I was left alone in the Harmony Hut. No, it’s not a corporate
family restaurant chain. It’s virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai’s recording
studio. It’s where the magic happens—his sanctumsanctorum, if you will.
In one of the rooms, his guitars are lined up
against the wall in two long rows, top and
bottom. I see guitars that I remember from
his Alcatrazz and David Lee Roth years, electric sitars, seven-strings and old Frankenstein
Strats. Further back is Vai’s amp rig, locked
and loaded. Sitting on a desk, there is a Ted
Greene chord book opened to the middle
laying on top of a Mahavishnu Orchestra
transcription book. Behind his desk and
workstation in the adjoining room, a large
window reveals a big, beautiful tree situated
just outside the studio, a tree that radiates
the kind of Zen-like peace and serenity I
imagine would be perfect to inspire psychotic guitar riffs in bizarro time signatures.
The studio is immaculate.
Steve Vai is in training for an upcoming triath-lon. At 49 he’s in excellent shape. He’s taller
than my six-foot frame, but then again, he
was genetically engineered to look cool on
stage wearing a guitar, and I wasn’t. Vai is a
very busy yet serene guy who thinks about
what he says before he says it. I’m watching
him do his thing at a photo shoot just prior to
our interview. Vai likes things the way he likes
them—purposeful and focused, he’s direct
without being surly. He also has a great sense
of humor, which is accented by a touch of
East Coast edginess. This highly productive,
“get it done” side of his personality is offset
by the disposition of a very passionate artist and seeker of personal truth and spiritual
equilibrium. Vai also meditates.
Vai’s new concert DVD is called Where The
Wild Things Are. He’s got new band members and new tunes, he’s reworked some
old favorites, and he gets all animated. His
fans will eat this up. When Steve Vai enters
the room, I feel like I’m meeting Kubla
Khan in Xanadu.
How ya’ doin’?
I’m doing great. If things get any better I’m
going to explode. [Laughing]
I can tell. You have a lot going on.
How do you keep all the plates spinning?
It’s all about time management and keeping a focus on priorities and being able to
delegate to people that you can trust. I just
finished a DVD. The priority is marketing
it…. It’s a lot of work. When I’m creating
my music I’m very passionate about it, like
most artists. It’s very important to me. When
it comes time to have to sell it, it’s very difficult because it’s very personal. I’m much
better at selling someone else’s stuff.
Does being a salesman eat away at
your musical creativity?
It doesn’t eat away at it, but it detracts from it.
When I’m being creative, that aspect doesn’t
stifle my creativity, but it’s part of the process.
Any professional musician will tell you that you
have to let people know that your product is
out. Some people really rise to the occasion of
promotion and really enjoy it. I do to a degree,
but I much prefer making the music... I’ll tell ya’
though, with technology the way it’s evolved, it
makes the marketing part a little more creative
and interesting. When it’s done, I go underground. I’m not a guy who thrives being in the
limelight or hangs out at posh Hollywood openings or parties. I can, but I just don’t.
When you’re in the limelight, you’re in all
the way. When you’re out, you stay out…
it’s like “Where’s Steve Vai? … none of
your business!” [laughing]
[Laughing] The artist has to go make more
work. It’s part of the process.
As a musical eclectic do you worry about
writing music that strays away from what
your base audience expects?
With my fans there is no going away from the
base. When it comes from my inner ear, that’s
why they’re my fans. That’s why any artist has
a core following. What they do that attracts
their core following is the most sincere thing
they can do. That comes from their inner ear.
If I make a song on a Steve Vai record, the
audience is going to appreciate it because it
comes from me. If I try to make a pop song
or something that’s not really me, you can’t
fool them. They know in a second. Fans are
so much more intuitive than you think. They
don’t care what I do as long as I’m searching for my inspiration and not pantomiming
somebody else’s music. It’s about honesty.
Fans respond to that.
Tell me about the new DVD.
Oddly enough, I don’t have a lot of DVDs out.
The first one was an EP that I had done that
I made a DVD for. Then I had a live concert
DVD called Live at The Astoria. My last DVD
was with the Metropole Orchestra in Holland.
It was a great project. When I was done,
I needed to get into the studio to make a
studio record, but that would’ve meant that
I wouldn’t have been on tour for years. So, I
decided to put a band together that was part
of a little dream project that I had and just
do a little tour. I did a month in Europe and a
month in America. We went to South America
and it was a tremendous band.
My music is kind of compositional to an extent.
I thought, “Let me do something interesting
and different that I’ve never done, or I’ve never
seen anybody do.” So I thought I’d get a violin
player in the band. I started auditioning these
violin players. They were all these metal guys