Transcript of Aussie Vai I'view (didnt know where to put it)
Steve Vai talks to Australian Guitar - the full transcription.
When it comes to stories on artists, what you see on the pages of Australian Guitar is often an edited-down versions of the full interview. This is to mainly make it fit in the space we have for such things and the hard part is to decide which bits to leave out. Talking to one of the world's recognised guitar gods while they're in the country is a rare treat and Steve Vai generously gave us an hour of his short time here to talk about guitars and his philosophy on guitar music. This gave us 7000 precious words and paring down the interview to fit in four pages left us with a lot of gold on the cutting room floor. Well, we've got a CD with tonnes of room on it, we figured, so there was no reason why you should miss out on all he had to say. So here it is - all 7000 words of Vai gold gleaned by Australian Guitar's Aaron Cliff - a Vai disciple himself as you'll discover. It's a little rough around the edges, but we didn't want to clean it up too much otherwise it might lose that raw feel. Hope you enjoy it!
A: Yeah, I'll just hit record and make sure it's recording.
S: Yeah, I guess it was a bit of a mix up in the times, I have on my schedule here 1:30 (Perth time).
A: Oh, wow I got told 4:30 (Sydney time).
S: Oh well, I decided to call you 'cause I'm leaving and, uh, there won't be another chance to do an interview after this. I hope it's okay?
A: That's fine, that's fine. Thanks so much for talking to me today.
S: Hey, no problem. Who am I talking to by the way?
A: Aaron, Aaron Cliff. Um I'm a huge fan, I'll just start by saying that, so if I get to fawning at any stage just tell me to shut up.
S: Ha! No worries.
A: Well, this is your first time back here since the Ultrazone tour of 2000...
S: Umm, I think it was 2000, yeah.
A: Are you excited about the first show tonight?
S: Oh absolutely, y'know. Actually, tonight's the first full-length live show that this band will be doing in several years.
A: Oh, okay. S: 'Cause we just got off of the G3 tour in Europe and that's only about an hour.
A: I've read that this is going to be a two hour show, with y'know, non-stop action.
S: Well, tonight I don't know how long it's really going to be. It might be two hours, it might be three hours 'cause we didn't really have a chance to run the set, but we'll find out. It's going to be interesting.
A: Excellent. Umm, any chance of a preview of any new album material? S: You know I thought about it but, umm, I decided not to because this, ah, this little Australian and Asian run, I slotted it because I wanted to, uuuh... It's such a good band, y'know, it's a very strong show and I wanted to present it in some territories that haven't seen this band yet, and if I didn't do that now I wouldn't get the chance to come back here for another couple of years. So, that's pretty much why I did it but I've been playing a similar type show, I don't know if you're familiar with the Astoria - Live in London DVD that we've released?
A: I've seen snippets of it.
S: Yeah, it's basically the same, a similar show with a mix between that and the G3 show but ah, when the new record comes out I'll be completely revamping, ah y'know, the entire the presentation so I didn't want to put any new songs in that people wouldn't know, or that would give away anything.
A: Right. Well, let's talk a bit a bout gear 'cause that's where Australian Guitar is focused
A: The biggest rig you ever had would have to be Whitesnake...
S: Actually it was David Lee Roth [laughs].
A: Oh, okay, right, that was even bigger still?
A: What's your rig like now?
S: Well y'know back in those days, um, it was a very different kind of a situation being that technology was actually pretty different. Ah, if you wanted to use a chorus unit you had to have a stand-alone chorus unit, if you wanted a flanger you needed a stand-alone flanger, a delay unit etc, etc... y'know?
Through the years since then companies have been developing equipment that is relatively all-in-one box and I've tried a lot of them, I've given input, but um, dragging around all of that equipment that I used to use in those days was really unrealistic. So I decided to really pare down the system and it's very simple and it's only a couple of rack spaces now - it's a TC Electronics G Force and that pretty much covers it, that's pretty much my favourite sounding piece of outboard gear that has multiple effects on it. And the show is relatively simplified also, so ah, on this particular tour I've bought four six-string guitars, Evo which is my main Jem guitar, and I have Evo II which is like a back up of Evo and then I have, err, a guitar which I call Flo, which is similar and also has a sustainer in it, as a result I have to bring a spare one of those. They're the four main guitars, and then I have this beastly triple-neck guitar that I dragged out and I have this really cool new guitar that's going to be available probably it'll kick off at NAMM in LA in January. It's a Jem but it's a very beautiful Jem - it's black, it has a mirror sort of a front to it and I use it for the song Bad Horsie, which is tuned down very low. And that's basically the guitars. Out of the guitars I go into a very simplified pedalboard, which consists of a Bad Horsie Wah Wah, and then out of the Bad Horsie I go into an Ibanez Tube Screamer, then out of the tube screamer I go into a DS-1 distortion and then out of that it goes directly into the front of the amp. And then out of the effects loop out of the back of the amp I come directly out and I go into a, ah, man, what's the first thing in the loop? It's a rack mount Whammy pedal...
A: The Rack of Wham?
S: Rack of Wham, I think I have the only one in existence [laughs] and, um, out of that it goes mono into the TC and then that gets split in stereo. The returns go to, ah, normally they go to Legacy amps, which are the amps I designed for Carvin, but on this particular Australian run I'm probably going to be using Marshalls. Yeah, yeah because we, we ummm...
A: Just Rentals?
S: Yeah, because... Yeah it's difficult for an American band to umm, at my level basically to get over here and not lose a lot of money, y'know, or basically break even, but I just enjoy coming here. So ah, one of the ways you gotta, y'know you've gotta be economical about it and shipping equipment all around the world is prohibitively expensive so ah for this little run, I'm just gonna rent some Marshalls, which are always been pretty, ah, reliable. And that's the rig.
A: You're bringing Evo. Are we going to see Evo played live?
S: Ee-vo (corrects my pronunciation), yeah.
A: Yeah. So how is Evo these days? Umm, well, y'know I was worried that ah, well I'm looking at her right now in the hotel room here. Y'know through the years when you have a guitar you play a lot it has a tendency, at least my guitars, to get pretty beat up. So she's had some fractures and y'know has undergone major surgery and I recently, I thought I was gonna have to retire her but I recently sent her to ibanez and they had this new kind of bonding agent that they injected into the cracks...
A: The big body crack? Yeah, so it's kind holding up pretty well, it's staying in tune much better and y'know there's just something about that guitar, it has a really nice top end. I don't really like abrasive sounds, so it has the right amount of top end, but I don't know how much longer she's gonna last.
A: The other thing we've kinda noticed is you seem to have moved away quite a lot from the Universe these days, and are sticking with mostly six-strings. Is that a conscious decision?
S: Well, it's odd. It started out after I'd used the seven-string for several records. I was just sitting there and I just picked up Evo, y'know, and started to play and stared to write material on that, and then the idea y'know of dragging a lot of guitars around again was not that appealing. So I started to stick with the six-string but I'm planning on going back to the seven-string probably not on the next record but on the one after that. I have a concept I'm building and it involves like a seven-string strat that Ibanez is building for me right now.
A: Is that going to be a Jem model or a just custom for you?
S: It'll be more like a... No, no it's not going to be a production model. It'll be just a one-off custom. I don't know if I'm being detailed enough about the equipment.
A: No! It's all very cool.
S: To be perfectly honest I'm not a real aficionado when it comes to y'know, equipment these days. And also my knowledge of the actual guitar itself is a lot less than most players.
Y'know when I'm designing a guitar, I really get anal about it, y'know, and I listen to dozens of necks and woods and different kinds of woods, and different kinds of pick-ups, different ohmages y'know ohms on pots y'know all this stuff. Then once I get what I like I completely forget about it all. But I did design a really nice acoustic guitar that just came out by Ibanez called the Euphoria...
A: Yeah. I was going to ask you about it. What prompted that? Was it your decision or an Ibanez decision?
S: Well I love playing acoustic although, um, I don't ah, you don't see me playing it much live because acoustics are very difficult live, they feedback. It's hard to mike them properly and ah, but I always wanted a really good acoustic and I had a couple of nice ones. I had a really nice Gibson and I have a Taylor, but just like the Jem, there are certain idiosyncrasies about ones playing that if you're at liberty to have somebody make you a customised guitar, like I am, y'know... I always hoped to have a guitar made, an acoustic guitar that was a little different and y'know, perfectly to the specs I, um, was looking for. I worked with Ibanez for about two years on it and it's a relatively high-end guitar. They wanted to have a new line of an acoustic that's sort of high-endish and we worked on it and got it down. It's a beautiful instrument, too.
A: I'm keen to see one in the flesh, I'm sure the pictures I've seen on the internet don't do justice to the finish of them.
S: Yeah, well, yeah, definitely not.
A: I don't know that we have them in the country yet.
S: Ah, that I wouldn't know. [They are at a premium, we're told, and are coming in by order through your local Ibanez stockist. Ed]
A: All of your live guitars have the sustainer system now?
S: No, not at all. I just have it in one guitar, Flo. Y'know when you put one of those things in a guitar it completely changes the characteristic of the entire instrument, and I'm not as fond of ah, the sound of the guitar with those things in them, than I am without. But there're songs that I've written with it and there're things that I do with the sustainer that necessitate having them.
A: Okay, so we've talked a little bit about your input into the Jem, is there anything in the future that you'd like to do with the Jem? I mean, it's been refined - changes to the bridge, changes to the pick-ups, the AANJ, that kind of thing. Have you got any ideas about what will happen in the future to the Jem?
S: Yeah, we're working on a Jem that doesn't have a locking system, y'know, because when you have that kind of a floating tailpiece it introduces a whole new set of rules to your playing.
A: Would that be a fixed bridge Jem?
S: Yeah, it'll be a fixed-bridge Jem. A: I have a few Ibanez RGs and the one I go back to all the time is my fixed-bridge seven-string just because it's so much easier to keep the thing in tune.
S: Yeah, it's much easier, there's always a give and take. It would be a lot easier to keep it in tune when it has seven strings too.
A: Another guy I know has one who says it's a nightmare to keep in tune unless you can have a tech come out and tweak it for you...
A: You seem to favour the older Edge Pro tremelo. Is that something else you choose to use rather than a Lo Pro?
S: Well, the Lo Pro is relatively new compared to the guitars that I use, y'know and if I was gonna change the bridge on, ah, Evo I would probably try the Lo Pro. I think eventually I'll have to because the bridges, y'know because I go through maybe one bridge every year and a half or so I think and I'll probably throw one in there. I have guitars at home that have Lo Pro.
A: How large is your home guitar collection these days? Is it Nigel Tuffnel size?
S: [Laughs] Y'know I'm not a big collector of guitars. I don't, I don't really see the um, fascination in having a guitar that's a collectable unless it really sounds great, some of them sound great and if that was the case I'd have one. And I have some, I do, I have some nice old guitars that I, um, had to search for but I'm not like ah, a collector of old guitars.
A: So you're not going to lock them in a vault somewhere.
S: Nah. I give a lot of guitars away, y'know, so it's funny. I just went through my collection and every guitar that I have is relatively unique y'know, there's something about it that's unique. I don't have like, 30 Jems, I could if I didn't give 'em all away, I'd have probably 50. But, um, it doesn't make sense to me to keep guitars I'm not playing. So all the guitars that I have, maybe I have, lemme see, four, five six, seven, maybe I've got about eight or 10 Jems. And then I have a lot of Jem alterations, a lot of bizarre type, I have a guitar with two whammy bars on it, a Jem with two whammy bars, I have um, a baritone Jem. It's funny 'cause I can really have any guitars I want and I don't have any attraction to Les Pauls or Flying V's or things like that 'cause I can't play them.
A: I guess that's' the beauty of having your own guitar.
S: Yeah it is, it really is. A: I read somewhere that you can pick up any Jem and it's comfortable for you to play because it's exactly how you want your guitar to be.
S: Well, provided that the store, y'know, or whoever gives it to me set it up right. Yeah, there's no difference in my guitar, in Evo, than any other Jem really. But, y'know having said that, guitars just inherently sound different even if they're right off the production line one right after another, it's just a matter of, y'know, the wood, the ageing... The thing that I found most effective in the sound of a guitar, besides obviously the kind of pick-ups and stuff like that, the sound of the guitar in it's organic state is the resonation between the neck and the body. And y'know if you take a neck and you, ah, tap it, it has a vibration to it, and it will speak a particular pitch and if you tap the body of the guitar that will speak a particular pitch. If those pitches resonate, y'know, harmoniously, such as a perfect fifth or a perfect fourth or an octave, y'know, it'll have an effect on the sustain and some things. And maybe one of the reasons why I'm so attracted to Evo, is because of the pitch ratio in the pieces. But that can change from guitar to guitar to guitar, y'know. So you've really gotta kinda... I mean it's, it's almost nebulous, but if you're so in tune to the instrument you'll notice.
A: One question that everyone came up with is why are all your favourite Jems white?
S: [Laughs] It just happened to turn out that way.
A: Just that way? S: Yeah, when um, when the white Jem came out I was sent, like, three of them to check out, and I couldn't tell the difference between them, 'cause they were exactly the same, um, one of them had Breed pick-ups and the other had Evolution pick-ups. The Evolution pick-up was brand new at the time and this guitar was brand new so it makes sense to play whatever model is being sold at that time. That's why I wrote Evo on the guitar, it was that particular guitar that had the Evolution pick-ups, and um, every time we'd come out with a new model, it would make sense if I was to play it, for promotional reasons and whatnot. Y'know, a guitar kind of, it's nothing but wire and wood, but as a performer you impose upon it your personality and your touch and that guitar will develop it's own kind of personality. It becomes your friend sort of, y'know, it's the tool of your emotional expression and as a result of that you can sort of cultivate an affinity for it and a relationship. In reality it's still just wire and wood, but ah, you give it a personality, and the more a guitar is played and the more it's aged, it takes on it's own characteristics. I mean if I go out and pick up a brand new Jem right now, it feels new to me, y'know and it feels like it needs to be broken in. So although I've said in the past I can go to any Jem, pick it up and play it because they're all the same in a way, in many respects they are, but nothing can take the place of y'know just hours of, of, of sweat being soaked into the guitar and your personal emotion, your emotional investment in the instrument. It's a little frightening because you put too much into an instrument and ah, if anything happens to the instrument, you have to remember it's just wire and wood.
A: Hard to do sometimes though...
S: Yeah, I'll say! A: You do have you're favourites that you go back to all the time. You think if anything happened to that, I just couldn't replace it. At all.
S: You'd eventually replace it somehow, but ah, you'd always probably pine for the original.
A: We've also been discussing, here at any rate, there seems to be a lot of talk about the shred revival, particularly in guitar magazines. Are there any new shreddy players that you like or are we going to have an old school kind of thing with people getting back into Satriani's, MacAlpines, Malmsteens or is shred dead as they say?
S: Well, I have a small independent record label called Favored Nations, and I receive tapes all the time and I have to tell you that there is a very strong underground movement of kids who are trying to achieve greatness on the instrument in the way of virtuosity. And, y'know, some of it's very shreddy and some of it's musical, some of it's crap and some of it's inspired, y'know it's everything in between, Gandhi to gangbangers y'know [laughs]. I think that shred, the only way it will be revived, and I really don't think it would, um, would be when somebody comes along and does something tremendously musical with it and makes a statement. Not just musically, but um, like any other great artist that has um y'know, changed the course of music in the past such as your Claptons, Hendrixes, Becks and Pages. Y'know there is a whole balance of things, y'know whole recipe of things that go into that particular player that balances out. Ah, take Hendrix for instance. He had a lot of things in balance - he could write great songs, he could y'know he, he basically went out there every night and reinvented the instrument. Y'know he looked cool, he was a black guy playing white guys' music. It's rumored that he had a big dick, all of these things and he had y'know the right sense of spacyology y'know, and his whole sexual persona and his coolness and all those things rolled into a y'know two and a half minute song called Foxy Lady or whatever, or y'know a Machine Gun, that's what reinvented the instrument. And people Like Edward Van Halen did it, and Y'know Joe did it, and for a shred revival someone's gonna have to come along that makes a very musical statement and has a lot of other things in balance along with the shred.
A: Yeah, I get that. Something I didn't have written down that I'd like to ask is do you think that commercial radio is perhaps a little bit dumbed down?
S: I don't think it's any more dumbed down than it ever was, y'know. Commercial radio appeals to the lowest common denominator, y'know it serves it purpose, it's wallpaper and the thing we have to remember is young kids come along and they have a lot of energy and they want to do exciting things and they wanna be famous and all this stuff. It's always, I mean, if you think about the 50s even, some of the pop music at that time and then you think about some of the real artistic things that were going on you're probably going to find the same proportion as to what's happening today. The terrible thing that I see that's happening, and I know this first hand 'cause I have to deal with it, is that um, there's oceans of beautiful music in the world that can change the quality of your life that you'll never hear because radio isn't gonna play it. And what's happening in America with radio is virtually criminal. In order to get your music on the radio you have to pay a lot of money and record companies are at the mercy of radio stations y'know in a sense because in order to break a band they have to pay a lot of money. Now, obviously the band has to have some kind of substance or a hit song and usually y'know all the music on the radio or most of it is the pantomiming of somebody else's genius. For a trendsetter who comes along and really creates a trend then there's all these trend mongers who just copy it. And then what happens is it just gets really watered down and what's happening in America now is um, the, ah, consolidation of radio. Which means that there are companies buying up all the radio stations and creating play lists in one location and then just shipping them out. There used to be a time where public radio, and even commercial radio, the music that was played was chosen by DJs who were real music lovers, and had extensive collections and brought real interesting and cool things on the radio and it didn't necessarily have to be one style y'know. But it's really going away, that's way gone. A: One thing that really irks me, is well we have American Idol there, and we have Australian Idol here...
S: I watched Australian Idol and I was repulsed.
A: Yeah I mean not only did the winner get to release a single and an album but four of the other people who didn't win get to release albums, and it's like these guys don't have long careers they're releasing covers and crap like that. S: Well, yeah, well you've gotta understand that there's a big difference, yeah I understand what you're saying, there's a big difference between that kind of thing and artistic cultural music you know what I mean? Y'know people just wanna be, they don't wanna have to think, they don't wanna, some times y'know most of the time y'know they just want entertainment, they want it simple and things like American Idol, they watch it and you know what? They dream, y'know everybody who watches that show dreams that that's them up there or something. And when you watch somebody like a Britney Spears or, y'know some of these other pop, contemporary pop artists they're serving a purpose in a way, y'know. They're allowing people, most people that are just interested in, y'know, living day to day, they give them an opportunity to fantasise and to dream and all that stuff but that's not really the playground that like, you and I play in, do you know what I mean?
A: Oh, I do. S: And that's why we're so pissed off about it but in reality it's a different world to the kind of thing we're into and we just have to accept it.
A: Yeah, it's hard some days...
S: Yeah, tell me about it brother! My music, I can count on one crippled hand the amount of times my music has been played on the radio, and that's the truth.
A: Yeah I mean recently there was, I don't know if you're aware of an Australian band Frenzal Rhomb, who were hauled over coals by one of the big radio networks here for daring to say that Pop Idol or Australian Idol was rubbish and that kind of thing.
S: Well, y'know I'm not one for trashing anybody, y'know, in any field that they're in. I mean if they believe in what they're doing and if there's people out there who get a kick out of it then God bless 'em, I hope they sell 50 million records, I could care less. It's not gonna stop me from doing what I do.
A: I think that is one of the best things. I mean it's not gonna stop you. I mean I don't wanna talk about myself but the things I write no-one's ever gonna buy...
S: Why do you say that?
A: Well that's not true. Some people will buy it but every time I play it for people they say "what? why is it three minutes before the verse kicks in?" What do they mean? That's just the way the song goes.
[S: yeah] or "why is it in 6/8, I can't dance to that."
S: Well, you're playing it for the wrong people! [laughs] A: Probably you're right, I should just keep playing it for my Mum so she'll say, "That's good, dear"
S: [Laughs heartily at my joke] Well lemme, lemme tell you something. The first thing, the first record I ever made, I built my own studio and I went in there and I recorded this record all on my own and it was the weirdest record, it's called Flexible...
A: I've got it!
I remember the first time someone gave it to me.
S: Yeah, well d'you know that that record is like a little classic amongst my fans? I've sold so many of those, so I've probably sold a million of 'em and the thing is it's because it was an alternative form of entertainment, it um, gave people an opportunity to exercise a different brain muscle in their listening pleasure, you know what I mean? It was peculiar and weird and it was different and there's stuff in there that has nothing to do with verses and choruses, but if I was gonna give you some advice about your own music I would tell you this: Ah, the impact your music will have on somebody is a reflection of the sincerity and passion that you put into it. Now, not everybody's gonna get it, you know what I mean? It's like you might listen to The Darkness and not like them but there's a lot of people who do.
By the same token if there was a lot of people who heard your music maybe some of them would like it and some of them wouldn't.
A: Yeah, I think you've got a fair point there...
S: Yeah, so you can't really, listen if there's anybody who has complained and kevetched about, y'know, the radio and the, and condition of pop music it's me! [laughs] But I've come to learn through the years that I just don't belong to that circle, nor will I ever and you, you just have to accept that and, and you know what it all boils down to is confidence. If you have confidence in what you're doing then it doesn't matter.
A: All right let's go back into stuff shall we? Live settings is what were about to see, what's your approach to live sound as opposed to studio sound?
S: In regard to... my guitar?
A: To guitars, amps, your whole thing. Do you pick a few settings, like here's a great rhythm, here's a great lead. Or is there certain patches for each song?
S: Well y'know, when you're in the studio you have a lot more, ah, time to fool around with different sounds and you can build a sound in the studio that's virtually impossible to reproduce live. I do that all the time, so you have to make some compensations when you go out live. When I build my live rig, y'know um, I don't like to limit myself in the studio. If I wanna play something that has three different amplifiers, I mean if I wanna record something that needs three different amplifiers, y'know which includes a direct, an AC, a Marshall or a Legacy and mix them together, y'know I can't do that live so you just kind go for it. My rig live is a consolidation, of sorts, of everything and um, the songs that I choose to perform live, y'know I can make them happen with the sound that I have.
A: Are you a loud or a quiet on stage?
S: Well, it's according to the venue. It's according to the monitors, um actually my amplifiers in back of me, my speaker cabinets are not very loud at all.
A: Right, so you hear most of yourself through foldback?
S: Yeah, because if it's too loud you can't control the sound but the monitors are where I get a lot of the sound too, 'cos they're right in front of you, I can hear my guitar with the bass and the drums. Y'know, on the last G3 tour we just wrapped up a few days ago actually, the sound guy was asking me to turn up and that was a first. And I really couldn't 'cos it would have too much of an effect on the way the guitar is y'know reacting to the stage sound. Sometimes, I gotta tell ya, it's difficult to get a good sound on stage with the band 'cos it's always different, every night, every stage. Y'know you get on a stage that has carpeting which is completely different from wood which is completely different to like, rubber, so you've just gotta go for it and say to hell with it.
A: You mentioned before the TC G-Force. Any other new favourite bits of gear that you really like?
S: [long pause] No. [laughs]
S: When I go back ah, when I get back home an' I start preparing for the next ah, tour for next year and stuff, I'll probably mosey on down to Guitar Center and see what they've got. And people, y'know companies send me stuff all the time, I got, I have access to virtually any piece of gear.
A: Okay the Legacy, which you aren't bringing with you, what was the design philosophy behind that? Was that to replicate an amp you already had or was that "this is the sound I've got in my head, build me an amp that gives me the sound in my head"?
S: Exactly. Um, In the past I've used a lot of different amplifiers, Marshalls, Soldanos, to Bogner, I had a Pitbull, and they all have completely different characteristics and as with the Jem when I have the opportunity unique to my own idiosyncrasies, um, I did it. And with the Legacy the same situation arose, I had the opportunity to design an amplifier and tweak the sounds until it sounded like the kind of thing that I like more than anything else. Like I say, my music can be very aggressive, ah, but when you plug into something like a... What the heck are those amps that everybody, all those metal bands use?
A: Like a pod?
S: No, no, no... Right before the pods... Those amps. Oh, I'm sorry I can't... It's slipping my mind right now. I've got a good memory but it's short. [laughs]
A: The ones before the pods?
S: Y'know, like Korn uses...
A: The Dual Rectifier!
S: Yes, The Dual Rectifier. That amp has a certain sound to it, y'know, and I've tried it and I had one and it's tremendously aggressive. Sharp and tight, but it's not me y'know, my sound has softer edges, my music has softer edges than aggressive metal and so y'know, I can't use those amps if I really wanna create my own voice. There's a song on the new record called [we've got no idea how to spell it but it sounds like this. Ed] Compe du wee and it's Evo in the neck position directly plugged into a Legacy, it's really, it's as close to me as a player and sound goes as you can get.
A: That must be awesome, to be able to go, "here is the sound in my head, build it."
S: It really is. It's one of the fringe benefits of being a successful guitar player. [laughs] It's like, I was talking to Larry DiMarzio the other day and we're going to design a new pick-up, y'know and I can talk to Ibanez an design an acoustic or an electric or I can tweak the Legacy, it's really nice. The most amazing thing is that they go into production and I make a truckload of money. [laughs]
A: That sure is a nice benefit to it]
S: It is! I never take it for granted and if you ever hear me complain tell me to shut the f#$% up! [Both laugh]
A: Oh, I shall. Let's talk about some general things now shall we? S: Sure.
A: The band you've got now is awesome [S: thank you] but is this your dream band of members dead or alive? Do you play that kind of game with people where you say "Right, build me your most awesome band now"?
S: Oh, I get that question all the time, and yes this is my ultimate favourite band. Dead or alive.
A: You've played with Billy Sheehan a lot, he must be one of your all-time favourite guys.
S: Well, when you're doing a specific kind of, when I'm doing a specific type of music y'know, in the past I have a whole handful of musician that I like to work with. I hire this guy for this particular type of song and this guy for that song because they deliver what I'm hearing in my head. Um, Billy is an extraordinary player and because we're both kind of violent virtuosos in a sense... if I'm allowed to call myself that... We hit it off, you know what I mean? And for a particular type of presentation, such as the one I got now with this band, nobody is better for it than Billy.
A: So is he a part of the sound in your head often then?
S: Well, yeah. You create a vision and you try to make that vision real, that's at least what I do, some people just get together and see what happens.
A: is there anything that you've heard lately that you've really, really liked that people might not think Steve Vai would listen to?
S: Oh yeah, that happens all the time.
S: Sure. Um, what you might not think I'd listen to? There's certain forms of classical music that I Like, I don't like frou frou classical y'know I don't listen to Mozart or Beethoven or Bach or any of that stuff. I listen to Stravinsky or Ravel, matter of fact right before you called I was listening to Ravel, y'know VarŹse, Webern, Anton Webern, y'know Zappa. But y'know I like, I respond to anything that I think is sincere and I find that in all different genres. The CDs that I take with me that I usually never go any place without are my Tom Waits collection, I'm a big Tom Waits fan. I have some Celtic music that I really enjoy, I have this one CD called Celtic Lullabies. I never go any place without Petrushka by Stravinsky, or Right of Spring. What else? I bring the Untouchables with me all the time, the Korn record. My son listens to some really heavy metal y'know there's some really cool stuff.
A: Do they ever bring stuff home and you go like, "Hey, what's that?"
S: Oh, yeah man. He asked me to take him to a Static-X concert...
A: I saw them on the Korn show, with them and Fear Factory...
S: And I thought that they were great...
A: I remember seeing the first video for I'm With Stupid late one night and I saw Wayne Static and just thought, "He's cool"...
S: And you've seen them live?
A: Yeah. S: We went to this little club and saw them, and man, they're just rockin', man. Like really good.
A: Yeah they've kinda got the whole package...
S: They've got the sound, they got the look, they got the attitude, they've got the music. There's not a lot of melody in what they do but it's so powerful, y'know? A: Have you got a record this year that you have taken to everyone you know and said, "You have to listen to this record"?
S: Yeah. Have you ever heard of Fredrik Thordendal? He's a guitarist from Meshuggah. That guy is a genius you know.
A: Yeah, he scares me...
S: He is un-be-liev-able, I was stunned into silence when I heard his solo record. It's brilliant, it's one the most brilliant records I have ever heard. Also, ha!, I have some great artists on my label, this guy Johnny A, he makes beautiful guitar music, and um, have you ever heard of Mattias IA Eklundh?
A: Sorry, I haven't...
S: I released a record of his a while ago called Freak Guitar and he just sent me his new record called Freak Guitar - The Road Less Traveled. You cannot imagine what this guy is doing with a guitar. I've never heard anything like it in my life. [laughs] It's freakish, man. He just has a different approach, it's not like it beautiful melodic music, there is melody in it, but just what he does with the guitar is really unique. And then there's like, I released a Tommy Emmanuel CD and when you try to compare Fredrik Thordendal with Tommy Emmanuel, you can't.
A: It's chalk and cheese isn't it?
S: Yeah, but they're both tremendous players, and they're both great musicians. Fredrik is a great, he's a very good guitar player but he's just a brilliant musician, y'know where Tommy Emmanuel is so focused on the guitar, the acoustic guitar and he makes it sing y'know. I like Joe's [Satriani] new record too. Yeah there's a song on there called Is There Love In Space? It's totally inspired. It's one of the great guitar ballads. A: Have any of the kids picked up an instrument yet?
S: Yeah, yeah. My son, my youngest son, he's 12, his name is Fire and he just started playing the guitar and I've been giving him lessons and jamming with him. It's really great.
A: That's not much pressure, is it?
S: Yeah right! Well the great thing was on the G3 tour Joe brings out his son, and his son and my son are basically the same age and ah, his son ZZ plays the guitar and I have like video, I have videos of them jamming. Just imagine that! He's a pretty interesting kid, he plays the cello and he plays a little keyboards but he's really into this classical music, he's not like his brother who's listening to like, y'know, Rammstein and ah, System of a Down and all these very heavy bands. And he's really into the Kill Bill soundtrack.
A: Okay, thanks for your time today Steve.
S: Sure, no problem. Are you coming to the show?
A: Yeah man, I'll be front row.
S: Hey, hold me up a "Hi!" sign or something...
A: Will do, thanks Steve. S: Sure.