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Steve Vai: The Complete Current Q & A

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Steve Vai, still in fine form after nearly 40 years of guitar wizardry

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I just go by ideas. Whatever idea comes up, that’s what I follow. Sometimes it goes towards convention, sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The song is very important, but sometimes I do something unexpected because that’s what the vision was and I’m not thinking about the price I have to pay later. You just go with what you’re feeling and then the song takes shape. There’s many different kinds of musicians and each one has a different set of tools. Some have a tremendous amount of technique and technical musical information, and some are completely emotional, that just create out of the way they feel and don’t use the intellectual mind at all. Well, anybody on either end will be at a deficit. Because you need a balance. If you’re only emotional and don’t have any way of really expressing your visions, because you’re done away all with technical ability, then you’ll destroy your potential to get your ideas really across. And if all you do is intellectual or technical, then your music will have no soul to it.

What are you going to play in San Antonio?

I like to build a show that’s entertaining on many different levels. I like people to feel that they’re seeing great musicianship, a show with great dynamics, very intense sometimes and at times very delicate. The songs are selected by the event flow. Usually we play about five or six songs from the new record, a handful of songs people were expecting and then a handful of songs that I have either never played or haven’t played in a long time. This show has a lot of that. Everybody gets a little moment to shine, and we have an acoustic set. One of the things that we do that’s been going on really well is that I invite people up from the audience to build a song with us onstage. For example, I have someone come up and I have him or her sing a drum beat, Jeremy [Colson] plays the drum beat, then I have him sing a bass part, and then they sing a melody for me to play. It’s great, you’ll be so surprised to see some of the results. It’s really amazing.

A lot has been said about the importance of “practicing” for mortal musicians. But how does someone at your level “practice”?

My level is relative, because your level is how you see yourself. To this day, the thing that’s most interesting and exciting to me is the same thing that was most interesting and exciting when I was very young, and that’s to pick up the guitar and have an idea of playing something, and work on it and suddenly being able to play it. That never goes away, you never run out. If you run out it means the universe is limited. Everyday is an opportunity to find something that’s different. Now, do I sit and practice? Well, no. I mean, sometimes I do certain mindless things to warm up, but for the most part, no matter what I have to do, even if it’s just play the guitar or record, I usually take about an hour at the end of the day and I just sit for an hour and shut the door and just play the guitar. That’s my favorite moment.

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