Dominion Post, Wellington, New Zealand
What first attracted you to playing guitar?
S- The moment I first saw someone playing it I was 5 years old and they were perhaps 8. The way it looked and hung on the body, the sound that came out of it when it was hit hard or soft were some of the things that enraptured me but mostly I immediately was instinctively aware of the infinite nature of the instrument.
What are your strongest memories of forming the band Rayge while you were still at school?
S- How absolutely cool it was to be in a rock band in high school. It was my favorite band I was every in. We did everything together. There was a sense of brotherhood like none other. When you are in high school you go through life experiences for the first time. Usually it’s the time you start feeling independence from your parents, first intimate relationships and perhaps heart breaks. , Maybe the first time experimenting with alcohol and drugs, first time driving a car, etc. But being in a band and having that camaraderie and going through that stuff together was glorious.
What is your strongest memory of first meeting Joe Satriani?
S- I was 12 and he was 15 and he had a face and a head full of very thick hair and with that and his big blue eyes, and being an older kid who could play the hell out of the guitar, he was scary.
How significant has Joe been for you as a musician?
S- Joe Satriani has been the most significant musical person in my life.
Did Berklee College open you to more music?
S- That’s what it did more than anything else. I virtually lived in the music library which was the place that I first heard all of the Beatles music, All of Stravinski, Zappa, Maynerd Fergeson, etc. etc.
What were your first impressions Frank Zappa when he recruited you for his band when you were 18?
S- I started to transcribe for him when I was around 18 and joined the band when I was 20. The thing I noticed mostly about Frank was that he was always present. In anything that he did, be it talking to you, writing music, going from one place to another, his full attention was in it.
Did Frank’s approach to music influence you?
S- In some ways yes. When Frank had an idea that was exciting to him he just did it without any excuses, without expecting someone else to do it for him and without compromising his artistic vision. I worked for him for 6 years at a very impressionable age so I just figured that’s how you do it.
How did you go about building your first recording studio?
S- With the money I saved from giving guitar lessons and working with Frank I purchased a house in Sylmar California that had a big work shed in the backyard. We were surrounded by residential area and farms. I purchased what I needed to convert the building into a studio and scraped together whatever gear I could find. I rented the rooms of the house out so the mortgage could be paid and I could just build the studio. It took 5 months and when I was done I recorded “Flex-Able”.
What was it like playing in Whitesnake?
S- It was great to be a “rock star” in the 80’s. David Coverdale was a wonderful guy to work with as was all the guys in the band.
I enjoyed recording with them and touring because I like their music but I knew eventually I was going to move on and do the music that was in my head.
Looking back on Passion and Warfare today, what were the highlights for you in making that album?
S- I was finally once again working on music that was truly compelling to me and when I got an idea for something I did not have to answer to anyone, I just did it. The amazing thing to me was how some ideas translated into music even more powerfully than I expected they would. That’s the biggest pay off.
I’ve always wanted to ask this: how did you get your guitar to sound like a horse on Bad Horsie from Alien Love Secrets?
S- You bend the bar down, strike a harmonic on the second fret of the G string, raise the bar and flex the wha wha, then dip the bar back down while vibrating the note with your finger so hard that your teeth rattle and your balls drop.
Do you think there’s still new territories to be discovered in what the guitar can achieve, both in recording and in composition?
S- The evolution of the guitar, as the evolution of any art or anything on the planet, or anything in our solar system, or galaxy etc. etc. is the way the Universe infinitely expands itself and until the Universe reaches it’s cosmic goal and returns to itself, there will probably always be someone who will take the guitar into a different direction. So my perspective on your question is a big YES.
How often do you get young guitarists citing you as an influence and an inspiration?
S- Usually at my concerts when they are waiting at the back door for a pic and a signature. It’s very charming and touching.
What the best thing about having a line of signature guitars?
S- The best thing about having a signature series guitar besides having a guitar that is perfectly fitted to your every desire, is the royalties.
For your shows in New Zealand, what are we likely to get?
S- This is the first time I’ve done a full Vai show in NZ in quite some time. When I put a show together I try to bring in elements that I would like to see in a show. First and foremost I want to be the best entertainer I can be because people are taking their time, spending their money to come and see the band. I like to offer in the shows a great deal of musicianship, almost exaggerated dynamics from fiercely dense complex music to exquisitely subtle and intimate moments, some comic relief etc. I want the audience to leave feeling great, uplifted somehow, perhaps feeling that they really engaged in something fulfilling.
I have Dave Weiner on Guitar, Phillip Bynoe on Bass. Jeremy Colson on Drums and Michael Arrom on keyboards.
Do you ever have guitar-free days?
S- Only when things don’t go as planned.
Tom Cardy | Arts Editor
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