Satch is back with a new look and a new sound. Producer Glyn Johns brought in world class musians to lay down the tracks including drummer Manu Katche, bassist Nathan East and rhythm guitarist Any Fairweather- Low. For the first time, Satriani didn't do all the instruments himself and he soars in this new recording format. There's a looseness and heightened expressiveness from all the musicians being in the same room, yet the touring lineup takes the music to a new level.
Sheila Rene': Happy to hear from you.
Joe Satriani: I've got to warn you I'm doing this from a phone booth outside a pizza parlor in Tallahassee, Florida. There was just no other place to do it from. I'm waiting for my tacos to be made across the street before we head for the show.
SR: Your show in Austin was so exciting and I have a whole new
appreciation for you with this album. The sound and lights were perfect.
I've always thought of you as a virtuoso. Now with your new appearance
and this album you're really more down to earth.
JS: That's good. I'm glad you feel that way. The album certainly was just an exploration with the best of intentions. I probably started out making three albums at once and didn't even know it. Eventually, about six months later, when I took a break I saw more clearly what I was up to and that's when I brought in Glyn Johns to help me see what it was I was trying to reach. After being on tour for a while it became more obvious. When I'm recording I just get so consumed with the recording I have no idea where I'm going. I'm just enjoying the process of changing. That's what I like, always changing.
SR: Weren't you just a little scared with John's idea of hooking up right
into the amps without a lot of your special effects?
JS: That's the funny thing. I should have been, right? Usually no one can change my mind. I just go into everything head first and then after the record is done, I realize that perhaps, I should have been scared. When the feedback starts coming in and people ask why I'm changing so much, I just tell them it's a exhilarating ride. It's just what makes the world go around for me, like shaving all my hair off. It's just one of those things you do that's fun. People ask why I do certain things as if I have some serious reason for it, but you just do what strikes you at the moment.
SR: I assume you've properly thanked Mick Brigden from your
management team for bringing Glyn Johns on board.
JS: (laughing) Yes, it's funny because Mick had also suggested Glyn's brother Andy Johns many years ago for the project, The Extremist. Both times I jumped at the Johns name because I've always been so impressed with their work over the years with The Who, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the Clash, the Beatles, the Eagles, Steve Miller, the Stones and John Hiatt.
SR: I always figured you could play pretty much any style you wanted. In
the Guitar Magazine interview you said you couldn't have made this kind
of change before now. I assume touring with Mick Jagger and touring as
Richie Blackmore's replacement with Deep Purple helped. Are there any
tapes of you playing with Deep Purple?
JS: I know we recorded some of those shows. Most definitely the Deep Purple tour was a stronger experience. The Jagger tour was really fabulous and definitely the most outrageous project I'd ever been involved with up to that time. It was a band that had 11 people in it and there was a lot of show biz going on there. The Deep Purple guys still perform like they did in 1968. They go out on a flat stage with no drum riser to speak of and they start the songs. When you get to the middle everyone looks at each other and each member goes off on tangents. Then when you want to get back into the song you give him the horses's eyes an suddenly you're back into the song. I did that every night. The last tour I did with them was two months of that in Europe and it really got my chops up for playing that that highly communicative way where you didn't have to worry about running an eighth of a mile up a ramp to get a spotlight on you and knell down for a cue. A lot of the Jagger thing was a well done show. Deep Purple was more gut level rock and roll music. They are really, really great musicians and a fantastic rock and roll band. I don't think anybody out there really knows what a great band they are and how deep their roots are in American rock and roll. I've got to tell you that they're just the nicest guys in music today. I had such a great time with them.
SR: Is Chris Duarte still on tour with you? He put on such a good show in
JS: He only opened for us on five shows. He was simply great that night. We had fun playing with him again.
SR: You documented this whole recording process.
JS: We did shoot a documentary of the making of the record which focused on the last two weeks of recording. With the weird things going on with Relativity Records, we had a budget to finish it and then we didn't and then we did. I'm not sure where it stands now, but at some point we'll get that released.
SR: I read you're also going to do something with a CD-enhanced disc. I'm
totally hooked on CD-ROM discs.
JS: Hold on, there's a big truck going by. That might be the first offering for the amount of footage we have at the moment. Then we're going to supplement that with some live performance to make a longform video.
SR: You worked with the studio musicians John's brought in doing about a
song a day in the 14 days you had booked. Any first takes?
JS: Sure, "SMF" was effortless to play. "Cool #9" and "Sittin' Round" were just so much fun to play. Every song was a roller coaster ride. They really excelled as experiences for all of us in the direction that the meaning of the song propelled it. For instance, on "Down Down Down" we did four versions and after that no one could play it any more. It was too deep and traumatic to return to that emotional spot each time to give a good performance. Glyn caught the right one.
SR: I've always wondered how an instrumental track gets named. With
lyrics you can draw from a line in the song.
JS: Generally the titles come first and they suggest and tell me a story. The songs are about people or places or situations. The titles help me focus on how to write the music.
SR: What's the story behind that first single, "Luminous Flesh Giants?"
JS: (laughing) That's in a similar vein to Flying In A Blue Dream or Surfing With The Aliens. It's a combination of Dreams and half-hearted humorous day dreams about aliens, giants and monsters. I use that as a mental theme to get my musical point across.
SR: Do you give Hamm and the boys leeway to put their own licks into the
live show? It sure sounded like it to me.
JS: Oh, yeah, that's the only way you can stay on tour for nine months and get people to feel good about breathing life into a song. You've got to give them space to change things. Actually about very two weeks there'll be a change. Someone in the band will come up and tell me they really want to play this song differently and we just do it to check out new possibilities. It's a good healthy way to keep everybody on their toes and interested in the arrangements.
SR: Thinking ahead, if you get a chance would you want to do the next
project with this touring band?
JS: You know that's always the desire but by the end of the tour very often people just split apart. That's what has happened in the past. Since Stu and Jonathan, in particular, have always been interested in pursuing their own solo careers, the end of a tour is always a good point for everyone to split up.
SR: While you were away for those four years you signed with Epic,
changed your mind and returned all the money, at which point they tore up
your contract. I don't remember every hearing of that happening before.
JS: Word has come that dinner is served. Here's the final note in that chapter. Dave Glew, the president of Epic Records is a great guy and I've known him for many years. He signed me to Epic in 1990 and I did give the money back. He was gracious enough to just tear up the contract. I met him just about three weeks ago again and he's going to be signing me again to Epic Records because of the demise of Relativity. I don't really know how to explain it, but Sony Music owns Relativity and they've asked them to restructure the company and concentrate 100 percent on Urban and Rap music. That means that Steve Vai, myself and a number of other rock and roll bands suddenly have to go looking for a new home. Luckily, I was asked by the larger label in the Sony family,Epic, to just walk across the hall and start fresh with them. Actually, I prefer that because I'm signed to Epic everywhere else in the world.The next few records will finally come out on one record label all over the world.
SR: Isn't it fun when one of your band members i.e. Stu Hamm gets as
many calls of his name as you do?
JS: We had such a great time in Austin. The audience was really into the show. It's great when a member of my group gets that much attention. Stu is world famous and a great friend. We are all having a lot of good times.