Electric guitar legend Joe Satriani is releasing his 14th studio album, Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards, on October 5. With over 10 million album sales and 15 Grammy nominations to him name, Satriani’s upcoming release is certainly an anticipated one. R&RR’s very own Aaron Kupferberg recently had the chance to talk to Satriani about the new record, everything to do with guitars and Chickenfoot – Satriani’s band with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Q: I wanted to ask, since we both grew up on Long Island, you went to Carle Place High School, right?
A: Yeah, Carle Place High School.
Q: Do you remember the name of your very first band in high school?
A: Yes, the very first band was called “Mephistopheles” and it was quickly followed by a band called “Tarsus.”
Q: What type of music did you play?
A: We were doing Black Sabbath, Stones, Zeppelin, The Doors and Spirit. I attended St. Bridget’s Catholic School till they threw me out, [then] I attended Carle Place High School.
Q: Do you remember what your first guitar was?
A: Yes, a Hagstrom III. I decided to quit the football team and play guitar the day that Hendrix died and one of my sisters, Carol, donated her first paycheck as an art teacher at Westbury High School to buy me this guitar that was hanging up in a music store in Roosevelt Field [Shopping Center.]
Q: I know Jimi Hendrix was one of your biggest influences and also one of your favorite rock guitarists, but you’ve also been into jazz guitarists – Do you have a favorite jazz guitarist?
A: It’s so hard to pick the one guy, but Wes Montgomery. He was such a monster, but I would also throw in there Allan Holdsworth; he was such an innovator.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about a few of the songs on the new album, Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards? I really love the track “God is Crying” – it really brings it home for me…
A: Thank you. Well, “God is Crying” is just a song I was thinking, you know, if there is a God and he created everything, but what if he’s not really in control of it and what if he doesn’t see where it’s going? He would be up there looking down at us crying at where it’s going, like after that funky intro of how great it is to create this world, he then sees how cruel human beings act towards each other and he cries. That was my collected thoughts about it.
Q: I know “Littleworth Lane” was a tribute to your mother, so tell me a little bit more about that…
A: Well, she grew up in The Jazz Age, and both my parents listened to a lot of jazz. In the ’60s and ’70s she was into Motown music, rock and soul music, and she liked gospel music as well. The song was really about the house where she lived. A very unusual house that was built in the late 1600s and how much life she brought into the house, and how much fun we had there as a family. I wanted to write the song about her and I felt that was a good starting point.
Q: Do you have a current favorite guitar to play?
A: I’ve got three guitars that were very instrumental in making this new album. One was the prototype of the JS 2400 that Ibanez has just put out, it’s a 24 fret model, and I also had a JS 1200 with a Sustianiac pickup installed and that’s new for me. Finally, the prototype guitar I made for the Experience Hendrix Tour in March – basically a JS guitar with a maple neck and three Demarzio blade pickups. Those three are my favorites right now.
Q: You’ve been a guitar master for so long; do you feel you’ve covered every inch of ground on the instrument? Is there anything more for you to learn?
A: Oh, there’s just so much. Every new guitar player that comes along brings a new interesting take on how to play. You know, it’s really about the personality of the player, their attitude and how they want to talk through their music. It’s not really about the techniques so much – it’s really about the personality.
Q: Since we’re talking about personalities, I’d like your opinion on some guitar personalities you have either met or played with …
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
A: Master blues man. An amazing tonal creator. What he’s done for the world of blues composition is unbelievable. We will be sifting through his music for decades.
Brian May (Queen)
A: What a great guitar orchestrator, and someone who can put a lot of beautiful sound into just a few notes. He is one of the coolest guys I ever met out there who is a true rock God.
A: I was just looking at a picture of him and he is a great great player, and a good friend. Every time he’s in town and I am playing, he gets invited up on stage because he’s just one of those guys that has a lot of musical energy and he can play just about anything.
Q: Now, some guitarists who I don’t know if you’ve met or not …
Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme)
A: Yeah, the only time we ever met way back in 1991. We were all doing the Guitar Legends Festival together, coincidently our musical director was Brian May. We had about four days of hanging out in London, rehearsing our show, and that’s when I got to know him as a person, and find out he was a multi-instrumentalist and very talented.
Steve Howe (Yes)
A: Only met him once, briefly, about a year ago. I was at Q104 in New York City and while I was leaving for an interview, he was walking in. Unfortunately, I only got to say “Hello” and get a picture taken, and that was it.
David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
A: Just shook his hand once at a hotel in Osaka, Japan.
A: No, I think one neck is hard enough. I got a double neck and you use it when you need it, and that’s about it. Having the necks go out in different directions and that kind of stuff, I don’t really need that kind of stuff.
Q: Do you think it’s about showmanship? More about stage craft than guitar craft?
A: I don’t know, some guys play really well. I mean, Batio – I’ve never seen anyone else play harmony like that. I mean, he’s pretty amazing isn’t he? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else pull it off quite the same way. I know Steve Vai used to do it. Some guys just seem to gravitate towards that and I don’t. I’m more interested in the music part of it.
Q: Back to the music part of it – I know there’s a second Chickenfoot album coming soon. How many songs have you already written for it?
A: We’ve got at least 10 songs already written. They are sitting in the hands of Sammy Hagar right now and he’s working on lyrics and melodies.
Q: Is it a group composition? Everyone contributes?
A: Generally, the way it happens is I’ll start a song first and from there, it gets sent on to Sammy who will do melodies and lyrics. Then the band gets a hold of it and we will try to arrange for it so everyone is really excited about it. If we need another part, we write it. If we think we have too many parts, we drop it. Usually, it’s a band consensus when it comes to arranging.
Q: Getting back to the new solo album – do you feel this is a natural progression from your past work, or are you looking for something new with the release of this album?
A: I think we’re always looking for something new. We’re always looking to express ourselves in new ways. I was trying to create a deeper level of communication with what I was trying to express and how I would get it to the audience. That’s how I put it to my co-producer, Mike Frazier. I said, “Help me make my guitar really grab people with the melodies and the performances from the rest of the band, we really have to be super evocative. We have to tell these stories deeply.” You can’t just turn it up louder, or more intense petal, it just doesn’t work that way. You really have to understand the soul of the music and tailor the production of each song to reach people. So that was what I was trying to do.
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