The web site Make Weird Music has posted its one-hour interview with Steve Vai from this past September, and it really is a great one. We’ve posted the video below, but you should also head over to MakeWeirdMusic.com, where you can read the transcript, download the podcast and check out other great interviews.
Vai’s interview is conducted by Anthony Garone, who asked some thoughtful and meaningful questions about his musical evolution and approach to composition and career. The interview is unique in that Steve really goes deep into talking about his thought processes and the philosophies behind how he works, some of which are a complete twist on how many of us typically think and behave when it comes to our music and careers.
His vision is overall extremely positive and supportive, and he makes several excellent observations about life and artistry that will be useful to anyone, regardless of the instrument they play—and probably regardless of whether or not they’re a musician.
Here are seven concepts and bits of Steve lore we learned from the interview. But by all means, watch, listen to or read it for yourself in its entirety.
1. “You’re always expanding on your own self.”
“You’re never the same one moment after the next, so the most exciting thing for me is when I do something or I come up with an idea that I haven’t had before,” Vai says. “That’s my fuel, that’s my source of inspiration. … I would come up with things on my own and say, ‘Well, that’s interesting. That’s fun. I haven’t heard that.’ And then I’d challenge myself to reach different plateaus of technical proficiency and see where that could take me on a creative level and then rise above it.”
2. “Fear is the thing that holds people back from their own unique potentiality.”
“The interesting thing is, that piece of fearless, creative, enjoyable, enthusiastic non-critical work that you then do is usually the thing you’re going to be the most successful at. You’re usually creating a style and your real true self is flowing into it. Then, the appropriate audience will be responding to it as opposed to trying to second-guess an audience, which is just stress, and you’re competing with people who write music in a field that’s very natural to them. So, that’s what I’ve become more aware of.
3. “Right now is the best time in history to be an independent musician.”
“You have more tools at your disposal than has ever been before. If you have the goods, if you’re creative enough, you can create your work. There’s so many people now to network with, you can get with other people… You couldn’t do that in the past…. And I can tell you I’m doing better now than I’ve ever been doing and I’m selling a lot less records because records don’t sell, but I’m just doing gangbusters. I had my best year ever in my life this year.”
4. “If you make you the most important thing in what you do, then the audience that comes to it will be the right audience for you…
“As opposed to trying to say, ‘Well this genre here likes this kind of music, so let me throw some of that…’ That’s insane thinking! I shouldn’t say it’s ‘insane,’ it’s very common. And I do do it sometimes! But those songs just do not carry that thing that I like the most, which is, ‘Whoa. Oh my God, did that really sound real?’ That’s what I like. Sometimes that happens.”
5. It took him years before he thought of himself as a musician.
“It was always such a sacred word. You know the word musician to me meant somebody who really knew music and really immersed themselves in the musical experience and had command over the technique and the technology and could just hear this and see that. And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what you are. That’s what you like. Go with it.’”
6. He doesn’t write music in response to emotional issues or life problems “because that perpetuates that frame of mind.”
“You can hear that in certain music,” he says. “People are very happy to tell you how miserable they are. They’re very happy to create music about how fucked up their life is and how fucked up the world is. Oh, that’s a good one! Because when you proclaim that the world is fucked up, what you’re really saying is, ‘Because I know better. Because I am better. I’m better than the world and I can show you how. The world is fucked up!’ It’s a form of insanity, but it’s the ego, and it only brings suffering to yourself and others and that flows into your work and that work carries that energy.”
7. Steve never thought he would be as good as the players he grew up listening to.
“As I was growing up, I was really into these kinds of progressive guitar players. I listened to blues. I went through jazz phases. Classical phases. It was so interesting to hear such great players all the time. One of the things I realized is ‘I’ll never be that good.’ It was stimulating, but I never felt like I’d be very good at doing that and why, when somebody else was doing it so well.
“So I would learn the riffs just for fun, but the thing that always turned me on the most, and the one thing that I’ve always had with me through my whole career, was always the ‘home base’—the enthusiasm I feel for coming up with something new. For me, at least… New for me.”
For more, watch below and visit MakeWeirdMusic.com.