From the Archive: Steve Vai Discusses His 1996 Album, 'Fire Garden'
Here's an interview with Steve Vai from the October 1996 issue of Guitar World, which featured Kurt Cobain on the cover. To see the Cobain cover -- and all the GW covers from 1996 -- click here.
There are a lot of people who don't want to hear any sounds emanating from my mouth," says Steve Vai. That makes the news about Fire Garden, the guitar virtuoso's latest album, extremely shocking: Steve Vai sings.
To his credit, Vai is not a whit defensive about a decision that may disturb even some of his most loyal fans. "I love to sing," he says. "It has always been very close to my heart. I'm going for it on this record, even though I know I may be in for some harsh criticism."
The truth be told, Fire Garden, Vai 's first release on 550 Music, is not his debut as a major-league vocalist. That's his voice you hear on much of Flex-Able (Akhashic) and its sequel, Flex-Able Leftovers, the guitarist's self-produced records from the early Eighties. Vai also did some lead vocals on his ill-fated Sex and Religion (Relativity, 1993), and he often sang background during his tenure as resident guitar monster with the late Frank Zappa.
Vai's previous vocal efforts notwithstanding, Fire Garden is his first true effort as a singer/songwriter/guitar hero. Small wonder that he finds the prospect of performing his new material a bit daunting. "I don't know," says Vai, "what's going to happen when I get on stage and have to sing and play at the same time."
But it's difficult to associate anything resembling fear with Vai. Fire Garden is the most daring and ambitious album of his career. More than 75 minutes long, the record sustains a burning intensity throughout that is simply breathtaking. Just about every aspect of Steve's prodigious musicianship informs this record.
"What I do," says Vai, "is an amalgamation of all the music I've ever heard, plus a little of my own inspiration and the desire to hear music that I want to be stimulated by. I grabbed from every area on this record; it's a total 'Vai' record, whatever that means."
Vai is about to embark on an adventure that would intimidate even the most overly self -assured, arrogant -to-the-point -of-mental-illness shredder. He, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson will set forth this fall on a super tour to end all super tours.
"For me, it's an event of a lifetime," says Vai. "To be on the same bill with those guys is, besides being a great honor, like a dream come true."
GUITAR WORLD: Can you describe the layout of Fire Garden?
The way it worked out, the album has two phases: Phase One is the instrumental phase, which is essentially "side 1," and Phase Two is the vocal phase, or "side 2."
I amassed over 75 minutes of music, which is enough for a double album. If I released it as a double album, though, it would be much more expensive. So, instead, I crammed two albums worth of material onto one album, and I'm presenting it in two phases.
Are you the lead singer on all of the vocal material?
The first vocal bit we hear is on the track called "Deepness." What's the story behind that piece?
"Deepness" functions as an intro to the second phase of the record. I sing a melody a long with the guitar, with some orchestration added. I didn't want to just start the vocal section of the album cold, 'cause this will be the first time a lot of people have ever heard me sing. I wanted to bring it in with something a little more mellifluous.
How do you feel now about this foray into the lead vocal arena?
It's frightening. I suspect that I'm going to have a very good time, because I always wanted to sing more on stage. I like doing it, but it requires a whole new set of brain muscles.
When you're just the guitarist, if you break your ankle, or if you have a sore throat, you can still get onstage and play. If you're the singer, it's a different story. Being a singer beats you up more. I've always been content to stand back and let everyone else sing. I find it very hard to play the guitar and sing at the same time. If I could do that, I'd probably have a career! [laughs]
You're putting yourself in a bit of a tough situation, aren't you?
Well, yes and no. I really do get into singing live. I lack confidence, but once I get over that and really let loose, it'll be fun. I'll have to pace myself.
The problem is, I don't have the same kind of control over my voice that I do with my guitar playing. I'm not a professional singer; I don't know my "pet," so to speak. I don't know when he's going to bite me or when I have to feed him. It'll take time to become friends with this beast, to get intimately familiar with all of the ins and outs of singing.