Interview and Live Photos : Robert Cavuoto
If you want blazing guitar pyrotechnics and star wattage all on the same stage in one night, then look no further than the Generation Axe Tour. Legendary guitarist, Steve Vai has assembled the perfect traveling guitar extravaganza with Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi. Throughout the show, these five guitarists will bend sound as well as the listeners’ minds. It’s destined to be an explosive night of guitar warfare as Generation Axe is a celebration of all things guitar!
In my interview with Steve Vai, he shared with me the premise of the show, the chemistry that these guitarists bring to the table, and why he thinks they balance each other out with their musical diversity.
Robert Cavuoto: Is it a bigger challenge to pull together the Generation Axe Tour or a solo tour?
Steve Vai: They both have their challenges, yet they are different. The biggest challenge with Generation Axe is getting everyone’s schedules to align. They are all busy with their bands and solo careers. The next biggest challenge is arranging all the parts and practicing them within the show as we all have very specific parts that we are playing in harmony. Other than that it is a piece of cake.
Robert Cavuoto: I’ll be attending the Pennsylvania show in November, how does a Generation Axe show work regarding everyone’s performance?
Steve Vai: We open the show with all of us on stage. Then Tosin does his set, which is about 30 minutes. Nuno joins him for a track, and he goes into his set. Zakk comes out to do a track with Nuno then he does his set. I do my set, and the Yngwie does his set or vice versa depending on what part of the world we are in. [Laughing] We all come out at the end and perform the song “Frankenstein.” On the last tour, we did “Highway Star” by Deep Purple.
Robert Cavuoto: What do these guitarists collectively bring to the overall vibe and chemistry of the show?
Steve Vai: The overall vibe in the music is the diversity. We all fit into a particular genre, but within that genre, we are pretty diverse. Tosin’s form of music is unique contemporary metal. Nuno brings more of a pop sensibility, and he has vocals in his set, which is very nice. Zakk is just tearing it up with some metal grinding. Those who know Yngwie know the color of his music which is different than the rest of us but it falls within that category of intensive metal type playing. Then there is my music which is quirky at times and a different color altogether. That’s the nice thing that we all bring to the table; the diversity of the music. We have found great strength in our diversity!
Robert Cavuoto: How did you select these guitarists and do you have a line of guitarists trying to get on future Generation Axe Tours?
Steve Vai: When I set out to do Generation Axe, I wanted it to be genre specific. This is the metal line up. There have been times when certain guy’s schedules didn’t quite work, and there was a thought of getting someone else, but I never wanted to replace anybody. Everybody in this band fits so perfectly. If somebody couldn’t do the tour, I might look to find someone, but frankly, I would rather just not do the tour at all. I would wait until everyone could do it. If it were another incarnation like the Generation Axe Blues Tour, then all of the players would be completely different. I can fit into some of those genres, but I’m also not very authentic in some of them.
Robert Cavuoto: I don’t think you would have anything to worry about [laughing].
Steve Vai: Thank you, the most I can be is authentic in my own style of music.
Robert Cavuoto: During the jam on “Frankenstein,” how do you make all the guitarists sound great versus a wall of noise?
Steve Vai: With a pair of vice grips and a jackhammer! [Laughing] Seriously you have to work hard it. When we performed “Highway Star,” I created all the parts, sent it to everybody, and we learned to play them. This way it’s not a cacophony of disaster as a lot of jams can be. Everybody thinks they know how to play “Highway Star” but they end up jamming all over the place making it sound like a mess. I wouldn’t be able to stomach that. That’s not what we do here. When you listen to “Highway Star” the way we do it; the parts are organized, orchestrated, and sound beautiful. When you hear our version of “Frankenstein” it’s just phenomenal!
Robert Cavuoto: I’m going to put you on the spot and ask who is the craziest or most unpredictable guy whether on or off stage.
Steve Vai: [Laughing] It’s hard to say, as we know each other so well. The most unpredictable thing that someone might do is so predictable. Everyone has their unique unpredictabilities. There is nothing that I wouldn’t expect.
Robert Cavuoto: It sounds like everyone is having so much fun that it’s more like a guy’s vacation to get away from the wives and chores for a few months.
Steve Vai: Touring is like an oasis in the desert [laughing]! I love my home life, but I love touring. I don’t prefer one over the other, whatever I need to do, I love doing. Touring is definitely a gentleman’s club. We love our families and being with our kids and wives. You have to remember this has been everyone’s life for decades. You shift your attention into the different environment and if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. And I don’t mean that in a promiscuous sense. It’s quite different from the 80’s; there are no drugs, nobody drinks, and everyone is very content with their relationships.
Robert Cavuoto: Any consideration in filming all the behind the scenes antics as I would love to see the interaction between everyone?
Steve Vai: There are no plans for it. It could be done to a degree as the guys are kind of private. A guy like Yngwie; you are not going to see him on a film backstage. He avoids that type of stuff. He doesn’t go out to parties; he plays his guitar a lot and is very private. Some of the others guys are like that to a degree. I personally don’t mind it at all. I have a DVD from my last solo tour, which is three and a half hours long of all that backstage stuff called, The Space between the Notes. You can see it on YouTube. But I agree with you I love seeing all that stuff.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have any pre-show rituals prior to going on stage?
Steve Vai: Everyone is off doing their thing until we have to do the VIP Meet & Greet packages where we take photos with the fans and sign autographs. We enjoy that. Then everyone takes a little time doing a sound check if they want. The backstage configurations are different at each venue. Sometimes there is only one big dressing room for everybody, and we love that. As a matter fact I prefer to be with someone versus being by myself as it’s more fun. Sometimes we all have our own dressing rooms but none of that matters to us. Before we go out, we high five each other, make some jokes, and head to the side of the stage to blow up the bridge.
Robert Cavuoto: I understand Generation Axe has a live CD coming out.
Steve Vai: Yeah, I recorded about seven of the shows, and I’m in the process of editing and mixing it right now. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be out in time for the tour. It’s going to be great. I just finished “Frankenstein,” and it came out amazing. You can get it through the Pledge campaign; www.pledgemusic.com/projects/generation-axe.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you planning to record a new solo album?
Steve Vai: I was planning on doing it two years ago [laughing]. I always get sidetracked with delicious projects like this one. Starting next year, I’m going off the grid to work on the solo record.
Robert Cavuoto: There was some excitement about a possible Dave Lee Roth reunion, what became of it?
Steve Vai: There was a time when there was a potential for it I suppose. We had come closing to playing a few songs together at the Lucky Strike Bowling Alley, which is a glorified jam house. It was closed down because there were too many people so we didn’t perform. We talked about it a little, but it’s one of those things that may or may not happen. It’s hard to tell. I would love that feeling and energy of being on stage with Dave, Billy Sheehan, and Gregg Bissonette. It’s different for a third party person to understand. At my age and the kind of music I want to get out, I have to be careful with my time. I’m most concerned with my music.
Robert Cavuoto: You started as a solo artist, then joined Roth and Whitesnake, then back to being a solo artist again. What was that decision like?
Steve Vai: The decision was a natural and organic one. I didn’t feel like I had a choice in the matter. I looked at it and got a feeling; it made sense, so I just did it. It was so great that I had all those incredible opportunities, played for so many people, and appeared on so many records. There was music in me that I wanted to get out like on my first solo record in 1984. I like it all but prefer doing my own music now.