Legendary guitarist and visionary composer Steve Vai is one of the most admired musicians known all over the world for his original style. He got his start in the music industry working with the iconic Frank Zappa after graduating from Berklee College of Music. Vai toured and recorded with Zappa from 1980 until 1982. Once he left the band, he embarked on a journey for his own solo career. He released his first album, Flex-able in 1983 and immediately caused a stir in the industry among both fans and critics. His talent and drive paid off as he is one of the most sought after guitar players in the world. Vai has released eight solo albums to date and has sold over 15 million albums worldwide and has won three Grammys. Vai recently released his eighth studio album, The Story of Light.
In a recent interview with Vai, he talked about his new album, composing, Frank Zappa and much more. The Story of Light follows the journey of a man driven mad by grief, intertwining tragedy, revelation, enlightenment, and redemption. When he started writing for the album, he had a story in mind. This album is actually the second installment of the story, as the first installment begins on his 2005 album, Real Illusions: Reflections. Vai’s songwriting is based on many things that we all encounter in life. “The creative aspect of our imagination is the most interesting…the songs are based on love, fantasy, politics,” he said.
Most people know Vai as a guitar player, but he talked candidly about his metaphysical beliefs and the spiritual paths he takes in life, which come full circle with his composing. His composing takes place in his own studio which he designed. “It’s nice to have a comfortable environment to create. The woods, stone and fabrics are all earthy. There are plants growing out of the wall,” he said. This is only the first part of his creative process.
Mostly importantly, when he is composing, Vai said that he tries not to put up parameters. He explained his creative process, “First I imagine the project. I create the image in my mind and want to be very excited about it. Next is the laborious part. I have to put it all together and it’s a lot of hard work. Then I listen to it and critique it.” There’s no doubt that he has this down to a fine art with fan favorites such as “The Audience is Listening,” “Tender Surrender,” and “For the Love of God.” Currently, his favorite songs to perform live are “Gravity Storm” and “Weeping China Doll,” which are both off his latest album, The Story of Light.
In the 80’s, Vai performed in the David Lee Roth band with Roth, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette. After he left that project, he joined Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell, and when Adrian Vandenberg injured his wrist, Vai played all of the guitar parts for the album Slip of the Tongue. Of his experiences working in these rock bands, he said, “I was a composer long before I was a rock star. I cut my teeth on rock music in the 70’s, and the 80’s was my opportunity to be in a rock band, but in the back of my mind I was always focused on my own music.”
Frank Zappa was a huge early influence for Vai. He learned many things from Zappa and said that the most important thing Zappa taught him was to be independent. “Frank was very independent, very honest…and very independent about technology. He did what he wanted,” he said of his mentor. If anything, Vai is a very independent musician who doesn’t think twice about pop culture. He has learned many things from Zappa, about both music and life, and those lessons are instilled in him today. Vai has some advice of his own for musicians wanting to break into the industry: “Find the most important thing to you. You’ll never fail if you never give up.”
For more information: www.vai.com.