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Interview: Steve Vai

Interview: Steve Vai

STEVE VAI is a household name amongst rock music circles.  He’s released eight studio albums, which have translated into more than 15 million album sales in his highly recognisable career.  This July he’ll be bringing his live performance to Australian shores in one of the most anticipated tours this year.  Robyn Morrison caught up with Vai to chat about the upcoming tour and what he has planned for the immediate future.

Before launching into the discussion about his upcoming Australian tour, we rewind to 2012 and the release of his eighth studio album, ‘The Story Of Light’.  Vai explains the story behind the songwriting for that album and the reasons behind almost seven years between this and his last album. “After I released ‘Real Illusions Reflections’, I did a year long solo tour. After that, I did several tours with Dweezil Zappa (ZPZ), many “Alien Guitar Secrets Master Class tours” (Russia, Italy, Europe, Israel and America), a few side projects where I contributed parts etc. I then composed 2 hours of orchestra music for the Holland Metropole Orkest. We recorded 5 shows and I released a live double CD ‘Sound Theories’ and a live DVD of the event, “Visual Sound Theories”. This took 2 years.
“Then I put a band together with two violin players, (The String Theories band) and did a tour and released a live DVD “Where the Wild Things Are” that went gold and platinum and also two live records to go with it,” Vai continues. “Then I did two Experience Hendrix tours. Then I composed a symphony for guitar, rock band and orchestra for the North Netherlands Symphony. The piece is called ‘Expanding the Universe’.

“Composing a symphony of 40 minutes or more can take 8 months of 12 hour undisturbed days. This project took a whole year to compose, orchestrate, create the parts and score, rehearse the orchestra and do the performances. I recorded this project but have yet to release it. It went very well and I was once again commissioned to write another symphony for the NNO that I called ‘The Middle of Everywhere’. This took 6 solid months plus rehearsal performance and recording. There were some wonderful G3 tours in there too. Then in January of 2011 I started working on ‘The Story of Light’ and it was released in August 2012. So I’ve been pretty busy.”

The busy nature of his career coupled with the longevity in the music business lead to the discussion on how, after three decades, he continued to come up with creative concepts for his music. “First I remind myself that us humans have an infinite well of creativity within all of us and that true creativity comes from the same place for all of us but expresses itself in a myriad ways through each individual,” explains Vai. “Then I try to shut my mind up and let the inspiration come. Sometimes it comes in little snippets or in huge chunks of completed ideas in what seems like a millisecond. Then I feel it’s my responsibility to do my best to bring into the physical world these inspirations.”

And he’s certainly brought that inspiration to a myriad of people through the music he’s written.  After so many years of writing and recording, has he changed his approach?  “It seems to me that whenever we create anything it’s sort of like a little snap shot of who we were at that time. The process of going through various life experiences can change your perspective on life. Every second that passes we are different people than who we were, and that can be expressed in what we do so yes, I think my music has changed over the years because I have changed. I’ve also seen myself open up much more to some of the influential things around me that I just never saw before,” explains Vai.

Vai’s music has featured in movies and video games but it’s not necessarily something he’s consciously aware of when he’s writing. “If I get a request for a song for a particular game or etc., and I think I have something that will work, and if the use of the song resonates with me, then I’ll license it. So it’s just a bonus,” he says.

As well as his solo career Steve has performed with many high profile bands and musicians.  He shares some of those moments. “They all had highlights. Learning the music and performing with the great Frank Zappa, being a rock star in the 80’s, playing in Dave Roth’s band, touring with Whitesnake, The PIL Record I did with John Lydon were all highlights. It’s all your perspective. What most people think are highlights are really just un-satiated fantasies. For me the highlight of being a musician always was, still is, and probably always will be in being struck with a creative idea that becomes so compelling that it consumes you. Then the process of bringing that inspiration into the world, then sitting back and listening to it, or performing it on the stage.”

Looking back on his musical achievements, Vai says there are some things he would approach differently in hindsight. “There are things that I look back at that I think I would do very differently but one of the ways life works is that those things usually come up again and you get an opportunity to do them differently. But then you discover other things you would have done differently and so they usually come up again, etc. etc.

“The bottom line is there is only one decision we can ever make at any given time because it’s predicated on our past decisions,” Vai continues.  “Anything we do is the only thing we were capable of doing at the time and the later perspective of the action is the opportunity to change into a more conscious person. I believe that’s the way it works for all of us and the planet in general.”

Steve Vai will be heading to Australia this July and he says he’ll be performing half a dozen tracks from the new album. “We will be performing 6 or so tracks from the new record, a smattering of the favorites and a handful of older stuff that has either never been performed or has not been performed in a long time. We also have a very engaging section of the show where I invite audience members to come up on stage to help write a new song on the spot and then the band does a jam around this. This has proven to be a real hoot!”

The first part of 2013 was very eventful for Vai and it looks as though the pace of the second half of the year isn’t getting and slower. “I spent the first 5 months composing new music for an orchestra and performed it in Holland in May. The piece is called ‘The Still Small Voice’. I hold one note on the guitar for 17 minutes while the orchestra weaves in and out of it. Right now I am on tour with the Evolution Orchestra and we are playing the music from my Sound Theories record plus the complete Fire Garden Suite, Velorum, Whispering a Prayer and Racing the World.
My Australia tour kicks off 8 months of additional touring with the Rock band. I get home at Christmas and start to mix the orchestra music for my next release. Then I will sit down to make my most quintessential guitar record. And it’s called…. Well, I guess that’s a secret for now.”

Winding up our chat, Vai has some parting words for our readers: “Thanks for the support and obey your parents and use a condom.”

Tour dates

Perth – Concert Hall – Wednesday July 10
Adelaide – Her Majesty’s Theatre – Friday July 12
Melbourne – Palais Theatre – Saturday July 13
Canberra – Canberra Theatre – Sunday July 14
Sydney – Enmore Theatre – Monday July 15
Brisbane – QPAC Concert Hall – Tuesday July 16

About Robyn Morrison

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