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STEVE VAI | INTERVIEW

Published 4 months ago on December 7, 2020

By Jonathan Graham

Steve Vai: Paradise In Art

In January this year, Steve Vai set tongues wagging as he introduced a brand new signature model with Ibanez guitars named PIA. Touted as the "evolution" of the iconic JEM line of electric guitars, PIA marks the latest step in Vai's near 35 years and counting journey with the Japanese brand. Following his first live performance using PIA, Steve spoke with Guitar Interactive Magazine editor Jonathan Graham about the process of designing and perfecting the new model, his thoughts after taking it to the stage, the legacy of the instrument, and much more.

 

There are few greater partnerships in the world of guitar than that of Steve Vai and the Ibanez JEM. Unveiled at the Summer NAMM show in Chicago in June 1987 as the JEM777, the solid-body electric guitar model launched in three different and, at the time, unique finishes. The Loch Ness Green version (a tribute to Vai's "Green Meanie" which was his favourite guitar prior to working with Ibanez) was produced only in 1987 and 1988 with only 777 guitars made, with all hand-numbered and signed by Steve Vai. Over the near 35 year collaboration, the JEM has birthed five sub-models: the JEM7, JEM77, JEM777, JEM555, JEM333, and JEM70V, as well as anniversary and 7-String offshoots (technically a Universe, but come on, they are related) each with their own unique innovation and flair.

Continuing that tradition is the Ibanez PIA (an abbreviation of Paradise InArt). Evolving the most distinctive elements of the JEM, PIA boasts a uniquely contoured alder body featuring the brand new 'Petal Grip', five-piece maple and walnut neck, and a rosewood fretboard with stunning PIABlossominlay. Loaded with the gorgeous DiMarzio UtoPIA HSH pickup set, gold hardware and Prestige Edge tremolo bridge, the PIA also comes in four suitably eye-catching finishes—Envy Green, Panther Pink, Sun Dew Gold & Stallion White.

Following Steve's first live outing with PIA, at Winter NAMM 2020 in Anaheim, we spoke with the man himself to get his initial reaction and learn more about the inception of this exciting six-string that has taken the world of guitar by storm. Here is the interview in full.

Jonathan Graham:

Congratulations on the launch of this new guitar, Steve. What a success it has been so far. How are you feeling about it?

Steve Vai:

Oh, it's amazing. I'm so thrilled. I mean, the response has been pretty overwhelming. It's always a big risk when you do something like this, but we felt that it was time and also we felt like it was a good design. It was very attractive, and it ticked off all the boxes for me.

JG: 

Absolutely. I was one of the lucky people that got to hear that first performance with the PIA Saturday night at NAMM. Earlier in the day, I'd asked you how did you know without any road testing if you got it right first time? You told me that you didn't know if you did. So, what was the post-match report following the show?

SV:

Good question. Well as far as the body design and the way it felt and plays, I got it far more accurate than I thought I could. It just feels magical to me. I feel so at home with it. I mean, the JEM is like that of course, but this is a new thing, and a little bit of an expansion on that. The way the body felt was much better than I had expected. How it moved around my body and the way my hands moved around the neck. Sonically, it's comparable to my JEMs. That gig was the first time I took all that stuff for a ride. I have the new amplifier from Synergy and the new guitar, so my radar was kind of inspecting all of these things at once, you know what I mean?

JG: 

For sure.

SV:

One of the things that ran through my head was, "it's delivering just like a JEM." The way it feels is just spectacular. Sometimes one gig isn't enough though, the different stages and different atmospheres create different sonic impressions, so to speak. I thought that the sound was there, though. Another thought that ran through my mind, as I always like to compare things, was that it would be nice to do a gig on a stage where I have various tweaks to the models so that I could compare, but that's never-ending, you know? I'm listening to it, and I'm very satisfied, but I know at some point I'll want to change it up again.

JG: 

That makes perfect sense. I think these guitars very much have their own sound to them. That was even more evident when you brought EVO out for some of the songs. I felt I could hear the contrast. With the PIAs I'd almost say it's a sweeter tone, with a much softer high-end. 

SV:

Thank you. It's interesting for me to hear your perspective too because hearing from the stage and hearing from the audience can be quite varied.

JG: 

With PIA having its own sound, but as of yet, it doesn't appear on any records. When you get back on the road, which live tracks are going to get the new PIA sound and which ones are you likely to stick with EVO and FLO for?

SV:

That's a good question. I don't know the answer yet, though. I'm still actually sorting through various PIAs. I received the first four ever made. They're prototypes that don't even have the name on them. We use those to experiment with different pickups, modifications etc. Those are now stored away though, not to be opened until perhaps long after I'm dead. I then got another batch of four for the NAMM gig and I tweaked some of them. The pink PIA is completely stock, so that's more of a replica for the songs I would typically use EVO for as EVO is relatively stock. It doesn't have a sustainer or the scalloped frets. 

Over the years I've been enjoying slightly scalloped frets, FLO III, for example, has the scalloped frets. With the green PIA, I had them set up that guitar for doing songs like "Bad Horsie" because with the drop tuning you need different strings, different tension, different springs, everything, you know? That will have a different sound just based on the fact that it's tuned down and it's got heavier strings, but that guitar also has a slight scallop and a sustainer. Then there's the white one which is more of a reflection of FLO, so that's also slightly scalloped and has a sustainer. The gold one was set up specifically for drop D tuning. 

So those were the experimental guitars, and I played them all at the gig along with Evo. I think I may have played FLO too? I'm not sure. I wanted to play them all to compare and continue with my assessment as I start considering recording and touring. I'm actually getting another batch of four completely stock, and the first ones are going into a museum of sort of thing for Ibanez. I'm taking the next batch though, and they're going under the stairs. Then we can start tweaking various PIAs for the tour.

JG: 

That's good to know that even though these first few felt pretty special to you, that you're not too worried about having them replaced with a new batch of PIAs. The production line standard is that high then, consistency wise?

SV:

Oh yeah, they all fall in the right ballpark. The way they feel doesn't change for me. Sure, the setup will change, the height of the action, the strings, these kinds of things. 

One thing I haven't spoken much about is the neck dimension. The neck dimension on the PIA is much thicker than the production JEMs, and I'm really enjoying it. I usually gravitate to thin necks on tour, but thin necks can be a big pain in the ass, as they have a tendency to be affected by climate changes easier than thicker necks and by the time it gets from the dressing room to the stage they're out of tune, even during the show.  If the room gets hot, everything changes. So I decided to try to wrap my fingers around a fatter neck. I'm considering either keeping that neck dimension because I know it's going to be easier to tour with, but I might have some made with a thin neck just because I like them. It's just a personal thing, really.

JG: 

You mentioned before that the sustainer was on a couple of the PIAs that you took out for the show. Is this something that we may finally see introduced into the product line do you think?

SV:

Well, it's something I've wanted to introduce for about a decade now, but the only problem is the sustainer that has been working for me is the Fernandes sustainer. There are basically two games in town. There's the Sustainiac, which is a very consistent, clean sustainer and I've had that in my guitars here and there through the years, but it had a couple of limitations. I wasn't entirely thrilled with the sound of the pickup itself; it just doesn't feel right to me. So, I've stayed with the Fernandez, but the problem with Fernandez is they're a small company. They don't make a lot, and they're inconsistent. I usually have to buy like four before I can find one I like to put in a guitar. So I don't think we can get the supply we need for an Ibanez production guitar for those reasons. 

I don't want to put something in a guitar that even one of them might not be great. The thing is, when they're good, they're really good, and the ones that I have in my guitars are amazing! Now interestingly enough, because of their inconsistency and the fact that they're harder and harder to get; I've decided to switch to Sustainiac. So I'm working with the company right now to tweak some things that would make it more applicable to what I'm looking for. 

When I feel as though I have a Sustainiac that checks all the boxes for me, then, assuming that there will be a production guitar, PIA or a JEM that has the Sustainiac in it, then we might do it. But it's got to be pretty much built around the guitar that I actually play and would also need some kind of a Tremsetter, as I always use a Tremsetter. Floating trem systems are just too delicate for me. When you have a true floating trem and you hit a note, that note vibrates a weird way. Also, it's so difficult to tune, you know? So the Tremsetter is perfect for me.

JG:

I've always wondered over the years why it's not something that's a standard option since we see you use it so often. There must be a demand for it? But then again, as you've explained, the demand can be an issue for a smaller company.

SV:

I've read posts where people say, why doesn't he offer a sustainer? Or Tremsetter, or a scalloped neck like the way that he plays them? You've got the answer for the first two. When the sustainer is right, I'll introduce it. When the Tremsetter is applicable and available, I will. As far as the scalloped neck, that's a very personal choice for people. I'm not sure if it's a popular one. SoI've never really considered introducing it into a signature guitar. But there's always the potential that I might decide to do a run of "real Steve's" type guitars.

JG: 

With all the bench testing regarding the PIA, was it a challenge keeping development under wraps?

SV: 

Ha! That wasn't hard. Well, not on my end, cause nobody around here that I talked to about it really is interested enough to go and tell other people.

JG: 

How did you feel about the photo leak in the lead up to the launch?

SV:

I think that worked out perfectly, to be honest.

JG:

Well, that's the thing. Leaks are almost to be expected these days, and it certainly was the talk of the internet instantly. With that in mind, launching an entirely new model, I'd have guessed that you maybe would have appeared on stage with it and have the audience think "Hey, what is that?" Then launch the instrument at the following NAMM, but to launch it out of nowhere—oh and by the way, it's available in four colour options—feels like a very bold move to be congratulated. Was there any nervousness over the build-up regarding how it would be received?

SV:

Oddly enough, and I can't really explain why, but I have a very quirky sense of creativity. When I came out with the JEM in the beginning, just the sheer fact that I approached Ibanez and said "this is the guitar I want, oh, by the way, I want to put a monkey grip in it. And by the way, I want to release it in three Day-Glo different colours; green, pink and yellow," and they're probably just scratching their head going, "what the heck, man? This guy's crazy!" 

This guitar was a huge risk, but I didn't see it as a risk because I had no expectations. I didn't back when I designed the JEM. It was a completely personal project for me to build a guitar that had these things in it that I wanted, and that no other guitar had. It was very simple and innocent, and my expectations were zero because I didn't think anybody would be interested in it, or that it would go on to have the kind of life that it has.

I just wanted a guitar that fits my idiosyncrasies. So when Ibanez said, "we want to release this guitar," I took it seriously, of course, but I didn't think, okay, well what's the market? You know, what sells most? What colours do people want? There was none of that. I said this is my guitar. Do you like it? Great. If not, okay, no problem, but this is what it is, and I don't want to change it.   

It was very bold, but there was no fear or concern. On my part, it didn't matter. I think for aspiring creative people, it's important to understand, and this is something I've recognised in my own career. Whenever a person is inspired by a creative idea, anything, there's that feeling of enthusiasm for the idea itself and the sense of enjoyment and excitement about the evolution of it, the manifesting of it. When you approach the creative process with that kind of enthusiasm and positive expectation, you're going to get the best product that way because you're pleasing yourself. 

You're going to win if you build it around exactly what you want without any fear. Whenever I've entered that mental zone and have designed things or written a particular song or a melody or whatever—within my limitations—I'm able to grab my inspiration and really manifest it. Whenever I do that, it feels organic, and it feels natural. There's no resistance. The same thing happened with learning all that Zappa music. It was impossible shit, but I just took a very simple organic approach. I thought, I'm just going to learn every bar at one beat at a time, then I'm going to play it until I've got it, then string it together and then play it faster. There's no way anybody couldn't do it if they just approached it like I did. Do you know what I'm saying? There was no fear in it. It was just fun, enjoyable. So when I started designing various bits of gear, all the things that came naturally and organic have been very well received. Any time in my career that I had a mental agenda where I was shooting for something that had like some kind of fantasy goal in it of success and wealth and all this stuff, I failed every time. It never worked.

JG:

But Steve, if you say that, I've got to ask the question, when was that then? Because I can't think of a time where something has failed for you musically?

SV:

Well, oddly enough, it doesn't show up so much in my music career except in songs that I may have written with an agenda. You know like, I've got to write a hit song. If ever I approached a song like that, it never really worked. I don't even listen to those songs. But in other parts of my life where I've had these fantasy agendas, whether it be in real estate or various investments or ideas to do this or that because this 'thing' is going to be really big and everybody's going to need it and want it. None of that ever worked. I've lost tremendous amounts of money in following these fantasy agendas that don't have anything to do with who I am as an artist. These are wonderful life lessons when you can see them as such.

JG:

In reference to the PIA name. Fans will be reading into the personal connection here. Obviously, the quality of the music you have produced over the years stands on its own—as a multi-platinum recording artist and one of the greatest guitars players of all time. However, are these guitars your true legacy, as in do you see them continuing on for years in other players hands and having a life of their own like the Les Paul? 

SV:

Well, only time will tell, but I'm really not concerned about that stuff because when you're dead, I don't think it's going to matter to you. I focus on the moment. The now. That makes life easier. As for carrying around this desire to have a legacy. The legacy can only arise when you allow it to take care of itself. A legacy isn't something that I believe you can plan. The story of Steve Vai will live on for a little while, but it's going to be dust along with all the guitars and all the music one day, just like everything else you're looking at right now. It's going to be dust. 

It's going to be changed into something else. The name Steve Vai for a little while will just sound like a funny name from the past, and a mystique will be created because that's how the press works. You know—about this genius, crazy, wacky guy that did all these wild things, whether they're true or not. I've already kind of been targeted as that guy. But you can't buy into that as an identity because it's a Mirage. An illusion. Anything, anybody created. The Beatles music is going to be dust. One day the Bible is going to be dust. The Universe can hold it's breath for a million yearsBut, here's the thing, here's the miracle—anything anybody does affects everything. Anything you do contributes to the expansion of the Universe. There is no debating that. It doesn't look that way from the human perspective, but it's very obvious when you look at it from a practical, reasonable standpoint. Anything you do is changing the whole, somehow. So Steve Vai's music, his name and his guitars, they're going to be forgotten entirely. But what Steve Vai has been contributing through his whole life, and this goes for everybody, has been inspired by everything he has come in contact with that came before him. We then add to that our own personal sense of creativity and then we express that and what we bring into the world, as a result, contributes to adding to the expansion of all that is. So the moral of this story is, don't ever underestimate your own inspired good ideas because they will somehow have an effect on everything eventually. There's no escaping this. The march of creative expansion is inexorable. 

JG:

The PIAs are stunning and as you explained, there's true inspiration behind the design. Have there been tweaks in the past to the JEMs that haven't gone down so well would you say?

SV:

Oh yeah. Well, thank you. As you know, the JEM's been around for many years and there was one point where we talked about changing the grip and we just made a sort of weird hole. Well, that didn't really fly very well, but it was just like a one-off experiment. Another one that didn't really work was the hardtail model. I remember the fans hated it. I did it for those players that would like to have a JEM without a whammy bar, but I got the shit beat out of me for that one. Other than that, the JEM's continued to go through this wonderful evolution. The colours and the various things like the pickups and the neck have changed over time, but the bones of the guitar have stayed the same. That's what got me thinking; you know what, it's time for a new model. My instincts say, okay, it's time to do it, to change it up. When I get an instinct like that, I hold onto it and make sure it's real. I know it's real when it doesn't go away, and it gets louder!

JG:

You've just got to do it?

SV:

You've got to do it. You know that you have those things in your life, right? I call that "push comes to shove." So the push came to shove and the idea to evolve the instrument started to happen. We fooled around with a bunch of different ideas for the handle, as that was the first thing really. It took a year and a half-brother! I mean, we went through hundreds and hundreds of different ideas and designs until finally, I saw that petal design. I'd sort of said, well why don't you do me some illustrations that kind of look like this? And the design team at Ibanez, man, they are just Bulletproof. They are amazing. They say, okay Mr Steve, you wanted this, here's that, but here's ten others sort of like it that you can choose from. I'm like, Oh gee, how nice! 

Once we came up with the one petal design for the grip, it really started to come together, and I said, okay, but we need two of these. It's the yin and yang;; there's a balance. So the placement of those two holes, you have no idea what I went through. I mean tweaking the placement of them all the time, 20 millimetres here and there and waiting until the guitar said: "here I am." You know, and when it did, I knew it. It's like when you get the right solo, or you've got the right melody, say the right thing or you're in the right place at the right time. It's like a little a-ha moment. So that put that to bed, and then we thought, well, how can we incorporate this into the rest of the guitar, so there's asymmetry? That's when we started fooling around with things like the neck inlay, which has all sorts of variations. Then there's the logo itself, PIA, which is beautifully taken from the petal grip. Some of the contours of the body were altered slightly to match various dimensions and arcs of the petal grip too, so there's a very artistic design element through the whole guitar. And then there was the design of the pickup covers by Mike Mesker that incorporate the petal design. It was a very artistic and fun project where we just thought, you know, how can we improve on this, and every time with every tweak it would come together better than before, I'd look at the results and say, "oh, that's nicer, what about this? Or maybe that?" It just kept improving.

JG:

You've got me imagining you like Bob Ross. You know? Just when you think he's finished the painting, he's got some more "happy little trees" to add. 

SV:

Ha! it was a lot like that. Once I got that a-ha moment on the complete design, they took it away and built the thing. When they came back with the guitar, I have to tell you, brother, when I opened the case and looked at it, I felt like I was a foot off the ground. I couldn't believe the appreciation that I had for that instrument at that moment. It was like meeting an old friend that you thought died and you'd never see again. Suddenly you know, it's like, wow! Then when I got them, the four of them, and first had them in the studio, I could not walk through the studio without stopping and marvelling. I don't mean to come off pretentious. It's just how they make me feel.

JG:

I can definitely understand that feeling. I have many different guitars myself, but I will tell you this, when I walked into my studio, my JEM7V still always draws my eye. Even after 20 years, I still can't help but stop and have a look. A great guitar just has that thing.

SV:

You know, I remember the first time I saw a guitar, I mean, like really connected with one. I was five years old and I was in the auditorium in a school. There was a boy on stage that was probably eight or nine years old playing the guitar. Right then I had an epiphany in that very moment. I could tell you everything about the room, the way it smelled, the colours of the chairs, what the kid was wearing and the guitar itself. 

I just fell in love with the instrument and from that moment even to now, whenever I look at it, any guitar, there's a feeling of nostalgic delight. With the PIA though, that's become a different level, man. That's it for me. It's a new level of attraction. When I decided to name it PIA, obviously there's the connection there as that's my wife's name. She's been very helpful in all of this. She's very artistic, cultured and really with it. She's been through my whole career with me, and we've been together for 41 years. She's really critical too, though. If I play something for her that she doesn't like she'll say, "well, that sucks. You're not doing this, or you did this too many times." You know, something pretty brutal and I'm like, "okay, all right, I'll try it again." She's always had inspired instincts and much of her critiques through the years have helped to guide me to deeper levels of my own creativity. What a score ay? Both of us came up with the colour names, and she was very helpful since she's like a barometer. Pia's an outside source of critique that I don't get from anybody else because a lot of other people when they're talking to me, might sugar-coat things. They may not be quite as honest about the way they feel about things. I have some close creative people that I work with that will tell you what time it is, you know? But with a lot of people there can be a bit of a barrier, but not with Pia. I told her we need a name for the guitar and it always works for me when they're very short names. I hate calling them something like a number, you know? Like an XJY something or whatever.

JG:

Ha! I was going to say, if you'd left it too Ibanez, they don't always come up with the sexiest names. Something like KHMM1497? Catchy eh?

SV:

I never understand that shit, brother. I would always say to them; "You'd be better off calling it Bob. What is with all these numbers? It's like my phone number." People ask me particular specifics on these kinds of numbers and stuff, and I don't know. Yeah, they don't make sense.

JG:

It never used to be that way. I mean, when you think of the early S series or the RGs. They were much easier to keep track of and gave the model a better chance to get a following.

SV:

Exactly. That's why when it came time to naming any of my guitars, I refuse to do something that conventional. Yeah, so the three letters, PIA. They look nice together, it's short, and it's a cool name for a guitar I think. I said to Pia, I want to name it the PIA, and she's like oh okay? She's so disconnected from that. I mean, of course, she's thrilled, but she had no expectation or desire to have a guitar named after her. Not a care for any of that. But she did love the gesture. Plus, she is a big part of the story of the guitar and why it all came together so perfectly. 

Paradise In Art, which is really the moniker for PIA seemed to work because for me, the guitar is a very artistic statement. Any guitar is, but this one's mine.

JG:

Out of the anniversary models that you've created over the years, there have been some real beauties. Have any stood out from the others for you?

SV:

Yeah, for various reasons. I like different ones, but the DNA was kind of cool. Oh yeah, and the 10th anniversary black one that had all the silver.

JG:

That's the one for me.

SV:

Yeah, man, that guitar is like, Whoa!

JG:

I can remember seeing you doing a few promo shots with Joe and Eric Johnson during the original G3 press tour, and you had that guitar on you. However, I'm not sure it ever made it to the stage? Do these anniversary guitars connect with you as much as the standard releases?

SV:

Well, in a perfect Ibanez world, every time we come up with a new aesthetic, whether it's an anniversary guitar, or whatever, the idea is for Steve to play it live and show off the guitar. But it just seems to me that EVO has been the boss. I just seem to have a magnetic attraction to that guitar. It's always been a warm place that I could feel like home. New guitars need to be broken in. You know what I mean? It takes me a year to break a guitar in properly so it has your DNA, your sweat, it has your stories, and your secrets, and there's the sound. The sound changes. It's like a new car. New cars have that new car smell, right? Well, a new guitar has a new guitar sound to me. The wood hasn't breathed, it hasn't expanded. The wood changes when the guitar resonates through the years. So with something like EVO, it was so hard for me not to play that guitar or FLO. It's those two guitars that have been my main guitars for decades. So I apologise to anybody that would've hoped that I would play those anniversary models regularly. Especially Ibanez, because who knows if it crippled the potential of the sales of any of those, but that's just the way I am. I have to move with my artistic integrity, and that makes more sense to me, as I don't play Ibanez guitars because I'm endorsing them. I play them because they are the perfect instrument for me. I was just fortunate enough to have come to work with such a conscious and effective company as Ibanez.  

JG:

Are we any closer to hearing some new music, Steve? How about a new album?

SV:

You know, it's the oddest thing. I've been trying to start working on this record for years, and other things just come up that are so compelling. I was supposed to start work on it in the middle of last year, but I had another impulse that wouldn't go away. Like I was saying before, the instinct takes over, and this one said I have to record my orchestra music now. I have about four hours of intense orchestra music that I've composed throughout the years. It's been performed various times, but I never liked the recordings. So this summer I'm going into several studios in Europe with symphony orchestras to record all this stuff, and the preparation is intense. I have been working on that almost exclusively, so any time that I've had for the new studio guitar record or whatever has gone to towards that. 

As soon as that project is put to bed though, I'm not even going to release the stuff right away because I just don't feel that my next record should be eclectic orchestral records. I do have the complete layout and a lot of the tracks already recorded for what I'm considering right now to be the third instalment of the real illusions trilogy, so I'm hoping to do that next. It's kind of weird though, how you blink and five years have passed, and you're like?

JG:

What happened?

SV:

Well, I'm trying to figure that out myself. When I was younger, I had an intense focus, and it was on just making records and touring. The intense focus hasn't changed, but it's just gone into other things like creating a record company, writing the VAIDEOLOGY book, or even just taking part in other aspects of life, family vacations and all these things. The demand I put on myself is whatever I'm doing right now. Make sure your instincts are telling you that this is the right thing. So the fact that a record hasn't come out in some years is just that. It's just me following my instincts and doing other things.

JG:

It makes sense. I mean, it's always got to be an inspired choice. When I saw you in January, you were jumping around like a 21-year-old on stage. How are you managing to keep so fit and healthy these days? What's the regime, and how are you just in general? Life's good right now I take it?

SV:

Life is so good that if it gets any better, I think I'm going to explode. There are obviously things that you have to start being aware of when you get older, but I haven't had any troubles with anything though. I got my last physical, and the doctor kicked me out of the office. I have the blood pressure of a 17-year-old athlete. My resting heart rate is 52. I've got 98% oxygen in my blood. I might get a cold now and then and stuff like that, but I'm completely healthy, and I can tell you why I believe it is. 

My greatest interest is in spirituality and the study of self. It's been an intense quest for as long as I can remember and to put it in a nutshell, the only obstacles in your life that create any suffering at all are down to the quality of the thoughts in your head. Nobody realises that. People believe that stress is caused outside of themselves, but stress is only ever caused by you allowing it. So for instance, it's not uncommon for a person to find themselves saying, "you're stressing me out," or "what you did has caused me stress," right? And as a result, I'm stressed out because of you. This is a very common belief that virtually everybody has. There's something in the outside world that's creating unrest in them. 

Another way to say it that's more accurate is, I am allowing myself to be stressed out based on what you're doing. I am expecting you to be different in order for me to be happy and stress-free. A person can only allow themselves to be stressed out. When a person realises this, it's a strong step in the direction of their independence and liberation. We all create our own stress based on the perspective we have about anything, and only we are capable of changing that perspective. We all create our own personal reality, but in truth, it's a form of pseudo reality. So you're the only one in control of the amount of stress that you have in your life. Now, that's mostly undebatable. If somebody reads that and says, "that's bullshit," they need to take a closer look at it because it's the secret to a happy life. You realise that you're creating all of the stress in your life by the way you're thinking about things and that you're the only one that's in control of your thoughts. Most people don't realise they're in control of their thoughts. Your thoughts are manifesting in your life, in your world, the world you see, you see through your thoughts. So if you have not such a good view of the world and people, then the world can be a very harsh, painful place for you. Sure, this is all based on the way you choose to look at things, the way you choose to look at people, other people, events. If you find yourself criticising things in your mind, anything, the government, other people's religion, other people's sexuality, or even yourself, anything about yourself. When you're criticising those things, you're creating suffering in your life. That's what sickness is. When you realise this, it's challenging to change these mental patterns because they're very ingrained in you to believe them. You believe that they're true. It's a lie. Everything you believe is an opinion, but it's not necessarily true. It's not real; it's just your opinion. But the ego says, "no, no, this is true. And what I believe is true" That's what every war in the world is about. Whether it's in the kitchen between the husbands and wives or between Afghanistan and America, it doesn't matter. The same mechanism is in place. The egoist belief that your thoughts are the correct ones. 

So spiritual awakening is basically the realisation that you're not your thoughts. When you realise that you are in control of these painful thoughts of your past, or your fearful thoughts of the future, they start to dissolve, and the power they had over you starts to dissolve. After that, you feel more peace inside of yourself. You see, it's very simple. The more you feel that peace. The more you realise how valuable it is to not criticise. Whenever you hear criticism, you're hearing somebody talk about themselves. It's true, it really is. It's not any other way. 

These are some of the things you can learn when you start looking inside of yourself as opposed to outside of yourself for something. It's true. But you know, as you go through this, it deepens. As a person starts to recognise these patterns in themselves and correct them, they are taking more control of their own life and their ability to find peace becomes sharper and that peace deepens. There's a door that opens that allows your creative intentions to flow a little clearer and cleaner since there's no fear in them. There's no fear of failure or fear of being made fun of, or fear of not fitting in or fear of going broke. There's none of that shit and that creates a clear shot to your inspiration, your personal, unique inspiration. That's how the JEM came about for me. That's how the PIA came about, and that's how some of the songs came about. Obviously, it doesn't mean that anything that I create in this state of presence is going to be pleasing or effective for everybody. However, it works for me.

JG:

How long did you find it took you to attain this thought process? I'm assuming that takes some considerable training?

SV:

You don't realise you've attained that. You realise it was always there and you never knew it. About 12 years ago, I discovered 'The Illusion Of Time' by Eckhart Tolle. You hear a lot of people saying, "Oh, the only time is the present moment" and "you have to live in the now." That's a very catchy phrase. Yeah, but not many people really understand what that means. Your only security is in your now because when you're in your now, there's none of those fantasy, fearful thoughts of the past or the future or anything. You're present. That's peace in the now. 

Everything is fine. Everything is perfect, actually. So what happened was he was talking about the illusion of time, and he said, "time doesn't actually exist. The past does not exist; It's in the present moment. The future doesn't exist." I looked around, and I remember that was an epiphany. I had heard stuff like that before and I agreed with it, but I didn't fully understand what it meant. In reality, there's only the present moment. Nobody can deny that. So that was a huge realisation. From there, you start seeing things differently, and as you see things differently, your world changes. When you change the way you look at the world, the world changes. That's the best answer I can give to why I feel so good at 60.

JG:

Well, you know what? I am talking with Steve Vai in the present moment and that always puts me in a good place. Steve, it was an absolute pleasure to chat with you again. Congratulations on the Ibanez PIA. I can't wait to see you play it live again in the UK soon.

SV:

Well, thank you, Jonathan. I really appreciate the support, and I'll tell you this, now when I walk into the studio and I look over at my white PIA...the input jack on EVO closes up! Ha!

For more information on Steve Vai, Please visit:

vai.com


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