Heart of Steel: Interviews

2 Interviews With Joe Satriani!

Here we go! Two short interviews with guitar legend Joe Satriani arrived within days of one another. The first is from our regular staff writer, Keith McDonald, the second is a guest contribution from Mark Uricheck. We hope all you guitar freaks and shred heads like this one.

Joe Satriani - Guitar God
Interview by Keith McDonald

Joe Satriani has been around for some time now. And even though you don't hear a bunch of his songs on the radio, he still has a very large and loyal fanbase. I stopped by Looney Tunes record store to see him perform a live show in front of a packed house. He played a few of his hits and then played songs from his new Epic Records release 'Is There Love In Space?' album. I had the opportunity to speak with Joe who gave me some insight into his long career and what lies ahead for him. You can check out his website at www.satriani.com.


What made you do the in-stores with a live performance?

It's much more fun to play at these events than to just sign stuff and shake hands. So, I get into it.



Are you surprised to still be on a major label like Epic while so many of your peers have been dropped so long ago?

I'm thrilled at Epic's commitment to my way of making music. They have a great creative staff and a long-range view on developing artists and they're audience.



How powerful is Epic's marketing ability?

Epic/Sony has a worldwide distribution network as well as a budding online service which is great, but it's their staff around the world that makes it all work so well.



How strong is the guitar-instrumental market these days?

For me it's great! I tour in more places to more people than ever before. The shifting policies at radio can be hard to crack at times, but that has always been the case.



How much has the market changed over the years?

I think the rate of change is about the same as it's always been. It's never been something you can figure out. You just get on and fasten your seat belts 'cause you know it's going to be a bumpy ride!



How do you explain your longevity?

I don't really know the answer to that one. People must like what I write and play I guess.



How does the song writing process come about?

For me, it's just listening for inspiration. My topics are the life I lead and the things I imagine or hope for. And I spend a lot of time playing guitar, bass, drums and keyboards; so, some songs come from the simple joy of playing.



How well has the G3 tour done and I see there was a live CD/DVD released?

The G3 concert series that I started in '96 has turned into event that we repeat almost every year. It's a great source of creative performance and camaraderie for the other performers and me. Our first G3 DVD from '96 has gone platinum and our most recent Live in Denver DVD released this February is heading in the same direction. I plan to do as many as possible in the next few years.



Will you be doing any solo tour dates?

My solo tour will begin in October this year in the US.



I see you added 2 vocal tracks to your new album. Why was that?

This time round the vocal tracks just seemed to compliment the rest of the CD this time. Since I was working with a rock meets rock/blues theme for this record they fit right in and added some cool elements.



Would you ever consider doing an entire album with vocals?

Not with me singing! I'd have a real singer handle those duties.



How much harder or easier is it to write an instrumental album rather than a vocal album?

They are both very difficult. The hard part about writing and recording is making all good; it doesn't matter if it's instrumental or vocal.



Do you find it difficult to get instrumental tracks played over the radio considering most of the spins have vocals?

Yes, it's always been that way. But, I knew that when got into it, so, I'm not complaining.



Legacy/Sony Music released an 'Anthology' double album. How much say did you have in that?

Between me and my online fans at satriani.com the list was compiled and we were allowed to re-master all the songs from the original tapes, which was great; they never sounded so good! I loved having the opportunity to tell a short story for each of the songs in the liner notes as well.



How great was it to have so many Grammy nominations?

It's always cool to know that people out there are listening...



What lies ahead for you?

Music, music, music! I still love to play my guitar and make records, so; I'll keep doing that.

Joe Satriani Interview By Mark Uricheck

Joe Satriani has just released his 9th studio album, titled “Is There Love In Space?” The album is another fine collection of guitar madness that has made the mighty Satch the gold standard for rock guitarists everywhere. While this record may be one of his most accessible to new fans, longtime die-hard guitar geek types will not be disappointed. Satriani had just finished up a short promotional tour for the record, and was soon to embark on the European leg of his G3 tour with Steve Vai and Robert Fripp when we spoke.


Hey Joe, how are you? How’s the promo tour been going?

It was really a lot of fun. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much, but it turned out to be a really creative kind of experience.



First off, congratulations on the new album - it sounds great. When you start writing new material, where do you get your inspiration? How do the songs initially come together?

Well, they’re all kind of a reaction to basic life experiences. Some of them are easy to peg - some are about having fun, some are about the bad times. Some are like prayers or wishes. Some I just completely fabricate; just like wishes or daydreams that I can put into a form that I can write about.




You’ve been pretty consistent over the years in releasing your records, how do you decide when it’s time to make a new one?

Well, to a certain extent I think the record business helps you out with that. I’m sure you know what it’s like; a lot of us wish we didn’t have a schedule so we could be “free”, but when we become “free” often we don’t become very productive. So the record business kind of puts you on a schedule. In order to keep their business flying, they’ve got to keep you going. You reach sort of an agreement with your label that’s based on, it used to be every three years, but now it’s been cut shorter because of the way the world operates. It’s about every two years now, which makes sense because it takes about a year to broker a tour of the world. I don’t go out on the road for 6 months straight, I do about 6 weeks at a time. Whether or not I bring my family, I just don’t like to be out away from reality for too long. But it takes us about a year because Europe is larger now; we do Asia and the Pacific Rim. Anyway, that’s what tells me it’s time to record (laughs) - my schedule.



You finished up one of your G3 Tours a few months ago, and are soon going to Europe for another installment. How did the G3 idea come about?

The original idea for a G3 Tour came out of griping session I had with my management. You know, I’m on tour all the time and I’m making records, but how come I’m always isolated from these other guitar players that I’ve always wanted to play with? We wanted something where guitar players could come and hang out, exchange ideas. We started vamping on that idea, and we had come up with this mini-festival idea. After talking with our agents and promoters, we had to decide the kind of venues - whether it be theaters, or a large outdoor venue the time period we usually have is from 7-11pm. You have to be off the stage or they start to fine you by the minute (laughs). So we came down to having three performers. Any more than that, none of them would be able to play long enough and they might not be attracted to join the tour. We formulated this so every performer would get anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to play with their own band. Then, at the end of the night the guitarists would join my band for a 30-minute improvisation based on popular material. We started this in 1995 and it took us a good year or more to convince not only the musicians but also the local promoters that it was a great idea. I sort of was tenacious about having Steve Vai and Eric Johnson joining us for the first outing. Once we did the first show they fell in love with the idea. It’s become something we’ve been able to continually book every year, year and a half. Artistically, it’s just really satisfying. The total upside of it is that I get to stand on stage every night with some of the greatest guitar players in the world.



You’ve always been a master of phrasing, and have a great sense of melody in your playing. Is that something you consciously worked on from the beginning?

All the players that I admired were just masters of phrasing. I just fell in love with it, and I aspired to be as good as those guys. Be it Hendrix or Beck or Clapton or Page, players like Fred McDowell or Wes Montgomery - a great jazz player. Their sense of melody was great, and I was attracted to that as a listener. It was natural that I’d want to play that way.



I know a lot of guitar players are never satisfied with their tone. Are you the same way?

I think that we’re always looking for a new angle of our sound. Personally, I have a lot of different amplifiers in the studio to try and match the sound of the guitar with the feeling that I’m trying to project. I use the tone to reflect the kind of vocabulary that I want to play to. But then when you go live, you can’t bring 30 amps on stage. It’s been made easier with having my own amplifier built by Peavey. You know, it’s like when you asked me about the promo tour. It’s the first time I’ve toured with the actual finished product. I found myself without the distraction of a band, stage, lights. I was just standing in a TV studio or a record store. I could focus on just how my guitar sounded, and it was just a great experience. I could focus more on the tone and the phrasing; it was a more in-depth, enriching experience than when I’m on stage. There you’re integrating with other musicians, and a larger audience. So having that amp with me everyday from our zombie-like 7am TV appearances (Laughs), all the way to our evening shows at the record stores was a great experience. It was years of trying to get someone to design an amp to do what I thought an amp should do.



You’ve always had a tasteful approach with the wah-wah pedal; it’s become kind of a signature sound for you. Is that your Hendrix influence coming through, or is it been a subconscious thing?

Well it’s certainly been an unusual thing. I remember when I was starting to work on these albums I was so sick of the wah-wah that I preferred not bringing it to the sessions. So on my first album “Not of This Earth” my producer said “Don’t you have a wah-wah pedal”, I said “I’m sick of wah-wah pedals (laughs). So I did the whole album with no wah-wah pedal. Then by the time we got around to doing “Surfing With The Alien”, I made the decision literally as I was packing up my car to go the studio, and there it was sitting on the ground. I thought you know, I hate this thing, but I’m going to bring it and just try it. I’ll plug it in and see what happens. And it was that record that kind of introduced me, to myself, kind of a new way of using the wah-wah pedal. Now of course I do find that it is kind of an extension of my sound.



What made you decide to become primarily an instrumental artist as opposed to being the guitar player in a band?

Well that was just an accident really. I was busy in bands, trying to be as successful as possible, trying to get a record deal for years and years. At home, as I needed to explore deeper music I would make these tapes. I eventually got a 4-track cassette recorder and I started making more and more of these tapes. One Christmas holiday my band decided we were going to take a month off from each other. I just decided you know what, I’m going to go down to the courthouse and I’m going to start up my own publishing company, my own record company. I must say the reason I did this is because we rehearsed next to a place called Nolo Press in Berkley, California. They published books to help people do their own thing; start a business, do their taxes, that sort of thing. So they had these books with the forms in them, you just pull them out. Their dumpster went right outside our rehearsal space. So when we were outside on a break, I saw all these books in the dumpster and it got into my mind I could do all this stuff on my own, you don’t need a lawyer, you don’t need a manager, you could just do it yourself. So I took it upon myself to find a book on starting your own business. Basically I then went and recorded a very avant-garde all guitar tape at a friend’s home studio. When the band got back from the break, I presented the tape to the guys and said look what I did over the Christmas vacation! (laughs) I said I started this label, this and that and I said it’s so easy, we should be doing all this ourselves. What I ended up doing was printing up the tape, I found a company and printed up vinyl copies and sent them out to every magazine that was distributed in record stores around the world. I sent them out with a letter that said “this is free, do whatever you want with it.” Anyway a couple months later someone said to me “hey, you just got reviewed in Guitar Player magazine”. I was kind of shocked. I read this little review, and what struck me was they didn’t know who I was, but they knew I was playing in these bands in all the clubs, and were unfazed by this little avant-garde record. They gave it a good review, and were hoping to hear more. I realized there was a path opening up in front of me in my life, which was “you could keep flogging a dead horse aiming for commercial music or you can do something completely wicked and crazy. You could do whatever you want because they already think you’re a nut”. So I said “I’m going to do another one of those”. It took me a while to finance it. It wound up being from a pre-approved credit card mailed to me. It had like a $5,000 credit line, so I recorded this record on the credit card. So it was really an accidental career, and was still new to me when “Surfing With The Alien” was becoming popular. I had always been on these pop bands, or heavy rock bands. So anyway, that’s kind of like the haphazard way to do it.



It must have been pretty fulfilling to get it done yourself that way.

It was fantastic. It was the greatest feeling. It was wrought with incredible danger though because suddenly realized it was all on me, it was all on my head; the costs and everything. As a matter of fact the first solo tour I did, was in January of 1988. “Surfing” had just landed on the charts and I’d gotten on the cover of some magazine. One day I got called into my manager’s hotel room. He said “just to let you know, when this tour’s over you’ll have lost $7000 per week”. At the time I had no money, I was completely broke. I thought, how do you have a record on the charts, and we were a tiny traveling act, and losing money? I remember saying something’s gotta happen to turn this around. And then a couple of days later I got a call to audition for Mick Jagger’s band, and I said well, this sounds like a good idea (laughs). So I got the audition and the job, then I did two tours with Mick that year. That pulled me out of my money situation, and in turn the notoriety from that tour helped my solo tour into the black. So it was an incredible amount of work, but it exposed me to an audience that was waiting to hear something new.



What kind of advice would you give to musicians?

Well, aside from the obvious, there’s a two-part set of instructions I’d say. The first part is the obvious stuff; know what you don’t know. Theory - memorize it once and for all, stop kidding yourself. Notes, chords, scales, rhythms, you can’t fool yourself with that. But then on the other side of it I’d say it’s really important to focus on being original, finding your own voice. You’ve got to love what you do; that’s what gets you through it. The other thing is that the audience out there is dying for someone to come up with something different and unique. I understand quite clearly having to work all my life as a guitar player that in the beginning as an amateur you get rewarded for sounding like other people. But in order for you to become like those other people you need to not be those other people. If you don’t spend any time trying to figure out who you are on the instrument, than the opportunity will slip right through your fingers.

Band Website: www.satriani.com