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10-min read

Steve Vai Opens Up About Stigma of Depression, Says 'Being Drunk or High is not the Answer'

As guitar lovers are in for treat tonight, News18.com spoke to Vai about his first-ever visit to India, experience interacting with Indian fans, the changing music scenario, the demon of depression and more.

Shrishti Negi | News18.com@shrishti_03

Updated:December 9, 2017, 2:35 PM IST
Steve Vai Opens Up About Stigma of Depression, Says 'Being Drunk or High is not the Answer'
As guitar lovers are in for treat tonight, News18.com spoke to Vai about his first-ever visit to India, experience interacting with Indian fans, the changing music scenario, the demon of depression and more.
After his invigorating India debut at the Meghalaya leg of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, three-time Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso Steve Vai is all set to perform in Pune today evening. Starting his career transcribing music for the legendary Frank Zappa, Vai achieved mastery of guitar through years of practice under the very best – Joe Satriani. With a career spanning over 40 years, Vai has collaborated with David Lee Roth, Alcatrazz, Whitesnake, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, Tosin Abasi, The Aristocrats, and been a part of the Satriani-headed G3 Live Guitar tour.

As guitar lovers are in for treat tonight, News18.com interviewed Vai about his first-ever visit to India, experience interacting with Indian fans, the changing music scenario, the demon of depression and more. Excerpts:

Q. This is for the first time that you'll be taking to the stage at NH7 Weekender Pune? How excited are you?

STEVE VAI: We performed at the NH7 on October 28th in Shillong, and it was a fantastic event for us. The audience was just amazing -- so supportive -- so I’m very happy that I decided to do this show that’s coming up in Pune.

Q. How has your experience been of interacting with Indian fans, and what kind of reaction are you expecting from them?

STEVE VAI: It’s not been very long that Western rock acts have been going to India so the audiences are still very excited. I would assume the audience will be as crazy as it was for our show in Shillong in October.

Q. You are widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time and the god of guitar. Are these monikers flattering? To what extent they influence your music?

STEVE VAI: It’s always nice to be recognized for your contributions, and I never take for granted the great support and success I have had.

I just love the guitar... always have... and between the guitar and the specific kind of music I make, I have always found great fulfillment in it. The monikers, awards, etc. are consequences of my passion for the instrument and my music. I think it’s like that for any artist who puts their personal creativity before anything else.

There was a time when I started to gain some recognition that I felt pressure to deliver music that would blow people away and keep them coming, but after a while I saw that as something that was getting in the way. I was putting too much pressure on myself to be great. But the funny thing is, some people may resonate with what an artist does and think they are just the best, while many others just don’t get it and will go as far as to troll on the internet and let everyone know what they think.

What I discovered was everyone has some kind of uniquely creative ability and if you can find that and throw yourself into it fully, the proper audience will come to you -- the audiences that are moved by what you do. It’s a win-win situation because the artist is being themselves and the audience they attracted loves that. If you try to second guess your audience or reach for an audience that is not on the same playground as you, chances are it will be a fail-fail situation.

Q. You still continue to release solo albums, you released Modern Primitive last year, which you started writing when you were 20, and now you’re in your 50s; it is remarkable. Where does this motivation come from?

STEVE VAI: My creative motivation comes from the same place that it does in anybody else, and where that is, I don’t know, but when it shows up in us it takes the form of “a good idea.” Once you are compelled by an exciting creative idea, there’s no need for motivation. It just happens.

Q. You started music at the age of 18, what kept you so passionate. Has it ever happened with you when you felt a little less inspired or thought of taking a break?

STEVE VAI: I can’t remember when I started music because the interest in it seemed to always just be there, but I started my professional career when I was 18 years old. I was transcribing music for Frank Zappa and when I was 20 years old, I joined his band for three years.

Passion is the momentum of excitement. If a person can find in themselves an exciting creative idea, and if they can hold that excitement and only choose thoughts that are goal-oriented, then the excitement builds and eventually turns into a passion, and then they become absorbed in what they are doing. When you are absorbed in the passion of what you are doing there is never the thought to stop.

I do take breaks but they are more like family vacations, and I enjoy those as much, if not more, than playing music. The idea of taking a break from music just never occurred to me.

Q. When you started out, there were so many great musicians and in fact you have also had the opportunity to play with them-- from Ozzy Osbourne to Mary J Blige. Today when you go on stage and perform how do you think it has changed in terms of performing?

STEVE VAI: I’m more comfortable in my skin now. After so many years of performing you start to relax more and more and the more I started to relax the more comfortable things became. You play better, and move better with more elegance. In my younger days, I was perhaps a little more active on stage. My natural way of moving, including all the odd faces that I make, is something that feels natural to me. There was a time when I was concerned that I just looked weird performing, but then after a while you just surrender to what’s natural to you and that’s when the good stuff starts happening.

Q. Do you think a lot of commercialization in the music scene has somewhat lessened the true essence of an artist? Nowadays you don't get to see the level of craze which people would have back in 70s, 80s or 90s for their bands or favorite singer.

STEVE VAI: I think it’s relative. There are many commercial artists that are true artists in their essence. They would not last otherwise. Many people feel that if an artist is very popular on the pop music scene, it means that they are not true artists. I don’t agree. I think that what Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and many other famous pop stars are very artistic. If they are not they just won’t last at the top. But even if you're not at the top, you can be very artistic.

One of the great things about music is that there’s something out there for everyone. It’s the diversity that makes it so great.

Q. We have often seen so many great musicians dying from depression or drug problems and it's unfortunate. Why is that musician are more likely to suffer from depression? How do you think this can be cured?

STEVE VAI: The way to cure your own depression is to realize what’s causing it. The thoughts in your head about yourself and the world are the only things that cause depression. The thoughts a person chooses to think have a corresponding emotional feeling in the body, but a person must be able to see the quality of the thought they are thinking. Most thoughts are repetitive, based on past or future and usually negative and have some level of fear in them, but people believe that they are their thoughts so if they are thinking negatively, they will feel bad.

The cure is to first see the quality of the thoughts in your head. Most people live with a little voice in their head that is continually talking to them. It criticizes everything including itself. It’s usually complaining, or looking for something to fulfill it. It takes a harsh look at the world and it blames others and separates people. It’s called the ego and it’s probably talking to you all day long.

This is the cause of depression. In order to get out of it you have to see the thoughts from a non-critical, non-judgmental silent witnessing presence in yourself. Once you can see the negativity in your own beliefs, it can be a surprise to realize that you have been kept slave to this little voice. Watching your thoughts is also called “Mindfulness” and is a Buddhist tradition, but anyone can do it.

The less you listen to, believe and obey the little voice in your head, the freer you are. That’s when something else can arise in you and that’s peace and joy. Peace and joy are your natural states of being. It’s at the core of who you really are. Now if you read that and are criticizing it, that’s the ego.

Many people believe that they need to have things a certain way before they can be happy, but what they don’t understand is the thoughts they believe are creating their perspective on the events in their life and the world in general. Most people, especially young musicians, can feel that... once they’ve “made it,” once they’ve sold a million records, have a lot of money in the bank, have won first place in all the awards, have a Grammy Award, are adored and on the cover of all the magazines...that then they will be able to be happy and at peace.

But many artists that may have had all those things can come to the realization that that’s not it. Wordly success can be nice but it’s not the thing that’s going to bring a person a sense of deep satisfaction, peace, stillness and joy. As a matter of fact, it can make things much worse for a person.

Some people can reach very high levels of fame and realize that they brought their miserable selves with them and that even though they have a lot of success, they still have this deep sense of inadequacy, fear, and unworthiness. This reeks havoc in their mind and hearts because they are looking for something that you just can’t find in the world. When you take a drink of alcohol or drugs, your mind can not move so fast so it can’t fixate on all the normal negative thoughts that are usually in the head, so being drunk or high can actually bring some people relief from the tormenter in their head, but unfortunately it’s not the answer either because you are just turning a blind eye to the problem and once you are sober again, you are confronted with the old unhappy self. For some people this suffering can be unbearable and they start entertaining thoughts of oblivion (suicide) for relief.

I have done a lot of soul searching along with thousands of hours of mediation. I don’t believe I’m an expert on truth or spirituality. I’m a work-in-progress like all of us. But there are a few things I’ve discovered as a knowing inside me. One is that we are not separate from the Universe, and another is…all is well and there is nothing to fear. Those two simple realizations, if understood and embraced, can bring a great sense of peace.
(Get detailed and live results of each and every seat in the Lok Sabha elections and state Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to know which candidate/party is leading or trailing and to know who has won and who has lost and by what margin. Our one-of-its-kind Election Analytics Centre lets you don a psephologist’s hat and turn into an election expert. Know interesting facts and trivia about the elections and see our informative graphics. Elections = News18)
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