Steve Vai – interview!

Steve Vai & Tempo Evolution Orchestra

The thing that I have in common with everyone else is that I have my own perspective. My perspective is you should find the thing that is most interesting and exciting to you and throw yourself into it with joy and excitement and let someone else waste their time putting music into little constricted boxes and criticizing everything.

~ Steve Vai

May, 2013


When I was looking for some information about you I came across a video entitled „How to be Successful” Private Sessions Guitar Center. It inspired me a lot. Everything you are talking about (self-fulfilling prophecy, the level of achievement that we have in anything is a reflection of how well we were able to focus on it, the way we think has a reflection on what we create) goes beyond advice like: you have to set a hand in this way, push it like that, play with a metronome and practise a lot. This is knowledge that can be translated into other aspects of our lives. What led you to this way of thinking? What led you to such a conscious approach?

Steve Vai

As we go through life various things happen to us that can change our entire perspective. When I was a young man of 20-22, I had a very rough time battling depression. I reached an absolute emotional low and knew I could not go on much longer. It’s an odd thing that many people suffer from and that’s just what it is, suffering. When the suffering gets to a boiling point you either sink or swim. I was fortunate because the suffering turned me to the study of human consciousness and existence. Through these studies I found great relief. A very slow awakening that still takes place everyday. I believe it’s like that for everyone whether they know it or not.

Through the years, I have discovered that the way we feel is a product of the thoughts we think and we have the freedom to choose to think whatever thoughts we want, and those thoughts become our reality. Most of the time, our thought patterns are ingrained in past events etc. and we build a story in our mind of who we are and in doing so we create our own identity. But life exists beyond the self made identity we have created for ourselves and when you understand that you can change the way you think if you have the courage, you will change the way you feel and that’s what changes your life.

This comes to us all in varying degrees based on the result of our thoughts and actions. If you want to change your life and the way you feel you have to start by identifying the way you are thinking. There’s a vital separation there between the egoic mind and the true self that lies under the mind noise. Because I’m a guitar player and not an inspired prophet, I usually talk about the esoteric principals that have shaped my musical life in hopes that it can inspire others. I do talk about things like scales, technique and all the academic stuff that I think most guitar players are interested in but it’s all for nothing if you don’t prepare the way with your attitude so I talk a lot about the mental approach to being a musician and creating music, playing the guitar, etc. and yes, many of these principals can be applied to other areas of life.

By the way, I did not name that clip “how to be successful”. I would never be that pretentious, or try not to be. The definition of success various depending on who you are talking to but a very wise man once said to me that life is a series of problems with some rest spots in-between and at the end of the day your success is measured by how well you navigated through the problems.

If you can have the perspective that there really are no problems in life and that everything in the Universe is perfect and has its place, it takes the heaviness out of life and you can really start living.

It is amazing how technology supports guitarists. We have computers in the studio, digital sound editing, amps and effects simulations, self-tuning guitars, bridges that maintain the tuning and others things. At the end there is a man and music. Jimi Hendrix had a Stratocaster, Marshall, Cry Baby, Uni Vibe and Fuzz. There are opinions that technology kills the truth in music? What is your opinion? Where is the balance?

My feeling is that whatever your opinion is will be your reality and everyone’s opinions are valid because it’s their own and is their reality. If somebody believes that Jimi Hendrix’s way was the “right way” and that new technology is destroying the soul of music, then for them they will see and hear that, but in the other room there might be someone thinking, “Hmmm, Jimi Hendrix did this and it’s a wonderful stepping stone for me to do this” etc. Then they create something very new that doesn’t sound like Hendrix and they see technology as a beautiful tool to explore their imagination in ways that would have been impossible in the past. They create with their passion and vision and feel as though they did something fresh, vital and new, then that will be their reality.

The thing that I have in common with everyone else is that I have my own perspective. My perspective is you should find the thing that is most interesting and exciting to you and throw yourself into it with joy and excitement and let someone else waste their time putting music into little constricted boxes and criticizing everything.

A person’s criticism is a reflection of who they are and their critique is completely relative so why waste time. Just get on with the good stuff. Do what you really want to do.

Nowadays it is easy to have the access to knowledge regarding playing an instrument. We have YouTube, websites with tabs, guides of various kinds of tips & tricks. This is technique. My next question is how to become a recognized musician, how to find your unique style? How to activate your creativity?

Well, I can’t claim to be an expert on these things but I might say that the first step is having the desire to find your unique style and come to the solid understanding that you are absolutely capable of it. That has always seemed obvious to me. We are all uniquely different and can express the uniqueness in a multitude of ways. The thing that stops us is fear and that’s firmly based in our egos.

So, in a nutshell I might say, try to identify with a goal and then work with thoughts that make you feel good about that goal. The goal can be anything. You have to be able to identify with where you are in an honest way and then find simple little thoughts that can take you one step higher on an emotional scale. It’s the way you feel that will bring about the situations that get you there.

Keep an optimistic awareness of the events that are presented in your life that can get you to your goal. I believe a person will be most successful when they are expressing the things that are most exciting and interesting to them in a creative way. For a lot of people, they have that vision and passion but they just can’t bring themselves to believe it’s possible and this is usually a result of the mental patterns they are stuck in from the story of themselves they created through their past.

So be easy about it all. What happens is important but it’s not THAT important. The way you feel about what you are doing is important.

In Wroclaw you will perform with an orchestra. How does it influence your work when you cooperate with such a big number of people?

Well, there certainly is a lot more sound in the air! There is a protocol that is set up when you work with an orchestra. As a composer, you write the music and hope the people that are going to play it are excited to play it. Things move fast and there is usually little time so you have to be able to make quick decisions on the spot and create an atmosphere of respect.

In one of your interviews you said that when you walk on stage you switch into the Vai Mode. Your wife calls it this way. What does Steve Vai do not being in that Steve Mode? What do you enjoy most in your life, apart from playing the guitar?

I’m always Steve Vai it’s just that when I’m on stage nobody can interrupt me, ha. What I enjoy outside of music is very simple stuff. I’m really very simple. I enjoy spending time with my wife (of 34 years) and our 2 boys, Julian (24) and Fire (21). The boys are in college now but when they are home we do simple things like have dinner together, go to the movies, take walks, make each other laugh, go on little vacations. It’s really quite nice.