Steve Vai: Strings and Things
GW For a project this ambitious, did you have a specific approach or game plan?
VAI With something like this, there are challenges every step of the way. Some of it is very enjoyable, and some of it is just routine. My favorite moment with any project is when I begin to think about the concept, because I’m starting out with a blank canvas and I can put certain parameters on myself, which helps me build upon the idea. For this project, I thought, What can I do that’s unique to what I’ve done before? It’s got to be musical, and it’s got to be accessible, and I want it to have “show” potential, in terms of the performance elements, with an ebb and flow and emotional dynamics. When the two-violin concept came together, I thought, I know this song is going to work, that song is going to work…and it’s going to be a lot of work.
All of that was fun. But then I had to go find the people, which was not fun—it was a pain in the ass. Elements of it were great. For example, when I found the right person, it was like Christmas.
This DVD was the end vision I had all along, and having that vision was the only way I could have gotten through the variety of challenges that arose. Otherwise, the fear and the insecurity would have become overwhelming. I’m susceptible to that just like anyone else, but my excitement for the end product always allows me to take the next step.
GW Some of the songs in this set, such as “For the Love of God” and “Tender Surrender,” are songs that you have been playing for a long time. How has playing these particular songs changed for you over the years?
VAI For musicians, as you grow and move through the creative process, your views on what you’re doing change, and your creative output changes with your experience. I decided long ago that I was not going to get tired of playing these songs. My feeling is that, the moment I get bored playing something, it means I feel like I’ve already done everything I can with that piece of music. And I have never felt that way. I have always felt—from the very first day that I picked up the guitar—that this journey was never going to end. One of the reasons I think I play the way that I do is because I never really thought that I was ever good enough. I’ve always felt like there was more to be discovered. Good enough is not about playing faster each year, because I started slowing down ages ago! It’s about one’s touch on the instrument; it’s your relationship with the note. That relationship can never be deep enough. It’s an endless, endless pool.
When I have the luxury of playing a song that has a beautiful melody, every single time I play it I make a conscious effort to get deeper and deeper into the note. And that quest will never end. If I were to sit here and tell you that I am one with the note, I would be a fool, because you can always go deeper. The deeper you get, the more of a commitment you make, and that’s what people feel when they hear you play. And there’s a payoff, because then you become more in control, in a way. When you feel the note and you feel the music, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s very cathartic.
GW This past year marked the 25th anniversary of your first solo album, the self-produced Flex-Able. What are your feelings today on this seminal part of your Vai-ology?
VAI Any project you do is like a snapshot of who you were at that time. When I broke out the tapes of Flex-Able to create the 25th anniversary edition, and I was listening to them, I was peering into the 22-year-old Steve Vai. I was thinking, who was that guy?
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