Steve Vai was taken aback when he heard how Polyphia cut up his guest solo: “I thought, ‘Maybe they didn’t like what I did!’”

[L-R] Scott LePage, Steve Vai and Tim Henson
(Image credit: Kevin Scanlon/Future)

Ego Death, a new Polyphia track taken from the quartet’s upcoming album, Remember That You Will Die, sees the collision of two generations of guitar virtuosos at the top of their game.

The song finds guitarists Tim Henson and Scott LePage joined by shred hero Steve Vai, the result being a meticulously crafted mashup of Vai’s more traditional lead playing and Polyphia’s ever-forward-thinking sound.

As Vai explains in the new issue of Guitar World, he was initially apprehensive about appearing on the track, owing to a lack of confidence in what he could write that would best fit.

“Nothing takes me five minutes, especially on something like this,” he says. “They gave me this big long section, and they said, ‘Do what you do and build it up.’ And I thought ‘Okay…” I’m such a different player, because their stuff has such smooth but sharp edges – it’s really sparkly and clean. And I’m just a delay-drenched, singing guitar melody guy, so I didn’t want to do something that was inappropriate for them.

“This was special, but the way we play is so different, and I didn’t want to give them something that would pollute their track.”

He continues: “I wanted to give them something that worked. And then I thought, ‘Well, maybe that’s it. The difference in the playing, I should exemplify that.’ So when I started laying stuff down, I just thought, ‘Do that long legato stuff you do, and it’ll add a nice contrast.’ And it did.”

But as Vai recalls, he was taken aback at how chopped up and manipulated his original contribution was when he heard the edited track for the first time.

“Usually when I do something for somebody, they just take it the way it is,” he explains. “These guys are very creative, and they like to manipulate things. Which is fine, I told them, ‘Do whatever you like. Here’s what I’ve got.’”

He continues: “It didn’t really matter – it’s not sacred. It was chopped in a way that met their creativity demands, and I wouldn’t want them to do anything else. When I first heard it, though, it was so different. I thought, ‘Maybe they didn’t like what I did!’

“And then I thought, ‘No, this is just the way that they work.’ At first, I felt uncomfortable saying, ‘Featuring Steve Vai,’ because I thought, ‘Well, I didn’t really do anything.’ I didn’t feel like I really contributed something, and then when I listened to it again, I said, ‘Of course. It was just a stupid humility kind of thing.’”

Henson is on hand, though, to reassure Vai that his contribution was instrumental in shaping the creative direction of the track.

“What we sent [Vai] was the first half of the song, which was done,” Henson says. “The second half of the song was an empty beat. Once we had this stuff, then we realized we needed to back him up. It’s like puzzle pieces, or like you’re chiseling away at a marble sculpture. 

“We [didn't] really know what we had until we got Steve’s part, and then we realized, ‘Oh shit. Here we fucking go.’”

december 2022

(Image credit: Kevin Scanlon / Future)

Both Henson and LePage agree that Ego Death is one of Polyphia’s strongest tracks to date, before Vai offers to join the band to play the track live if ever they are in the same town.

Elsewhere in the interview, Vai discusses hearing Polyphia for the first time, praising the four-piece’s outside-the-box approach to music.

“It was obvious to me that somebody was approaching it outside of the box, outside the norm, because they were mixing so many different elements – clean tones, fingerstyle, interval skips, dynamics, incredible depths of dynamics, syncopation that was unique and unheard before. I thought, ‘This is a monolith kind of a shift that’s happening.’”

You can read the full interview with Steve Vai, Tim Henson and Scott LePage in the new issue of Guitar World, available from Magazines Direct (opens in new tab).

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).