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Joe Satriani’s Gearbox
Ibanez JS prototype with DiMarzio pickups, Ibanez JS2400, ’55 Gibson Les Paul, ’58 Fender Esquire, ’59 Gibson ES-335, Rickenbacker, Deering banjo, Ovation 12-string, Gibson Jimmy Page No. 1 Les Paul
Marshall JVM 410 Joe Satriani Signature Model, ’53 Fender Deluxe, ’59 Fender Twin
Electro-Harmonix POG, Vox Big Bad Wah, Vox Time Machine, Voodoo Lab Proctavia, Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
D’Addario .010–.046, D’Addario .011 sets on some vintage guitars, Planet Waves signature picks (heavy), Planet Waves signature straps, Planet Waves cables
Joe, with this band, do you
feel Eddie’s shadow lingering
over the music?
Satriani: It was obvious that, at least for me, I’m not going to try and recreate the over-playing heroics of the ’80s that was pioneered really by Eddie. Nobody can do it, really, like Eddie. So why would you do it?
Anthony: I don’t want Joe to do anything like Eddie Van Halen or sound like him. We get enough comparisons to Van Halen the way it is [laughs]. People on the internet are like, “Chickenfoot III...they’re jabbing at Van Halen III.” I have to laugh at these references— they’ll make them musically, too. I’m thinking, “Do these people sit around all day long and try to find one note that Joe has in common with Eddie and just go off on it?”
Joe, on this record you seem
to play less technically than
someone might expect, given
the band’s lineage.
Satriani: That can be said for everybody in the band. Sammy can try to sing higher than he did with Van Halen, although I can’t imagine trying to sing higher than that [laughs]. Chad can try to be funkier than he is with the Chili Peppers and, as you mentioned, I can try to do flashier, more outside stuff, but that’s so calculated and so wrong to me. It’s the antithesis of why we got together.
Anthony: Obviously, when you have a lead singer, you don’t have to be playing notes every second. So now Joe doesn’t have to play the melody and everything all the time on the guitar. I know he enjoys doing all the rhythmic stuff, too, and not just being the guy playing the lead all the time. Maybe he is making his own conscious effort to kind of hold back on the album. All I can say to that is that people should come see us live—Joe’s on fire.
Joe, your older stuff like Not
of this Earth is more cerebral,
whereas this is more feelgood,
jam music. Is it hard to
Satriani: No, it’s not. I know that it seems odd from the outside looking in. Twenty-four hours in the day of Joe Satriani, there are so many different kinds of music running through my head, and if I’m hanging around at home I play lots of different stuff. Stuff that you would never release or you wouldn’t want people to hear because they wouldn’t know what you were or what kind of stylistic box to put you in.
But that’s typical for the way that a musician thinks. An artist is just simply being artistic, so when they see a mandolin, they start playing some mandolin music. Someone says, “Check out this piano,” they sit down and they play whatever piano music they know or like at that moment. We’re always hopping stylistic fences or at least, I should say, I am. I’m always playing lots of different things on an average day at home playing music. When you’re making an album you can’t do that. It’s very difficult to have a career based on being scattered stylistically.
But you’re the guy who
whipped rock guitarists of the
’80s into getting serious about
learning music theory and
studying the enigmatic scale
and pitch axis, among other
things, and now it’s back to
the basic blues scale. Isn’t that
quite a contrast?
Satriani: It is. That’s a really good question you’re asking and the answer is quite profound for someone like me who started out knowing absolutely nothing and, little by little, learning from very gifted and patient teachers. What I’ve arrived at, which is what all musicians arrive at once they get through all the learning, is that a three-note scale doesn’t carry any more extra weight than a 12-note scale. Whether a scale is called Lydian Dominant or whether it’s called blues, it doesn’t mean one is better than the other.
A complicated arrangement is not necessarily better than a simple arrangement. It’s just music and what matters is whether it’s powerful—does it move people? Does it move you, the artist? So it’s really great when you arrive at that point and generally you can’t, until you actually know all of it. I’ve been as good a student as I can possibly be all these years. So I can say, “Yeah, I can play harmonic minor scales harmonized in any way that you want, in any key, anywhere on the guitar.” None of that phases me anymore. So that means that everything’s equal. I’m not impressed by complications.
Joe, Chickenfoot’s music is
definitely less complex than
a lot of your own music. No
Satriani: Well, Sammy’s always dogging me about two things. He wants me just to go crazy. He doesn’t want me to work things out, and he’s always trying to convince me that commercial success is a good thing. My success is based on being under the radar, so it’s natural for me to go for the odd, not the accessible. The joke in the band is that whenever we’re working on a song that we think might have some commercial success, it’s guaranteed to put me in a bad mood and I’ll want to stop working on it.
“Different Devil” comes to
mind as one with a commercial
Satriani: I think the worst mood I was ever in with Chickenfoot was when we recorded that song. When I brought the song in it was about 90-percent finished and I thought it could be a really good and weird song—the typical way I think of things. I bring it in and everybody starts tidying it up, and then I start to think, “Hey, it sounds like you guys want to make this an accessible piece of music.” And I’m bumming out about it.
Later Chad took my acoustic guitar back to the hotel room. He shows up the next morning with a new part to the song and Sammy hears it and says, “I could sing a chorus over that.” So we insert it into the arrangement, and after awhile I’m going, “They’re right, this is actually sounding pretty good.” And so we built up the track until the end of the day. Then over the next couple of weeks as we’re doing the overdubs, I started to realize that the melody Sammy’s singing doesn’t actually go with the chords that Chad wrote for the chorus part. So I had to go and listen to Sammy’s vocals without guitars and bass, and figure out melodically what he thought he was singing over harmonically. Once I realized what he was singing over in his mind, I had to go find those chords.