Steve Vai On Thriving Despite Limits, Writing An Opus With Only One Hand


Steve Vai didn't become one of the world's most revered guitarist by taking no for an answer. And his tireless pursuit of his music has never been more evident than over the past two years.

Despite the pandemic and a series of injuries that hampered his ability to play the guitar, Vai continued to let his imagination soar, embracing his limitations and letting his challenges light new paths of exploration.

Even when a shoulder injury and resulting surgery took his right arm out of commission, Vai didn't stop playing the guitar. More importantly, he didn't stop writing, and he didn't stop recording.

In March of 2021, Vai unveiled an astonishing new piece of music — "Knappsack" — which he wrote, recorded and performed after the surgery that temporarily immobilized his right hand. His left hand, which made all the music, had just gone under the knife itself to repair a 'trigger finger' (hence the bandage on it).

In a new conversation with Q104.3 New York's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke, Vai dug into the physical and mental challenges of making his new album, Inviolate, which arrived in January.

Vai says he returned home from shoulder surgery dismayed, thinking he wouldn't be able to play guitar again until he had both arms available. In spite of himself, he picked up his instrument and quickly got an idea.

"The minute that I picked up the guitar and I started playing with my left hand only — of course I was thinking, 'Damn, I can't play.' Then I put my hands on the neck," he recalls. "I couldn't move [my right arm] at all, but I started moving my left hand. I'm saying, 'Hey, wait a minute: I'm going to write a song with one hand because... I can.'"

Whatever technical advancements Vai has made on the guitar in his career have always been in service of the melody. So his mono a mano song had to follow the same rules:

"It's got to be an enjoyable piece of music; it can't be a gimmick. So I recorded that song 'Knappsack,' and made a video and it's pretty entertaining in a sense. I think it's a good song, and I had did it during lockdown for the fans. Then I said, 'Hey, this is going on the record.'"

Check out "Knappsack" via the official video above!

Watch the full Out of the Box conversation via the player at the top of this page.

For more on Inviolate and Vai's upcoming world tour, go here.

Check out the music video for Steve Vai's "Little Pretty" here:


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