Steve Vai is truly a guitar icon. He was a protégé of the legendary Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth's answer to Eddie Van Halen after the band and Roth parted ways, and he even battled Ralph Macchio in Crossroads. There hasn't been a guitar magazine printed in the past 30 years that has lacked Vai's likeness published somewhere within its pages.
At a time when guitar athletics were in vogue, Vai managed to rise above the crowd of virtuosic shredders in a way that impacted how people approach the instrument itself. He also manages his own label, Favored Nations, and is, interestingly, an amateur beekeeper.
The guitarist spoke with us about the infinite nature of music, PIL, and Zappa reissues while on the European leg of his tour.
New Times: You're a really busy guy, between writing and recording albums, touring, and your label. Are you a workaholic, or do you ever want to just go back to playing full time?
Steve Vai: Well, you know, in the past, I've dabbled a lot with business, and in all of the things that I do, there's this one thread that runs through all of it. And that thread is that moment of inspiration, when you get an idea to do something and you feel really excited about that idea. That kind of thread of inspiration goes through everything, and that never goes away.
How do you stay inspired this long into your career, especially on the guitar end of it?
I understand the reality that the guitar is an infinite instrument and that music is infinite. We're rarely even scratching the surface of what can be done. And you can see that throughout history, because genres and trends are always changing.
When I think I've tapped something out -- that's a very arrogant idea, because you're competing with the universe. What you're saying is, "Oh, you have nothing else to offer me," but what you're really saying is, "I don't have the imagination or the desire to continue." And I've never felt that way.