.......Steve Vai is an established guitar virtuoso
with career sales of over 13 million albums, one Grammy win, and four
nominations. On The Ultra Zone, his second solo
release on Epic, Vai delves deeper into his unique approach to the instrument,
a trait that has set him apart from countless other guitarists for over a
decade. Vai's consistent musical evolution and collaboratory efforts continue
to make fans ask, "What next?" Steve Vai is one of the few artists
whose music is embraced and revered in every country around the world. His
music and guitar playing transcend trend and politics, with record sales and
fans from all corners of the earth to prove it.
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE
Q: So how did the opening night of your new tour go?
A: Last night was the first show and I was stunned. I
mean, the audience was wild. It was so good to be back out there again. Really
Q: It's great to have you back. So you have been working
on this new album "Ultra Zone" for a
long time it seems ?
A: Oh yeah. It was actually a pretty long process. It
was on and off though. I mean from the time I finished my last record
"Fire Garden", I started working on the "Ultra Zone" and there was a lot of things
that transpired in that 2½ year period. I had done a l3 month tour for
Fire Garden. I did a G-3 album and video, and I produced 2 records for Sony
which were called "Merry Axemas", , a Guitar Christmas", and I
constructed and completed a 10 CD box set. Then I spent a lot of time with my
father who passed away in the middle of it all, and then I ended up completing
the "Ultra Zone".
Q: How did you coordinate India music in this the CD?
A: Well I have spent time in India, several years ago.
The record has a lot of different cultural overtones, and especially because I
like to listen to music from different cultures, but I don't like to get too
classical about it. You know, I would never want to incorporate a very
classical Indian sounding composition, but I think that when you borrow
elements of music from another culture, that music is a representation of that
culture. When you think about India, most people see India shrouded in this
mystic of spiritualism and if you borrow those scales and ambiences from the
music of that culture, you can sort of create those feelings. So, by taking
elements of the Indian music and putting them in more of a contemporary rock
form, such songs like "The Blood and Tears" or "Silent
Within", I can create sort of an atmosphere of that culture.
Q: Like with "Asian Sky"?
A: Yeah, "Asian Sky" is more Japanese.
Q: I understand that to the Japanese, you're really like
a god to them. How did this come about?
A: It goes way back. I have been touring Japan for 15
years. It's the kind of market that you have to cultivate. There are certain
things that they like. They like good musicianship, they like flashing stuff,
they like funny clothes and wild shows and stuff like that. That's some of the
things that I try to incorporate into my image and they just embraced me. You
know my audience just gets bigger and bigger. This last record, "Ultra
Zone" is my biggest selling record so far in Japan. It went gold in a
week. Yeah, it's one of the few places that I actually have a career
Q: Are you still doing some singing?
A: Yeah, on the new record I sing a couple of songs.
Q: I noticed too, that the Japanese version has a couple
of extra tunes.
A: Well, there is an extra song on the Japanese version
because the record company is paying - CD's are so expensive. You can buy an
import and its cheaper than buying a domestic release. So the Japanese record
company likes to have an extra song on there as a bonus track as an incentive
for the Japanese audience to buy the domestic version. So you know me, I'm all
too eager to please. I contributed a track called "Selfless Love", a
song I wrote for my Mother.
Q: One thing I was curious too, I noticed that a lot of
your playing from last album to this one, is more intense. Are you
experimenting with more special effects on this album?
A: I try to expand the horizon of the instrument by both
experimenting with effects and also just by my phrasing and my approach to
melody. That's what its all about - its how you effect people with the melodies
that you create. Because that's what they remember. Cool sounds will go so far.
But to create a historical piece of music that people will fall back on, it has
to touch them emotionally and the only way to really do that is through melody,
through the atmosphere of the song and experimenting with different sounds will
help. But let me ask you, in 40 years from now, are you going to remember
"Chemical Brothers", no disrespect, but it's wallpaper. It's exciting
wallpaper and I listen to it and get a kick out of it, but trends are fickle.
Q: I intensely listen to a lot of guitar players, and I
notice that you play with a lot of style and you play with taste and restraint,
A: Thanks, I just try to approach melody like a
conversation. Like, are you going to tell somebody that you like them, or you
love them, or you respect them, or you don't like them. You know what I mean.
The things you say to people, definitely have an impact on them and I think
that the way melodies are constructed have the same impact. I can play pretty
fast on an instrument and I can do some pretty dazzling things if I want, but
that only goes so far. You know, that's only going to interest people to a
certain degree, it only has a certain stimulation. It's like talking real fast
about politics or something.
Q: Are you still playing the 7 string guitar?
A: I use it occasionally.
Q: I was wondering what effect did that have? Did
you actually have an extra high E string?
A: No, actually put a low string. It's hard to find a
high string that won't break. The low string definitely adds girth. I use 9
Q: I notice that you have a signature amplifier.
A: Yes. I never really endorsed an amplifier, because I
never found one that was just right. I was working with Carvin on this new amp
and it just turned out fantastic. It's called the "Legacy". It took a
year and a half to fux with it to make it sound like I wanted and we got it and
it sort of gives me a new lease on my musical life.
Q: Do you play stacks of Carvins Amps?
A: I don't use a lot of amps. I just use two. Any more
is just for show and I'm over that.
Q: You have your own label?
A: Yes "Favored
Nations" is a label that I put together with a friend of mine, Ray
Shear. He was the owner of Guitar Center. He sold his business 3 years ago and
was looking to get into something. It is a very different approach towards a
label. I mean as far as the compensation of the artist, if you examine
contemporary record deals and past record deals, the artist was always at the
lower end of the food chain, and that includes everybody in the food chain from
retail to managers, and everything. This is more co-ventures with artists. The
label is geared towards creative people. People who really offer something on
their instrument, but not you know, inaccessible stuff. Stevie Ray Vaughn would
have been great on this label. Frank Zappa would have been great on this label.
So that's the kind of thing we are looking at. We have some great releases
coming up. Our first release is in January and things are going really smooth.
Q: I see you have your Hand prints on the "Hollywood Rock Walk".
A: That was cool. What that is, is the Hollywood Rock
Walk of Fame at Guitar Center is a recognition of musicians who have made
substantial contributions in their career. I don't know why they asked me to do
it, but there I am along side of all these great people. Me and Joe (Satriani)
did it, along with Larry Carlton and Jimmy Vaughn.
Q: What do you think of the state of "Rock n Roll" today?
A: There are elements of it that I really enjoy you
know. I like big walls of guitar. I always did. I like music with energy. It
definitely has energy. I think there is some inspired stuff and I think there
is crap. I think there is just pantomiming near-do-wells, but then again, I
hear stuff that I really like. I just think that the message in a lot of the
music is anti-social, regressive towards the human race in general, and I think
that musicians should be a little more respectful of the opportunity they have
to create a message in the world. But that's just my view, which means nothing.
Q: There are elements of truth to that. When I went to
cover Woodstock'99 for three days, it was cool in the beginning, then it slowly
deteriorated to a mess at the end?
A: What the fuck were they expecting. Music is an
extremely powerful force and element. Year after year people are looking more
and more to stimulate the audience. And how do you stimulate the audience? You
dive into their sexual psyche and their aggressive potential. Once those
elements start stirring in a human being, they feel alive. What do you think is
going to happen. They are going to act them out. It all starts in the mind. You
write songs about fucking, and sex, and lust, and rape, and murder and you know
robbing and stealing, and being hurt, what do they think is going to happen.
Music becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Q: Your really a master at guitar playing, it's a
creative work of art. But we a hear a lot of music come out on the radio with
bands that are playing totally out of tune and can't really sing very well too
boot, but still manage to sell thousands of albums, what's your take on that?
A: I don't mind if they are out of tune and can't sing,
as long as what they are doing is inspired. I've seen that happen. I mean Kurt
Cobain used to floor me man. I mean it. I think he was a genius. But then
again, there are people who see that and are inspired by it, but they don't
have the same wherewithal and they try to the same thing and it is just
uninspired. And nothing against those people, it's like saying "ha ha
you've got four fingers". I'm not saying anything against them, it just
the way it is. It's always been that way. There are trend setters and trend
mongers. What I do, I listen to every kind of music. I really like inspired
musicians in all different genres. I can listen to classical. I think that
"Livin' la Vida Loca" is a great song man(Ricky Martin). But I don't
get Brittany Spears. Stuff like that I don't just get it. But it has to be me.
She sold 7 million records. I think we have limited time to express ourselves
creatively and every step that you take towards a creative statement, needs to
be done with the great honor that it is to have that moment. So, I try to use
every creative element I have or moment that I have, to do things that I think
are stimulating and interesting. Whether the rest of the world thinks so are
not, I can't cater to the rest of the world. I want to be able to look back at
my music career when I am 60 or 70, if I make it that long, to know that I made
the truest most artistic statement that I could at the time. Because if you
don't, you missed it and that opportunity isn't there again.
Q: You have a lot of interesting sounds on "
Ultra Zone", are you always experimenting?
A: I have been that way since the very beginning. I made
a record that I thought was interesting and weird, and whatever, and I said now
I have to sell it. I didn't think, well first I have sell the record, and now I
have to make it. I catered to my own musical desires and then I set out to sell
it. I didn't think I would ever sell any. Nobody was interested naturally, so
that didn't stop me though. I printed up the LPs myself and I sold them at
gigs, and I called distributors and I had them take l00 copies here and couple
100 here. Now a lot of people do that. I have been very lucky. You know, I have
been extremely fortunate. I have had good karma through my whole career. The
situations that I was in with people like Zappa, Roth, and White Snake and
these big rock bands, then in turn, made these records more accessible.
Q: For someone starting out playing guitar should they
have a role model to follow?
A: Well that's good. I think it's important to have a
role model of sorts. I'd say keep your tastes varied. Listen to a lot of
different people and take elements of the things that they do that you like,
but don't try to play like them. I mean I would be thrilled if I saw somebody
that had more technique than me, which there are, but somebody that takes what
I do on the guitar a few steps further. That would be a real treat. What I'm
about isn't all just guitar playing.
Q: Are the demo's submitted by aspiring artists to your
label "Favored Nations" need to have
similar music like yours to be accepted ?
A: No, they don't have to. I get tapes from all around
the world all the time, and most of the guitar players sound like Joe Satriani,
or Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Ingvay (??). I'm not looking to that at all. Those
people already exist and they are totally inspired and they've done it. I am
looking for people who are capable of taking things in a different direction.
You don't necessarily have to be a technical wizard to do something unique and
Q: On this album, you took it to another plane. Was it
always your objective to be different from the album before?
A: Yes. I try to set up different parameters for each
record, because I like variety. I like to listen to my records. When you create
something, it's sort like a little snapshot of your life and your psyche at
that particular time in your life and I enjoy that. I go back and listen to my
first solo record "Flexible" and it's such an innocent approach to
music and it was my whole overview to life really. I like to hear different
things and do different things and I am really lucky because there is an
audience, small yet loyal that is willing to support that kind of thing and
they know that if they go out and buy a Steve Vai record, it's going to be
different then the last one, but there is a thread that runs through them all,
which I can't escape and I don't want to.
Q: Are you touring with the same band members Mike
Keneally, Mike Mangini, Robin DiMaggio, Philip Bynoe, Bryan Beller from your
previous past tours?
A: Yes, I have the same band as last time. I added this
kid, he's 20 years old. His name is Dave Wiener. He started out as a personal
assistant and played guitar, so I eventually had him playing songs here and
there and now he's in the band. He's not on the record.
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