Steve Vai looked back fondly at his high school rock bands and admitted he and his colleagues used to steal from gardens to help make their shows more effective.

While he was set to become best known for making intricate and complex music, Vai recalled his enjoyment of playing covers of the leading ‘70s rock groups’ songs.

“I can enjoy going to a pancake house and having pancakes, and then at night, I can enjoy going to a fancy restaurant,” Vai told VWMusic in a recent interview, explaining the different disciplines. “My dining pleasures are based on my appetite, and it’s the same thing with my guitar playing.” He said he was “lit up big time” by rock music, name-checking Led Zeppelin, Queen and Deep Purple. "I was in rock bands, and we played Kiss, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper … and I loved the feeling of it."

He started learning about composition at the age of six, by which time he already knew he wanted to be a composer. “All through my early years, I listened to all kinds of classical music, and I’d doodle notes, and then, when I was maybe 10 or 11, I started to compose,” he said. “And when I was 12, I entered a high school music theory class for 12th graders, and for six years, every day, I was heavily trained in compositional music. ... At the same time, on the other side of the tracks, we’re stealing lights from people’s lawns to use in our light show at our gigs. We were doing high school dances and blowing up smoke bombs and stuff onstage, it was just the best!"

When he encountered Frank Zappa’s music, the disciplines connected in his mind. "He was doing it all," Vai noted. "He was merging all of those things, and I thought, ‘Wow, I can do anything I want, really.’” That was what inspired him to work with artists including David Lee Roth, Whitesnake and Cooper once he secured his career after a long period as part of Zappa’s band. “I really enjoyed it,” Vai said of his ‘80s rock era. “I felt like I wore that badge proudly and authentically because that music was in my blood. It was the wonderful pancakes at the pancake house. … But throughout all of it, I knew that at some point, this unique kind of quirky music that I had in my head had to come out.”

That led to his second solo album, 1990’s Passion and Warfare. “And it’s just never ended,” Vai said. He released his latest LP, Inviolate, in January and starts a world tour in support of the release in June, with rescheduled North American dates in the fall.

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