Steve Vai Discusses Joe Satriani, Frank Zappa and Ry Cooder in 1987 Guitar World Interview
Now, after an invaluable apprenticeship with Zappa and an interim period of self-assessment with Alcatrazz, Vai is coming into his own as a fully-realized instrumentalist. At this point, after honing his chops on a string of one-nighters all across America with the Roth band, Vai is at the top of his game. It's as if he thrives on the scrutiny. He knows who he's being compared to up there on stage and in spite of his respect for Edward The Great, he's not about to back down. On the contrary, he's pushing himself even harder. No time to rest now, he figures. Keep working, keep searching, stay hungry.
Consequently, he's improving (if you can believe that). In Zappa's band Steve played all the impossible guitar parts behind Frank's solo excursions, and connoisseurs were impressed. In Alcatrazz, he stepped forward as a strong soloist in his own right, and fans were amazed. Now with Roth, he's evolving to a higher plateau. He's playing like a man inspired, reaching peaks of ecstasy in the process. It's becoming second nature. He's breathing the music now. He's playing more with his heart and less with his head. It's flowing through him. He's finally expressing himself with his instrument.
"Now I'm able to not have to think about what I'm doing and it just comes out," he explains. "It has to do with your own frame of mind and your own consciousness. It's like being at one, expressing myself with my body and my guitar in a synchronized way. It's become a flow, an emotion, where I'll play a lick and my body will just go with it. It's a beautiful, beautiful feeling. It's taken me a little time to get there but it's beautiful when it happens.
"It's a channel and it's hard to induce. The sound of your amps has a lot to do with it because that’ll affect your frame of mind as you play. If everything sounds great, which it does most of the time, then it's easier to go into that void where you're able to just space out and communicate with your instrument and the audience."
To fully appreciate this enlightened stage at which Vai has finally arrived, you have to understand that he went through a very dark, desolate period to get there. It's a very personal subject; one that he doesn't wish to dwell on. But he does offer this:
"I was always a happy guy, you know, I mean, I was working for Frank Zappa, I was making money, I had a gig, I was fairly well respected in the music community, but something came over me. Sometimes you can't explain these things. Who knows what brings on depression' But it got to the point where I was questioning life at the time. I didn't understand what was going on. But nobody knew. I kept everything to myself, pretty much. Although I was a different guy on the outside, I guess. I felt like I had lost my sense of humor. And I felt like my body was deteriorating. It was a very black period in my life. And I realized that if I didn't do something, I would die."
He continues in a contemplative tone. ''I'm sure a lot of people can relate to what I'm saying. Something comes over you, you hit rock bottom ... then bang' You come right back up. You get through it, you figure it out, you learn from it. That happened to me. And I've been on an upswing ever since. I just keep getting happier and happier every day. And now, playing with Dave, I'm just ecstatic. It's the happiest I've ever been. And I thank God that I was able to start to really appreciate life, my friends, music. There's a lot of things I'd like to talk about and maybe someday I will. But right now, at this point in my career, I don't want to say certain things that might give people the wrong impression. Let's keep it positive."