Steve Vai has been reflecting on his career and back catalogue and has revealed the track that he believes is his “greatest accomplishment” on guitar.
From the outside looking in, perhaps we would imagine it would be Teeth Of The Hydra, the track that demonstrates his ability to master the steam punk-inspired, triple-necked custom electric guitar that Ibanez was crazy enough to make for him. There is a case to be made for Candle Power, which brings a neo-Vai technique to the fore in the form of joint-shifting, creating a quasi-country, programmed anime quality to spanky clean tone guitar.
But speaking to Guitar Player, Vai looked back to 2016’s Modern Primitive album for the song that he thinks is a career highlight.
Yes, he spoke about the importance of songs such as Bad Horsie, which could have come from the electric guitar of his Crossroads character, Jack Butler, or Passion And Warfare classic For The Love Of God, a song that he never tires of playing.
The track that stood above them all, however, was And We Are One, which he believes has a solo he has never bettered.
“I would go on record to say that I think the solo on this is perhaps my greatest accomplishment on the guitar,” said Vai. “That would be because of its phrasing, its neatness and its beauty. I don’t feel pretentious saying that, because I’m speaking within my capacities.”
It’s also because it reveals as much of Vai as any other piece of music he has released. It tells a story through instrumental guitar, and a way that only Vai could.
“With this song, I told myself, ‘You’re going to record a solo here, where every riff is going to be unique for you,” he continued. “It can’t be anything you’ve done before, and it has to be innovative.’ In that one song, there is more phrasing and melodic intimacy than anything I’ve ever recorded. That’s why this song is so important to me.
“There is really a lot going on in my playing that might not be apparent to someone who isn’t watching me play this. Not that that is important in itself, of course. What is important is that when the listener hears it, they feel something.”
Speaking to MusicRadar in March, Vai explained how the challenge of the new was a motivating factor, an invitation to dig deeper into the guitar, to fathom the instrument’s potential.
The recently released Inviolate presented him with many such challenges; how to play the three-necked Hydra, how ‘joint-shifting’ could work in a song such as Candle Power, and even how to play one-handed as he recovered from shoulder surgery and wrote and performed Knappsack while his picking arm was rested in a sling. This he says, was a gift.
“When you give your focus to something constantly, you are going to go deeper and deeper,” he said. “What you are pointing out is an evolution of a particularly way that I play that was brought on by various situations. For instance, I always liked legato. I was a big Allan Holdsworth fan. I just liked that, like you were saying, that woodwind kind of a sound.
“I always look for situations that are challenging. Some are harder than others, but challenging situations where I can ask myself, ‘How can this serve me? How can I make lemonade out of lemons?’ So, when they said, ‘Lockdown!’ I said, ‘Okay, how can that serve me?’ Candle Power, Under It All, Sandman Cloud Mist, Knappsack, that all came out of lockdown. That’s how it served me.”
Head over to Guitar Player for Vai’s rundown of the other career-defining tracks in his catalogue.