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Interview with Steve Vai
By MuzikMan
(more articles from this author)
2001-10-31
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[MuzikMan] Your latest project "Alive in an Ultra World" is a tremendous effort, a true classic live recording. Why do you think people havenít discovered it yet? It's beyond me why Steve, I donít understand it.

Steve Vai Itís complicated. Sony saw this as a catalog release and put minimal support behind the marketing and promotion. Iím not saying they did a terrible job, but it was not handled as if it was a new release by me. Also, the public knows me primarily as a guitar player from the 80ís and reserves the idea that Iím capable of doing something outside of the box that the 80ís shred image has put me in. There are a good amount of my fans that know that they can expect the unexpected with me. Itís just a shame that many of them do not even know that this album is out.

[MuzikMan] What inspired all of the great music on the live album? Was it listening to all those 140 or so albums? Or did something happen long before that triggered your inspiration?

Steve Vai Like a lot of artists, I have a deep appreciation for cultural music. Unlike many artists, I took the initiative to make those influences very dramatic within the framework of my true passion of rock arranged music. There are treasures of listening pleasure within the music of different cultures and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to research and use that music.

[MuzikMan] Can you give us some highlights of your tour overseas? What was the most interesting country to visit? What crowd was the rowdiest?

Steve Vai I had never traveled into Eastern Europe so it was an eye opener. Places like Bulgaria and Poland, Greece and Slovenia were beautiful. Well, beautiful to me. The people seem unjaded and mature in a European kind of way. When you meet a 17-19 year old American girl, they can come off ditsy and bubbly in an immature way but in Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, in cultures that have not fully embraced MTV and Jerry Springer, there is a much more grounded sense of maturity and refinement in the young people. But Iím sure all that will change.

Probably the wildest place I was in was Istanbul the night the Turks won the 2nd game of the world Cup to the English. The streets went absolutely wild. I canít describe it.

[MuzikMan] Can we backtrack a bit Steve? What was it like playing with David Lee Roth? Did that gig give you the confidence to strike out on your own and become a solo act? Or was that confidence and burning desire to be the best always a part of your personality?

Steve Vai Primarily, I try to be a good musician and performer because when I go to a show, those are the things I like to see. Great musicianship and total hamming it up sometimes. With DLR I learned to play in front of a huge audience and keep their attention.

[MuzikMan] What was the first album you heard that made you decide that music was your path?

Steve Vai The original soundtrack to the film West Side Story.

[MuzikMan] What was it like growing up for Steve Vai? What were the most prolific events that changed your life, that made you who you are today?

Steve Vai There were musical, physical and spiritual events that went into it just like everyone else. Obviously, there was Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the prog music of the 70ís. But most of all, I was thrilled to see my fingers run effortlessly up and down the neck of the guitar. This was my driving force. I was absorbed in the guitar all day and everything else was a distraction.

I had some traumatic experiences as a youth that will go unexplained but I believe they had a big influence on my music and me. Also, I came from a family with a lot of love and that had a big effect. These are the things that influence us the most.

[MuzikMan] For those young guitarist out there that want to be a Steve Vai some day, what equipment would you recommend learning how to play on? What is your favorite guitar now?

Steve Vai Find a comfortable instrument that appeals to you. I use Ibanez Jems because I designed them around the specification of my playing. Donít be afraid to take a hammer and chisel to a guitar to make it conform to things you want to do that it canít do. Thatís what I did and as a result the floating tremelo was invented.

[MuzikMan] Can you think of one concert that you attended when you were a teenager that blew you away and motivated you like no other?

Steve Vai Chick Corea and Return to Forever.

[MuzikMan] Do you think instrumental rock got a good push from your friend Joe Satriani in the eighties? I feel he really got the ball rolling and also helped progressive rock to make a comeback.

Steve Vai I agree.

[MuzikMan] What are your thoughts and opinions on the Napster ordeal? Do you think the Internet has helped or hindered an artistís goals?

Steve Vai It has done both but I believe the Internet has helped more than anything else. As far as Napster, I think itís a blatant abuse of intellectual property rights. It has had a traceable and obvious effect on the record sales of artists that are being traded on Napster and it has not been for the better. This in turn has an effect on the musicians who need to sell their music to make a living, most of whom live hand to mouth. It would make more sense if Napster offered snippets of music for free and a fee for fully downloadable songs. This way their Karma would not be so bad.

[MuzikMan] Do you listen to any of the popular artists now? Or do you prefer to listen to the Independent releases? Or do you prefer a good mix of everything?

Steve Vai These days I am mostly interested in listening to tapes I get that are sent to Favored Nations.

[MuzikMan] What are your thoughts and feelings of the state of the world today? Do think the youth of the world have something to look forward to? Do think we can change as a race and live in peace?

Steve Vai I believe that this world is not our true home and that it has always been the same. There has always been wars, peace, etc. I am nobody to comment on the state of the world. Iím a musician who is struggling to make things as good as I can so that in the future I can turn around at the body of work that I have created and feel that I have done something that has created a positive social effect.

We are slowly changing as a race and evolving, but peace forever? No, never. Thatís not what this world is about, but it is possible that there are worlds that are about that, and that are what we are here trying to find out. What we can change on an individual level is the way we look at the world and the people around us. That will have a direct reflection on the state of our mental health and our contribution to society. That we can change individually.

[MuzikMan] Do you have any children Steve? If so what are they like? If you donít, do you plan to raise a family?

Steve Vai I have two boys. Fire is 9 and he is a wild card. Loves music and sports. Julian is 12 and he is refined and sophisticated in a 12-year-old way. He loves Nintendo. I am happily married and have been with the same woman for 22 years. Imagine that!

[MuzikMan] What do your fans have to look forward to with the 10 CD Secret Jewel Boxed Set? Or will it remain a 'Secret'?

Steve Vai The bulk of the info is on the web site but the secret that will be discovered about the box will not be revealed until all the CDís are out.

[MuzikMan] What are the goals beyond the music? Where do you want to be 10 years from now?

Steve Vai My goals are too many to number. I will need a few more lifetimes to make them all a reality. Iíll be happy when I have no desires at all.

[MuzikMan] What turns on Steve Vai the most? What turns you off?

Steve Vai This sounds like a teen magazine interview. I think the world is perfect the way it is but every now and then, a big fat fuckin' blow job is a turn on.

[MuzikMan] Guitarist Paul Nelson has carved out quite a name for himself in the press and among the musical community for his own playing abilities. In a recent interview I did with him, he mentioned studying with you back in your Berklee days, praising not only your obvious musical prowess but also what a great guide and individual you were. Does a carton of cigarettes per lesson ring a bell?

Steve Vai Who meÖ puff, puff. Back then, cigarettes were more important than food.

[MuzikMan] How long does it usually take you to cut an entire album in the studio? Are you usually happy with the result or do you always feel it could be better?

Steve Vai It could take from a month to a year. Some have taken more. I am usually a lot happier with it when itís done than I thought I would be. I live to hear my music through the speakers.

[MuzikMan] Is there anything in particular that you would like to say that has always needed to be addressed in an interview? What would you like to say in closing?

Steve Vai Wear sunscreen and use a condom.


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