It couldn't have been easy for Dante Frisiello to set aside the safety of a traditional job to chase his six-string dreams. But caution be dammed, the young guitarist did just that.
Of course, choosing to do so via Steve Vai's band was a bold first step to that end. What's more, filling the shoes of longtime Vai cohort Dave Weiner was bolder than bold. But great things aren't accomplished by sitting back and watching the world pass by, right?
No-one would have blamed Frisiello for second-guessing his career choice after his first show alongside Vai, which found him at the mercy of the beast that is technology – being in the terrifying position of being unable to shred when you're tasked with shredding.
"Dude, it was crazy," Frisiello tells us. "There's a part in the show where I play a solo. And during this part, Steve introduces me by saying my name, pointing to me, and that's when I unmute my signal. So, I did that, and all I heard was a blaring sound and no guitar. And I instantly was like, 'Okay, don't panic. How do we fix this?' And my tech, Scout, comes running out and is trying to figure it out, all while I'm just standing there."
In what turned out to be a pivotal moment in Frisiello's entryway into the kaleidoscope world of Steve Vai, the young guitarist took the grueling events of his first show in stride. And while you might assume that internally, Frisiello was angry, panicked, and scared, the opposite was true.
"You'd think I'd be distraught, but no, I wasn't," Frisiello insists. "I knew I had to smile and take it in stride. I said, 'There's no reason to get upset; it is what it is.' Because when you're up on stage, you have to set the vibe. It's so important that your intention and energy are good tone-setters for the audience and that we're up there for them, you know?
"So, I wasn't gonna get upset or mad; I just smiled and waited for it to be fixed. And eventually, we fixed it, and I got to play the solo. Sometimes you gotta take your lumps."
Looking back on the journey from law school to a guitar tech to sharing the stage alongside Steve Vai, Dante Frisiello dialed in with Guitar World to dig into his approach, key gear, favorite songs to perform, and more.
How did you secure the gig with Steve Vai?
"I started as Dave Weiner's tech, which came about over years after Dave had been my teacher and mentor. But I first met Dave after seeking him back when he lived in Philly and I lived in Washington, DC. I was in law school then, and I started going to Dave's jams in Philly. I'd drive three hours just to learn from him how to be a musician.
"From there, Dave started to give me opportunities to play little gigs or tech for him. And when the tour started, I had been teching for him, and after we found out that Dave was going to be leaving Steve's band, he recommended me for the spot."
Going from law school to playing guitar professionally is quite the jump.
"Yeah, man. And certainly not anything I expected. When I started to tech for Dave, I thought, 'All right, I'm going to quit my job, and I'm going to try this.' But it all worked out; it led to Dave recommending me for Steve's band. And after that, Steve auditioned me on the road during soundchecks. I guess he liked what he heard because here I am."
It must be very inspiring to have the opportunity to play alongside Steve each night.
"Oh, man, it really is. My first guitar hero was my older brother. But after him, my second one was Steve Vai. Both those figures came into my life from a guitar perspective when I was 13 and were huge for me. I grew up listening to Rush and bands like that, so interesting music was always around me.
"But I didn't start playing guitar until my brother picked it up in high school. And two months after that, I discovered the music of Steve Vai on YouTube, which changed my life. I saw the sounds he was making, and I just thought, 'I want to do that. I want to make sounds like that. This is my purpose.'"
Then what led you to divert from guitar to law school?
"It's funny… I spent years of my life not pursuing guitar 100 percent. I thought I needed to do other things or have a traditional career. But ultimately, I couldn't give up on it because this was something that, deep down, I knew I needed to do. And so, after taking the leap to quit my job and tech for Dave, to be here now playing with Steve is an incredible trip.
"It's amazing because I'm playing with someone so accomplished and inventive. But he's also extremely fun to work with, and we have an incredible time each night. Every single time I play alongside Steve, I learn something new. There's so much to learn from his musicianship, how he carries himself, and how he runs his business. I'm having a blast."
What's the trickiest part about executing the rhythm parts within Steve's complex compositions?
"The hardest parts for me are the delicate arpeggios, like the solo in Little Pretty when I have to play all those insane, weird, non-diatonic chords that are also in odd time. But don't get me wrong – it's fine. I love odd time signatures and all that stuff. But it's tough because I must pick every note perfectly because they all have to ring out in particular ways.
"And that's hard for me because I'm much more comfortable in rock situations where I'm strumming. So, those super-clean arpeggiations and all the difficult chords have been the most challenging parts of the set for me. In Steve's band, it's essential to ensure that every note is perfect, which is a beautiful challenge."
Which songs do you enjoy playing most?
"I knew you would ask this, but it's still hard to answer [Laughs]. But the most fun one for me has to be Zeus in Chains. That's the first song I played when I auditioned, and it's become my nickname on tour: Dante in Chains. I love to play that one because I'm really connected to it, and it has a lot of fun seven-string parts."
What guitars are you using out on tour?
"I've been playing the Abasi Concepts Larada guitars in six-string situations. It's my favorite guitar I've ever played because it feels like I'm holding a creative tool that will take me to the next level. It's just that simple.
"It feels like when I was back in high school when I first picked up an Ibanez RG. I was like, 'Man, this guitar is going to allow me to do some new shit.' Because before that, I was playing more traditional guitars, and it got stagnant. So now, I'm always looking for ways to become more creative, get to another place, and be inspired."
When did you stumble upon Abasi guitars?
"I first picked up the Abasi guitars at NAMM about four years ago. I just thought, 'Whoa, this thing is distinctly different. This thing has got something in it.' And then, I got two Abasi guitars for the tour, which confirmed they have a lot of creative juice. I don't know... they have a vibe and an energy that makes me feel like I'm holding a window to the next level for myself creatively."
Have you altered your amp and pedal setup since you joined Steve's band?
"Yes, I'm working with Victory Amps now. Specifically, I'm using a Victory Super Kraken, which is an absolute terror. Beyond that, I'm also working with a Fractal FM9. I came up with that combination of stuff because I needed gear I could travel with. And that's what's cool about Victory heads – they're small enough for me to carry onto a plane even though it's a 100-watt valve amp. So, that and the Fractal FM9 make up most of my tone.
"Regarding effects, I've got a Horizon Devices Precision Drive. I think that it's the best pedal ever, and I refuse to play the electric guitar without it. It makes every rhythm guitar sound better and is a staple of my tone. But sometimes, I mess around with other things; I have an Origin Effects M-EQ Driver, which I call my 'oh, shit' button. If I need more gain or harmonics without boosting the volume, I can switch on the M-EQ and make that happen."
Be it with Steve Vai or your solo band, what's next for you?
"I've got a ton of touring with Steve planned until May of 2024, so that's my primary focus. But my band Fly in Formation has its second record coming out in the fall of 2023. And there's no timeline, but we have a goal of touring. Beyond that, and again, there's no timeline, I also want to do a solo orchestral electric guitar album. That's something different for me, but I love orchestral music and want to push myself to write some."
- Follow Dante Frisiello on Instagram.