June 2002. By Joe Matera
For sheer breathtaking facility on a guitar, Steve Vai is unmatched in the music world. But the things that fascinate and move Vai as an artist soar a million miles beyond the concerns of most archetypal guitar gods. Through all his solo releases and contributions to film and music scores, Vai continues to expand the horizons of modern music. Joe Matera catches up with Steve for Australian Musician.
Joe Matera: You’re about to release ‘The Elusive Light and Sound Vol.1’, a collection of all your film music.
Steve Vai: Through the years I’ve had opportunities to work on various films in various capacities. Some of them were just contributions of songs for soundtracks and some of them were actually the scoring. First film I ever contributed to, was a film called ‘Dudes’ where I did a version of ‘Amazing Grace’. Then I worked on films like ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’, ‘Encino Man’ and there was a film that I scored called ‘PCU’ and there’s stuff I did in a film called ‘Crossroads’ with Ralph Machio. The ‘Crossroads’ stuff has been much sought-after by my fans because it contains the head cutting duel that appeared in the film that I actually performed in. There’s some pretty harrowing guitar work on this record but I felt it would be a great idea to pool all of this music together and release it on one disc. Some of it’s easy to get and some of it is extremely hard to get, some of it you can’t get and some has never been released. As a result the people who like the kind of thing that I do will have an opportunity to get this stuff. It’s very different because when you’re writing for films you use a different set of brain muscles, you kind of like, have to keep the plot in mind, the characters and all these things have to work within the music. The music is really secondary to the theme of the film. So when you listen to this stuff some of it is very left of centre, it’s not exactly pop songs or anything like that.
JM: Do you see yourself heading more in the direction of movie composing?
SV: No, I’ve done a fair share of film writing, but you know I’m not a real fan of it. If the opportunity arises, and I think that I can do what I want, I would do it. It’s not total freedom, you have to work within the perimeters of the film and you have to take directions from people and the director. I’m very good at all of that and when I’m working for somebody I do a very good job and I keep what they want completely in mind. But, how often do I want to do what somebody else wants? I mean you work really hard on something and the deadlines are ridiculous. Like when I did that ‘Bill and Ted’ stuff, they came to me one week before the premiere of the film and asked me to completely rebuild and re-record the entire climactic scene of the film. I didn’t sleep for 4 days! And it’s all subject then to the director’s approval.
JM: You must be very happy with the success of your Favoured Nations label?
SV: Yeah, a label is a slow growing process thing and it requires an extreme amount of focus and energy and money. But the thing is, it really has it’s kinds of rewards too. I mean you should see some of the wonderful tapes I get and the ability to work with some world class musicians is great. There’s guys out there that dedicate themselves to their music and there’s an audience out there that would benefit from hearing it and they do. Our goal is to get that kind of music to the people who really find it enriching. It’s a thrill to see the success, it’s slowly, slowly building, but it is.
JM: Any chance of us seeing you or the G3 project down here this year?
SV: As far as G3 goes, you would have to ask Joe (Satriani). As far as Steve goes, this year, no way. It’s difficult for me to get down there. As a matter of fact, it’s hard for a lot of American artists to play Australia. Personally I love Australia! I would do anything to go there. I enjoy every moment that I am in that country. One of my favourite places in the whole world is Rottnest Island off, of Perth. I love that place, I’ve been there twice and one of these days I’m going to go there and not tell anybody and live there for like six months! Unfortunately, on a career level, it’s hard to get there, I can only get there when it makes sense, because of the finances involved in getting a band and a crew and equipment over there and also the time involved. So I don’t know when it is that I’ll be back.
JM: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in all your career?
SV: That your artistic integrity should never be bought or sold. When you create something it’s a representation of what you are and later on, you have to look back at that. It’s wise to look ahead and see yourself looking back at your work and trying to imagine how you’re going to feel about the mark that you left.
JM: Any new gadgets that you’ve been using lately?
SV: The thing I’m using a lot lately is the ‘Fernandes Sustainer’, a little device that’s built into your guitar, in the pick-ups and makes the strings resonate. On my last live record, “Alive In an Ultra World, there’s a track on it called ‘Whispering A Prayer’, I used the Sustainer on that and it’s very beautiful.
June 2002. By Joe Matera