When Steve Vai launched the all-star Generation Axe concept back in 2016, he wanted to put together five guitarists to have some fun and dazzle audiences, individually and collectively. But with the first Generation Axe album, The Guitars That Destroyed the World: Live in China, coming this summer (the track “Sideways” is premiering exclusively below), Vai feels like it’s become something even greater than its individual parts.
“In some respects, it is a band,” Vai tells Billboard about the consortium of himself, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme, Rihanna), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society) and Tosin Abasi (Animals As Leaders). “It’s really morphed, for me, from the conventional style of touring with other guitar players — you do your set, I do my set and maybe we’ll do a song or two together — into a family of sorts. So my pespective of Generation Axe is that of a group as opposed to just individuals.”
Generation Axe’s groupthink is certainly demonstrated on The Guitars That Destroyed the World, an 11-track “snapshot” of the shows the quintet has played in North America and Asia. Due out June 28, it features five axeman trading licks on Boston’s “Foreplay” and Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” The rest of the album is dotted with collaborations, including Bettencourt and Wylde on the Santana-Citizen Cope song “Sideways,” Vai and Malmsteen on “Black Star” and Vai, Wylde, Bettencourt and Abasi on Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” After recording the entire 2018 North American tour Vai also expects another live album and video to follow, likely containing the quintet’s arrangement of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
He also voices a desire for the troupe to create some original material together. “There’s always the talk of, ‘Hey, what if we actually did a studio record together?!'” Vai notes. “If all the stars were to align, that might be the third record. But it’s very hard to tell ’cause it’s way off in the distance and also it’s very time consuming because everybody’s got such wicked schedules. But we have talked about at some point exchanging ideas and building something; We just haven’t got there yet.”
Vai isn’t sure when the next Generation Axe tour will be, though later this year is a possibility. Meanwhile, he plans to go “off the grid” himself for awhile and hit the studio for his next solo album, likely for 2020. “I’m really focusing on the guitar this time,” Vai says. “In the past a lot of my records have been very diverse, very dense kind of compositional tracks, orchestral music, vocal music. Sometimes my fans are kind of polarized. So my next one will be real guitar-based — bass, drums and guitar. But I’m really going to get forensic with looping and how I want to build the tracks. It’ll be a trio record but it won’t sound like that.”
Vai plans to follow that album with his “last massive kind of tour,” but he will surface from the sessions this year to play one special show with the Bizarre World of Frank Zappa hologram tour, though he’s not saying which date that will be yet. “When (Ahmet Zappa) reached out and I thought about it, I said, ‘If you can raise the bar on the technology, I’d love to be part of it,’ and they have,” Vai says. “I think it’s great. It’s Frank’s music being performed, which is always a great thing, and being performed by some of the best musicians in the history of his bands. Is there concern about whether a hologram might not deliver what people are expecting? I don’t care, because I know that the music’s great. So I’m happy to be a part of it.”