Joe Satriani 2006 Interview, Super Colossal!
A Joe Satriani 2006 Interview from the Super Colossal tour, Satch is back in the UK, this time on a solo tour to promote his latest album. Rahul Shrivastava got him on the phone for a bit of a chat…
BBC : Tell me about the band that will be coming with you on this UK tour.
“We have a new bass player called Dave LaRue. He’s spent quite a few years playing with Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs, and John Petrucci. He was with us in Japan last year on the Japanese G3 tour.We wound up with Dave because our bass player, Matt Bissonette, was trying to phase out long trips away from home so we told him he had to find somebody that was really amazing before we let him go. It turned out to be a fantastic choice.
Jeff Campitelli is on drums. I’ve been playing with him since 1979. And Gaylan Henson is on rhythm guitar.”
BBC : Now your new album is called Super Colossal. What was the inspiration behind that? Where does that name come from?
“I was fooling around with writing all sorts of songs, and then started to try and focus on one song that would be the flagship song of the record. One that would set the tone. I wound up writing this song about a giant guitarist.
On the surface, it was big slow riffs and plodding melodies and something really large and sweeping, but the story behind it is that the giant would also have giant metaphysical questions lurking in his spirit.
So that gave me the artistic license to include songs on the record that came from all different directions. Some of them spacey, some with a little jazz or hip-hop, others just straight ahead rock.”
BBC : So would you describe it as a concept album?
“Yeah, they always are. My records are not just background music with guitarists soloing over the top. What I do is write very specific records with very specific songs that support some sort of artistic concept. I use it as a device to help me from running amok, and playing all over the place. I like really strong melodies and the solo has to be a reaction to the song’s story and it’s melodies.”
BBC : Now you’ve been touring since April, and you don’t finish until July. Because I am a sad individual, I have worked it out that you will play 68 venues over 17 countries.
[Laughs] “Ah, that’s nothing. We were going to have a couple more continents to reach over the next 12 months! We’re just getting started. The European tour will be the second leg, and we’ll be in South America in October, Pacific Rim in November and December
We’ll do the US, Mexico and Canada again in February and March, and in a year from now we’ll probably return to Europe with the G3 tour. We generally try to go for about 15 months for each album.”
BBC : Is that quite exhausting?
“We don’t go out constantly. Maybe seven weeks is the longest stretch with a month off in between. But I tell people it’s not hard work compared to other people who really work for a living. It can be tiring, but it is a privilege.”
BBC : As a guitar player recognized for having such a high technical ability, what else is there left for you to learn? Do you still pick up new tricks from other players?
“The most difficult one to learn is to learn how to play well most of the time. I’m sure you’ve interviewed a lot of artists who say “this night was great, but too bad the live record was the worst night!” That can plague you forever.After you’ve learnt all your chords and scales, you start to focus on your ability to get it together and do your best. I try to learn how to be my best when I’m supposed to be my best. Not when I’m in my practice room by myself. You have to be your best when the audience are in front of you, or when the cameras start rolling.
In between those moments, I do look for new tricks. It’s impossible for me to look at myself on DVD and not cringe. I have to look past the image and listen to the guitar. And sometimes I realize that I am doing some new tricks and weird things.
I’ve been concentrating on integrating unusual techniques with standard techniques so that they don’t sound so ridiculous. They have to sound like they serve an artistic purpose.”
BBC : You recently made a guest appearance on (Deep Purple singer) Ian Gillan’s new album, Gillan’s Inn. What was it like working with Ian again, and how did you decide what songs you would play on?
“It’s always great to be around Ian. He’s such a great person and a musical force. I thought I was turning up just to play a solo. I think it was Smoke on the Water. They suggested other songs so I ended up playing on a bunch of them because we were having such a good time. It’s an honour to be a part of his legacy. I cherish the time I spent playing with those guys in Deep Purple. A lot of fun.”
BBC : I read on your website that you have become an Honorary Board Member for the Little Kids Rock organization. How important is it to you to see school kids being given a good musical education?
“It’s an issue that’s close to my heart. I was literally saved by music. I went to a public school and the situation in US public schools is really iffy. We have a local and federal government that is supposed to take care of this stuff, but a lot of the schools are forced to close down certain aspects of education to save money, and they always wind up doing music and art first.
That can’t be, because people are not always about academics. Children need a complete, well-rounded education. I benefited greatly from a really inspiring music teacher at my public high school. He taught me theory, and there were always a lot of instruments around for me to toy around with.
There are some schools that don’t even have instruments, or the money to hire a teacher. So between Little Kids Rock, and another organisation I am involved with called Music In Schools Today, we can get instruments and teachers into these schools where there aren’t any, and we can help maintain their music programs too.
On this last little six week tour, the fans and I were able to raise $24,000 for the two agencies.”
BBC : This year marks your twentieth anniversary as a solo artist. How has the business you’re in changed in that period?
“It’s changed a lot. What happened in the sixties was so unusual with the arrival of the British bands to the US. These artists came with their own songs, and then the idea of the album came into being, rather than just singles. Then there was FM radio.
I was trying to explain to my son last week night just exactly who came first – Cream, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and all that lot. He was trying to get it straight in his head, and he likes all those bands.
Now the music scene is so remarkably different with the arrival of the internet. It has changed the way in which people value music, and what they consider as their right to own it. The people who suffer the most are the musicians. That’s the way it’s always gonna be.
The people who own the record companies will be just fine, and so will the people who get the music for free. But I think everyday a talented person asks themselves why they make their living as a musician. I think we’re losing a lot of prospective musicians because of it. People can’t leave their families at home, saying ‘I’m going out not to make money‘.”
BBC : On your website you make a lot of effort to keep in touch with the fans. Do you see that as important?
“There are great positive things to the way the music industry is right now, and one of them is that the artist and the fan do not have to have the middleman in between them.
They can talk in real time to each other, and can receive ideas, photographs and the like. It increases the artistic experience. For the release of the new album, we produced a series of podcasts about each song on the record, and we’ve got three little home made movies that will be included on the live DVD. It increased out artistic output, even if it cost a little more.
The internet is tailor made for artists. We can build communities with our fans, and keep in touch with them. We just have this need to be an open book, and tell people what we are doing all the time.”
BBC : Is it strange to have all your fans dissecting your work on a website?
“Nah, we’re used to it. I can see why a movie actor may not be used to it, but stage actors and musicians look at their audiences every night. I’ve grown up with people saying “you suck, get off the stage”. That’s no big deal. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Sometimes they’re right [laughs].”
BBC : I guess if you can’t take the criticism, you’re in the wrong business.
“That’s true. And if you’re gonna pat yourself on the back every time someone says you’re great, you should be able to take the criticism too.
BBC : And finally, you totally avoid singing on this new album. Will we ever be hearing you sing again?
“People are always asking me to sing a little bit more, but every time I go back to a record where I’ve been singing, I cannot believe I had the nerve to open my mouth [laughs]. I immediately tell myself ‘don’t ever do that again!’
I can hit the notes, but I’m not a singer. So I try to keep it at a minimum, unless I get forced into it. Maybe if I was doing a straight blues album I could write some songs to fit my limited range. Maybe the painful quality of my voice would add to the legitimacy of the blues!”