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In Words: Steve Vai

- Steve Vai - April 2000 - Claudia Ehrhardt -

Steve Vai - April, 8th 2000 - Bochum (D) -

When I arrived at Bochum I didn't know what to expect. Steve Vai is a brilliant guitarist and often his kind of people are a little arrogant and selfish. When I met Steve before soundcheck I soon learnt that he is a really nice guy and down-to-earth. My first interest was to get an explanation for the album title The Ultra Zone which he explain as "...where you get, when you are concentrated on whatever and forget the world around you...." This lead into the interview....

Steve, this is your first time you'll go to Turkey with your band. Have you been there in the past?

No, it's the first time ever. It's just a place that I've looked at map for my whole life.

So, you may be surprised, coz the Turkish fans are really into the music and going crazy during a show. Have you been to Greece?

No, also the first time...

The Greek are crazy, but the Turkish are far beyond!

Oh, really? I can't wait!!!! I think that would be great! Do you think they'll like this show?

Yes, I think so.

I get a lot of fan mail from that area.

At The Ultra Zone there are so many different influences, styles... You must be very open-minded. Does the music you listen to in the different places around the world influence you? To cross boarders? Musical boarders?

The thing is when I go to different places in the world, I don't hear the music from those places. You don't hear anything beside...

...the usual stuff.

The usual stuff, Britney Spears and that stuff. I go to Tower Records! I... All I.... Let me show you something!

* Then Steve got his CD collection out of his bag and showed my CDs with music from Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Ireland, France, Mexico, Algeria, Japan Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany and Celtic music...* So you miss some from Turkey!

Yes, I do! The thing is, on this tour I'm recording and writing songs that have sort of a flavor of the countries we are going to and we are recording them live in the country. And at the end of the tour I have an album.

That's a cool idea!

....of live music. One song is recorded live in Rumania, one song is recorded in England, one song is recorded in Italy... It's an interesting way to make a world record!

Yeah, a different way. So you missing Russia on this tour and for the recording.

Well, I'm not going to Russia. I was offered to go, but I just couldn't. They wanted me to sponsor alcohol and tobacco... I don't wanna do that! But we cover a lot of territories on this tour. And Turkey is the last show on the whole tour! I'm really glad, I understand Istanbul as an amazing place!

I hope you have time for some sight-seeing.

Me, too!!!

I think the different cultures are really interesting.....

That's one of the great things about touring, is that I got the opportunity to see all this cultures. I really enjoy that! I live touring! Meeting different people, places... I'm so fortunated. You know, I'm not a pop star, but I still have a following of people who are interested in hearing what I'm doing and it's all around the world, too.

I know! There are many people in South America waiting for you, as well as at the West Coast of the USA!

Unfortunately I'm not going there on this tour! It just we.... The offers wasn't right for South American shows. Hopefully I can go there next time. I would like to go!

Do you prefer to play in venues sized for 1,000 or 1,200 or do you prefer to play arena shows?

I like it anyway! It doesn't matter, I'm there.

So you would also play in a small club...

Well, the advantage in playing in a small club is, it's very intimate. You hear that all the time. You can see the people... You can relate to them differently. In big arenas you make a lot more money.

I think, in the beginning, the first time you can play an arena show it's something special, an overwhelming feeling, when you see thousands of people...

Kinda just melting into, you know... An ocean of people. One of the things I don't like about playing in arenas is that they are all the same after a while.

In the beginning I think it's exciting...

It's kind of overwhelming!

...But I can imagine that the smaller shows are much more fun.

They can be. And still playing an arena... You have to project harder! You project out! I do that in small clubs, too... But it's different.

So it depends where you're playing... The show is not exactly the same. How do you came up with the idea to have this lights on your head at the beginning of the show? And this blue fluorescentic thing on your fingers?

Well, you know... I like to bring theatrical value to the show. I don't wanna....

Some visual effects...

I don't want to just stand up there and play guitar.

Others can do that.....

I can do that, but I like theater. I like interesting things and when the idea with this head gear came, I was talking to my tech about it. He built that whole thing. And it's cool!

In my opinion many guitarists, when they do solo stuff, play a lot of solos and it gets boring for the fans who aren't playing guitar and can't follow all the technic.

Exactly! Usually people who don't play guitar don't come to this shows...


That's the thing that I'm trying to... That I'm trying to change with my show. Most people who think of me think "I'm not gonna go to this show, it's all guitar playing:" But still I'm trying to bring other things too, that people can enjoy it. It's not just guitar playing.

I think that it's very important and that many forget about this. They just concentrate on their playing and try to show everything they can do. And that's not so enjoyable for the fans. I think it's cool that you think about visual effects to make it more interesting to watch.

Yeah, that's important to me. My body moves to the music and I just let it go.

I think it's obvious that's you're really into the music and not just doing it for the money.

I have no choice! I just compelled to play a certain way. If I would do music for the money, I wouldn't do the music I make. I would try to do stuff which is more commercial, but I feel like I have the ability to do something a little different.

The first thing which I recognize was different is that you brought in some fans to watch the soundcheck. Usually bands don't want to have anyone in beside the crew.

I know, but I let them in. It's interesting for them. Can you imagine to let in to a soundcheck of an artist you really enjoy? And our soundchecks are more like rehearsal new material. So it's kind of interesting for them.

And perhaps also to see the reactions of them... To get an idea how people will react on the new stuff. Kinda checking out this.

Yeah, but I don't look at it that way. I'm not really there to perform.

Sure, but it's a nice side-effect....

I allowing them to peak into our private little world!

But it is a side-effect.

Yeah, and they see us do all the mistakes, too.

I think that they don't care about. It's too exciting for them and that they feel fortunated to have the chance to watch this.


And it's natural to make mistakes. Every human being makes mistakes on whatever he / she is doing... Nobody is perfect, even if this is an aim. And playing every note the same way every night is...

That's boring! When we rehearse we all make mistakes! That's what it's about. That's what they're there for. We start, we learn the stuff and we are starting very slow. You were at the soundcheck?

Yes! So you saw that we started very slow and that we got faster. That's kinda work. Sometimes it's not very easy and you gotta practice it slow.

It is an interesting thing to watch!

Thank you!

Okay, going back to Turkey as a subject. What do you expect?

I have no idea! I really don't! I know that when I go to different places... There is still a really appreciation for musicianship.... Russia, South America, wherever, so I just expect that there will be young kids there that just wanna see somebody playing the hell out of an instrument. So, I never played there, so they don't really know about me. They don't know what the shows gonna be like. So I'm really excited to see how they react and bring them the show! I'm looking forward to it!

Also South America is different...

South America is wonderful! It's fantastic, they are so passionate.

I love Buenos Aires...

Buenos Aires is one of the greatest cities in the whole world!

I agree!

It opens up at 1 a.m. in the morning.

And I like the feeling, the tango is everywhere..... It's cool. And you are fortunate to see all those places.


What I recognize when I visited your homepage is that you use a lot of symbols. Are you in symbolism? Or in the meaning of symbols and numbers?

No, it just came up. Looks cool, different designs... At that time I kinda wrote my own alphabet and I wrote things, shapes and symbols which only mean something to me. I wrote all the personal thoughts and secrets and that stuff. It's cryptic writing! And you can see some of it showing up at different releases and webpages and stuff like that.

I also like the backdrop you're using. It's cool!


Do you worked on this, too? Do some kind of design?

I work with good people! I come up... For this backdrop it's from the record cover. And that came from a sketch that was been done by Aaron Brown who is a friend of mine. He has done a lot of artwork for me. He came up with a concept and we worked on it together.

It looks pretty cool....

I love the light blue. A very spiritual color.

So, are you into spiritual things?

Well, in my life I strike very hard to keep some kind of spiritual balance. I'm a seeker. I feel the most important thing in life, is that you have some kind of communication with your inner self. With the divine which is in all of us, you know. Some people do it through rituals and ceremonies, I don't do anything of that. I do meditate a lot, but I find that religion is valuable to people who value it. But my self I fell that... At the basis of all religions there is some fundamental truth and they are all the same.

Right! And it's not important how you call your God or what ever you believe in...


You can believe in whatever.... Religion or something else....

It's not religion. What I study is more the science of the soul! There are people who belief in everything from nothing to ... You know, people who belief in daily communication with God. I just think that people.... You know, every now and then a person comes along and they are really in touch with the divinity which is within them. And they try to, coz this is something you can't... That's the big trick that God plays on us, it's a big joke, you can't proof your spiritual experience within. And the deeper you go the less you care about what anybody thinks. But I belief that there are people how come and try to teach and...... We are really stupid! Really most of us and we take this teaching and we twist them and pervade them to our own beliefs to make us comfortable. We create rituals and ceremonies and all this crazy stuff. And if it helps you by all means...

And I think as long as it's not going to this religious fanaticism than it's okay. I mean, again and again we have religious wars.

There is a lot of fanaticism. It's not religion anymore. It's exercising the ego. You know how many wars we fought about the bible? And Jesus Christ didn't write the bible!

We don't learn from the history.

You don't learn from the past unless you have self-experience. It's the same old.... You gonna put your hand in the fire, even if somebody told you not to, until you feel the burn. That's why the world is always with war, pestilence or whatever... But there is also, you know... At the core of the human spirit it's all love. And that's what we are trying to bring out. I really belief at the core of the human being there is perfection. It just takes time for us to understand this things about ourselves. Lifetimes!

And for some people they never reach this.

Eventually we all do, maybe not in one particular lifetime. I mean that's... I'm telling you things that are not my personal believes. They were widely believed and I can tell you how I feel about certain things as much as I can feel them to be real without telling you I had direct experience. I belief that there are people that have the ability to a complete and sorrow understandings of God. But you can't proof it that's the big trick. Everybody spiritual experience is personal.

That's the problem why you can't proof it. You can just believe.

The path that I follow, you don't have to belief what anybody says. You have to figure it out for yourself!

Right! It's your own life you're responsible for. You have to make your own way.

Yeah, but I feel with proper spiritual balance in your life everything else comes. If we destined to be rich or poor or healthy or ill or any of those things, that's our destiny, we can't change it! And it's how we go through it, that's gonna determine if we are happy people.

What helps in this business, if you have a place to come home and get out of this crazy business to relax. You said that you meditate a lot and....

Well, it does. It helps a lot. I have a great family, my house has a big wall around it. You know, we keep the world out. I'm very fortunate that way. Everybody needs their place. Everybody needs their peace now and then.

A place to come home to and have you peace.

You carry your peace within you.

Sure, but ....

If you are at peace at home, you are at peace in Turkey.

Yes, but you need a place to be where you can forget about the world. I heard that you do bee keeping. Is this the thing which you do to relax?

It's very funny that you bring that up. It's one of the few things that I can do that is a complete utter relaxation. I'm not thinking about music, I'm not thinking about anything except being with the bees.

How do you got into that?

Well, we used to live in Hollywood and our neighbors had bees in the wall of their house. And our garden looked beautiful as a result of that. Then we moved to this property which has 2 acres and it been vacant for 10 years. My wife started planting this garden and I wanted fruit trees. And I did some research and I found out that the best way to pollinate your properties is with bees. I just got into it and I start reading about it and it's very simple! It doesn't take a lot of time... An hour every two weeks until we do the honey harvest.

But I think it's worth it.

Yeah, it's really great.

I think it's great to have something like that when you get home from touring or recording. I think everyone shall have something like that, whatever it is. Something different... How were the reactions of the fans so far? Today it was great!

They were fantastic tonight, but they been great in every place.

Perhaps they appreciate it, coz you're not coming around every month.

It could be... They are there to have a good time and I want them to have a good time. My shows have a lot of positive energy. I wanna make them laugh and smile and feel happy and bitter-sweet sadness with some of the melodies.

And I think a lot people like that you have a great backing band and you let them show their abilities. You give them the space to show it.

That's important! I don't want to stand up there and hug it all myself.

Yes, but other guitarists tend to stay in the spotlight and don't let the backing band show their abilities. They just want to show their own talent, playing one solo after the other with song fragments between it. That gets boring and I think a backing band with that fantastic musicians have to have the chance to present themselves. And these guys are great!!!!

They are and I'm very fortunate. And having Eric out on tour is very nice, too. Have you seen him?

Just part of it, unfortunately.

He's been doing very well, too.

And I think it's a great chance for him to get introduced to the people over here.

If I bring someone on tour, they have to have elements and they have to have the potential so that the tour is useful to them. It's not just to bring someone out to open. I like to have someone who is very talented, who completes the show. And Eric... He's just unbelievable to me. And I'm a guitar player, but he is so different to me.

It wouldn't make sense to bring someone who plays the same stuff....

That won't make sense, but I don't know anyone who plays the same stuff....

Right, but that's another story. The thing is to make a concert unforgettable to the people. A special show which is unforgettable.

I wish I had a special show.....

Your show is different and I think the people will remember it. So, you are on the way!

I'm on the way!!!

On I had to leave, coz the band had to leave to Poland. It was a pleasure to talk to Steve and I was fortunate to have a chance to do. Steve Vai is not just a brilliant guitar play, he is a really nice person and it was very interesting for me to talk with him. I wish Steve all the best and hope to see him again, somewhere on another tour.

Claudia Ehrhardt


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