STEVE VAI States Eddie Van Halen is a Guitar God of the Highest Order
Justin Tedaldi of the Examiner spoke with master guitarist Steve Vai about his solo tour, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. Portions of the interview appear below.
Examiner: How’s the tour going so far?
Steve Vai: It’s going great, you know? It’s my first full-length solo tour that I’ve been doing in five years (laughs). We’ve done a lot of other projects and shows but they were short—this is the full solo show, and it’s nice; it’s like blowing out the cobwebs. The first three shows have gone really well.
Examiner: People are always analyzing whether the original Eat ’Em and Smile band was better musically than the original lineup of Van Halen. What are your thoughts about this?
Steve Vai: “Better” is such a subjective term, you know? I just don’t respond to these competitive comparisons. They’re useless and meaningless, because if it’s better for one person and not for another, then they’re both right. Your opinion is the important thing. You can never deny the immense talent, rock credibility and iconic historical contribution that Van Halen made. And Edward Van Halen is a guitar god of the highest order. I have immense respect and love for Edward, you know? I would probably be playing the guitar very differently if he never came along. He’s a totally inspired person.
When we started Eat ’Em and Smile, Dave got the best musicians he could, who he thought was the best. And I thought it was a hell of a band. It was one of my favorite times in my whole musical career, because we were rock stars, you know? And touring with somebody like Dave, you can’t even imagine what it was like. It was just glorious, man. And I knew it was fleeting, and I knew it was something that I wasn’t going to be doing my whole life, because my brand of music in my own head is very different. So, if you like Van Halen better than the Eat ’em and Smile band, then you’re right. And if I like Eat ’em and Smile better than Van Halen, then I’m right. But I don’t like one better than the other. The Eat ’em and Smile band was fierce. And that’s it.
Examiner: For Van Halen now, what are your thoughts about their reunion with Dave and the last studio record they put out, A Different Kind of Truth?
Steve Vai: I was really happy to hear how great Edward was playing. I mean, I was afraid he was losing it; we were all concerned. But I think that he’s in really great form. As a matter of fact, he sounds as good as he ever has to me, and frankly, I’m hearing Dave hit notes that he couldn’t hit when I was recording him. And I think the record is really powerful—it’s kinetic. I can’t listen to the whole thing at one time because it’s almost too powerful, in a way. But I’m happy with it. I’m really happy for them and I’m glad to see them doing it.
Examiner: Moving on to Skyscraper, that was your first album as a co-producer, right?
Steve Vai: Yeah.
Examiner: What are your memories of working with David Lee Roth doing the main production?
Steve Vai: It was hugely different. Ted Templeman is an amazing producer and he has a particular approach and it’s very raw, and that’s why Eat ’Em and Smile is so visceral. But when it came time to do Skyscraper, I was doing demos, and my demos sound really good because I had all of the right equipment and I’ve got a good ear. And when I started working with Dave in building the demos, they were great songs. I mean, they sounded like produced pieces of music. And then it was a surprise to me that he wanted to produce it and have it done with me, because although I enjoy doing it, I overproduce stuff, and my approach is a lot cleaner and a lot more sort of organized than the raw approach of someone like Ted Templeman. So the record definitely has a different slant to it, but I went along with it. I think that elements of that record are really good, but it has a completely different dynamic to it than Eat ’Em and Smile.
Examiner: Billy Sheehan left the group after the album was finished. He said in interviews that he believes the demos were superior and a lot rawer.
Steve Vai: Yeah, I tend to agree.
Examiner: What kinds of things besides the overall polished sound did he feel was lacking?
Steve Vai: Dave’s the kind of artist that wants to evolve a little bit, so he was taking some chances. It’s a much dryer record, you know? And it’s more produced—there’s more layers, there’s more keyboards, there’s more pop kinds of songs, you know. It’s not nearly as raw. And that was a direction that [Dave] consciously wanted to make, because he’s not an artist; he wants to evolve. And I’m capable of doing various things—I would have been very happy to take those tracks and have Ted Templeman produce them; they would have sounded very different. But, you know, we moved forward with what we did.