Interview: Steve Vai

Randy Allar: You have a number of things going.

Steve Vai: Yep! Yep! Yep!

Randy Allar: You have a new disc out, "Ultra Zone". You also have a promo type of disc out with Morley foot pedals.

Steve Vai: Oh, the "Bad Squad". You know, I designed this wah-wah pedal called "The Bad Horsie" for Morley, and as a bonus for it we sent out this demonstration of the wah-wah. It's a song called "Bad Squad." It's nine minutes of indulgent guitar playing.

Randy Allar: On the promo disc, you also have something on there called the backing track, "The Naked Horsie Vamps."

Steve Vai: What it is is the vamp of the track without the guitar for would-be guitar virtuosos who just want to sit and jam over it. It's really cool if you're a guitar player!

Randy Allar: How did this project come about?

Steve Vai: Well, it's a pretty cool pedal, and it's brand new. I had done it with Morley, and we thought what is a good way to let people know what it sounds like or display it without being over the top. So we figured that if somebody buys the pedal, you get one of these discs. The marketing department put it all together and I recorded it. That's how we come up with these crazy ideas!

Randy Allar: You are also doing five clinics that are rather unusual.

Steve Vai: Well, they're not really clinics. We start in New York on the release date of the record, and I'm appearing at a record store. I wanted to play a little bit of music from the new disc "ULtra Zone", but don't have the room to have a full band in a music store. So I made a DAT of the backing tracks and I'm just going to jam along with it. It's not really a performance or a clinic. I'm doing New York, Boston, L.A., Chicago, and finish up in Detroit.

Randy Allar: At each show, you are giving away your setup.

Steve Vai: Yeah! Yeah!

Randy Allar: Being given away is the pedal, the Legacy amp by Carvin, and an Ibanez Steve Vai signature Jem guitar. Hopefully, some lucky guitarist...

Steve Vai: In each city. They're also giving away some strings and some extremely cool Bolays sun glasses. Very important to the performance!

Randy Allar: Either the equipment is not selling or it is flying out of the stores if they can give away five sets of the equipment.

Steve Vai: Yeah,'s sort of a bonus that the companies put together. It's a promotional thing.

Randy Allar: Your new disc, "Ultra Zone". Many years in the making.

Steve Vai: Yeah, I know. (laughs) That happens some times.

Randy Allar: It is very different.

Steve Vai: It is, it is. The same thing with all my music.

Randy Allar: The more one listens to it, the better it gets. It is kind of a kick back to the Zappa days.

Steve Vai: Oh, thanks. Some of it is. It's sort of a culmination of everything I've done up to this point. It's got stuff on there that could have fit on any one of my records.

Randy Allar: This one kind of wraps up your entire career.

Steve Vai: Up to this point. I make records a certain way, and this is in the same vein. After this I'll probably do something radically different, if I can get even more different then what this is.

Randy Allar: Where can you go from here?

Steve Vai: Ha! Ha! Watch me! It's like this. I'm not a pop star, so I have the freedom to do as a lot of off-center things. I say off-center, but the music isn't inaccessible. It is completely accessible. There's an audience, small but loyal for this kind of a thing. They know that you can't get this type of music anywhere else.

Randy Allar: How about G3?

Steve Vai: Boy, that would be nice, huh?

Randy Allar: Are you guys going to be doing another one?

Steve Vai: As a matter of fact I was talking to Joe (Satriani) just the other day, and you know, we'd like to. With something like a G3 it's all up to logistics. Everybody's schedule has to fall into place. If it does, boy, off we go.

Randy Allar: I don't know where you find the time to do all that you are doing.

Steve Vai: Neither do I!

Randy Allar: You have Favored Nations, and guitarist Frank Gambale will be doing a disc.

Steve Vai: Yeah, Favored Nations is my new independent record company. It's something I knew I was going to do. I knew I was destined to do a record company eventually. It's a great concept and I found a great partner, Ray Sheer. We had similar concepts on how we would like to construct a label. I've been in the business for a long time, and I understand the infrastructure of how a label works and how they promote and market. So we put together this concept, sort of a musicians label. We are looking for people with a lot of talent, savant-ish type talent. Not whacked out inaccessible stuff. Since the word got out, I've gotten a lot of great players, established players who want to work with us. The deals we're structuring are very different than your conventional record deals. They're more like co-ventures, so it's looking good.

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Randy Allar: One thing I was told about the label is the fact that you are giving musicians the freedom to do what they want.

Steve Vai: Well, yeah. That's how you get the best things out of musicians. There's guys out there that know what they want to do, and they know how they are going to go about doing it. Then there are guys who need a little help here and there. But if somebody has no direction, then they are right for another label.

Randy Allar: When will we see the first release?

Steve Vai: Actually the first release is coming in January, the 15th. We have two releases. The first one is Frank Gambale, who is a great jazz/rock/fusion guitar player. Another one is an event that we put together. Actually it was before I was involved with my partner, Ray. He put this event together. The concept was to take four great guitar players from various backgournds and put them in a room with a wall full of guitars. It turned out to be me, Jeff "Skunk Baxter (ex-Doobie Bros.), Albert Lee and Larry Carlton. We just jammed, man. It's a very pleasurable listening experience.

Randy Allar: I look forward to hearing that one.

Steve Vai: It's called "Dinner At Ray's".

Randy Allar: You are working with an organization that provides musician's instruments.

Steve Vai: I started this organization and made it legal/nonprofit about six months ago. It's called the Make A Noise Foundation. What it is basically is we collect funds and instruments to distribute. We're working with other organizations whose main goal is to provide educational systems in schools that have dilapidated education in America. Education systems in America in public schools are dropping music like flies. There are organizations dedicated to creating curriculums to implement in these schools. I know that when I was growing up, the most important part of my day was my music class in school. I had this great teacher and I learned a whole lot and it has a lot to do with what I am today as a musician.

Randy Allar: When you were going to school, what instrument did you play? Did they actually teach guitar in school?

Steve Vai: (laughs) They don't teach guitar in school, those crazy people. They know better.

Randy Allar: Were you a drummer? Trumpet player? A sax player?

Steve Vai: Are you sitting down?

Randy Allar: I'm sitting...clarinet?

Steve Vai: No. Tuba. Tuba baby! In the marching band I played the sousaphone. All my friends used it as a bong! My favorite instrument to play in high school was cheerleaders!

Randy Allar: As always, it is a pleasure to talk to Steve and it needs to be noted that with his continuing success, he is still one of the most down to earth and easiest musicians to deal with. The new disc is in stores now, and you can gain a great deal of information from the Steve Vai website. www.vai,com.

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Steve Vai is back in action, and just when you thought he had a lot of things up his sleeves, he introduces a whole new wardrobe. Vai's new disc, "Ultra Zone" is in record stores now, and his record label, Favored Nations is ready to release its first two discs.

He is also starting up a non profit organization geared up to collect and invest money in instruments and education for students without the proper resources.

Steve phoned in the studios of WCSB and spent some time discussing his life in the present. The tireless taper-fingered troubadour of the guitar had this to say.