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Interview: Joe Satriani - Into the Wormhole

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Interview: Joe Satriani - Into the Wormhole
Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards is the new record by Joe Satriani. It’s a melodic groove fest that blends the stuff fans really like with elements they’ve wanted to hear more of: High octane guitar playing, a looser rhythm section, and group interaction. Joe’s name is on the cover, but he gets an invaluable assist from producer Mike Fraser, bassist Allen Whitman, longtime drummer Jeff Campitelli, and Mike Keneally on keys.

While on hiatus from the supergroup Chickenfoot featuring Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, and Chad Smith, Satriani took some time out from the mayhem to return to the quiet refuge of his solo universe. The process for the new record evolved from home demos and ultimately morphed into a piece of work that traverses the middle ground between the soulful and the bombastic.

While past recordings touched on similar themes and textures, this new release is much more compositionally fluid and displays more depth and range as a songwriter. We’re swept away on an intergalactic flight (with comfortable seating and leg room) that guides us from the mesmerizing to the emotional. His masterfully organized tracklist glides seamlessly from epic rock, contemplative solo guitar, to Middle Eastern atmospherics and back again.

As always he brings tuneful melodies, but this time weaves slow-handed, Scofield-esque behind-the-beat phrasing, emotive gospel stylings, and a stellar band that knows how to breathe as well as rock. PG caught up with Joe the week before the album's October 5 release to learn more about how Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards came together, and the gear he’s digging right now.

How’s it going?

I’m having a good day testing chorus pedals.

Find anything good?

I like the newly-made A/DA Flanger, which isn’t really a chorus pedal, but it’s so neat sounding. It kind of covers chorus. I still like the Voodoo Lab Analog Chorus, and for some reason the Boss Super Chorus is also very clean and not noisy. It helps if you’re using distortion. If you’re not using distortion, then TC Electronic’s chorus is pretty good, along with Analog Man and Red Witch pedals. Even the Electro-Harmonix choruses are okay as long as you’re not using any distortion. Once you get gain going in the circuit, some pedals can get kind of noisy, so that always leads me back to the A/DA, the Voodoo Labs, and the Super Chorus.

You have to check out those pedals clean as well as dirty or you’ll get a weird surprise.

Yeah, basically the old bucket brigade style choruses were very noisy. They cut a lot of low end and high end out. They’ve been sort of upgraded, but as they get cleaner sounding, they lose some kind of soul. When you go from analog to digital, you get the headroom, there’s no distortion, you keep your low end, but it’s not wild and crazy like a foot pedal should be. It’s more like a studio effect. That’s kind of like what you’re always balancing with. They’re all pretty good. They all do their job, but when you’re zeroing in on just a few very important attributes, you start to see that there are some units that are better than others.

What’s been going on since you finished the record?

It’s been very busy. As soon as I finished mixing the record in Vancouver, I was back home doing Chickenfoot demos. I handed ten songs off to Sammy, then we did two shows about a week ago. That’ll be it for the rest of the year for Chickenfoot as far as shows go. Then we’re hoping to be in the studio at the end of January when my solo tour takes a break. I’m very excited about it. I think it’s going to be a great record. I can’t wait to see what Sammy decides to sing about.

Tell me about how the process began with Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards?

It started with John Cuniberti, my longtime co-producer and good friend. He came over and helped me redesign my studio. We turned my studio around 180 degrees and put up a lot of sound dampening stuff. He did a real professional job with it to get the room to be as dead as possible. I repositioned my desk, I upgraded all my Pro Tools, got a new screen, started using my Meyer HD-1, and I got rid of all my old keyboards and my V-Drum set, which is what I used to build my demos. I started doing everything with Native Instruments and BFD. It really helped my demo process.

Coming back from the Experience Hendrix tour in March, I was able to crank out lots of demos really fast. It didn’t slow down my writing process, which was what my old system was doing. The upgrade really helped. The room sounded great. I could work in it for eight or ten hours and my ears would never get tired. I wound up writing a lot of songs and had two months to get all the demos together for the guys. I wound up doing about sixty percent of the guitars or more at home, and some of the keyboard work as well.

Do you carry a little recorder around with you to catch ideas as they come to you, or do you wait until you get to your studio to make stuff up from scratch?

We’re all surrounded with digital devices now. The demo that we used for the arrangement of “Little Worth Lane” was actually recorded on my iPhone on a backstage piano on the Hendrix tour. That became the blueprint of that song. I’ve got a lot of the Zoom products like the Q3 and H4 for video as well as audio—amazing sounding audio recording device. I use that a lot.

When you have a studio in your house, it’s easy. It takes about two minutes to fire everything up and I’m recording. I record most of the guitars direct and sometimes even go through an amp. That allows me to get unusual performances recorded, and then go into a real studio and re-amp them into as many amps as I want. I can turn them up, get creative with speakers, and things like that.

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