Steve Vai and Favored Nations / Mascot Label Group have announced his new studio album Inviolatewill be released digitally and on CD January 28, 2022. The LP will follow on March 18. Today, they present the song “Little Pretty” which you can listen to here.
The recording is a dark-toned fusion-funk workout played almost exclusively on a Gretsch hollow body guitar. As for what led Vai to the unusual (at least for him) model, he says, “It’s on the wall with all the other guitars, and I’d always just look at it and go, ‘One day I’m going to play you…’”
Over the course of a more than 40-year career, Steve Vai has routinely transformed what would appear to be outrageously impossible into something very, very possible… and still also pretty outrageous. From his days as Frank Zappa’s “stunt guitar” player to his more recent expansive and exploratory solo work, Vai has continually challenged notions of traditional guitar playing and composition.
Inviolate presents his most focused, streamlined and perhaps invigorating music in years. “It’s very ‘Vai,’ whatever that means,” he says, and then laughs. “Someone else might be better than me at explaining what that is. But it’s just very honest music. Because a lot of my records, they’re long and there’s a lot of concepts and playing around with stories. This one has none of that. This is nine pretty dense all-instrumental compositions that I wanted to capture and record so I could get out there and play them live for people.”
The album’s mesmeric opener, “Teeth of the Hydra,” a sinuous, Latin-fusion-tinged composition that Vai wrote and recorded with a one-of-a-kind custom guitar he coined the Hydra. Built in conjunction with the designers at Hoshino and based on a “steampunk motif” idea of Vai’s, the Hydra is a beast of an instrument – a one-bodied, two-headstock-ed, three-neck-ed creature that encompasses, among other things: seven- and 12-string guitars; a four-string bass; sympathetic harp strings; half-fretless necks; single-coil, humbucking, piezo and sustainer pickups; floating and hardtail tremolo bridges; phase splitters; and much, much more. “It’s an incredibly-built machine,” Vai says.
Throughout the track he employs the Hydra’s full range of tone and timbres to craft a guitar part that sounds, in its expansiveness and expressiveness, positively alive. “The interesting thing about the song and the guitar is that it all came at the same time,” Vai says. “It was one of those ‘inviolate’ inspirations – boom!”
That said, he continues, “I knew that I needed to create something with the Hydra that sounded like a real piece of music. It couldn’t be just a novelty. Because if you knew what my hands were doing, and how I’m using my left hand to create phrasings that work when I can’t pick a note because my right hand is off somewhere else…my god. But the finished piece had to stand on its own. It couldn’t sound like I was just trying to juggle stuff.”
Over the course of 2021, several of these compositions were shared publicly. Vai composed and recorded the song “Knappsack,” following his shoulder surgery, at a time when his right arm was in a sling (or, as his surgeon, Dr. Knapp, called it, a “knappsack”), and thus was able to use only his left hand when playing the piece. He released a one-handed performance video which can be seen here.
Like “Knappsack,” Vai released “Candle Power” and an accompanying performance video earlier in 2021. But he added a little something extra to the version that appears on Inviolate, with a newly recorded drum track from fellow Zappa alumnus Terry Bozzio (to that end, additional crack players who lent a hand to the record include bassists Bryan Beller, Philip Bynoe and Henrik Linder, keyboardist David Rosenthal and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta). You can watch the video here.
Or cue up “Apollo in Color,” where Vai’s soaring runs on his Ibanez PIA signature guitar (the newly-designed model’s first appearance on a Vai studio album, it’s worth noting) are surrounded by filigrees of sound played on all manner of exotic stringed instruments. In essence, it all comes down to finding your own voice, and then having the courage and conviction to follow your musical and creative instincts wherever they may take you – something Vai has never been shy about in his playing. “One of the great things about the guitar is you don’t need to be a virtuoso to express your creative vision,” he says. “I mean, Bob Dylan plays the guitar perfectly well for his expression. So does John McLaughlin. You just need to decide how much technique you want or need to get there. For myself, I came out of the chute wanting and needing it all. So, when it comes to my music, I don’t feel like I have to prove anything or conform to anything. I just love to think up creative ideas, and then use whatever skill I have to manifest them.”
“An inviolate inspiration is one that comes to you completely pure,” Vai explains. “It appears almost in its completeness, and there’s a recognition of it as being right for you – perfectly right for you. There’s no excuses in it. There’s no fantasy in it. There’s just a recognition of ‘yes.’ And then you capture that in a way that’s authentic to your unique creativity. Hopefully, that’s what I’ve done with this record.”
ABOUT STEVE VAI
Steve Vai is a virtuoso guitarist, composer and producer, considered by many as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. In over 40 years in the industry, Vai has sold over 15 million records, received three Grammy Awards, and recorded with music legends like Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, Whitesnake and many more. Vai has also toured extensively and recorded live projects with G3 (collaborating with different touring lineups including Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Lukather) and Generation Axe, a supergroup Vai formed with Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin Abasi. Vai is the author of Vaideology: Basic Music Theory for Guitar Players (Hal Leonard), his inaugural music theory book designed to help both beginners and veteran guitar players. For a complete discography and more visit www.vai.com.
1. Teeth Of The Hydra
2. Zeus In Chains
3. Little Pretty
5. Apollo In Color
7. Greenish Blues
9. Sandman Cloud Mist