For the love of Steve Vai

The rock guitar virtuoso talks about jamming with the greats in Meghalaya and embracing his ‘Ultra Zone’

Updated - October 16, 2017 12:47 pm IST

Published - October 13, 2017 05:36 pm IST

The demand for Steve Vai in India was so high that it wasn’t enough that he’d play in Meghalaya at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. The Grammy award-winner was added to the Pune edition as well, which means he’ll return in December for a second gig.

One of the most influential names in the guitar world, Vai is stopping by as part of his Passion and Warfare anniversary tour. It revisits an album that first released in 1990, and features one of his most recognisable tunes, ‘For the Love of God’. Vai has worked with the likes of Frank Zappa, helped create the first commercially sold seven-string guitar, and started the G3 show series with fellow stringsman Joe Satriani. Since its inception in 1996, G3 and its variations have been among the most highly anticipated performances by guitar gods, from John Petrucci to Yngwie Malmsteen and more.

Vai’s stay in India – the fourth visit for him, but the first as a performer – will be as short. He says over email, “That’s basically the life of a touring musician. But there is a captivating aura that India has and just being on her soil is enough.”

In a chat with Weekend , Vai talks about associating with Mumbai-based bass prodigy Mohini Dey, what he has planned for his India shows and what he’s thinking when he’s on stage. Excerpts:

What is your setlist of your Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary tour going to include?

Our set will be around 80-90 minutes and will be culled from the Passion and Warfare show. On this tour, we have had video footage for all the songs and on various tracks we’ve had special guests join us from the screen and jam with the band. So you will see me jam with Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Brian May and Frank Zappa… well, sort of jam with them.

For a virtuoso guitarist, what is the peak?

The peak is when you are completely present with the note that is flowing through you in your ‘now’. There is a freedom from thought but a sense of creative intensity, all emanating from a deep sense of stillness and peace. Everything just happens automatically and is inspired. I call that ‘The Ultra Zone’.

You make it seem effortless, but there's always so much concentration required when playing live. What is usually going on in your mind?

The effort usually comes in the preparation stages, when I’m getting the songs so under my fingers that I don’t have to think or apply much effort in the actual execution of them. I don’t think much when I’m performing but instead focus on getting my mind out of the way of what’s happening… When my attention is on the inner body and the focus is relaxing, everything moves seamlessly and elegantly. There’s great power and ease in that state. This can be a very challenging practice because the mind is so used to running about from one unnecessary thought to another and just getting in the way. But with each performance ‘The Ultra Zone’ is embraced deeper and longer.

There are probably plenty of distractions in the crowd. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen while you were on stage at a show?

Back in the David Lee Roth tour days, the stage was huge and there were these grates on the stage floor. Under them were my monitors. You could look through the grates and see through the stage to the floor under it. Many nights, some of the notorious roadies would have orgies right under the stage in my monitor pit. I can’t believe how they could sustain that kind of activity through a whole show. That was an entertaining distraction.

You mentioned in an interview that after creating Flex-Able , you had to put your solo aspirations on the shelf to work with David Lee Roth and Alcatrazz. Was that a difficult decision?

I feel that everything comes at the right time for everybody. So I have no regrets. My days with Roth, Alcatrazz, Whitesnake and others helped prepare me for my solo career.

For your India show, who’s going to be part of the band? Who are you bringing with you?

My band members for touring are Dave Weiner on guitar and keyboards, Jeremy Colson on drums and Philip Bynoe on bass. These guys have been with me for close to 20 years. We converge as one, and it’s quite glorious.

One of your most recent India connections is bassist Mohini Dey - whom you featured on your album Modern Primitive . Will you be jamming with her?

Mohini is profoundly musically gifted. I’m stunned by her ease and freedom in her performance. Every now and then a shining star arises on the planet and raises the bar for all of us. She’s a paradigm shift in motion. We are hoping to hook up and perform together while I’m in India.

At NH7 Weekender in Megahalaya on October 28 and in Pune between December 8 and 10. Tickets from ₹1,250 on

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