interview
JOE SATRIANI
by Vinni


Joe Satriani has enjoyed a long and distinguished career since he first picked up a guitar at age 14. He has been around the world several times on tours of his own, as well as tours with Mick Jagger, Deep Purple, and hugely successful G3 summer tours and albums with fellow guitar legends Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Yngwe Malmsteen and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. As is his yearly tradition, Joe inaugurated the current season for the Oakland A's baseball team by playing the national anthem at the opening game. Satriani has been known as the San Francisco sports team hero by also playing the national anthem for the 49ers and the Giants. Yet even with the seemingly endless performing, recording schedules, and receiving countless Grammy nominations, Joe is still going strong, not only with his current release Strange Beautiful Music, but also with his critically acclaimed DVD, Live in San Francisco, which has recently been certified gold.

Strange Beautiful Music marks yet another turning point in the enduring career that Satriani has been blessed with. "I'm just happy that I've been able to make a living, and, I hope, a contribution, doing what I love most, playing my guitar," Satriani says of a career that is forging ahead into it's second decade, "I'd like nothing more than to be able to keep doing this for years to come." Well, if his latest in a string of many accomplishments is any indication of the longevity of his career, Joe Satriani has nothing to worry about.

 

 

Satriani is probably the most successful solo instrumentalist in all of rock. In a radio industry that frowns on lyricless music, Satriani not only gets airplay, but his "Surfing with the Alien" is used by many commercial rock stations for their commercials and background music.
Satriani had a long-running relationship with Relativity records, a label known for it's fondness for solo guitarists (Steve Vai was also on Relativity). That chapter of rock history came to a close when Relativity turned into an all- hip hop and rap label. Satriani was immediately picked up by Epic/Sony, which had long been distributing his records, but it's not hard to hear the disapointment in Satriani's voice as he described the events leading up to his change of labels. But that's starting at the end so let's go to the beginning...

You released a self-titled CD a few years back that was a bit of a departure in approach for you. Was that something you were anxious to do?
Satriani: Well, I started the project nine months before it was completed and I did everything I could to proceed in an unorthodox fashion and to do everything as differently as I could.

I'm curious- what does it mean when Joe Satriani says, unorthodox?
Satriani: (Laughs) I'll tell ya, I wrote a lot of the record on instruments I don't normally play. I switched everything upside-down. I got rid of the idea of an album title. I had 2 or 3 studios going at once. Instead of planning things out, I would go into the studio with the barest of ideas- I was recording first takes, I wasn t correcting mistakes. Even down to the kind of tape we used, and the location and time of day we recorded... Just about everything you could think of down to the size of guitar strings. I did things to catch myself off-guard- not only in the performing aspect but in the recording aspect.

So in a sense you were challenging yourself...?
Satriani: Yeah, yeah. You know, I've done that, I've tried to do that with every album. But being my seventh album, I really had to look for things to tweak, that I'd never done.

When I first heard the record, I thought there was a raunchy blues feel to it and then I read that it was produced by Glen Johns, who worked with the Stones...
Satriani: Oh man. Glen has worked with everybody. He's been the seminal producer behind the Stones, The Beatles...


It seems like he had a lot of impact on the project...?
Satriani: Oh he did, yeah. I mean here's a guy who's worked with Joan Armitrading and Belly, who s sat down and worked things out with Keith Richards and The Eagles. He's just recorded so much music- he s got a great set of ears and he's a wonderful personality.


Was that the first time you ve worked with him?
Satriani: Yeah. Coincidentally, I recorded an album with his younger brother, Andy Johns, a few years ago called, The Extremist.


This all sort of ties together as you're first break came with the Mick Jagger tour...?
Satriani: That was really a fortuitous thing to happen, just as Surfin with the Alien was out for about 3 months and was just beginning to gain some mometum. Mick auditioned me for two tours, one over in Japan and a later tour of Australia and New Zealand. That whole association really helped because suddenly MTV paid a little attention and I got a page in Rolling Stone and Mick, of course, was really great at making sure every opportunity I had... he was able to help me take advantage of it.


So Mick was really instrumental to your career in a lot of different ways...?
Satriani: He even recorded some harmonica tracks for the album but unfortunately, they didn't make the final cut. (Laughs)

Jeez...
Satriani: Oh! He's not sore about it. I saw him (afterwards) in London. He came to our show at Wembley and he was a good sport about it. (Laughs)


Since we're talking about famous rockers, a couple of your students are pretty famous guys...?
Satriani: Yeah (laughs) I wish they all were! I wish they all had the success that the ones like Kirk Hammet & Steve Vai have had.


Your road to success has been different than most...
Satriani: Yeah... you know, I came from such an outside position where I started my own record company and publishing company and recorded two albums, one of which was done on a credit card and I wound up making a deal with Relativity Records which Steve Vai put me in touch with. Relativity is the only company that would put out his record, Flexible. So he said to me, Look man, if they re crazy enough to put out my album, they ll definitely put out yours.

I was told that a fifteen year old Steve Vai showed up at your door one day with a beat-up guitar and asked for guitar lessons?
Satriani: Yeah, but I m sure he was 12. (Laughs) I was 15 at the time so I m sure he was 12. Yeah, he came with a pack of strings in one hand and a guitar in the other. (Laughs)


Of course you're known as a solo artist but you were in a band called The Squares at one time?
Satriani: That's right, yeah. We were sort of like... if you can imagine, The Everly Brothers meets Gang of Four meets The Beatles meets The Jam.

That's a bit different from what you're known for...
Satriani: Yeah, I'm tellin you- it's totally weird. While I was in that band, I was so frustrated trying to get a professional career started that on a Christmas holiday, I purposely recorded the most bizarre guitar EP I could think of, and that became a self-titled EP that I eventually remastered and released as the Time Machine album. That goes back to 1984 and when I got a review in Guitar Player magazine for that
album I suddenly realized that I d been concentrating on showing people the wrong thing. People saw me in this band called The Squares in clubs and that was me, the professional musician trying to get a record deal, working with a band. But what I did at home, working with these weird instrumentals, that was what was getting me noticed. So I decided to drop the professional musician thing and become a full-time
weirdo.

Your playing has a very emotional quality to it. I ve noticed that unlike most quote-unquote guitar heroes, your music appeals to the female audience quite a bit...
Satriani: You know, it's a funny thing. I wouldn't call it embarrassing but it's an uncomfortable feeling to think of yourself as a hero. When you choose the life of a musician, part of you at least is an exhibitionist, I supposed, even though my basic day to day emotional state is that I'm kind of shy and reserved and I like really don t like to be in crowds yet somehow I end up being in front of thousands of people. (Laughs)


I get the feeling that commercial success is something you don't worry too much about...
Satriani: It's funny but to answer that, there was an interview I did prior to this where the writer wanted to interview me for a guitar book he's writing. I had to say, Look, I ve told my management that I want to sell records and go on tour, which allows me to continue to play guitar, but I don t want to become a quote-unquote personality. So don't book me on Love Connection or Hollywood Squares or Regis & Kathy
Lee
. I just don't want people to think that I exist along side Cher and Richie Sambora and all the people that really thrive on that side of the entertainment business. I would rather be successful in spite of myself.




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