Joe Satriani may be the most accomplished rock guitarist of the modern era, creatively and commercially.He’s sold over 10 million copies of groundbreaking albums like Surfing With the Alien (1987), Flying in a Blue Dream (1989) and Crystal Planet (1998).He gave guitar lessons to such well-known hotshots as Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Alex Skolnick (Testament), and Larry LaLonde (Primus), and contributed to recordings by such diverse artists as shock rocker Alice Cooper, heavy metal jokers Spinal Tap, and jazz great Pat Martino. He’s been nominated for a Grammy a whopping fifteen times.
But “Satch” still shows no signs of slowing down.
Satriani’s sixteenth studio effort, What Happens Next, infiltrated the upper ranks of Billboard’s album charts upon release last week. Now Joe’s hitting the road again with the latest iteration of his guitar-centric G3, whose rotating roster of guests has included Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, and Yngwie Malmsteen.
What Happens Next finds Satriani eschewing his otherworldly alter-ego in favor of a more soulful sound. Sure, new songs like “Energy,” “Cherry Blossoms,” and “Superbadass” boast some of Joe’s famous fret board acrobatics. But the master shredder has turned down his stratospheric stage persona…and dialed up pure passion. Bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple) and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) supplied the buoyant beats needed for Satch to dig deeper than he has in years.
We phoned Satriani last week to discuss the new disc and the G3 guitar extravaganza.
AXS: Phil Collen is new to the G3 equation this time out.What does he bring to the overall vibe and chemistry of the whole production?
J.S: We did a G4 Experience Camp together last August. That was the first time I really worked with him, and I got to see how deep his musicianship was, and what a well-rounded performer and wonderful person he is. He’s like a sun, with this sunshine radiating from him. At the camp he had folks enraptured. He has so much experience that’s so unique and different from mine, being that he’s in a band that plays stadiums and arenas and has however many tens of millions of albums they’ve sold. But the experience Phil can give students is remarkable. The big surprise was that—if you let him—he can shred like crazy! It’s something you never expected from him because it’s not always heard on the Def Leppard records. But Phil has that ability to step out and be a monster. He’s one of the best band players, too. You know it right away when he starts playing rhythm guitar and singing. You hear it and you’re like, ‘Oh my God! That’s Def Leppard right there!’ He’s so comfortable improvising. He stands right between me and John, and we try to outfox each other—with the best of intentions—and he’s right there with us making us think twice about stuff! So I’m having the time of my life with these guys.
AXS: Who’s your backing band this time out?
J.S: Bryan Beller’s on bass guitar and Mike Keneally is playing guitar and keyboards, and the new guy is drummer Joe Travers. Actually, I hired Joe first, thinking I’d get all-new band members, but then I hired Bryan and Mike back, because those three have a long history of playing together. Like fifteen or twenty years. So it’s more like I joined the Mike Keneally Band [laughs]!
AXS: You worked with Chad in Chickenfoot [super-group with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony], so it’s not a huge surprise that he plays drums on the new record. But how’d you bring Glenn Hughes into the mix?
J.S: I had so much fun playing with Chad in Chickenfoot, and having Sammy at the front of the stage, and me playing rhythm guitar in back by Chad. I thought, ‘This is rock and roll! How I can capitalize on how right this feels?’ I thought maybe Chad would do an album with me…if I found a bass player who was really exciting to him, a bassist he’d really love to do it with. Glenn was at the top of the list. And it was so obvious, because they’re good friends and they’ve done records together. So it was actually a very short text to Chad—and he responded right away, ‘Yes! Here’s Glenn’s number! Call him right away!’ It was almost like a little kid’s dream: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if..?’ And suddenly there we all were [laughs]! Every day of it in the studio was crazy-great!
AXS: You once described how Shockwave Supernova was almost like an alter-ego that comes out of you on stage. He’s flashy, shows off, and plays guitar with his teeth. But for What Happens Next it sounds like you deliberately reeled him in and went for a purer sound.
J.S: It was something I needed to go through. Although it was more of a returning, a breaking free from this shell I’d built up over time. But it was interesting when I came out of it, and I realized that this really was who I’d been all along and that I just hadn’t perceived it properly. The weirdest part was that once this new tour started, I come out onstage, and by the second song I’m on my knees playing with my teeth again [laughs]! But I’ve come to terms with it! I’ve realized it’s not so much of a persona as I thought. It really is part of me!
AXS: “Headrush” strikes me as one of your hyper-boogies, like “Satch Boogie.”
J.S: Every boogie celebrates all the boogies that came before it! I told Chad that his job was to figure out how to combine a full-tilt heavy rock boogie with an old-style country swing—because the guitar solo is done to this country swing. I said he’d have to do that rhythmic foreshadowing. And he figured out a way to smooth those edges and combine those two elements. All of us felt the same way, in that once he’d solved that riddle—that timing puzzle—we then had to elevate the boogie to a new place and honor our boogie forefathers!
AXS: “Thunder High on the Mountain” sounds very mystical, as if Native Americans are there beneath the storm clouds having a religious ritual.
J.S: I wanted to pull together some elements of intensity that would be inside somebody’s spirit when they feel compelled to go on like, a pilgrimage to seek knowledge.Like, there’s this moment in their lives where they’re going through a cathartic process and getting an understanding of what to do next. And that’s a reflection of the entire record. What happens next? And that brought me to the Native Americans, who’ve been here for tens of thousands of years. They’re the original inhabitants and knew this land before we built all these buildings and roads. I went to these Indian villages as a kid with my parents as part of my education as an American. I remembered always having a connection to the ritual and ceremony, and how I suppose their spirituality is based on that connection with Mother Nature, and following her advice. Does that make sense [laughs]? So there’s this guitar player traveling to the top of this mountain while all the villagers are looking up at him. They’re afraid, and there’s all this thunder and lightning, but they know he’s seeking the ultimate knowledge. It’s a crazy fantasy, but that’s part of what I was thinking about [laughs]!
AXS: The closing track, “Forever and Ever,” has a very cool Jimi Hendrix-sounding intro. Was that deliberate thing?
J.S: Oh, completely! The odd thing about that was that for the entire length of working on the song, that part wasn’t there. There were these arpeggios. I started writing the song using more of an Eddie Van Halen-styled part with distortion and delay and muted picking. That got the composition rolling, but I knew at some point I couldn’t just copy Eddie—I’d have to come up with something else! So I put in an orchestra with simple strings. And right before I finished the demo and sent it to the guys I thought, ‘What if they don’t like the strings? What would be the contrarian view?’ Well, instead of doot-doot-doot eighth notes playing these muted arpeggios, what if I just did something soulful, like Jimi Hendrix? I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll just put something on there really quick.’ So I improvised it, and then sent it to everybody. When we listened back in the studio, we had one of those votes where it’s, ‘Thumbs-up to keep the strings, thumbs-down they go!’ And there were more thumbs down [laughs]. We got rid of the strings, so what was left was just that Curtis Mayfield / Jimi Hendrix thing.
AXS: Which makes me wonder, if Jimi Hendrix were alive today and you invited him on a G3 tour, what songs would you want him to play?
J.S: Oh, it’d be his choice [laughs]! He’d pick. But I think he would be the key element of it so that the encore jam would be all based on Hendrix. Like, “Voodoo Chile” would be the jam. But you never know with players. Sometimes they want to do something that they never do in their own show, or their own band’s show. They come in and go, ‘Oh, I’ll try this!’ They break from their own thing and just surprise you. But man, I dunno….that’s a great question! I’ll have to think about that now!
AXS: When and where can we expect to see the documentary your son Z.Z. filmed on the last tour?
J.S: In the U.S. it’ll be on AXS TV in March, I think is when it hits the schedule. I know we’ve already signed deals in Brazil and Latin America for combinations of terrestrial and digital streaming. Every day it gets a bit wider. That’s what we’re working on now. So yeah, I’m excited about that. I think people will love the look and feel of the film. My son did a remarkable job finding the hidden stories on tour. It’s crazy because tours are crazy, you know? I don’t know how he did it, but he did a beautiful job, and I’m excited to get it in front of all the eyeballs out there!
Visit the Joe Satriani AXS page for G3 Tour details.