“They introduced guitar synthesizers to the scene”: Steve Vai names one thing “people don’t realise” about King Crimson

“That band was monolithic for a lot of reasons, not just their use of complexity.”

Robert Fripp and Steve Vai

Image: Steve Thorne / Sergione Infuso – Corbis / Gettu Images

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The greatness of King Crimson lies beyond their complexity, says Steve Vai, noting that the band’s pioneering use of guitar synths was just as important.

As the highly anticipated Beat tour draws near – featuring Vai, Adrian Belew, Tool’s Danny Carey, and Tony Levin reinterpreting material from King Crimson classics Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair, the virtuoso reflects on genius of the prog legends’ music and the challenges of upholding Robert Fripp’s guitar legacy.

Speaking with Make Weird Music, Vai says [via Ultimate Guitar]: “That band was monolithic for a lot of reasons, not just their use of complexity.”

“We have to keep in mind that they introduced guitar synthesizers to the scene. When they came out, those were the first ones. And they made great use of it. They made them sound musical and interesting. People don’t realise that was it.”

He adds that “There’s one thing to discover a Whammy pedal, and go [wild with it] for the rest of your life, but it’s another thing to do something really musical with it, and not use it as just a funny prop with an interesting sound.”

“That’s what Adrian and Robert did with the guitar synthesizer, with guitar tones, with the complexity in the rhythmic aspects, with the absolute controlled chaos they could create, and the dynamics they could achieve.”

“I mean, they went from zero to 100, and knew they were doing it. All of these things are wrapped into music that you’ll hear on the radio at the time. This is no small feat at all.”

Also in the chat, Vai opens up about the difficulties of mastering the intro to Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Pt. III from Three of a Perfect Pair, saying: “When you hear something like that, at first, it’s a shocker.”

“It’s completely obtuse; and beautifully insane on various levels. Just the harmonic structure of it creates a feel that is unique. I mean, who else does that? The way Robert created Larks is just so beautiful. And when I listened to it, I’m thinking, ‘How much of this am I going to play? What can I do?’”

Vai adds that while he probably could master it, the fact that he was still recovering from a shoulder surgery he had a couple of years back meant that it would take more time than he’s got – “But I don’t have a year so I’m looking at it like ‘okay well how can I change it up to honour it?’”

“I had this idea of reconstructing the whole piece and building the chords that Robert is implying and then creating an absolutely insane hammering intro that honours the harmonic structure but is Vai,” he says.

Beat’s US tour is set to kick off in September 2024. For tickets and a full list of dates, head to the band’s official website.

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