His mentor is Joe Satriani, he’s played alongside David Lee Roth, David Coverdale, Frank Zappa and Ozzy Osbourne and he’s one of the fastest fret burners on the planet.
We can only be talking about the man himself – Steve Vai. And as the multi-talented axeman prepares to turn 50 next year (!) he took time out to talk to rushonrock about his fantastic new live CD/DVD package Where The Wild Things Are, his buddy Satch’s new band Chickenfoot and a whole load of other stuff. Enjoy.
rushonrock: With high definition video and huge advances in audio is this a golden era for artists who want to deliver an as-live experience via CD and DVD?
Steve Vai: I think every year’s a golden year from that point of view as there are always exciting new advances in technology which help to get the full gig experience across. When the digital age arrived I was still very young but the concept was fascinating. There was a chance to deliver music differently and present it in a different quality. But of course there was a price to pay. It got compressed and it ended up sounding like all the hard work you’d put in was squashed. That was the limitation of using computers back then. Now it’s so much easier to set the information you require and with Blu Ray the sound and picture you can get from a player really excites me. When I attended the premier of Where The Wild Things Are I was stunned by how it looked.
rushonrock: Do you handle everything when it comes to your various projects now?
SV: I do it all. Well, pretty much all of it. For WTWTA I hired someone to put the camera team together. But I wrote the music and rehearsed the band. I mixed all the audio and produced the CD and DVD. The only thing I don’t do are the graphics and the packaging – I never really had the expertise for that. I like my work to be the best that it can possibly be and that’s why I look after most of it.
rushonrock: Is there anyone who meets your high standards?
SV: I might find someone who can work with me on something but the problem with that is that I’m very focused on what I want. I know how to go about making a record and I’m not opposed to someone taking it to the next level. But I’m a special case because my music is esoteric and eclectic and very much my vision.
rushonrock: When you play with the calibre of musicians who feature on WTWTA does it inspire you to raise your game?
SV: They raise the bar of the whole team. You support each other and work together to take the show to the next level. There’s a lot of mutual respect and love between the band you see and hear on WTWTA – they’re the prime ingredients you need to keep that bar raised. In some bands there can be a lot of friction and inner turmoil and there are some guys who feel that they need that. But I don’t want that in my band. I want everyone to keep learning and keep loving. That creates a more effective and stimulating entertainment experience for the people who come to watch them.
rushonrock: As a musician you’ve achieved so much but do you still have more ambitious projects lined up?
SV: I’m very content with what I’ve achieved. I never expected to achieve as much. Having said that I have way too many dreams and hopes for future projects. My task right now is letting go of so many of the screenplays and operas and all of these intense ideas which I have. They’re sparked in a moment and take a year before they become reality. I’m going to be 50 very soon and there are times in your life when you have to be practical about your work and your potential and the time you have left. I’m eliminating the fat, if you like, and prioritising the musical statements which are the most powerful and unique.
rushonrock: What’s the best thing about being in a band?
SV: I’m very fortunate because I’ve enjoyed great experiences in all of the bands that I’ve played in. All the people I worked with were so helpful and I got to be a rock star. I got to learn from people who were very experienced and powerful players in their field and I don’t see any of the time I was in these bands as a negative period.
rushonrock: How did you cope with so many egos and so many strong personalities?
SV: A lot of what I went through as a band member was a learning process and I used it as the building blocks for my life and my career. It’s all about learning how to work with other people and learning how to relate to other people. Working with David Lee Roth was very different to working with Graham Bonnett and very different to working with guys in a High School band – I experienced different success levels with all of them but I feel most of the relationships have been successful. To this day I can call anyone I’ve ever worked with and they’ll pick up the phone.
rushonrock: Were you surprised you old mate Joe Satriani changed the habit of a lifetime and joined a band?
SV: I think it was a natural thing for Satch to join Chickenfoot. I know he likes being in a band and at the very least it gives him the chance to put his solo career on hold for a while and hang out with some very cool guys! I’m really glad for him that he’s had the opportunity to do that. But knowing Joe as I do he’s going to have to go back to his solo thing at some stage because he’s so artistically driven on so many levels.