Steve Vai recently talked about the “forensic” approach to co-producing David Lee Roth’s 1988 album Skyscraper, adding that his solos came straight from the demos.
Vai was interviewed by eonmusic to promote the release of his new album Vai/Gash, which was written and recorded back in 1991. Writer Eamon O’Neill noted that the guitar work sounds very much like Vai’s raw, straight-ahead guitar work on Roth’s 1986 album Eat ‘Em and Smile. Vai agreed while also noting the difference in production technique between Eat ‘Em and Smile’ (produced by Ted Templeman) and the follow-up Skyscraper, which was co-produced by Vai and Roth.
You’d have to go back to ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’  to hear you rocking out in such a stripped back manor with riffs, rhythm, and short solos.
Absolutely, and that’s what I was focused on. This record, it’s not about ‘Steve Vai the composer’; the widdly widdly guitar player, the creative that over-produces. I love all that stuff, but this was about; “you’re going to make a record that’s absolutely straight ahead; great melodies, high energy, feel good”. There’s no need.
I’ve got oceans of records that have tones of overplay, tones of guitar playing, and I feel okay saying that, but this record was not about any of that. And I know that people didn’t think I had it in me to be that simple, but it’s great energy and the difference in this record, and something like Alcatrazz or Roth or Whitesnake, or, I mean, you mentioned ‘Knucklebones’; there’s a huge committee involved.
Even with a song like ‘Knucklebones’; I didn’t write it, Greg [Bissonnette] came in with that. So, even songs I wrote, there’s a committee that has an involvement in it; “what is the band feel? The singer, where is he going to fit; it’s his band?!”, you know?! And what does the producer say; the producer is always saying; “now, here, listen; let’s try this”, and then you’ve got the record company that just says; “no, not that song”, and so many suggestions.
I know that Ted Templeman didn’t want any doubling on ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’, but was that the case even on ‘Skyscraper’ , where you were a producer?
Not as much, obviously, but with ‘Skyscraper’, Dave and I were just really forensic, because it was his first production outing, and he’s got great ears and all. But we probably lacked being producers that made rock and roll records as a career.
It’s different. Ted Templeman was just like; “alright, let’s go”, and he knew how to capture ‘something’. But Dave had been doing that for so long, he wanted to navigate to something differently.
And my guitar solos? For instance, I demoed all that ‘Skyscraper’ stuff, and Dave liked the guitar solos so much that I had to use the demoed solos. I didn’t really want to, but the committee was involved. And it’s his band, you know, and I didn’t have a problem with that; it’s not like they sucked!
Read Vai’s entire interview HERE.
Listen To David Lee Roth’s “Knucklebones”