Steve Vai Discusses the Struggle to Balance Precision and Passion in 1991 Guitar World Interview
Steve Vai discusses West Side Story, his dedication to the guitar and the sorry state of Top 40 radio in this interview from the April 1991 issue of Guitar World.
Have you ever thought of writing a musical?
Years ago I had a vision of doing a modern variation on West Side Story. I had a story line that pit punks against rockers. The music was going to be scored for a small orchestra, and I envisioned performing at rock clubs like the Roxy in California. I thought it would real cool to get people like Joan Jett and Wendy 0. Williams to star in it.
I understand you've been dabbling in the production of your own videos.
Yeah, videos have gotten so expensive, I thought I'd try to just do it myself. As I mentioned earlier, I'm producing, directing and editing my "For The Love Of God" video. It 's only costing me $20,000, which is a miniscule amount, compared to most video budgets. I hired a cameraman and took him up to Mount Shasta, where we shot a lot of footage. The Mount Shasta stuff is intermingled with some already existing footage that I acquired with the budget I had to work with. So far, the results are very striking. I'm really trying to capture the essence of Passion And Warfare. The song and video are about how far people will go for the love of their god.
To change gears, as an outboard equipment junkie, what would you like to see implemented or invented that is currently non-existent?
There are several things. I'd love to see digital ins and outs on all gear. I just bought a Dyaxis system, which allows you to do stereo digital editing, and it's great. In the guitar realm, a few years ago I talked to Eventide about implementing diatonic harmonizing into their machines, which they have since accomplished. But along with that request were several other things that I would still like to see. Real quirky things, like being able to activate certain effects by hitting the guitar strings harder or softer.
There's also a new thing in the recording world called Q-Sound, which allows you to create tri-dimensional depth in a stereo field. I would like to see that implemented in an amplifier. It's sort of like holographic sound. Maybe this interview will inspire some company to do it -- but if you're listening out there, just don't make it too expensive, okay? [laughs]
I've never heard you speak of any guitars other than Ibanez. Do you ever use anything else?
Not really. I designed the six-string Jem and seven-string Universe model for my specific needs. People think the reason I play Ibanez guitars is that they pay me a whole lot of money. But the truth is, I wouldn't play something that I wasn't comfortable with. It 's just my good fortune that it also ended up being a good business deal. They've just exploded.
So would you say that your sonic diversity comes more from your outboard gear?
Not really. The Jem guitars are ultra-flexible. In fact, when you go for that tubey, single-coil sound, the Jem sounds more like a Strat than a Strat. Ibanez guitars allow me to access any sound that I may need, without the tuning problems associated with other guitars. There is a certain romance about picking up a Strat or a Les Paul, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not really interested in collecting vintage instruments. That stuff goes right over my head. What I'm really drawn to is the music.
What are you currently using for amplification?
That's always a perplexing problem. Marshall has just come out with a new series that has some real nice qualities about it. In the studio, I'm currently using a Series 900 head through a Marshall power amp. That's the closest I've come to the perfect sound.
I used Soldano amps on tour because they are very reliable. They don't have that Marshall edge, but they are very consistent performers. Marshalls tend to be very temperamental -- they're like children sometimes. They put out so much and they slave for you -- but they also blow up.
I also have a Fender Deluxe that I've owned since I was 14. I use it on a few things, most notably the rhythm parts on "The Audience Is Listening."
What are your future plans?
I try not to be too strict with my plans. Every time I've tried to map the future, circumstances completely change. One project I would like to do is a two-hour video based around Passion And Warfare. I've already created a storyboard and have three videos recorded for it.
I'm also halfway through a Passion And Warfare novel. It's really out there -- a real metaphysical extravaganza. It's completely unabashed. I tried not to hold back any feelings, emotions or thoughts, so the story is very naked, personal and raw.
The Passion And Warfare album was inspired by events that happened to me when I was much younger, when certain realizations came into my life. I had reached a point where I started asking certain questions -- and sometimes the answers come. This was all melded together into Passion and Warfare. Each chapter in the book will correspond to a song on the album.
I'm also getting my kicks by doing things like jumping into Lake Tahoe or signing up for skydiving. But my biggest thrill is still playing the guitar. I still practice about six hours a day.
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