Steve Vai's top 5 tips for guitarists
There's been a wealth of news from the land of Steve Vai recently: Last month, the guitar master announced that he'd signed a multi-album deal with Sony Music Entertainment and Legacy Recordings (with the exception of 2012's The Story Of Light, Vai has been associated with Sony since 1990). Vai's first release through Legacy will be Stillness In Motion – Vai Live in LA, recorded at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles in 2012.
Following Stillness In Motion, Vai will issue a 25th Anniversary package of his landmark Passion And Warfare album, after which he'll release a disc of brand-new studio material. And there's more: From August 2-6, Vai will host his second Vai Academy, with the theme of "All About The Guitar," at The Arrabelle At Vail Square in Vail, Colorado (visit vaiacademy.com for more details). Vai sat down with MusicRadar recently to talk about the upcoming releases and his plans for the new Vai Academy – and the celebrated six-string virtuoso even offered his top five tips for guitarists.
Signing with Legacy is kind of a homecoming for you – you've got a long history with Sony.
“Yeah, it’s one of these things that happened organically. It can be an ordeal to release your own music, no matter who you are or how you do it. I did enjoy it, though. When I was looking to put out the 25th Anniversary of Passion And Warfare, I had to approach Sony to see if they would give me the rights.
"They were willing to work with me, but they really wanted me to sign with Legacy. And the cool thing is, there's really a great group of people at Legacy – they’re music lovers, guitar lovers. They have my catalog and they really wanted me on the label. Long story short, they offered me a deal that was a shocker. It's a phenomenal, wonderful deal. Everybody’s happy about it.
“We’re putting out the DVD and live CD of Stillness In Motion, then we're doing the Passion And Warfare reissue, and then there's a new studio album. The studio record is down the way – before that we'll do the Passion And Warfare tour. It'll probably be 100 shows, 50 in America and 50 in Europe, during which we'll play the entire record. The Passion And Warfare package will include the remastered original album along with a disc of material that was written and recorded between Flex-Able and Passion And Warfare. It’s like a missing link record, and there will also be a DVD that includes a lot of footage from that period. It’s a big project.”
Stillness In Motion will be available in 2CD and 2DVD sets. The DVD package also includes a bonus disc, The Space Between The Notes.
“That's right. You know, I've got to tell you, the main concert, the Nokia show, was beautifully shot. They had a fantastic camera array and such a great crew. I didn't feel as if it was exploited fully for a TV show that was broadcasts, so that's why I asked for the tapes to do this release with.
"The DVD of the show was relatively easy to put together, but I wanted something more, and that's the bonus disc, The Space Between The Notes. It's a tour diary that I put together, and it's really one of the best things I’ve ever done. For the Story Of Light tour, we circled the globe twice, and this footage takes you along for the entire our. We went everywhere – we did America twice, Europe, Eastern Europe twice, Japan twice; we did Indonesia, Australia, Tel Aviv… and Russia three times. We were even in Kiev during the war.
"So this is a chronological tour diary of every day on the tour. It was a massive undertaking to include something from every day we were out there. It took me five months of 15-hour days to edit. Even with all the chopping I did, it’s still three hours and 40 minutes. But I love it, and I think my fans will really enjoy it. You get to see what it’s like to tour all of these places with a group of people who are having a terrific time being together.”
Let's talk about the next Vai Academy. Last you, you focused on songwriting. This time, the theme is "All About The Guitar."
“The element of guitar classes with great clinicians and artists will always be there. The jamming is an important aspect – it’s always my goal to play with every camper. There will be a lot of playing, but I wanted to devote half of the day to a theme. Last year, like you said, it was building a song, and this time it’s the electric guitar itself. It’s something that’s so important to us, but a lot of us know so little about it.
“One thing I'm doing before the camp is, I’m going down to Ibanez and I'm going to design a guitar. One of their head luthiers will build the instrument and will videotape it, so you’ll actually get to see a guitar being made from top to bottom.
“Then we’ve got classes. I’ve got historical leaders in their field coming in to talk. Larry DiMarzio will do classes on pickups – everything about them, all the details. Next, there's strings – how do they work? What kinds should you use? I’ve got Sterling Ball coming in to talk about guitar strings in full. There's so many different aspects to guitar strings, things nobody even thinks about, so Sterling will walk us through that. And then there's the body of a guitar, the woods, how different wood affects your tone – we go through it all. I’ve got one of Paul Reed Smith’s top luthiers coming in to explain all you need to know about these aspects. These are really important elements of the guitar that people should familiarize themselves with.
“Plus there’s a class about the neck of the guitar – what it is, how it works, what a truss rod is, the nut, fretboards, how to properly string your instrument. We’re really going to get in depth. I think guitar lovers will get so much useful information out of this. You know, I can only imagine how cool it would have been to have something like this when I was 14 or 15 years old. It would’ve blown my mind. I’m happy that I have the ability to share this information with people. It feels like I’m paying honor to my purpose, and that’s really fulfilling.”
And you've got some pretty great guest instructors – Eric Johnson and Sonny Landreth.
“I mean, how cool is it to have these guys? First of, they’re tremendous players and have done so much for the community. But they’re also great teachers and speakers – they can really inspire people. You get to hear them play, you can ask them questions – there’s so much information to glean from them. That’s what people want. They want to be inspired by players who are so dedicated to their art, and these guys are.
“And on top of it all, we’re going to be in Vail, Colorado. How amazing is that? I mean, God lives there – that’s how gorgeous it is!” [Laughs]
Stillness In Motion – Vai Live In LA (to be released on April 7) can be pre-ordered at Amazon. For more information on the Vai Academy, which takes place Aug 2-6, visit vaiacademy.com. On the following pages, Steve Vai runs down his top five tips for guitarists.
Identify the way you feel about what you're doing
“Whatever you do – whether you have to change the batteries in your stomp box, whether you have to talk to attorneys or managers, if you're deciding how you’re going to make a record or how you’re going to make a living – all that stuff is important, but it’s not of absolute importance. What’s of absolute importance is the quality of your inspiration. Everything else comes from that.
“Even before the quality of the inspiration, you need to know how you feel, because the way you feel flows into all of your actions. That’s not even debatable, nor is it my opinion – it’s just the way it works.
“You need to get in touch with the thoughts you’re thinking in regards to what you need to do. Once you identify the way you’re thinking, you have the freedom – and this is virtually the one freedom you have that nobody can touch – to choose the thoughts you want to think to change the way you feel.
“That takes a lot of courage because you first have to be able to see that you’re feeling. Most people don’t do that – they’re just engrossed 100 percent in the way they feel without any kind of self-reflection. So there you go: Adjust your thoughts accordingly.”
Create a goal
“Now that you’ve discovered that you have the ability to enjoy any situation, you need to create a goal. I should state that it's not entirely necessary to create a goal – you can just go along playing, and whatever comes comes. That's fine. But it’s nice to look forward and say, ‘You know what? I would like to do this.’
“Now, that goal can be something very simple, like making the decision to go out and buy a guitar. Or it can be deciding to go to music school or not, or who you’re going to perform with. It’s great to be able to create a goal, and then you go back to number 1 and say, ‘All right, now how do I feel about that goal?’ You’ll know if there’s any disturbance inside or a contraction, and if there is, it’s only because you’re feeling insecure, overwhelmed or unworthy.
“All that stuff? That’s fear. So that’s what you have to work on with the goal. It’s not really about doing or going through with the goal; the actual goal doesn’t matter. What matters is how you adjust your thoughts to align with the goal. If, like I said, it’s something simple like buying a guitar, you bring yourself to where you feel good about it. That can be a challenge because there's so much to consider: there’s money, there’s time, there’s which guitar to get – all of those things. But you can transform that into an excitement, and that’s how you align yourself.
“After that, enjoy the process, every step of it. The goal isn’t the be-all and end-all. Every moment along the way is the pay-off. Whatever you’re feeling on your way to your goal is going to flow into your product, and that will be felt by anyone who experiences it in the end.”
Educate yourself about the music business
“It’s always good to know as much as you can about the business you’re actually in. Even a litle bit can help. Here again, you’ve got to go back to tips number 1 and 2, and once you do hopefully the way you approach your understanding of the music business is exciting to you.
“You don’t need to be all forensic about this, unless you’re really fascinated by this kind of stuff. But there are certain things you do need to understand, like how to protect yourself and how the business basically works. This will all be very useful to you. It’s not that difficult, so don’t be intimidated. If you’ve done steps 1 and 2, you can navigate these waters easily.”
Learn how to own and operate the word "no"
“That’s a Frank Zappa quote. The Vai translation is ‘Don’t panic.’ It’s true – you should never panic or feel desperate. Always know that your instincts are coming from a place that will pay off in the long run.
“It can take a lot of courage to follow your instincts, because there’s a barrage of storms you’re going to hit in the music business. But if you follow steps 1 and 2, you’ll understand number 4. A high-quality ‘no’ means ‘Although I’d love to have my music in this film, and they’re going to pay me X amount of dollars, the film doesn’t resonate with me. It’s not something I want to be a part of or contribute to.’
“As you say that to yourself, a little voice creeps up: ‘Yeah, but it’s a lot of money, and so-and-so is connected with it, and it's...’ You start to question your decision and try to talk yourself out of it. But really, if there’s any kind of discomfort in you, honor that. Your response can be a very high-quality ‘no,’ because you’re following your instincts. There’s such power in that.
“This is something that will be quite beneficial to you, but you have to get used to it. You’ll feel that panic and doubt – ‘Wait a minute. Where’s my money gonna come from?’ This will happen; you’ll be approached about all kinds of things throughout your career. that you won't feel good about doing. And the truth is, you don’t have to say yes to everything. Trust your own guidance system.”
Be friendly with yourself
“Go easy on yourself. There is nothing so serious that you can't get through it in a peaceful, calm and smooth manner. Life is about feeling good and having fun – there, I said it. Being friendly with yourself also means being friendly with the people around you – the musicians, the attorneys, everybody you come in contact with.
“It’s amazing how this can change the course of your whole career. Being friendly with yourself first means that you can be critical of yourself, but you have to be constructively critical. Everybody thinks there’s such great honor in being self-deprecating, but there’s really no need to do so – it’s just an extension of ego. This is something that I still need to get over. I do it from time to time – ‘Oh, no, I suck.’ There’s no reason to do that. That’s not being friendly with yourself.
“Be OK with the mistakes you make, because there are no mistakes. You’ll always get a chance to do it again. The situations and the conditions will be different, but you’ll always be confronted by the same moral values that are continuing to be fine-tuned. Now that you know that, you can work on that and adjust your thinking.
“So again, go easy on yourself. There’s nothing so complicated that you can’t figure it all out calmly and in a way you can feel good about.”