitar because it most resembled my pacifier. That’s the little rubber thing that’s shaped like a nipple that you suck on.You played with various artists, which collaboration was most memorable and enjoyable for you?
SV: When I was nine years old I started a little band with my younger sister Lillian who was six. I played bongos and she played an acoustic guitar with 2 strings on it. We wrote our first song together. It was called “Hot Chocolate.”
The lyrics went like this:
Hot Chocolate...Hot Chocolate...
Makes you quiver, makes you quake
When you drink it, drink it straight
I would have to say that in my whole career Lillian was my favorite collaborator. We had a joyous, unconditional acceptance of each other’s contributions. It’s never been quite like that again with anyone else.What inspires you to write music?
SV: A good idea. Whenever I get one I’m inspired to work really hard to make it real in the world. Frankly, I don’t know where the ideas come from. I have suspicions but I would prefer to keep that private.Do you consider yourself to be a role model for beginners?
SV: You would probably have to ask the beginners to answer that.What sort of audience do you have at your master classes?
SV: There seems to be quite a big range. young to old, beginners to experts, male to female, (and in-between) short to tall, black to white, all races, ethnic background, religions.... It’s sort of like the United Nations of Vai. But for the most part, they are all lovers of the 6 strings and in their hearts they want to play the instrument with freedom.Do you have any hobbies?
SV: Hobby??? Hmmm, I built a fence that runs along the length of our back yard. It has 5 thin planks running horizontally that are connected by perpendicular white posts. My wife, Pia, planted various colors of roses, (such as white, red, yellow, dark purple, etc.) and they mellifluously drape over the planks. The roses against the fence look like beautiful music notes on a staff.
I go out every two or so days and take a digital photo of the fence and re-write the floral display into music on manuscript paper. The different colors represent dynamics. The lighter roses are soft and the darker are louder. Then I play it on the guitar. I call this process of writing music “fretstooning”.
You would be surprised at what lush, warm melodies can come out of doing this, although at times you can definitely hear the thorns. The variety of roses are called “China Dolls.” I’m working on a sweet song that the roses are writing with me that I am calling “Weeping China Doll”.
Oh, I would like to collect stamps, but it gets too complicated for me.
Describe your first experience playing music.
SV: I walked up to a little spinet organ and played the theme song for the horror flick with Bette Davis called "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte". The movie sacred me to death and the melody haunted me until I plucked it out and then I thought..."Hmmm, that's not so scary". I think I was 4 years old.
What has been your most significant musical experience?
SV: The most significant musical experience I ever had was in astral projection dreams when I was younger. I'm not sure if that's even a correct terminology for them. They started as long back as I can remember and would happen once every 4 years or so. The most profound one, and the last one, happened when I was around 22 years old and it lasted for as long as 4-5 seconds.
The sound I hear during these episodes is impossible to describe. It rages far beyond the dynamics and frequencies of the ability of the physical ears to hear. It has an intensity and weight to it that dwarfs your own being. It's like a 10,000 piece orchestra of all different instruments, all playing different notes and rhythms, all tuned differently, but in perfect harmonious and melodic exhalation. It's all encompassing and comes from all sides. It actually emanates from within and not from anyplace outside.
It permeates everything. The waking from it is akin to slamming the pavement of a 100 story jump. I awake to feel the limitations, (prison) of the physical body and the congested cloudiness of my own cognizant awareness.
The finest music ever created in this world is like a toilet compared to this celestial orchestra. There is no way to capture and reproduce it. In the world I am left grappling for melodic scabs of it's magnificence, only to feel that my finest work is a feeble attempt at capturing even a glimmer of this glorious inner music. I'm ashamed at my explanation but then again, I did say it was impossible to explain.
I know I'm not the only one that has had this experience.
I believe this sound resonates within the core of every living thing.
What is the best advice on pursuing a career in music you were ever given?
SV: "Keep your Publishing". Frank Zappa.
What is your favorite sound?
SV: Complete silence to the point of hearing white noise, or... water lapping on a beach at sunset.
Name some of your biggest non-musical influences.
SV: Complete silence to the point of hearing white noise, or... water lapping on a beach at sunset.
What was the most memorable concert you ever attended?
SV: Return To Forever at Hofstra college on Long Island when I was 14 years old.
Put your iPod on shuffle and list the first 5 songs that appear
1. "Rat Bat Blue" by Deep Purple
2. "Cry" by Michael Jackson
3. "Sonata for Cello and Piano" by Elliot Carter
4. "I'll Wait" by Van Halen
5. "The Part You Throw Away" by Tom Waits
Have you ever been convinced you were going to die?
SV: Die??? What do you mean? No one ever told me I was going to die. Hey, what's going on here! Wait a minute! I thought if I could play the guitar fast enough I wouldn't have to die!!
Have you ever slept rough?
SV: have you ever slept on a tour bus driving through Detroit?
Have you ever been refused entry to a country?
SV: Only when paying off the border guard didn't work, so the answer would be no.
Have you ever worn the same clothes for a full week running?
SV: When I run for a full week of course I wear the same clothes, silly.
Have you ever set yourself on fire?
SV: No but I named my second son Fire.
Have you ever been dressed as a lady for more than 24 hours?
SV: I was in a rock band in the 80's where some people believe I was dressed as a lady for 2 years.
Have you ever been drunk at work?
SV: No, but I did have a job where I hit myself in the head until I couldn't remember it anymore. See the answer to the previous question.
Have you ever met and perhaps fought your evil twin?
SV: You decide.
Have you ever been awake for longer than 24 hours?
SV: Ha, sometimes it takes me that long to get out of bed.
Have you ever looked into purchasing a monkey?
SV: I always thought it would be fun to have a monkey but every time I would see one they always seemed to be masturbating.
I already have two teenage boys so there's enough of that going on in my house.
Have you ever laughed so much as an adult that you slightly wet yourself?
SV: When I wrote the answer to the above question I laughed so hard I wet myself. Wait, let me read it again. Ooops!
Have you ever wondered for a moment whether you could be Jesus?
SV: Stop, you're making me wet myself.
Can you draw a self-portrait?
SV: Picture half of the letter "h" ... the first half.
Was there ever a defining moment in your life when you knew that playing guitar like no other person on this earth was what you wanted to do?
SV: No, I always felt that way.
You started your guitar lessons at a young age with guitar legend Satriani, how important do you think professional lessons are for an aspiring guitarist.
SV: I have always felt that it was a good idea to have a good teacher. Someone who can identify with what you are interested in and help you discover and cultivate your musical goals. A good teacher can keep you from getting into bad technique habits too. For me lessons were very important because I sucked!
You've always been an Ibanez devotee, what is it about their guitars that attracts you? Do you ever experiment with other guitar types?
SV: They make the Jem which is the guitar I designed around my playing idiosyncrasies. I play other guitars... for about a minute, but I always go to my Jems because they suit me. They even look like me.
The Ibanez JEM VAI2K DNA custom guitar with your blood in the paint job! Could you tell us a bit more about this crazy concept?
SV: This was something that Ibanez actually presented and I thought... what the hey, it's odd enough. The funny thing is that I had to go to the hospital and have blood drawn. I didn't give them a little, I gave them a lot. Several beakers of my blood were drawn. There were only 300 guitars made so you can actually see my blood in the designs. In the future if they ever get cloning together and they are able to take some of my DNA from one of those guitars and create another person like me, perhaps that guy will be able to get his music on the radio.
What does it take to be a musician in one of your bands? What is the auditioning process like?
SV: I like to take musicians on tour with me who are generally happy people. They also need to be able to do something extraordinary on their instrument. It helps if they like my music.
We have heard that you reward your touring bands with a very special and delicious treat if they play exceptionally, could you tell us a bit more about this interesting little story?
SV: Ah, you heard about Vai-scream. Well, on the last tour my band was the "String Theories band". A really great group of people. Sometimes, usually if we have the next day off and a long drive, I will prepare for them a delectable desert dish that consists of at least two flavors of ice cream, large chunks of milk and dark chocolate sticking out the top, smothered in caramel sauce and whipped cream and topped with a dollop of almond butter. I will hold the cherry for anyone on a diet. Their treat to me is their company. Then we all go to the back of the bus and hammer heroin, (Just kidding).
"Where The Wild Things Are". It's what's on everyone's mind when it comes to Steve Vai. Could you tell us a bit about it? What dynamic does Alex DePue and Ann Marie Calhoun the two violinists contribute?
SV: They raise the bar to a very high level, nose bleed territory I would say. They add an evolution and maturity to the music that seemed to be the absolute perfect next step. They are both elite virtuosos and professionals that are passionate about their instrument and play with confidence and conviction. It's fascinating to see them spin their magic.
You have said that you see Music as a self fulfilling prophecy. What message or vision do you try to project through yours?
SV: Like other artists I feel as though I have certain gifts and it's my responsibility to use them to create music that some other people may enjoy. I do what I do because I can. But I don't think that what I do is any more or less important than what any other contributing citizen does.
There may be things in our life that are out of our control but one of the things we do have control over is how we choose to think. Whatever frame of mind we allow ourselves to dwell in will perpetuate itself and become more and more our reality, especially if we are creating things like music. Buyer beware. If we want to change or evolve who we are we have to program our selves to think a particular way.
When we create something we have the potential to inspire others. The message we send out has a ripple effect in the world and it's impossible to quantify it's impact. I don't believe that cause and effect is a theory, a philosophy or an idea. I believe it to be the fundamental building block of the entire creation weather we see it as such or not.
As such I try to be conscious of the message I put out there through my music, but ultimately I just want to give people a moment of melodic pleasure. I'm not out to change the world, just put some cool songs in it.
Some of your songs like "The Blood and Tears" and "Silent Within" have classical Indian musical influences, how do you incorporate music styles of different cultures into your music?
SV: I listen to the classic cultural music of a particular culture and identify with the scale, time signature, phrasing, dynamics and atmosphere that the music lives in and I mix those things with my own musical inner ear and apply it to a rock band ensemble. Boom, there it is!
You have toured a lot in Asia, most notably in Japan, how do you see the Asian rock and metal scene as a part of the global rock and metal scene?
SV: I don't know enough about it to comment.
You have your own record label. Could you tell us a bit about your vision for it and how you think it differs from other labels.
SV: It's called "Favored Nations". It's a small label with powerful independent distribution. We set out to release music from artists that have a unique musical voice and a strong vision. I really just created a vehicle for them to get their music out there.
Talking about record labels; the boom of the internet, file sharing and piracy has seen a lot of major labels have some very painful reactions. How are you and 'Favored' dealing with the phenomenon?
SV: We are doing surprisingly well because I never let it get to big. It's a small operation and with the new digital age, our artists are doing well with internet sales. I knew that when I signed these artists most of their product would be evergreen. That means there will always be some kind of an interest from people who are looking for stimulating musical and beautiful experiences. There is an audience that loves to hear musical stuff and they are always discovering the label. We never had to rely on hits, top 40, million sellers, videos on MTV, Rolling Stone magazine, trends, etc. I do feel for the majors though. They've eaten themselves.
Could you tell us a bit about your vision and mission with the 'Make A Noise Foundation'; which we think is an absolutely brilliant concept; and how you feel others can help with this endeavor?
SV: That's very kind of you, thanks. I started MANF with my manager, Ruta Sepetys. Through the years I acquired a tremendous amount of gear and most of it comes to me at no charge because of the deal I have with the companies I work with. I don't feel it appropriate to sell the gear and keep the money so I set up this foundations to put money in from gear sales and other sources. It turned into a very nice little charity and we have given grants to students for college, supported underprivileged kids by supplying them with musical gear, supported various other charities with similar missions, and many other things. We have some wonderful plans for the future but it's too early to discuss them. Anyone can contribute by visiting the Make A Noise link on vai.com
You have been playing guitar for so long now, do you ever get bored of playing your songs? How do you keep your playing fresh and passionate?
SV: I don't get board playing the guitar, ever. When I'm not playing the guitar my heart is crying for it. Every time I play a song that I have played many times before I focus on going deeper and deeper into the notes. When I can hold my focus at the emotional awareness of the moment, the melodies continue to reveal, layers of deeper intimacy and truth. It's a life long process. It's like climbing a ladder that reaches into the infinity of the abyss. Sometimes the air gets very thin as a result of my shallow breathing and I helplessly fall, but there are those around me who have wings and they inspire me to keep climbing.
5 songs of yours that you would say really capture your ethos and spirit as a guitarist & musician?
SV: You tell me.
Any final message for your fans?
SV: Hold tight, it gets scary good from here on.
Added: March 26, 2010
Describe your early experiences in the industry.
SV: My first experiences in the industry was negotiating with dive bar owners when I was in high school. When I moved to California in 1980 and started recording and touring with Zappa I did not have to worry about the industry because I got a pay check from Frank and that was it.
I like the music industry and once I finished my first solo record "Flex-Able" I was a full-on independent musician and felt it was important to get educated on some of the fundamentals of the music industry. I hired a good music attorney and paid him for a few hours of his time to educate me on things like publishing and conventional industry practices. That was perhaps the best money I spent. I read books on the subject too. These days it's much easier for a young musician to understand this business.
I'm a very independent artist so I decided to form my own label to release my first solo record. It was simple and enjoyable and I was in complete control of my product and to this day I own that record and have made several million dollars in profit through the years with it.
After that I took a more conventional route with the body of my solo work by signing with Sony records. It was a good run, and at this time I'm back to being completely independent.
To me the music industry is not the Devil that most people make it out to be. Unlike many other industries it's filled with creative people who are very interested in being great at what they do. An artist is compelled by his muse. It's also filled with business people who are fascinated with numbers and I use that to my advantage. I understand this business pretty well and have discovered that's it's all up to your attitude and the way you deal with others that will give you the results you seek. But hey, that's life in general.
Describe challenges you have faced/overcome in your career.
SV: Frankly, my life challenges have virtually nothing to do with my career. My career has been handed to me on a silver plate. I have never felt as though I have struggled in this business because I found the thing that I like to do the most, that excites me the most and that I feel I'm best at and then I set out to exaggerate it.
I've lived a charmed life regarding my career. I have achieved much more than I ever thought I would. The idea of hearing something in my head and then making it real in the world is my juice. It's always been a great blessing. Of course you have to navigate. Finding time to do all the things you would like to do is a challenge, making yourself a better musician, business person and entertainer can be a challenge, but it's an uplifting challenge. There is nothing dark or nightmarish about any of it. It's all a great adventure. I think my secret is that I always know it's getting better all the time, and then it just does. Sometimes I feel like a wizard that just walks around imagining things and then watching them come real.
Like I say, It's your perspective on anything that will determine the level of your metal angst or joy in the process.
Describe the future of the music industry as you see it.
SV: It would be pretentious of me to tell you that I think I know how it's going to evolve but I will say that there are two things the music business will always be in need of. One of them is the content - meaning the musician and their work, the other is people who know how to market and sell the work.
For the most part musicians have different brain muscles than marketing and business people, and I believe there will always be a need for both. Although I feel everyone should play an instrument and enjoy sharing the experience of playing music with other people, some people are more suited to one side or the other. The way we have been creating, selling and listening to music has been changing from the beginning and will continue to change, but the constants are the music and the way it touches us in our lives. And the marketing is important so that the music can get to people to touch them.
In what ways do you see the next generation of innovators changing the business (for artists, producers, labels, distribution, etc.)
SV: People are interested in convenience and immediate gratification so I would suspect that the evolution in the industry for musicians is that the moment they finish a piece of music (a single as I believe that we are headed in a direction where singles will be more viable) that piece of music can be immediately uploaded and delivered to their audience. The people who are listening to music will be able to know more about the artists they like and will be able to receive the music the moment it's done. Labels will become glorified marketing arms and will work with artists on a 360 basis.
I have implemented "VaiTunes". It's a digital only, monthly release of a single song from my vault, or even new stuff. This is in addition to conventional CD releases of all new music. The first track was a piece called "Without Me" and the moment I completed it I posted it in virtually every digital store around the world with the click of a few buttons. You can check this out at vai.com.
Following is an example of what I think would be a vital tool in the evolution of our technology:
Picture a stylish pair of wrap around sunglasses. They have very high end little speakers that can go right into your ears, or cover your ears to any degree you like so you can either shut out the outside world or be aware of it.
The glasses are very clear when you look through them and can filter out any degree of sun or radiation, and can tint to any degree of any color you choose. They can also be prescription based if one needs them. Most prescription glasses can be 2 way or 3 way. For instance, if you need to read things you look down through the bottom of the glasses and for computer work you look through the middle and for long distance you look through the upper part. These are called "progressives'. I use them but they are a bit of a pain because you will always find yourself moving your head around to get just the right angle. Well these glasses of the future will be all encompassing and no matter where you look through them you will perfect vision because they are reading your eyes.
These glasses would also cover your peripheral vision too. They also double as a wrap around computer screen so that you can see a 360 degree, ultra high definition screen for computer work, movie watching, or video conferencing etc. You can adjust the opacity of the screen so that you can see varying degrees of the screen or the outside world. You can also segregate the visual so that only a small percentage of your visual is the screen and can place it anywhere in your visual peripheral real estate that you desire. Get the picture?
Now you can check messages be it video messages, e-mails, anything, without having to reach for a cell phone or any other device.
Oh, they also have a sensor so that if you are not paying attention to where you are walking because you are viewing, an alarm will tell you that you are about to walk into something.
They will be fantastic for driving because you will be able to see a real time scene of the road ahead of you no matter what direction you turn your head.
You can place these very small video cameras, about the size of an eraser head, in various locations in your world and get a 360 view from them anytime you like.
Obviously you can make all your calls with this device too.
All data including music libraries, photos, and anything that we can store on our computers will all be stored in secure clouds so no more hard drives, cables, lost data, crashes, corrupt drives, etc. How nice would it be to not have to set up anything! You can have giga-tera bytes of info at your disposal of your own data to navigate through at any time and also the internet, which at this time will take on dimensions that are inconceivable at this time. Just like everything else that came before it that was inconceivable before they were imagines and then became real, such as... electricity!
Now reading books, listening to high quality music, watching wrap around high def films, communicating, sending data etc. can all be done through this device in unsurpassable quality and immediately.
The way that you control it is the real winner. You wear this special wrist band that is highly sensitive to finger movements. It measures the muscles in your wrist as you move your fingers and is able to read what you are inputing just by moving your fingers around. It reads your muscle movement. So now there are no more cumbersome keyboards or pads to have to cary around.
Oh, it also have holographic technology that can project life like realistic images into a 360 degree wrap around world around you. Obviously those images are not there but are projected onto your brain as a holographic image. This will completely revolutionize the way that films and videos are made as now you can see a real to life holographic 3 dimensional presentation. And better yet, your likeness can be projected into the film or presentation as one of the characters. Or your consciousness can be projected into a film as one of the characters. You would actually see and what it is like to be in the world of the actor by just sitting there and looking. This gives "The World of Warcraft" and "Porn" a whole new dimension. There goes the neighborhood right?
There's much more but with the above model it frees people up from having to cary around, plug in, etc. etc anything and gives immediate and intimate gratification on every level. It could revolutionize our educational system, etc.
It is my belief that this can be done and now that I put it out there it it may inspire someone somewhere to make this a reality.
I call it "Vaivision". Hey, why not.
I hope I'm alive to see it come true, if not for any other reason but that sun glasses are cool!
Friday March 26th 2010
9:45 pm Los Angeles
Photo credit: Larry DiMarzio
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