Steve Vai has been one of my biggest influences, if not one of the most severe in my life as a guitarist. Granted, I cut my teeth on fantastic players such as Jimi Hendrix (the GOAT), Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc. But with Vai, his influence was more than the music and the guitar gymnastics. He always seemed to have this awareness that floored me.
I’ll have what he’s having.
He did an Instagram live yesterday with the band Polyphia. He said something (and I’m paraphrasing here) that being a musician is a curse. We are always putting our hearts into our work, and then the world can say yes or no to you. And in this industry, rejection is 99% of it. But the way he talked about how being an artist is a mixed blessing was what astounded me.
I look at a musician like Vai, or even someone like Prince, and see someone who has total freedom with music. No chains, no boundaries, no hang-ups about the big hit single. Just put your blood and sweat into your work, and you will be rewarded.
Being unique does not get you accolades and rewards out of the starting gate. So what does one do when people say “You need a singer” or “You need to write normal songs”? You can dumb down real bad and cater to the masses. (BTW: I heard a song by Daryl Hall called “Something In 4/4 Time”…check it out!) Or you can stick your neck out with the risk of being beheaded (shades of Alice Cooper?)
My heroes simply did not care about what was popular. Maybe they did secretly, who knows? In my eyes, it was all about the music, and everything else should be icing on the cake. The dream of a nice record deal way back when was something musicians strived for, there was an incentive at hand. Speaking only for myself, a record deal would have been the worst thing for me. I don’t think I could have handled hearing some guy in a suit telling me “This is what the kids like!” Sorry, but I prefer King’s X to Kings Of Leon (no offense!)
Vai also talked about musical expression, how to tap into sources and channel them. I interpreted that as go beyond the surface. Dick Cavett once asked Hendrix about his music, to which Jimi replied (again, paraphrasing because my memory sucks lately) that the music he heard in his head was not being done by anyone else, so he had to do it himself. When you want something done right…
This all ties in nicely with getting ready to head into rehearsals soon to start pre-production on album #9. I can do what I want musically. I’ve had friends tell me “Try writing something like this…” and I think “Why don’t you write it?” I hate being told what to do. I can take direction but not dictation. If that makes me look smug and arrogant, my apologies. A true artist is not swayed by the masses. I write heavy metal, and am damn proud of that. But I can also write funky stuff, jazzy ideas, whatever. No rules, no sword of Damacles over my head about “Write that hit single.”
But I almost won an award 😉