Interview and Live Photos By Robert Cavuoto
Guitar God, Innovator, and Virtuoso – those are the first three things that come to mind when I think of Joe Satriani. He is one of the most respected guitarists in the world who has forged an amazing solo career selling more than 10 million CDs worldwide.
On, January 12th he will be releasing his 16th solo album, What Happens Next, on Sony/Legacy Recordings. The instrumental CD is powerful straight-ahead rock with “no progressive or weird time signatures” as he likes to put it. With the help of Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer Glenn Hughes on bass and drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, together they created a powerful and electrifying CD. These new tracks vibrate the soul with an energy rarely found these days. From the dynamic opening track, “Energy,” to the majestic crunch of “Thunder High On The Mountain,” and the easy, sensual cords of “Smooth Soul.”
In January 2018, Joe will also embark on his G3 Tour with Dream Theater’s John Petrucci and Def Leppard’s Phil Collen.
I had the honor of sitting down with one the best rock guitarists of our time to talk about his latest release, working with Chad and Glenn, and to discuss recruitment for the G3 Tour.
Robert Cavuoto: I know most of your CDs have a running theme or concept, is there one on What Happens Next?
Joe Satriani: In a way, there is an anti-concept [laughing]. Because the last CD; Shockwave SuperNova was so concept-heavy with a battle between an alter ego and myself, I felt like I had to go in a completely different direction. What felt the most natural was to really concentrate on rock and soul and my earliest original excitement about playing the guitar. That meant no science fiction and no unusual narrative artistically designed to simulate deep emotional and psychological compositions. It’s really about having my two feet planted firmly in the ground and my hands around the guitar. To experience the sound and texture of rock and soul music with a small band; in this case a trio. It was a very light concept, but in essence, it created a very powerful dynamic in the studio because everyone felt that the light concept meant they had to deliver large performances with lots of personalities. They knew there wasn’t going to be 60 tracks with unusual themes. It was a very straight-ahead approach to the music.
Robert Cavuoto: What did Chad and Glenn bring to the table for you on What Happens Next?
Joe Satriani: I had great experiences playing with Chad in Chickenfoot. We did two Chickenfoot shows out of nowhere in Lake Tahoe, and it was a very chaotic affair; Chickenfoot is a crazy band. When we get together, there isn’t any rehearsal to speak of except a few hours before a gig. The power of personalities holds the whole thing together. Something happens when we get together, and it’s exciting. I was thinking about that and how those two gigs made such a big impression on me. Especially sharing the stage with Chad and the kind of music we played while we were trying to wrestle these Chickenfoot songs into shape. I realized that excitement, that chaos, and that dangerous attitude was something I thought was the beginning of a new direction for me for this next record. I thought it would be impossible for me to get Chad to do one of my CDs. I kept thinking what if he did, what would I write, how would I arrange the CD, who would play bass? All these questions came up in my mind. What if I put Chad together with a rocking bass player? Someone who I never played with but really admire, someone that maybe Chad has some history with and everything pointed to Glenn. I figured I now have a proposal that just might intrigue him. He was out tour in Europe as was I, and I sent him a simple text, “I have a crazy idea, you, Glenn, and me in the studio for one week, rock and soul instrumentals. No progressive or weird time signatures.
All attitude and emotion.” His reply was “Yes, let’s do it!” We moved on from there. He brought that huge sound and enthusiasm. That natural way of playing drums so when you hear it you want to play rock n’ roll drums, or you want to be in the same room as him. He is one of those drummers that remind me of what I heard as a young kid going to concerts. Those drummers of the era had a way of making you so excited about music and at the same time didn’t make you think of boring technicalities. We sounded the way humans were meant to play drums.
Robert Cavuoto: Glenn is such a monster bassist and a melodic artist, was he looking to put vocal melodies and lyrics to any of your tracks?
Joe Satriani: [Laughing] Yeah, he is a 100% musical entity with his mind, heart, and body. He is a unified musical force and quite remarkable to work with. You are right; he can’t just sit and not vocalize. We would be going over a song and talking about certain sections, and he would be humming and signing the lines. It was hard to stay focused when you are trying to do an instrumental CD. I’ll tell you what I did do; there were times I would catch him signing in between my melody lines or during a solo break. I started to write down all his little improvisation.
After we finished the first week and Chad left; we were going over all the bass performances as we wanted to make sure we had everything so Glenn would be happy. I brought out my pad with all of my notes of his scat singing. I said, “You sang this in between my guitar line on this song, could you play it on bass?” I would sing back what he sang, and he would play it on the bass. It would sound like his voice on bass with the bravado. You could sit there for a week with him, and he would just come up with a million improvisations, just like you said all very melodic. The way he plays bass, not only is he is a driving force in that register but ties sections together. There are very few bass players alive who understand and realize it is part of their job. Drummers and bassist have this other job of making it all stick together naturally. Their job is to make it all flow.
Robert Cavuoto: Regarding tying section together nicely, the song “Cherry Blossoms” starts off with a beautiful lofty feel that makes a sharp turn to a hard-edged rocking track effortlessly. Tell me about that changeup.
Joe Satriani: That was a trick wasn’t it! Because of the nature of the sessions where Chad was at a Chili Peppers gig the day prior to us being in the studio and Glenn just finishing his vocals on the new Black Country Communion CD; I had to bring in very detailed demos. They only had a few days to listen to them because they had to learn the music really fast and get the basics down in a week. The key was that Glenn and Chad really loved the drama of the songs. The fact that they weren’t always there gave them the opportunity to enter with a lot of fanfare and flair.
Although the demo was terrible, they understood the tumultuous nature of the song. It’s about an exciting romance under the blossoming cherry trees anywhere from Japan to Washington DC, the season is pretty dramatic, and it drives people wild when it comes to love and passion. The key was that they understood the heart and my idea emotionally behind the song to make these smooth transitions yet they had to explode. In typical Glenn fashion, he didn’t even hear the guitar solo because I had not played it for him during the loud middle section and he still filled up the perfect areas with his bass solo. He is a tremendous bass player and never gets credit for it. He never got listed as greatest bass player polls, and he is one of the best. This CD proves it!
Robert Cavuoto: One of my favorite tracks was “Catbot,” the guitar, in the beginning, sounds like digital Morse code, what did you use to create that sound?
Joe Satriani: It was a silly idea for a record that wasn’t supposed to have any sci-fi theme. It was this one idea that stretched into fantasy. I noticed in Japan people have robotic pets as they are a little more forward-thinking in how they relate to them. I thought it would be funny if you had one of these cats would go at night to prowl around. The beat of the song is the cat strutting down the street looking at all the other real cats showing off. Then when it goes to vocalize it doesn’t sound real. Like you said it digitized, that was enough for me to keep my sense of humor about it. The guitar sound started with one of my Ibanez JS guitars into a Wah Wah pedal. I was recording direct which meant I was using a SansAmp plugin to get some gain on the guitar. Plus I used a plugin called Rectify which completely destroys the sound of the guitar. I added an octave lower. The Rectify tends to ruin anything you put through, sometimes you here the lower octave and other times it’s gone. If you set your input just right, you don’t get complete sustain and the sound falls apart.
That’s what I was looking for. When the guys heard it, they totally got my sense of humor about it. They really wanted to provide the bare bones yet muscular beat.
Robert Cavuoto: You will be doing the G3 Tour with John Petrucci and Phil Collen in 2018. You have invited so many great guitarists to tour with you through the years. I’m sure most of these artists are your friends but I often wonder if you audition them? Not from a talent perspective but maybe from a musicality or personal point of view?
Joe Satriani: Oh no, absolutely not. Everyone that we have had out has been tremendous musicians and have their own style. Regarding personality, you just have to be very open to the way people like to travel or what they like to eat, the way they like to hang out or not hang out. I’m accepting of that kind of thing. The first time we went out with G3, we invited Eric Johnson, and Steve Vai, two very different personalities. They have some very strong elements to their personality which are very similar however the way they act in public is very different.
Eric is reserved and needs his space alone every day; you are not going to see him hanging out. Steve and I grew up together, two guys from Long Island, so it’s natural for us to hang out, and nothing really bothers us. [laughing]. John Petrucci is the same way; maybe it was the culture of growing up in New York. We did a couple of G3s with Robert Fripp and we traveled together on the bus with us and he was hysterical! He was the funniest guy to hang out with; I would have never imagined that. King Crimson makes you think he is not going to be like that. He was a comedian and funny hang and very personally. He had that fantastic musicianship to back it up. We accept all kinds as long they show up, play their best and give everything to the audience that’s all we ask.