For the last 13 years, the only constant in Steve Vai’s touring career has been guitarist, Dave Weiner. Fresh out of college back in Pennsylvania (with an Accounting degree no less), Dave moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to attend Musician’s Institute: Guitar Institute of Technology. “No matter how many years of schooling I went through, after it was over, I always said I was heading to LA to go to GIT” explains Dave. “Since I was 10 years old, I knew guitar was my calling… and school in sunny LA where I play guitar all day sounds like a great place to get something started.” And get something started he did, but not through an audition or casting call. “I knew once I was in LA I had to start meeting people. I was at GIT to learn and play to get to a level where I could sustain a career playing music, but if I was the best at what I did and no one knew about it, what good is that?” So, the first day of school, Dave found MI’s job board. “There were probably 50 pieces of paper stapled up on this board. I happened to find one that said ‘…small artist management firm seeks intern. Make your own hours…‘ I was interested in learning what a manager does and making my own hours was exactly what I needed to do. There were no names; just a fax number. So I faxed my resume in. That night I got a call from a woman named Ruta Sepetys. I recognized the name but didn’t know where from. We chatted and she eventually named her clients, the last of which was Steve Vai. She asked if I knew who he was… of course.” So Dave took the internship doing basic office tasks. “I’d get mail, lunch, process orders, etc. Very basic office stuff while I was observing and learning the day-to-days in a management firm. Once in a while I’d take some papers to Vai. Every time I met him he called me a different name, but at that point, that was fine with me. I’d correct him and just try to be professional”. After a year at GIT, Dave was asked by some recording students if he’d be willing to perform a few songs for their final project. “I had a band that was playing some of my original instrumental songs (while I was trying to find a singer) so I said sure. I told Vai I was going to be recording the demo. He said ‘cool let me hear it when it’s done’”. Dave tracked the demo, gave it to Steve and didn’t hear anything about it. “I figured it was just put into the pile of countless other demos Vai gets.”. Weeks went by until one Friday in September of 1999, the phone rings. It’s Vai, “…I really liked your demo. You can obviously play. I’m about to start rehearsals for a world tour, I could use another guitar player. Would you like to join the band?”
Forward to late 2000. One full world tour done, Dave’s got some time off before the next and decides it’s time to get things started with his own music. ”My original plan was to put together a band of killer musicians with a vocalist; writing and playing accessible music but leaving room for us to shine. Adding vocals to the mix would open us up to much more of an audience than instrumental music.”. But Dave couldn’t find the right singer. “I auditioned a lot of singers but no one had ‘it’, you know? So I’m not going to just sit around hoping someone shows up to get my own music happening. I was well received by the fans on the Vai tour, they were going to see me again, the market was right in front of my face.” So Dave started writing his debut instrumental record Shove The Sun Aside which was recorded in between tours during the following years and released in 2004, then rereleased in 2005 after being licensed to Vai’s label, Favored Nations.
“Shove The Sun Aside was quite an achievement for me, but every first record is huge to every artist. It’s only 6 songs long but it’s a collection of songs I had swimming around in my head for years… And to finally have them recorded and released and hearing positive feedback on them, and to have Steve Vai want to release it on his label… It just gave a certain amount of validity to the path I had chosen.”
More importantly, STSA introduced the fans to a new type of instrumental record. Dave explains: “As I said, instrumental wasn’t my first choice. I know its limitations. Not all, but a good amount of instrumental guitar music simply sounds like someone practicing over a backing track. I wasn’t hearing a song. I didn’t hear verses, choruses, melodies, hooks. I didn’t want to produce that kind of music. If I was going to make instrumental guitar music, I was going to do it a completely different way.” Dave’s song-first approach is the hallmark of his style. ”I want musicians and non-musicians alike to enjoy my music. Even though it doesn’t have vocals, you can still hear the distinct parts: the melodies, the hooks.” The fans caught on to this refreshing style of instrumental guitar music, helping STSA sell very well worldwide, and impressing Dave’s peers, critics and sponsors alike, which opened the door to more opportunity when Dave started getting numerous invitations to do clinics and seminars across the globe.
After the release of STSA, it was touring. Constant touring. Vai and G3 (various tours with Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Yngwie Malmsteen) world tours took up most of 2005 to the end of 2007. Hitting territory after territory (US, Europe, Central/South America, Asia, Australia) brought Dave’s popularity with instrumental fans to a new level each time, especially because Steve Vai is known for changing up his band after most tours.
In 2006, Dave decided it was time to do his own tour. “I know that touring is very difficult, very expensive. But I also know that if you really want to establish yourself, you need to give that live experience. No cd or at-home viewed performance will match the live experience. It’s a must to take your career to the next level.” So Dave and long-time friend and fellow Favored Nations recording artist, Rob Balducci, decided to put together their own guitar-centric event called A Night Of Pure Guitar. “ANOPG is a dream come true…as grass-roots as it is. It’s just my band and Rob’s band in a big van, Uhaul in tow, driving around the country. I stepped out of school onto a million dollar tour bus by working with Vai and that’s amazing, but this is my stuff, you know? As guerilla and unpolished as our little tour is, it’s ours.” ANOPG toured the East coast, Midwest and Midsouth, joined by artists such as Vernon Reid and Andy Timmons.
After touring came to an end in late 2007, the window of opportunity presented itself again for Dave to do another record. “I wanted to do the second record around 2006, but touring got in the way. I tried to write and record on the road, but that’s next to impossible. So I would record little ideas casually to start building up the concepts.” But diving into a new record presented a few difficult decisions. “When I starting planning for record number 2, I was at a fork in the road with my playing. I loved what STSA was: very composed, orchestrated, layered, dramatic. But in recent years, my preferences have heavily turned down the improvisational path. I have a fusion/improv trio back in Philly named ‘Jace’ with Mike Kernicky (drums) and Rob Smith (bass). Jace is all about the opposite of what I usually do. It’s good friends who get together, stuff our faces at Nick’s Roast Beef then jam for hours… no prep, no work, just 3 musicians feeding off each other creating musical stories through improv. It’s easy. It’s the best. And these cats are serious; trained in all sorts of genres with dynamics and ears to match and better anyone. They’re the reason I’m the player I am today.” But Dave’s love of improvisation and fusion wasn’t quite ready for the indelible immortality that is permanent recording. “In early 2008, I just didn’t feel I was ready to produce a serious recording of fusion improv. As much as I wanted to, I felt it was a better decision to do a follow-up to STSA while I continue to up my game in the improv world… meaning the new record will be more ‘rock’, more composed and orchestrated… and that’s fine, because I left STSA short and had a lot more of that to say in big, big ways.”
“I had the idea to write the new record front to back; meaning song 2 wouldn’t be worked on until song 1 was finished and so on. That way, I could create a flow to the record that is otherwise overlooked. I wanted this record to be like STSA but times a million on all levels: playing, producing, engineering. I wanted stronger melodies and hooks and have at least one element in every song that would leave players saying ‘man, I wish I had thought of that.’ This kind of writing took time, from January to June of 2008. Recording took place during the next 6 months of the year… and then I had to stop.”
After a grueling year of writing and recording, Dave decided to take a break and “cleanse the palette” before the next phase which was mixing. “I was a bit burnt. I worked hard on this record and needed some space to regain perspective, so I shelved it for a good 6 months.” In that time, Dave moved back out to California. “I was offered a job teaching at the music school I attended, Musician’s Institute. I happened to be feeling that I needed to get back into the middle of things (career wise) and make myself readily available again. I still want to work in a vocal project and I’d like to tour with more artists. I already have a strong network in LA, so it just made sense to head back to the center of camp so to speak.”
In September of 2009, Dave relocated back to LA, began teaching at GIT a couple days a week and started the mixing process. “Mixing took some time due to how long and dense this record is. I’m not a perfectionist, but it had to be right. That, plus the fact that I do it all myself (for the most part) made things take a bit longer than expected. But it was worth it.. this was a serious record and it turned out amazing.” Mixing wrapped in late February. Mastering took place in mid March and on May 25, 2010, On Revolute, was released on Dave’s own label, Revolute Records, with over a 1000 pre-orders of the physical disc being sent to all 50 states and 43 countries worldwide.
“Now comes touring. Rob and I are going to do another wave of A Night Of Pure Guitar events, starting with the same routing as before to revisit those territories, but really focusing on expanding to the other parts of the US, UK and Europe, Japan and hopefully even Australia. As I said before, I know the key to longevity is going to be touring so I’ll be doing everything I can to make it happen.”
The present and future:
In August of 2012, Dave released “A Collection Of Short Stories: Vol. 1″. An unaccompanied acoustic record. ”A Collection Of Short Stories: Vol. 1″ is the first from Dave’s raw, unaccompanied, instrumental acoustic series. Dave says, “I wanted the listener to feel as if I was playing the guitar for them; that they were right there in the room with me.” That’s exactly the vibe of this record. The movement on the strings, the breathing, the attack of the fingers and pick. The wood of the guitar is speaking and it’s all captured in its beautiful, natural form.
Also in 2012, Dave joins Steve Vai on tour again for G3 in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the solo world tour in support of Steve’s new record “A Story Of Light”. The world tour kicks off with 2 months in the US then 2 months in Europe.
In 2013, Dave’s fusion trio, Visible At Night, will be releasing their debut record. “The trio (V@N) is an outlet for pure improvisation. My previous releases, the work I do with Vai, it’s all very structured and rehearsed. It’s a recital. Improv is my favorite form of playing and V@N is all about it.” Joined by Philly-area virtuosos, Mike Kernicky (drums) and Rob Smith (bass), V@N will be in the studio in early 2013 for a Spring release.
Later in 2013, Dave will be back on tour with Vai both on solo tours and G3 tours.
Riff of the Week:
Dave created and hosts the web-based guitar education show “Riff Of The Week”. ROTW started in November of 2005 and has aired every single Wednesday since garnering claims from fans as “the best guitar-related podcast on the internet”. ROTW has over 15,000 subscribers and over 2.5 million views. You can view ROTW at riffoftheweek.com or youtube.com/riffoftheweek. ROTW has spawned other guitar education shows: Riff Of The Week: Extended (RotwX), Guitar Bootcamp Live and the newest spin-off, Jam With Me. A brand new ROTW website is in development to launch Fall 2012.
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