Steve Vai interview
September 1, 1999
by John Perry
So, you are appearing next week at record stores to promote the new album?
Yes, I’m going to appear and sign autographs and stuff.
Are you going to play at all?
They are giving away my rig so I’ll probably play a few notes to give it away.
Let’s talk about “The Ultra Zone”. First of all, what does the title mean to you?
When I was thinking of the phrase “The Ultra Zone” I guess I was referring more to a state of mind. Sort of a fine focus. I think we all reach that state occasionally when you are focused on something and your mind isn’t wandering, and you get a clear picture. For instance, I was doing this one song called “Windows To The Soul”, it’s the seventh song, and what I did was I made a vamp of the track and I just played my guitar over it for hours and hours, like three days in a row, for about sixteen hours a day and what I would do was focus on a thought or an emotion and try to portray that emotion through the instrument. It’s interesting how your mind wanders but when you can grab it and pull it back and keep it focused on those things you reach some pretty interesting places. When you are in that frame of mind that’s sort of what I coined as the ultra zone.
I also enjoyed “The Blood and Tears”. It’s very spiritual, and it had sort of Indian dubs in it?
Those kinds of tonalities carry a certain mystique to them, you know, when you think of the far east or India it’s shrouded in a mystique of spiritualism and the scales and ambiences that come out of those areas, sort of push buttons in people. So I like to incorporate those sounds, those scales, and tonalities into the music. When you go to create something, you tend to gravitate toward the things that interest you, and a lot of people will write their music about politics or how pissed off they are about the world, or how someone screwed them over, or how happy they are, or how they like to dance, or whatever, but I seem to gravitate more towards spiritual issues. It’s a never ending quest to discover more about what we are and on the other hand I have this intense technical knowledge and facility on the instrument and my brain just marries it all together and spits out stuff like “The Ultra Zone”.
The song “Frank” was a tribute to Zappa. Do you have a favorite Zappa composition?
That’s impossible, there are so many great songs, sometimes I love the song “Sofa” and at other times I love “Redunzel”, then I love “Night School”…
It could just go on forever.
Yeah, sort of like Baskin Robbins.
What’s the plan for your upcoming tour? Will it start right after the album comes out?
Yes, the album comes out on the 7th of September, I will be on the road doing press in America, then I go to Europe to do press. After Europe I come back and rehearse with the band and then we hit America starting October 24th through Christmas. Then in January we go to Japan and Asia and I’ll be playing Korea, Taipai, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, and then I take about a week off and then we go to Europe, hitting Europe very hard, and playing a lot of Eastern countries too. Believe it or not but I’m famous there! Places like the Czech Republic and what not. We’ll probably hit Russia, last year we went there twice, and then take a little break then go to South America where I have a really good audience and after that we are probably going to round off the tour with a orchestra performance in Israel with the Jerusalem orchestra.
Who’s in the touring band?
It’s Mike Mangini on drums, Philip Bynoe on bass, and Mike Keneally on keyboards.
Can you tell me about the upcoming box set?
I completed it about a year ago. Just trying to get it out, there’s a lot of negotiations and they went over due so I ended up postponing it until next year. It’s a ten CD box set, at least that’s what it is right now, you know. Includes music I did from films, Japanese bonus tracks, stuff I did with other artists, a double live Alcatrazz record, a piano reduction record performed by Mike Keneally with a bunch of pieces from my past, it’s really an archiving and a special events package.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I started a record company called “Favored Nations” and that’s taking a lot of time and is very rewarding and the concept is to release music from musicians who are inspired. Looking for talented people who can do interesting things. We’ve had great responses and just got distribution in America. Our first project is coming out in January. It’s sort of like an organic evolution for me.
Please tell me a little about “Make A Noise Foundation”.
That’s an organization we had legalized last year. For me, one of the most important things in my life growing up was this music class I took in high school, I had a brilliant teacher who taught me a lot about composition. Every day I had to come in with an original piece of music which had to be written, not just the chord structure, an actual piano piece, and it really enriched my life…I treasured my music classes and they gave me a lot in the way of self-esteem and just creative energy. In this day of age these classes just don’t exist. One of the goals of the foundation is to collect funds and we will be partnering with other organizations that actual implement music curriculums in schools. One other thing we are working on is creating CD libraries within libraries in schools.
I see you were inducted into Hollywood’s Rock Walk? That must have been cool? So your sixth digit was discovered!
Ha, ha…You know I had to do something wacked out!