by Mike Huberty
photo by Larry DiMarzio
Just as the guitarist in bands like Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth to his sideman work with bands like Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne, STEVE VAI has been the guitar hero’s guitar hero for three decades. He’s been leading his own band since the early 1990’s, creating one of that generation’s most influential instrumental guitar records, the epic Passion and Warfare. He’s releasing a new DVD in September called Where The Wild Things Are documenting a show on his last tour in Minneapolis. He’s just finished getting it ready and he took a few minutes to talk about the DVD with us.
MI: What compelled you to make the new DVD set?
SV: It’s what I do. Traveling musician, composer, and rock guitar player. It’s always nice to capture little moments in time. I put this band together, that’s sort of a unique band. My music is 80% instrumental, very compositional rock music. It’s a very different kind of a show. When I do a show together, I put together something I’d like to see when I go to a show. I want to see great musicianship, I wanna feel emotional dynamics, and see people that have an investment in what you’re doing.
MI: Why’d you choose Minneapolis?
SV: It’s just one of those places, who knows, maybe it’s a past-life experience. Something about Minneapolis just lights me up. It’s funny because the audience there is probably more subdued than most places, I mean when you get to the South it’s like they’re off the hook. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate the music as much, but it’s just a great cultural city.
MI: What’s your favorite song watching on the DVD?
SV: What I tried to do was have that moment or feeling at least in every song. I can point out a moment in each song or each part of the show that push my buttons. There’s a song called “Murder” which is like an art performance. When I perform it live I do this thing where I take the guitar off and wield it, ya know, and I do all these actions with it and I spin it around. I knew that when I got it in the studio I was going to create with audio effects, add some harmonies to it. And do some special video effects to it to make it an impossible, amazing, incredible performance art piece and it turned out better than I expected.
MI: What do you think about Guitar Hero and Rock Band games?
SV: Statistically they show they actually compel people to play real instruments, bring it on, ya know. Playing guitar is the coolest thing in the world, it looks cool, it feels cool. Some people are intimidated by the guitar, they don’t think they’re good enough. They’re emabarrased to play it, whatever reason, they don’t actually pick up a guitar, these games allow them to have a little fantasy life. I have one song in there. My kids kick my ass at my own song in those games. I think they’re a great opportunity for people to fantasize. Why not? Have fun, but it’s not like playing a real guitar.
MI: Of all the people who you’ve worked with, I never hear anyone say a bad word about you and you’re continuing to be successful, what’s your secret for getting along with people in bands?
SV: I look at it like this. I wasn’t always pleasant to be with. When I was younger I was really intense, intense with myself. It took my years to understand that you can’t inflict that on other people because it makes them uncomfortable and I come out looking like a real prick, ya know? What happens when you go out on tour is there’s no secrets at sea. You’re living with people in close proximity for weeks at a time and their idiosyncracies come out. So if somebody is a miserable unhappy person before they go out on tour, when they go out they become really unhappy and really miserable. If they’re fun-loving and considerate, when they go out on tour they become really fun-loving and very considerate. When I look back on tours, which are a large chunk of my life, I wanna feel good, so I wanna surround myself with good people who wanna have a good time.
MI: One last question, was David Lee Roth really crazy or was it just an act?
SV: You’ll have to find out for yourself.
DVD: Where The Wild Things Are Record Label: Favored Nations
• Purchase Where The Wild Things Are on Amazon