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Steve Vai Interview

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    Posted: 31 May 2017 at 12:23pm
Hi Steve,

My name is John Sanders, I’m a music educator and performer in the Memphis area. I play RnB, blues, jazz and rock, and I’m also a curator for  jazzmusicarchives.com. Our site contains bios, reviews and discogs for many jazz artists, as well other artists that jazz fans like. Some of the other rock/blues/RnB guitarists on our site besides yourself include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana, Robert Fripp etc.

S- Great, congratulations!

1) Lets cut to the chase here, tell us about your new album (“Modern Primitive”), which is made up of music pulled up from your past.

S- My first solo record Flex-Able was my introduction t engineering, producing and crating music. After I released it a put a band together called the Classified” and started to write more music and actually recorded various aspects of a handful of songs, but nothing was complete.

Soon after I joined a rock band called “Alcatrazz” and then I was signed to a solo deal with Capitol Records. I decided to shelve all that music I was working on with the Classified and started to write and record what turned out to be my second solo record “Passion and Warfare”.

The music from the Classified sat on the shelf and when releasing the 25th anniversary of PAW, I thought it would be a good opportunity to finish the Classified music and release it, hence the title “Modern Primitive”.

When I listen to MP I hear that youthful enthusiasm, spirit, fearlessness and creativity that most people go through in their teens and early 20’s.

It’s the missing link between Flex-Able and PAW in that it shows my evolution in composition, engineering and producing.

The music is quirky, melodic, and can scratch an itch that some people may have that conventional music may miss. But it’s not pop culture accessible.

2) Now I have a few guitar players I was wondering if you would want to talk about, the first one is Pete Cosey.

S- I don’t know enough of his work to be useful in commenting.

3) Oz Noy

S-Unfortunately the same. Geez, I have to get out more. I’ll check these guys out for sure.

4) Jeff Beck

S- Jeff is a craftsman of the highest order. He continues to evolve his voice on the instrument. Very rare. He’s been one of my favorites since I first heard him when I was a young teenager.


5) The young Ritchie Blackmore (late 60s to mid 70s)

S- Quite stunning. There’s footage that I’ve seen of Richi that has left me speechless. He was the master of controlled abandon.

5b) The young Robert Fripp (late 60s to mid 70s)

S- “Exposure” was a big record for me. Fripp was, and is, fearless. Totally dedicated to the art of music beyond all else.

6) An odd album that you appeared on that caught my attention long ago was PIL’s “Album”. What was it like working with Johnny Lydon?

S- I did all my guitars on that record in a day and Lydon came in at the end of the day, listened and then looked at me and said… “ great Mun”.

We then went out to dinner in New York where when he walks down the street of Greenwich village, it’s almost as if Jesus Christ was in the neighborhood by the way people act. He’s one unique character.

7) What was it like working with Bill Laswell?

S- He was one of my favorite producers I have ever worked with. He offered tremendous freedom and had great trust but at the same time was able to guide you in the direction of his vision for the artist. I really enjoyed working on that PiL record. It was easy and rewarding on deep creative levels.

8) Did you ever work with Bill Laswell on any other projects?

S- Unfortunately not but I’m still hopeful.

9) I found your orchestral album to be very interesting. Any plans to do something like that again?

S- I have right now sitting on my shelf 4 recorded symphonies but I have not had the time to edit and mix. Iv’e always loved composing and thought I would do more of it when I was older, well, I’m older and I’m doing more of it.

I’ve been getting offers from many symphonies who would like to perform my music.

I actually started composing at an early age. I was always fascinated with the academics and theory of the language of music and wanted to understand it and master it. I instinctively knew that if you were fluent in the language then you can express your inner visions in powerful ways.

10) Do you have any favorite classical composers?

S- Hard to say but I really like, Stravinsky, Gyorgi Ligeti, Luciano Berio, Varese, Xanakis, (spelling) Magnus Lindberg, Elliot Carter, Webern, and on a lighter side, Ravel, Mahler, Ennio Morricone,

11) This being for a jazz site, tell us about any favorite or influential jazz or fusion musicians.

S- When I was young I was very much into Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, George Benson, Aydin Esen,

For fusion I loved Mahavishnu, Al Di Meola, but my fave has always been Allan Holdsworth.

and I loved, and still do, big band. Buddy Rich always had the tightest big band. Always enjoyed Duke Ellington, Coltrane, Miles, Also really enjoy contemporary things like “Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society”, And many more.

12) When I was in music school I attended the typical jazz class where you play fake book standards and learn to match the right scale to the right chord. Did you attend those sort of classes as well?

S- I learned about that when I was taking jazz guitar lessons from the age of 13-17 or so and then really had an opportunity to apply it while at Berklee, which at the time was very heavily jazz influenced. But even when I got to Berklee I already understood how to analyze changes.

I had gone through virtually every song in the Real Book and even now I have a cool little app that plays back real Book Standards in any key at any tempo while you jam over them.

I enjoy playing over changes but you really have to keep up on it and I haven’t because the kind of changes I like to play over are not typical Jazz changes. Jazz can be an intellectual understanding of music theory and then when one applies the “rules” of jazz, it can sound that way and have little true inspiration in it. But a good jazz player does not sound as though he’s thinking when he’s blowing over changes. He just sounds like he’s being. This takes an intuitive ear and not an intellectual mind.

13) Did you have any favorite classes when you were in music school?

S- Writing for Percussion.

That’s it for me, now another site member had a few questions for you:

  1. Your album "Flexible" was very much a Zappa inspired eclectic mix of interesting tracks. Starting with "Passion And Warfare" you clearly went in the realms of shredding and heavy metal dominated songwriting. While i absolutely love those albums, i would love to hear a return to the avant-prog type of whimsy in the vein of Zappa. Do you have any plans to explore those musical arenas in the future?

S- Thank you. My new release that was coupled with the 25th anniversary of Passion and Warfare is called “Modern Primitive’ and it’s about as close as I think I will ever venture into my Zappa influence. It was partially recorded and fully written back in the early 80’s so is still heavy on the Zappa but much more mature in the writing than Flex-Able. I completed the record last year so it’s a mix of old and new regarding the production and some guitar solos.

  1. You are one of the most gifted guitarists and composers of instrumental music in the modern world. Tracks like "Fire Garden Suite" are absolute masterpieces of all time. Have you ever considered hiring an outside talented vocalist for your vocal oriented tracks? 

S- Thanks for the kind words, and yes, I would not mind working with vocalists. I like my voice but it’s very limited and not very powerful. I like collaborating with Devin Townsend. He’s has perhaps my favorite voice, aside from Tom Waits.

  1. Do you have any plans to collaborate with other talented artists and create some sort of supergroup that would focus on a sort of musical democracy? 

S- Not really. When it comes to my solo music I’m not interested in a democracy. I’m more interested in creating a catalog of undiluted music. Or at least have it have elements of uniqueness to it.

Having said this, I would not rule out the possibility of anything happening.

  1. Do you think there's any relevance to the answer being 42?

S-Only if you’re referring to the amount of times I’ve been asked that last question in the past week.


Edited by js - 31 May 2017 at 12:24pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 May 2017 at 9:17pm
Yay! Excellent interview! Love Steve Vai and this has inspired me to write some reviews sooooooooon!
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