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Guitar virtuoso Steve Vai will be playing at The Complex in Salt Lake City this Saturday as part of his "Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour." He called from a tour stop in Jacksonville, Fla., to discuss his the album he's best known for, the new old material he released with it for the anniversary edition, the path his career has taken, and where he might go from here.

This tour is celebrating the 25th anniversary of your big solo album, "Passion and Warfare." So what comes to mind when you look back on making it?

I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for many things — first, for the young man who had the courage and the drive and the passion to make it. And all the people who were so supportive at the time. I had a lot of momentum of support. And it was a period when I was having a great time with all these big rock/metal bands of the '80s, but there was something in me that always had this pull to make a different kind of music. And when I went to make it, I really kind of felt like I was turning my back on my career, in a sense, because it wasn't a conventional kind of instrumental guitar record or anything. I just really had to create the music that felt very natural to me, and I was lucky it found an audience. And when I went back and listened to it in depth and tore it apart because we're performing it, it's really interesting to see how much work I put into it — how much patience and passion was really in the making of that record. At the time, I had no expectations for it. But I was certainly pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

You've re-released it this year along with the tracks that would go on to make up "Modern Primitive." What was behind the decision to finally put out those tracks?

After I made my first solo record, "Flex-Able," back in '84, and released it, that record was very experimental and, again, I had no expectations, and then I realized after I released it, "Hey, I can make records whenever I want." So I put a band together called The Classified and I started writing music and we started playing it, and I started to record some of it — I got some tracks recorded. It was interesting music to me because "Flex-Able" was so playful and innocent and quirky, and "Passion and Warfare" was so much more mature. "Passion and Warfare" really defined my own unique inner musical person, so to speak, more than "Flex-Able," in that with "Flex-Able," I was very much into the Zappa thing — Frank's music had a big impact on me. So when I was doing "Modern Primitive," which at the time was called The Classified, I was starting to create different musical perspectives, and when you hear that record, it's really sort of the Cro-Magnon between "Flex-Able" and "Passion and Warfare."

But when I was working on it, I got an offer to play in this band Alcatrazz. So I took that. And around that time I was also offered a solo record deal through Capitol Records, and that's when I started to work on "Passion and Warfare." So all that stuff from The Classified was just sitting on the shelf. And I knew one day I had to finish it, because there was an energy in that music that I really liked. So when we decided to do the 25th anniversary release of "Passion and Warfare," I just thought it'd be nice to add something to the package that was a whole new record. And it's a dense record, it's an intense record, really — as a matter of fact, it's my favorite Vai record, so to speak. It still has a quirkiness to it, but it's very musical. And, of course, I'm talking about my little part of the playground — it's a very small corner, really. But that's really how that music came out. I spent a lot of time finishing — the reason why [the 25th anniversary version of] "Passion and Warfare" came out a year later than it should've was because I decided to do "Modern Primitive," and that took just a lot of energy, 'cause I had to dig up all those tracks, finish them, and completely record new tracks of music that was written back then but I never recorded.

How was it going back to that music? Did going back and re-listening to everything surprise you in how you'd done things? Or did you remember it all precisely?

Well, I remembered it all, because I had demos, and I had it in my psyche. But listening back to it, 30 years later — now, you've gotta remember, the technology back then was very different, there was no digital, there was no email, there was nothing, it was before AIDS even — I was marveling at how much work I put into it; I can't believe how forensic I was about little things.

You know, if you go back to a time when you were creative in your youth, it's a little snapshot of who you were at that time. And it was so refreshing to visit that person that did "Modern Primitive" and "Passion and Warfare," because it was before all the big rock star stuff, you know? There was just a sense of freedom — it didn't mater what you did, it didn't matter what I wanted to write or record, because I didn't expect anybody to hear it anyway, you know? Of course I was hopeful, but that wasn't the reason I was gonna do it or not. I did it because I just had a creative urge.

You mentioned earlier your time playing in those rock and metal bands. Some players who might be in the same ballpark as you are technically would perhaps never consider playing with the likes of a David Lee Roth or a Whitesnake or an Ozzy Osbourne, so what was it that convinced you to step into that realm? It's quite a different thing from the solo music that you put out.

Yeah, but I was a teenager in the '70s, so I was really into the rock music of the '70s — Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Queen, KISS, Alice Cooper. That music just lit me up. And I also was composing at the time. I was listening to fusion, and [Al Di] Meola and [John] McLaughlin, Carlos [Santana] and jazz — I was listening to a lot of different kinds of music. But the energy of rock music has always been at the center of what I do.

When the opportunity came up to join, like, Dave Roth's band, it was the perfect gig for me, because I had enough authenticity in my guitar playing — rock authenticity — that it worked. But it was quirky enough that it was still me. And Roth is kind of quirky in a sense — I say that not in a negative way, but he does funny little things sometimes. So we were a perfect match. I thought it was a great gig. And then when Whitesnake came along — I mean, I liked the music of Whitesnake. That record that they released ["Slip of the Tongue"] — [with] "Still of the Night" and all that — that was huge. It sounded great, and David Coverdale's an incredible singer.

So, maybe a part of me questioned it, you know? "Should I go and do my solo music now?" But I didn't, because I wanted to be in these rock bands. And I wrote music with Dave, and I was just expressing a particular side. All through it, I knew that it was fleeting. And as far as what other musicians choose to do, I would be very surprised if anybody I know were offered those gigs and turned them down! [Laughs]

So, along those lines, now that you've done your own solo records for awhile, have you ever considered going back to a situation like that, a la Joe Satriani joining Chickenfoot a few years ago? Has there ever been an offer like that that's come along and intrigued you?

No. I've done it. And I get offers all the time to form supergroups —

Can I interrupt really quick and ask with who?

I prefer not to mention. … But I get offers. And I'm not opposed to doing something if I think all the moving parts are in place. But I'm not interested in trying to re-live the glory days of yore. Because that's what a lot of people wanna do. They do one style and they get a taste of rock stardom and it becomes addictive. I wouldn't be opposed to doing something with a supergroup if I thought that everybody was on the same page, with a desire to do something completely different, uncommercial yet very accessible, and just really intense and musical and different somehow. But it's really hard to find guys like that. So I don't look for it. I'm happy building the music that I do now. I went through all that stuff. It's not impossible to assume that I might do a legacy tour or something with one of those bands, just to get a ya-ya out, but we'll have to see.

You have a reputation now as being one of the greatest guitar players of all time, you're renowned for your technical skills. Are there any more challenges out there for you? Do you ever pick up on anything that someone else does that you perhaps haven't mastered yet, and it intrigues you? Or are you at the point of, anything that can be done with a guitar that you want to do, you can do?

Well, I know that anything I want to do, within reason, I can do. And I mean that based on a project or an idea. As far as the guitar playing goes, I think people that are accomplished are always looking to improve themselves, they never feel like "OK, I've done it, I'm there." There's always layers to peel off and go deeper, in one way or another. If it's not technique, maybe it's your connection with the melody — there's a psychological connection with what you're playing, there's an intellectual connection. And these things have a potential to deepen, and that never ends. It's funny when people say, "You can play anything." I CAN'T play anything — I'm not that guy. Through the years, even so more. I focus more and more on my own style — my own quirky style — that if somebody says, "Hey, do a great blues solo," I'm not that guy. I can do a blues solo, but it's not gonna be an authentic-sounding, great blues solo. I prefer not to do that. I like watching other people do it. To me, I feel that if I'm doing something that sounds too genre-specific, I'm embarrassed. I feel a little embarrassment or something — I don't know, it's weird. But within the sphere of my own playing and the kind of music I like to make, there's tremendous amounts of wonderful challenges that I'm looking forward to tackling in the future.

That's so interesting, because I think that there's just this mentality out there that, someone who's as accomplished as you, they tell you "Play this," and you can spit it out, no problem.

Well, I wouldn't want to dispel any rumors, but unfortunately, that's not really the way it is! [Laughs]

It was also interesting to hear you use the word "melody" earlier. I don't claim to be an expert on your catalogue, but what sets you apart, to me, from the other technical virtuosos that I've heard, is that your music does seem to have a distinct underlying melody in everything. So I was just wondering how much of a focus that is for you.

Well, I've always loved melody. Melody is the soul of the music, you know? And no melody has its place too, but I'm just a sucker for melody. And if you listen to the music, yeah, there is a lot of melody. Sometimes it's fast, sometimes it's really slow, it's everything in between. It's not uncommon to be wooed and pressured by a trend, or the press, or expectations of others. It's very easy for musicians to feel like they have to conform or do a particular thing in order to be accepted, and if they don't, they'll fail, they'll be ridiculed, they'll be criticized, and they just won't fit in. So that's not uncommon.

But the truth is everybody has the ability to be uniquely creative, and some people don't have the choice — they just do it. When I look back at my career, I had all those concerns, there were little demons lurking in there — "What if nobody likes this?" or whatever. But a good idea, an exciting idea always dwarfed the insecurities. And if any musician tells you they don't have insecurities, I would be surprised. I know I did. And I still do at times. But I just get an idea for something, and the idea says, "I don't care what your insecurities are, I don't care who you think is gonna like this or not — you're doing this." And that's it.

Can you give me a sense of what your show here is gonna be like?

This is a legacy tour that we're paying tribute to "Passion and Warfare." I've got my four-piece band, Dave Weiner on the guitar, Jeremy Colson on drums, and Philip Bynoe on bass. And the show is not only "Passion and Warfare." We come out, we do a handful of songs, and then we perform the whole record, and then we do a couple other things. But through the miracle of technology, I have backing tracks that are able to fill out some of the noises and stuff that we just can't get to as a four-piece. And one of the things we do that's different for me is, I have a screen, and throughout the whole show there's video going on, and there's guests — friends of mine — that join me on the screen that I play with, so you get to see Brian May and Satriani and John Petrucci and Frank Zappa and Tommy Emmanuel. It's really quite fun!

Twitter: @esotericwalden —

Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour

When • Saturday; doors at 7 p.m.

Where • The Complex: 536 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $25 advance, $30 day of (plus fees); Showclix, Smith's Tix, Graywhale locations, Complex box office