Guitarist, composer and rock legend Steve Vai has had many notable achievements in the 25 years since the release of his album Passion and Warfare, including three Grammys. But in an interview with the Times in anticipation of his upcoming show at the Algonquin Commons Theatre on Nov. 2, Vai said his absolute greatest achievement thus far has had nothing to do with winning awards or record sales.
Vai told the Times his absolute greatest achievement has been his continuous dedication to following his own bliss, and his advice to Algonquin students is to do the same.
“Find out what you enjoy most, and put your attention on that,” Vai said over the phone from Kelowna, B.C. “Do what you want, as opposed to what someone else is telling you that you need. It’s a recipe for joy. You’ll never find authentic enthusiasm in something that’s thrust upon you with a demand.”
Vai is touring to celebrate Passion and Warfare’s 25th anniversary and is looking forward to his stop at Algonquin. Vai said he loves the “beautiful, amazing energy” that comes with playing to a college audience.
“College is when a young person is starting to really feel the explosion of freedom within themselves. They’re breaking out, they’re discovering their own independence. They haven’t been so conditioned by the world quite yet. It’s an electrifying environment.”
Passion and Warfare was nominated for a Grammy after it was released in 1990. According to Vai – who was not much older than most college students are now when he wrote it – the album’s success stemmed from following his own creative desires.
“Of course there was influence from all sorts of directions, but in the end I decided to hunker down and write the music I wanted to write,” said Vai. “In this business, there’s obviously many paths you can take at any given time, and sometimes various pressures in life can cause you to make decisions against your better judgement or against your true creative desires. So it’s quite an achievement to hold onto your musical integrity and make that a paramount.”
Vai’s “recipe for joy” not only applies to those chasing careers in the music industry, but to the general population as well. He believes students will ultimately find the most success if they’re doing something they find fulfilling.
“If you’re doing something that makes you feel good, it’s good for you,” said Vai. “If you’re doing something that doesn’t feel quite right but you feel like you need to do it because of some third party reason, then it’s not going to be fulfilling.”
Vai is known for his ability to combine different playing styles and techniques such as tapping and sweep-picking to create unique riffs that are instantly recognizable as his.
Vai said allowing himself full creative license over his work is what made Passion and Warfare such a success. For this reason, he is adamant that success can only be found when you’re following your own passion.
“That whole record is my favourite album that I’ve recorded,” said Vai with enthusiasm. “It’s just so quirky and deep and interesting.”
Ticketholders for Vai’s upcoming show can not only look forward to hearing familiar tracks from Passion and Warfare, but also a lot of previously unreleased material written around that time that showcases Vai’s unique style.