If Jimi Hendrix magically reappeared in 2017 and listened to new-ish Steve Vai track Dark Matter, you can imagine he’d have a pretty wide grin across his face.
Much like the ’60s legend’s own recordings, it’s funky, spacey and boldly daring in a way no-one else could have conceived…
“Hendrix was obviously a massive influence for me and so many others,” begins Vai. “And that’s what we try to do – we come into the world, we hear what’s available and once we’ve figured enough out, we decide where to go with it.
“I think if Hendrix heard Dark Matter, he would have been like, ‘Damn, this guy uses even more dominant 7 sharp 9 chords than I do!’ That sound is so Hendrix-y and I used it for almost every chord on that song, haha!”
Dark Matter is one of 13 tracks that make up this year’s Modern Primitive release, composed of material written and partially recorded in between debut solo release Flex-Able and the landmark sophomore album Passion And Warfare.
Originally included as bonus material for last year’s 25th anniversary reissue of Passion…, the revived recordings will now see the light of day as a standalone release.
“Well, my first record Flex-Able was pretty experimental and the follow-up came about seven years later,” continues the virtuoso legend.
“If you’re a fan of those two records, you’ll be able to notice the difference! In that between-period, I put a band together [The Classified – featuring Stu Hamm on bass, Tommy Mars on keys, Chris Frazier on drums and Sue Mathis on vocals] and started recording, but never finished it.
I went back and took five or six tracks that were partially record and completed them. I thought, if I’m releasing an anniversary record, I wanna do something a bit more than remaster it, so I made all this extra stuff to go with it.”
Finishing these songs now three decades later, the ex-Whitesnake/David Lee Roth guitarist seems pretty chuffed with how it all turned out – somehow managing to nod to his past, an era which many would consider the greatest guitar work of all time, while never running out of ways to surprise us and himself. Which, he claims, is the key to his continual evolution…
“Most of these songs were written back then and there’s something in every one of them that lights me up,” he notes.
“Like when I listen to the first song, Bop!, it just sounds unique. Yeah, you can hear Zappa influences and stuff, but that main melody done on guitar with a vocal patch is unusual… I love finding musical and interesting things I’ve never heard before. And that’s precisely what it is!
“The Lost Chord with Devin Townsend is another one that blows my mind, as is Fast Note People, which has so much going on but the melody just weaves. When I listen back to the guitar solo in Never Forever, I can hear it was all a creative joy.
“I always think, ‘What can I do that’s different?’ That’s an important place to go in your head when you want to create something new.
“When it starts getting dangerous is when you think, ‘What can I create that everyone will love or will think is better than everything else?’ Then you are limiting yourself. You will never be able to create something that everybody loves, so stick with what you really love.”
“I kept asking myself if there was something unique to me in each song until all of them felt beautiful and extraordinary.”
It’s that sense of challenging himself which led to a body of work that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the recordings he built his name on. The efforts may have been painstakingly arduous and time-consuming – though in truth, you don’t get to be as good as Steve Vai without putting in a lot of hard work…
“The guitar solo in And We Are One has the deepest phrasing as far as what I can offer today. I worked really hard on it, to come up with things I’d never played before. And there’s the payoff… when you create something that little bit more evolved than what you’ve done before.”