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Steve Vai’s 25 Years of Passion and Warfare

by Ronny North

I remember when I first got my copy of Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare CD in 1991. Already a long time Steve Vai fan, I was totally blown away by the music, the innovative production and of course Steve’s mind-blowing musicianship.In my opinion it forged a whole new path in the instrumental guitar genre.

Then as luck would have it shortly after I got the CD I got to see Steve play a few of the songs off the CD at an Ibanez NAMM show event.I believe it was the first time that he had played the songs live. Well, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been 25 years since the release of this iconic Instrumental Guitar CD. When I heard that Steve was going to do a 25th anniversary tour to commemorate the CD I was really excited. I also heard that it would be a show not to be missed with special guests as well as Steve and his band playing the entire Passion and Warfare CD.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Steve when the tour stopped in Ventura California.It was great to be able to chat about the CD and his thoughts on the creative process creating the CD and it’s relevance in today’s current music climate.

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Live2Play: Steve, It’s been 25 years since the release of your Passion and Warfare CD. Did you realize when you were creating it that it would have such an impact and still be relevant today?

SV: Absolutely not, I was coming from those metal bands ( Alcatrazz , David Lee Roth , Whitesnake) and at face value that was the music that looked like when you recorded it you would expect something.When I created Passion and Warfare it came from a deep seated desire to create a particular style of music as an artistic statement and to be honest I thought it would be the end of my career.

Live2Play: Did you really?

SV: Yes, because it was so contrary to what people might have been expecting and to what was going on at the time in the music scene.It’s considered a rock guitar instrumental record but it really doesn’t quite fit into that category.

Live2Play: It really doesn’t but to me it transcends the genre.

SV: I’m really a rock musician at heart. I like the energy and sound–what rock music is and but on the other hand I have a deep attraction to composition and the intellectual side of music so to speak and my brain just mixes these things together and that’s what comes out.

Live2Play: The CD just sounds so true to you and your vision.

SV: It’s funny I’ve heard many guitar instrumental albums and I have even released many on my label. It’s easy to hear a guitar player like Stevie Ray Vaughn and fall in love and say ok that’s within my ability because it’s blues or Joe Satriani where the formula a relatively simple but the melody is profoundly beautiful or Yngwie where you can hear what he’s doing and you can really practice and you still never get there. But with me I don’t think it’s very difficult to hear me play if you’re a guitar player and cop the riffs but I think what makes it a little more inaccesable
to people that would like to create something like it so to speak because they’re inspired by it is it’s eclicism in the notes , chords and lyrics.

Live2Play: You really did create your own guitar vocabulary.

SV: I didn’t realize it when I was doing it but I thought this is what I do so why not? I was so not interested in chasing this pop culture success , that was a trap and was discusting to me, then you become a slave to radio and to the gondreas and trends then what happens when the trend changes? Then you are stuck there trying to look like you did when you were 25 thin and had good hair and a wardrobe that looked appropriate at the time. I enjoyed that when it was happening but I knew I wasn’t going to chase that stuff.

Live2Play: Not everyone would jump off the bandwagon at your point of success to forge a new path but yet you did. To me that’s a real artist.

SV: Well here’s the thing, my instinct tells me most people can do that because I think everybody is uniquely creative at something but it’s obscured a lot of times by their fears of failure, the fear of not fitting and the fear of being criticized and all of that and I had all those things but my creative impulses were stronger than my fears.

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Live2Play:The production of the CD is also very innovative where did you record it?

SV: Parts of it were recorded at my old studio Stucco Blue in Simi Valley and the rest was done at my Mothership studio. I started the record when I was in Alcatrazz and then I had to shelve it when I was playing with Dave and would work on it here and there then when the Dave thing ended I just focused on it and soon as I finished it the Whitesnake offer came in.So I decided to do that because I couldn’t negotiate how I would front a band playing the music from Passion of Warfare.

Live2Play: I remember that when I saw you playing in Whitesnake you would play “For the Love of God “ during your solo section during the show.

SV: That was David Coverdale’s idea. He suggested it.

Live2Play: I know there are a couple drummers on the CD as well as a drum machine.What kind of drum machine did you use?

SV: There’s drum machine on one song, Love Secrets. Well, at the time sequencing was just starting to happen so I used Vision sequencing software and chop up things into a Roland S770 Sampler and I would have a hard time finding samples. It had 56 megabytes which at the time was a big deal. Every little sound you would have to toggle through all the screens on the unit. I did all the programming myself. I did everything on the record except play drums and bass. I even played bass on some things and I had some keyboards played by some friends including Dave Rosethal.

Live2Play:How long did it take to complete the CD?

SV: It took about 5 years to complete scattered out through the years. If I would have split up the time into 12 hour work days it would have taken 6 months.I produced ,mixed, engineered myself.The only thing I didn’t do was master it. My signal chain was beautifully analog for the recording.I used 2” Tape with an analog API console that I bought from Michael McDonald that I spent $100,000.00 rebuilding it with new Class A Jensen transformers and the OP amps put in. Then when I made the Sex and Religion I changed the OP amps in the console before I went back to the Jensens.The other OP amps were too edgy. I listen to the Passion and Warfare CD to this day and I think there’s a sound in that board. I would like to remix Sex and Religion someday on the right console.

Live2Play: How about guitar sounds on the CD?

SV: For amps I was using all sorts of stuff, Marshalls , Bogners, Fenders and Egnators and many times more than one at a time.I would split the signals. A lot of times I would always use room microphones.Some of the mics were AKG C-414’s and C-24’s to name a couple. I was also using a 3M machine. The first machine I bought. It was very hard to keep up the maintenance on it.After a while there was only one guy in town that could service it and he started charging fanamaol fees to service it.I eventually learned how to align it myself. I used the Green Meanie Charvel and a guitar by Tom Anderson that he made for me that was great. Then there was Jems and the Universe guitars of course.The Universe guitar I used on the song “For the Love of God “ and is featured on the inside cover of Passion and Warfare I actually gave to Prince.

Live2Play: Please tell us about the story how that transpired.

SV: I gave it to him many years ago. We chatted about it a short time later and he said that he diddled with it a bit and was putting in a room that he was building at Paisley Park along with all the other guitars that were given to him.I was recently contacted by his estate to tell me that they want to send the guitar back to me.

Live2Play: What would the young Steve Vai that was recording Passion and Warfare of back in the day tell the Steve Vai of today?

SV: I’m sorry that I made this so difficult for you to have to play it 25 years after you made it, but tough shit Vai, but I’m blowing up the bridge here…

Live2Play: You turned your record company on to Joe Satriani then you both put out game changing Iconic Guitar Instrumental Records. What are your thoughts on that?

SV: I let the record company know about him and Joe got the deal because he’s brilliant. I know it’s weird that both records made such an impact.

Live2Play: I recently saw Generation Axe, You just keep doing it, what made you think of the format?

SV: It was a simple idea and a smash all over. The thing that was so amazing was bringing those personalities together could potentially be catostrophic.Many amazing stories, the thing that was so amazing was how we all came together and how we bonded, Because you know those guys are very confident at what they do and they are all very intense, focused driven people and unbelievably talented.All you have to do in a situation like that is allow everybody to appreciate them for who they are and then this amazing synergy started happen.We felt like a band like brothers that we had something valuable and that trumped any kind of drama and then the drama is fine.These guys have been through everything.Now if we all weren’t sober it could have been a disaster.But everybody just got it and just wanted to have a great time.

Live2Play: One last question, Tell us about the David Lee Roth band reunion attempt last November. I was there in the crowd. Tell us what happened.

SV: Well it was very exciting, I have dinner with Billy and the rest of the guys in the band once a year and Billy brought up that it was the 30 year anniversary of the Eat’em and Smile album release and that there was this place called Lucky Strike where we could play a few song and he said let’s invite Dave and Dave was into it. No body knew he was going to be there.

Live2Play: Did you guys rehearse?

SV: No , We didn’t need to, we were just doing a couple songs Yankee Rose and Shy Boy .Dave did come over my house beforehand and he and I ran through it. When I realized that we weren’t going be able to play because the fire marshall closed down the club because there was to many people in the venue Dave was like perfect, the press will be better than it would if we did play and he was right. It was on TV and everything.

Live2Play: Any chance of it happening again?

SV: We all think it would be a great thing to do but it’s a matter of getting the stars to align because everyone is so busy and if it going to happen it needs to happen soon.

Live2Play: The Live DLR shows were amazing, especially the tractor pull guitar solo Billy and you used to do in the middle of the show was nuts and I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

SV: It’s funny I never saw it until recently when someone sent me a video link of it and I was like what?? I couldn’t believe what Billy and I were doing. We were crazy.

Live2Play: Who’s idea was it?

SV: We just worked it out and played whatever would make us laugh.

About the author

Ronny North

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