When you take a roll call of some of the most talented guitarists of all time, somewhere slinking in the back of the class would be the lanky Steve Vai. The three-time Grammy winning virtuoso started off by transcribing for musician Frank Zappa, and learned the tricks of the trade from multi-instrumentalist and guitar ace Joe Satriani. Such is their camaraderie that master and student have gone on to be a part of G3, a supergroup consisting of some of the best guitarists in the world. We caught up with the maestro himself, as he prepares to take on India for the second time in two months at NH7 Weekender, Pune. Excerpts:
Do you and Joe still share a student-teacher relationship, or has your bond transcended?
We share a lifelong friendship. When I look back at my career, with all the tours, albums, the awards and the money, I recognise that the most valuable thing is the relationships we make along the way, and how we bond and work with the people who resonate with us. Joe and I are very close friends, and share a special relationship. But part of me will always see him as my mentor and teacher, because he’s always inspiring.
Your ninth studio album, Modern Primitive, released last year. How’s the reaction been so far?
I’m thrilled at the response my fans have had for Modern Primitive. Especially people who have been following me for a long time have found it to be a charming addition to the catalogue. The press too gave it a thumbs up, so that’s always nice!
Do your approach to life and to composing music overlap or combine?
My approach to life, like it is the case with many people, has changed through the ages. These days, I’m loving life more than ever. My main focus is being present in the now. Whatever we do creatively in our lives is affected by our state of being — and that is unequivocal. It all overlaps in ways we’re not aware of.
Studio albums, live tours, hopping countries — what is it that keeps you going at 57, as one of the most important guitarists in the world today?
The thing that keeps me going is the same thing that keeps us all going — expanding our creativity. And what that is, is an exciting idea that comes into our heads.
You’ve also been collaborating with a lot of young artistes recently. Any stand-out performer from the lot?
Recently, I discovered Jacob Collier. He’s a 23-year-old phenomenon, with a musical ear like nothing I have ever seen. He’s also incredibly creative.
Tell us a little about your time with Frank Zappa.
I was extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Frank when I was 18, till I was 22. Frank was the best! Not a single day goes by that I don’t think back on those days with fond appreciation. What I learned has helped me forge my own career.
What made you get on board the Frank Zappa hologram tour?
The Zappa Family Trust approached me with the idea of a hologram tour, and I thought that if they could pull it off, I would be happy to help them launch the tour by participating in three or four shows. After talking with the Trust recently, I discovered what they have in mind regarding the visuals for this potential hologram tour is perhaps not what most people might think it will be. What they have in mind is quite amazing.
You played at the Meghalaya edition of NH7 in October. Pune will be your second trip this year. How has it been so far?
Oh, the first trip was just fantastic, and the Indian audiences are so supportive. I’m looking forward to so many things that India offers that are unique to the rest of the world. My favourite thing to do while in India is just to observe; observe the lifestyle, the people, the colours, and the cows! It’s such a rich culture, and it’s evolving tremendously fast. Oh, and I’m also looking forward to kicking major a** at the festival!