Intervju med Steve Vai.
För några dagar sedan spelade Steve Vai på Berns i Stockholm och jag fick åter ett snack med honom. I ett medeltidaliknande rum inne på det klassiska stället slog jag mig ned i soffan bredvid gitarrguden. Det luktade starkt av rörelse, vilket passade bra med tanke på hans spirituella sida.
Vid ett tillfälle skakade väggarna ordentligt och herr Vai frågade snabbt om vi drabbas av jordbävningar i Sverige? Jag lugnade honom och vi kunde snabbt konstatera att det var några barn som härjade runt i rummet bredvid.
Samtalet kom bl a handla om hans vegetariska leverne, mörkret innan solodebuten och hans kärlek till Frank Zappa.
I read in an interview recently where you said that being a vegetarian also had an effect on your music. In what way?
Steve Vai: Well, whenever you change something in your life, you can notice a change in your life and before I became a vegetarian… and I don´t promote anything and I don´t criticize anybody for what they eat, I don´t care. Everybody has to find what´s right for them. Before I became a vegetarian I was always sick and I used to get what they call these hereditary migraines. It was real bad and I would throw up like once a month and my digestion was just bad and I was in a very heavy frame of mind. I read this yoga book, “The complete illustrated book of yoga” and it talked about vegetarianism and it just resonated with me. I used to eat a lot of meat and I never really felt totally comfortable and when I stopped everything changed for me. I never got another headache and it´s 30 years ago. If I did it wasn´t because one of those migraines. They just went away and I can count on one hand the amount of times I´ve thrown up in 30 years and I never get the runs anymore unless I go to Mexico. For me, meat has a very hard effect on the body and it excites the passions and anger and all these things and when I stopped eating meat I just felt clearer in my mind and cleaner. Anything you do like that, have an effect on the work that you do that´s creative.
Was it a hard transition? Do you ever look at a steak and go “Wow, that would be real nice!”?
Steve Vai: Absolutely not. It was a very easy transition, but like I say, it´s a personal choice and I´m not one of these guys that tells people what to do, but as a matter of fact there was a big period of my life where I couldn´t sit at a table if someone was eating meat. It became extraordinarily repulsive. I ate meat three times a day before, but I didn´t see meat as a food. It was a mental thing. I saw it as slaughtered flesh and it was very difficult. It doesn´t bother me now and I don´t think about it. If I think about it, it trips me out, but if I smell somebody cooking ribs barbecue, my mouth starts watering. Just like a Pavlovian reaction. (laughs)
Right. A day like this when you come into a new town, I guess there´s a lot of down time so do you sit around playing the guitar while you wait for the show? Do you practice and stuff like that?
Steve Vai: No. The day is really broken in two segments and I enjoy each segment and whichever segment I´m in, that´s what I´m focusing on. I wake up and when I sleep on the bus, I slepp for eight or nine hours which is absolutely unheard of when I´m at home. If I get six hours when I´m home, that´s beautiful, but when you´re on the bus you just sleep as long as you want and you sleep good. When I wake up I have a couple of hours to do whatever I want and I usually go out around the town or I write some music or answer some e-mails or something like that. Then my day really starts at 3 when I start press. Press is an hour and when I´m doing press I´m not focusing on the gig or walking around town and it can be enjoyable and then from 4-5 it´s usually the EVO premium package which I really enjoy because there are people there that have a deep investment in music and I can be much more personal and they as interesting questions. Then from 5-6 or more, is soundcheck and I don´t even need to do soundcheck but I like doing soundcheck because we always write something. We jam something and I record it. I have hundreds of recordings from all the tours and sometimes they turn into songs, so that´s a fun moment. I just like playing with the band. Then after that it´s the prep for the gig and we usually get about an hour or an hour and a half and that´s where I don´t see anybody except the band and I have a little ritual. I exercise a little bit and then there´s a little meditation to get psyched for the show and then there´s a period where I play. I practice and just warm up. You can´t play too much before a gig because the gig is like going to war with your hands and I have to really balance how much I play before the show. You can sit in your bedroom and practice for eight hours a day, but one hour on stage is very different. Then there´s the show and I always put the same focus into it as all the other elements of the day. Then after show is really fantastic. We do a little meet and greet with some people. One of my favorite parts of the day is after the show and the meet and greet when we roll on the bus as a family. We´re very close and it´s really nice. The bus is like our home and we´re like a little travelling town, like a travelling house. We all really love and respect each other and we have a great time. We do stupid things like eat chocolate, drink tea and watch a movie. It´s great.
Do you ever get nervous before a gig?
Steve Vai: I used to, but that was always because I was projecting into the future and wondering what´s gonna go wrong and what happens if I get out there and something happens? In the matter of years that I´ve been touring virtually everything has happened. (laughs) You just deal with it. There´s parts of me that used to think “People are not gonna like it. I don´t know why they´re coming and they just wanna criticize me and compare me to everybody else. “. So you start thinking about that ahead of time or even when you´re on the stage and it changes your whole ability to express. But that was in the past. Now I just get really excited and I think about “I can´t wait to play this song.” and even when I´m playing this one song and I know what the next song is, I get excited about playing that song. Each song is an opportunity to kinda like hone my craft, so it´s good.
As an artist with all the stuff you´ve recorded, all the songs you´ve written, are there songs you get tired of playing?
Steve Vai: Well, if I find myself getting bored of playing something, there´s a lot of things I go to, to remember. A, "You should be really fucking grateful Vai that you can play the guitar and there are people out there that are not bored with this song and it´s your responsibility to play the song the best you can and you´re never gonna get another chance like this.". When I said that, sure I have more shows coming up, but when you waste that moment. The way you feel about something is a product of the way you choose to think about it. Yes, you can cultivate a frame of mind of boredom, but then, how good are you gonna play? But if you just find thoughts that cultivate a frame of mind of gratitude and excitement, then that´s what you´re gonna feel. For some people it might be hard at first to do that and you gotta give yourself some lip service and I had to do that because I used to get so nervous and so freaked out. Look, I´m a highly criticized guitar player and a lot of people will come to the shows and compare it to the other guy they saw. A tiny part of me still feels that way, but I´ve just become fearless because I realized that I have the right to express myself musically any way I want and the only thing that screws people up is fear. And what people feel when they watch you perform, whether it´s me or anybody, they feel your confidence and your confidence in what you´re doing is the thing that gives them the experience they´re gonna walk away with. I really, really feel great when I play some of those songs that I have to play over and over. I focus on what the melody means to me. Like when I play a song called “Frank”. I wrote it in respect of Frank Zappa and it doesn´t sound like Zappa´s music at all, but there was a side to Frank that I really loved deeply, almost like a father so when I play that song I think about him and I think about that feeling that I had for him. He was such an interesting and unique and wonderful guy and whenever I would go to the house, which was all the time, before I left I felt kinda high. That´s what I think about when I play that song and I get to go there and when you go there you bring the other people.
Right. Cool. Another thing from way back, what are your thoughts today of the album “Flex-Able”? Do you go back and listen to your old records?
Steve Vai: Yeah I do. Whenever you do something creative and we all do it, it´s like a little snap shot of who you were at that time. When I listen to “Flex-Able” I just think of this very innocent, naïve, passionate kid that loved corky and bizarre things. I wrote those songs and recorded them so me and a small group of my friends would have something to laugh at. I never expected to release it and it represented a time that life was really easy. I had just gotten over of a deep depression. I was like 20 or 21 and in a really bad frame of mind. When I started working on “Flex-Able”, I had a tremendous amount of music because that´s all I did all day. Write and record, write and record all day. Some of it was extremely dark. Like dark in ways like… people think of dark and they think of death metal or black metal and it was nothing like that. It was really from a dark frame of mind and then I had to change. I went through a metamorphosis and my whole attitude and outlook changed. I started to find happiness and I started to find satisfaction, equilibrium and I started to write this different kind of music that just made me feel funny and silly and lighthearted. I had a choice of what I was gonna do and I knew that wherever you go with your mind, you perpetuate your own reality and if I would´ve kept on to that dark stuff, I think I would have ended up dead. As a matter of fact I´m sure because I almost got there. “Flex-Able” was a catharsis. It was a young man metamorphosising and just expressing these things, so when I listen to it I feel really good. I mean, it´s silly and corky and some people just don´t get it, but that´s ok.
Cool story. Last thing. I read that you really like Fredrik from Meshuggah. What is it that makes him good?
Steve Vai: He´s organically brilliant. Rhythm makes us feel a certain way and I´ve always liked rhythmic situations that make me feel a different way. He´s capable of creating these emotional rhythmic environments that have an effect on your inner drummer, your inner rhythm and I like it. It scratches and itch that nothing else gets to. On top of all that, the way he´s playing is just totally unique. He´s a unique player and I don´t believe he thinks of conventional music theory the way most people do and that´s one of the reasons he comes up with what he comes up with. It´s pure organic feel and he´s searching for things that feel good to him and feel natural to him and make him feel a particular way. Then he´s got this beautiful musical environment of these other musicians around him that resonate with him on it and they create this brand of music that is very different and very unique. You hear more of it these days and sometimes trends forget who the godfathers are, but that guy is a godfather.
Ok. Do you listen to Opeth?
Steve Vai: Oh yeah, I´ve got all the Opeth stuff.
He´s another great guitar player.
Steve Vai: Yeah, he´s another great player. There´s this whole subculture of metal that… you know, I get a lot of it from my son Julian because he´s really into all this stuff. He´s into very progressive hardcore shit. There´s a big difference between outrageous dark music for the sake of it and really beautifully organic musical darkness. You know Animals As Leaders? I like some of his stuff too and you can tell that they listened to Meshuggah and took it into a different direction. I don´t know if you´ve heard Fredrik´s solo records?
Actually I haven´t.
Steve Vai: Holy mackerel! It´s really powerful and brilliant shit and he can play his ass off.
Ok, I´ll check it out. Thanks Steve!
Steve Vai: Thank you.