When Artists Talk to Artists

Journalists have a talent for making the obscure understandable to the general public. So they ask questions that are pretty broad and help the experts that they are interviewing be understood by non-experts. It’s a great service to society!

Something different happens when an expert interviews another expert. Yes, it can get a little heady. But it can also be super fun, especially if it’s a subject that you the reader cares about.

This interview with Zappa guitarist Steve Vai  is one of those “experts interviewing experts” situations. It’s not for everyone. It’s niche. But if you’re into music and musical notation and in this instance, polyrhythms, then check it out.

The link above starts about 20 minutes into the interview. In the first 20 minutes, Vai talks about the importance of owning your publishing. It’s the business side of the story and an important one. As he points out, a lot of musicians sign crappy deals. So he gives some useful advice on that.

But the magic begins when he talks about music and his journey into it. He first heard Zappa as a student at Berklee. He was so obsessed with understanding what that music was about that he started transcribing it. He then sent a transcription of a song to FZ, and Zappa hired him to do more. Only later was Vai invited to play in the band!

I enjoy how Vai talks about the process of figuring out complex rhythms. In order to figure them out, he says, he has to feel them first, and then visualize them on the page. A truly synesthetic experience!

And I adore what he says to the interviewer, Rick Beato, at the end of the interview, “I’ve done 1000s of interviews, and not once has someone asked me about polyrhythms. Which is weird because it’s something I know a lot about!”

It’s fun to talk shop. Yes, there is a time and a place for it. And if you’ve got newbies in the room, don’t be rude, bring them in! But it’s ok to balance general speak with nitty-gritty.



This entire series from producer Rick Beato is fantastic. It ranges in complexity from accessible videos about rock songs to advanced lectures on music theory and ear training.

This video in which he deconstructs The Police song “Every Little Thing” is great.