Tag: Steve Vai

Review: “Truefire Steve Vai – Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare”

Steve Vai has a new instructional video out with Truefire called Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare. Unlike most of the guitar instructional videos out there where the videos typically show note-for-note ideas and specific techniques, this series of videos here consist mostly of Vai talking about his philosophies and approaches in both his playing and compositions.

Many of his things he talked about could be found in his interviews online, his Alien Guitar Secrets seminar, (which I also attended several years ago,) especially the philosophical-type of talk. That content were to be found in mostly the first half of the video series. But the videos were done really well in that they are well organized and focused without going off too much to a tangent. While the philosophical topics were interesting, I found the videos in the latter half with him breaking down his songs from his record “Passion and Warfare” to be fantastic. That record, of course was an iconic record, not just in guitar playing, but the compositions, the compositions/arrangements of the songs, the engineering and mixing part of it were all so perfect. For him to go over the songs, pointing out his compositional and arrangement methods for each was unbelievable.

Here are a couple of things that I remembered, off the top of my head.

  • All the different sound effects he used, such as:
    • Slapping strings
    • Blowing into the guitar on the side against the strings and pickups to get a flute sound
    • Sounds created by tapping his finger on the unplugged end of a patch cable going into an amp.
    • Hitting the strings with the whammy bar
    • Scraping sounds
    • Sound coming from detaching a whammy bar
    • Strumming the strings from behind the nut
  • Reverse technique:
    • Writing a composed part
    • Transcribing each note of each instrument backwards
    • Playing and recording through the backward transcription along with a click for each instrument
    • Flipping the tape backwards to there’s a recorded effect but with notes of the original un-reversed composition

He would use these sounds or reverse effects and sometimes they would appear in just really small sections of songs, sometimes even as a backdrop, and sometimes as the main parts.

Other things:

  • Consciously writing a song that don’t have a melody as part of his vision
  • Chord substitutions
  • Call and response
  • Duplets, Triplets, Quintuplets, Septuplet (which he had also gone in depth in the past)
  • Getting familiar with time signatures that are in 13 (based on the Frank Zappa song “Thirteen”) and the phrasing of the time signature.
  • Getting familiar with Septupets (it’s actually quite tricky when the tempo’s fast, getting that picking/strumming technique down and locked in)
  • Taking a groove off a song he loved, tweaked it to his liking, changed the tempo and used it in his own song.
  • Using sampled instruments (back when samples just started to sound good)
  • Not using vibrato (very minimal) in the first verse’s melody of the song, and then playing with exaggerating vibrato in the 2nd verse’s melody for contrast.

Still a lot of material for me left to watch, but it’s been quite fun and inspiring watching all this thus-far.

Consulting with Bryan Beller, Part 2

(In case you missed it, you can find part 1 here.)

On the topic of promotion

One thing I mentioned to Bryan was my discomfort about self-promotion. It’s something that I just very much dislike doing, but I wanted to hear his genuine thoughts about it.

Nobody owes you their time.
Nobody owes you a thing.
You’ve got to go get it. Every time.
You’ve got to go out and tell people about you, because nobody’s going to advocate for you more than you are going to advocate for yourself.

If you think that you’re for whatever reason not worthy of shouting from the rooftops about what it is that you’re doing, then that’s what other people are going to think too.

Part of it is crafting materials that you’re proud of.

– Bryan Beller

Other cool clinic/consulting interviews of Beller can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-GY6aY1mKc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr-xVodrpgo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwlYXqKnPyk

Consulting with Bryan Beller, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I scheduled a consulting session with one my favorite musicians, Bryan Beller. Bryan needs no introduction, but he’s played with Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally, Dethklok and of course his own superhuman band, “The Aristocrats”. He has a solo career too, where his own touring band members are the exact same members as the Mike Keneally Band. I’m a huge fanboy, and always found his bass tones ridiculously amazing. I’m not even really a bass player and I’m a fan. Go figure. While some of the conversation topics shall forever remain private, there are other things that I can share here that may be of interest to folks out there.

On how he got his bass tones from the studio, on the latest Joe Satriani record “Shockwave Supernova”, as well as on his own records (solo, Aristocrats).

For the recent Satriani record, he used the A-Designs REDDI. Distortion came from the Sansamp plugin. The recording chain was decided by the staff, rather than him. There was an AMPEG rig in an isolation room, miced up. DI was duplicated, and SansAmp bass-driver plugin was put on one of them.

On his own records (Aristocrats, Solo), he decides on the recording chains. The signal path is not the same as his live rig. On records, they’re typically DI – one clean DI, one dirty DI, blended together. The dirty DI is done using overdrive pedals.

For the song “Oh No” from The Aristocrats “Culture Clash” album, he used a combination of overdrive/distortion pedals – the Dark Glass Electronics B3K overdrive, and the Dunlop M80 distortion DI together. No mic cabs were used.

On whether the Aristocrats albums were mixed In-The-Box (ITB) or Out-of-The-Box (OTB)

First two albums “The Aristocrats” and “Culture Clash” were completely done ITB – i.e., within protools. The third record “Tres Caballeros” was mixed hybrid – i.e., with both protools and the console. I have always been curious about this because I’ve always really enjoyed the sonics (and the songs) of the 2nd record (“Culture Clash”).

If you’ve watched some of Bryan’s DVD extras for his solo records, you would notice that those albums were all mixed ITB as well (AND sounded awesome).

On how he works through writers block

Time. When forced a deadline, you’re just pushed to write. There was one song that he wrote in 6 hours because of this. But he recommends going away and coming back to it.

“Sometimes you need to live through the life experiences to be able to have something to write about.”

On how he keeps himself from repeating himself when coming up with new parts or contributions (on his own records or records for others).

He doesn’t really think about it like that. He just writes whatever works. The parts would always be like “different children from the same parent”.

This is an interesting answer, because I know Mike Keneally has mentioned publicly that he really puts emphasis into not repeating himself. These are very different approaches from two people that have worked so closely together for 20+ years! Fascinating indeed.

On how he approaches his work differently when it is his own project vs supporting another artists

Doesn’t try to approach anything differently. Some artists might want something a bit more basic, and just to play the song as it was written. It’s just whatever that works to serve the song/songwriter.
It’s usually up to the producer to make the balance. For Aristocrats each member produces his own songs. (Typically, each member contributes 3 songs – and their producing styles are quite different.).

On what piece of work he’s most proud of and why

  • “Love Adrenaline” (which happens to be my favorite song he wrote too). Writing process for that: He had a good idea of where he wanted the song to go, and he just ‘chipped away at it’.
  • “Through the Flower” (Aristocrats).
  • Playing-wise, couple of songs from Keneally’s Sluggo album. “Life’s too Small”
  • Proud of “Smuggler’s Corridor” too.
  • He’s more interested in compositions than anything in his playing.
  • Hopefully his playing makes the song better. Otherwise he feels that he’s doing it wrong.
  • Favorite work of his usually are ones that are the better songs and ones that he has an emotional attachment to.

On how he writes

Yes. He grew up playing piano and his writing always comes from it first. The piano is how he visualizes music.

Bonus tidbits if you’re still reading this:

  • I found out that Bryan went to school with Tobias Ralph from The Crimson Projekct (who also played drums on my record)!
  • Bryan finds my music weird. I was a bit surprised to hear that at first, considering some of his past work he’s done, so I’ll more than gladly take it as a compliment (… even if it wasn’t meant to be one!)!

(Continue to Part 2 here)