Joe Satriani: Satchurated With Success

By Jeb Wright, February 2012

Joe Satriani is one of the best rock guitarists on planet earth. He has a successful solo career and is also a member of the Supergroup Chickenfoot. Approaching 30 years in the music business, Satch is more in demand than ever before.

What makes Joe Satriani so special is his ability to blend technical mastery with emotional and melodic song passages. He sees the world of musical notes much the same way a wizard views the supernatural. The result is a creativity that is rich with many layers. Satriani is also the most non-Rock Star Rock Star one will ever meet. Despite his great success, and his standing among the guitar community, he is still a regular Joe. There simply is no arrogance or attitude.

Read on as we discuss his upcoming theatrical release, Satchurated, a live concert that will appear in movie theaters around the world. The concert will also be released on both DVD in 2D and Blu-Ray in 3D in April.

Lastly, Joe talks openly about making the movie, seeing himself on the big screen and shares his thoughts on the latest Van Halen album.

Jeb: You are going into movie theaters!

Joe: That’s crazy, isn’t it? We were approached when we were halfway through our Wormhole Tour by these two guys who had worked with Rush and some other bands. They told us that they wanted to do the first ever 3D, 7.1 Surround Sound for theatrical release. We only had about three weeks to turn this thing around.

By coincidence, in their home town, we were booked into a smaller theater, which turned out to be the perfect place to do this. We were there for one night, and one night only, and shot with both 3D and 2D cameras. I thought it was a wonderful idea and it was a great opportunity. It was a year and a half in the making to get it into theaters.

The tour was booked when they called us and we were in Florida getting ready to head up north. This was all happening during the first year of the Wormhole tour. We went to New York but that was out of the question to record it there, cost wise. We had some other dates booked in Canada but there were either union problems or space problems for each venue. When they saw that we were playing in Montreal, they knew that that theater would hold the cameras and not get in the way of the people who bought tickets to the show.

The fans in that town are very warm and they follow you through the quietest moment right through to the loudest moment. There is something about the French Canadians. They make a great audience. So, there we were one snowy night in December making a film.

Jeb: You have done many live DVD’s so you know what to expect on stage.

Joe: No, I don’t. I have made quite a few – more than I thought I would ever make. Every one of them has got great moments, embarrassing moments or problems we have had to overcome during post production.

I broke strings and had to stop filming and then start over again on the Japanese G3 DVD. There are all sorts of things that happen that I’ve had to overcome. We had a technical problem on this one. We did the whole show and we were walking off stage and my manager was there waving his arms. He told us we had to go out and play the first song again.

It turned out that the first fifteen seconds of the show didn’t get recorded on the music drives because, for some reason, they all crashed when the show started. The first part of the DVD, where you see us coming out on stage and picking up our guitars and start playing, is actually, sound wise, a repeat of the end of the night. I don’t know how they did it but they edited it right to the original performance.

Jeb: Did they tell you to swing your guitar around more so that it would be cool on a 3D shoot?

Joe: That’s a good question. They actually moved me and my bass player into positions that were two feet off from where we had been standing the entire tour and told us not to stand where we had been standing. I was like, “But that’s my spot.” That was a bit odd.

Because of the venue, and where they could put the cameras, they had to move us. It was okay, but what was more odd was that they told us, “When you’re playing, and you notice the 3D camera swinging into position, and you notice something between you and that camera, then move to another position where there is nothing between you and that camera.”

When you’re doing a rock and roll show you don’t want to think about cameras. We want to play and connect with our audience. We had to realize when there was a microphone stand, or something between us and the camera, to move away. I didn’t really appreciate why until I saw the final cut of the theatrical release in 3D. They wanted to avoid the typical, gimmick type of horror movie 3D sort of thing. They were right to avoid that because it breaks your concentration.

When you’re in a theater and watching the concert and hearing it in 7.1 Surround Sound then you really feel like you are at the concert. You don’t want any silly gimmicks like me pointing my guitar at you, or sticking my tongue out at you. The direction that they gave us really helped.

Jeb: It has to be a lot of pressure to know that you have one chance at getting this right.

Joe: The only show in my career where I had more than one night was at the Tokyo Dome with Mick Jagger back in 1988. It is the only time I have been involved in a shoot where they said, “We will take the best of four nights.” It’s always one shot with me. You walk off stage going, “Damn, I missed this and I did that” but a couple of months go by and you forget all of that and you see it more from a fan’s perspective.

I think musicians are far pickier than fans, which is unfortunate for us, but we don’t know how to appreciate things the way that the fans do. When I go to a show I don’t care about a lot of things that I know the performers are very attuned to. I am just sitting there and taking it all in and feeling the vibe of the people in front of me. I am having a good time and watching the whole band and listening to the music. That is not how musicians are, though. Everything is in a compartment. We are looking at our own performance, measure to measure and we are listening to other player’s performances and we are trying to relate to them and we are thinking about how we played last night – it is much different than being a fan. I think it is important to, as much as you can, when you hit the stage to try to embrace what it would be like to be in the audience. I think that makes for a better performance.

Jeb: Satchurated is from the tour for Black Swans & Wormhole Wizards. I think that album is one of your best. I think your playing is more mature and melodic than ever before.

Joe: Thank you for saying that. It is tough. I am never satisfied with a record. I never feel like I have finished it. I have had to abandon every record due to our budget and schedule. When we go out on tour, it is our chance to continue to work on the album. Sometimes, I will go back and listen to the Black Swans record and I hear “Littleworth Lane,” which is something that I wouldn’t have normally done. I go, “Wow that is really different. I am glad that I pushed it through.” It reveals a part of my inner personality that people would not get if they were listening to “Satch Boogie.”

I don’t really focus on technique as much as I make sure that the music I play is really a part of who I am. I have to play that music on stage every night and if it is not true to who I am then I am not going to do it.

Jeb: Technically, is there really anything more you can do?

Joe: Oh Sure. I have known a lot of players, and through my G3 concerts, I have stood next to a lot of great players and I can tell you that every player has more things that they can’t do than they have things that they do, and that we know them for. As a kid, I would always think that every famous guitar player that I would listen too must know a lot more stuff than they are showing me on this one particular record. It is not that way at all.

If you look at a great guitar player like Jeff Beck, he had every opportunity to play everything for us, and he would have, but it’s obvious that he excels in some places more than anybody else. He is a monster on guitar and he is a great musician but think of all the stuff he has never played for us. And that’s okay because it was not part of his repertoire.

If you look at every great player…Chet Atkins could not play with his teeth but Jimi Hendrix could. Albert King played blues like he invented it but you never heard him play jazz or classical because he couldn’t. It doesn’t take away from their musicianship or their star power. Over the decades, as a player, I’m learning to accept that you can’t play everything. You can’t perfect every technique and every style. It’s okay to stick with just a couple.

When I go see Neil Young, or Allan Holdsworth, I am not asking them to show me every technique that has ever been invented. I don’t want to see Neil Young doing two hand tapping. When I go see Allan Holdsworth I’m not looking for grunge and a sloppy performance. I am looking for that beautiful style he is known for.

We have a strange mindset during those first ten years when we are going crazy teaching ourselves how to play. We try to learn every technique but we get over that mountain at some point. Once over that mountain, what you see in front of you is a long, endless landscape that is really about creativity and expression.

It is not about technique, not really. Technique will come when you have an idea that is worth pursuing. I have been doing that on my records. I put myself in a musical situation where I have to learn how to play differently. It might be subtle like “Littleworth Lane” or it might be some weird phrasing that I use in a solo.

Jeb: I want to know if you have seen yourself on the big screen yet?

Joe: About two months ago, we went to Dolby Laboratories here in San Francisco and it was the first time we saw the 3D edit. There were two types of cameras used when we recorded the show. There was the usual set of 2D cameras, and then there was a set of 3D cameras. The edit of the two films are entirely different.

For a year, I had been editing the 2D version that comes out on regular DVD with 5.1 sound. This was the first time I had seen the 3D edit, which is so much better. The camera angles are more flattering and they really make you feel like you’re in the show. The theater melts away and you feel like you’re at a concert. It really blew me away. It was kind of dangerous because we walked out of the theater feeling ten feet tall.

Jeb: You also did that little part in that sports movie Moneyball.

Joe: I saw that on TV but I didn’t get to see it in the theaters. Years ago, I was in a movie called For Your Consideration with Christopher Guest. I was playing guitar in it in a late night TV band. We were imitating the Letterman band. I have never felt more embarrassed than when I saw myself on the big screen. I’m not really cut out for acting. There is something about it that is embarrassing to me. Thank God I had a guitar in my hand.

Jeb: I have to talk about your Gold selling side group Chickenfoot. Have you gone Platinum in the States yet?

Joe: I hope that the second record and its success will push the first one Platinum. It is very exciting to play with Sammy [Hagar], Chad [Smith] and Mike [Anthony] but it is a new band so we really do all sorts of new band stuff. We play smaller venues and we do a lot of press.

All of these guys are in a very special club. Mike, Sammy and Chad are all in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and they all have sold around a hundred million albums; they have Grammy’s and everything. I think it is even more of a trip for those guys to be in a brand new band then it is for me.

It is really exciting. Not only do we love the music but we have that energy of being in a new band and feeling like we can do anything we want. That is really a great gift to get once you’ve been working in the industry for many decades.

Jeb: You all are truly having fun. You are not going through the motions.

Joe: We generally have a very good time. The way that we fool around with each other, and the way that we work the entertainment industry, is all for fun and humor. We don’t take ourselves seriously. The only thing we take seriously is the way we write and the way we perform. We want to nail it every night and every time. There is no reason for all that other rock star stuff, as it doesn’t really apply.

Jeb: I like the new Chickenfoot better than that first. What about you?

Joe: There are things about the second record that I’m very glad we achieved, like the solid sound of the rhythm section; that is very important to me. I am very happy at the lyrics Sammy decided to sing and the stories that he decided to tell.

Everybody had to grow on this record. It was both fun and difficult. We lost one of our managers when we were making this record. There are always trials and tribulations that you go through when you make a record but it all contributed to a real live feeling on this album. I am very happy that people like this record.

Jeb: Sammy Hagar is a very off the cuff guy. He is not trained in the language of music like you are. Does having someone like Sammy around open your mind to new ideas?

Joe: In many ways, mixing it up with musicians that have different backgrounds has always been something that I’ve done. You bring up an interesting point. My new bass player, Allen Whitman, is very much like Sammy. They are both high energy and they have both never bothered to learn the language of music. If you play something for them then they know exactly where to go with it. They have a life experience that they use to get the job done.

If I tell Allen, “Let’s use Lydian Dominant here” then he will say, “Show it to me.” I will show it to him and he will say, “Oh, I know that one. Is that what it’s called?” It has been great having him in the band because he is so unencumbered. You can’t say that the lack of education is what makes Allen and Sammy Hagar what they are. They are just special people. There are plenty of them all around the world. All of us, to a certain degree, excel in certain things without having a certain type of education. You don’t have to have a degree in English to speak the language; music is the same way.

Jeb: Last one: Because of the ties with your band and Van Halen I want to know if you’ve heard the new Van Halen album and what you think of it.

Joe: I kind of like it. I was talking to Sammy about it the other day. I said, “You know Sam, I have to congratulate you on the enduring success of Van Halen. It is something that Mike and you should be proud of.”

Mike and Sam were at least as successful, if not more so, than when Dave was in the band. If you turn on any classic rock radio station then you hear just as much Sammy era Van Halen as you do David Lee Roth era Van Halen. As uncomfortable as it might be for those guys to try to sort out business between them, from my perspective, I’m just a guy and I like it all. If I hear Eddie and Alex playing together then I’m pretty much all the way there, immediately.

I think that both Dave and Sam brought interesting things to Eddie’s musicianship, as he wrote different kinds of songs with each. Dave is more vaudeville and Sammy is more rock. For me, just to have a new record with Eddie Van Halen – I like that. When you think that we’ve been missing him for so long – the crime is that we don’t have three new albums.

Jeb: Satchurated is coming out in theaters. Chickenfoot is going out and you have G3 coming up. Tell us all what we can expect from you over the next year.

Joe: The schedule for the showings of Satchurated is continually growing. There will be over 500 theaters around the world that will be showing this. Musical films are not like regular movies where they let them run for weeks in the theater. They are treated more like concerts. I don’t understand that part of the movie business but I was told that is how it is going to be.

The first week of April we will release two versions on DVD, the Blu-Ray, which will have the 3D and the DVD, which is the 2D version, which has a different camera shoot. Both of them will have the entire concert, not just the theatrical concert. They will also have two bonus tracks, which were recorded for sound check, both of which come from the Black Swans album and they will have the documentary, which is the third installment of the making of the Black Swans album. While that is happening, I will be in New Zealand and Australia with Steve Vai and Steve Lukather doing the G3 tour. I am excited to have Lukather on there as he has been a guest on many shows but I’ve never had him for an entire tour. He is a great friend and a great player.

After that is over, Chickenfoot has a six week run of North America. I will then go to Europe with G3 with Vai and I’m not sure yet who the third guy will be. In early October I am doing another G3 with John Petrucci and somebody else in South America. When I come back then I have to start recording another solo album for Sony, which I have already started doing demos for. I am going to be very busy.