Satriani and Bryan Beller share a moment at the Macomb Music Theatre in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, in September 2013.
Photo by Atlas Icons / Chris Schwegler.
Was it hard to adjust to the extra two frets?
The last tour I switched between the 22 and 24 fret models. I thought it was comical that someone of my age and professionalism would be struggling because of two extra frets, but I would sometimes check in visually with the guitar and wonder, “Is that an A or a B?” I thought, “I can’t believe you spaced out like that. How long have you been playing guitar?” But starting with the Unstoppable Momentum tour I was completely comfortable with the 24 frets.
How much of the show is improvised?
In each song somebody gets an open spot. When we get to the end of “Unstoppable Momentum” we know it’s Marco’s spot to do whatever he wants. He is a great improviser and does different stuff every night. For my guitar solos, I like to identify the most important part, like in “Surfing with the Alien,” where the solo starts with a half-step trill up at C# when we modulate into the Phrygian Dominant mode. If you start that solo any other way it is a bit of a letdown, it’s like a part of the song’s composition. I make sure I hit those keystones. When I’m recording I’m looking for those wonderful moments that become the personality of that solo and song. The solo then belongs to that song—I don’t do that half-step trill in any other song. In “Jumpin’ In” the solo is mainly me having fun with pedals. I always use the same pedals—the octave unit, an extra delay, and the Whammy pedal—but the notes are always improvised.
How do the live arrangements differ from the record?
In the beginning, I had never fronted a band playing instrumental music before. We improvised a lot because we didn’t have that much material. There were some songs we couldn’t do because they were so keyboard or rhythm guitar heavy. I learned on those first two tours that it wasn’t as much about trying to recreate the album as trying to make the album better somehow. Every time I have a new album I identify the most essential parts. That might mean asking Mike Keneally to recreate what he did on the record, other times we might completely reinvent the tune for the stage.
Do you mark off places on the stage to guarantee feedback?
Oh, there is no guarantee. [Laughs.] If you’ve seen the Saturated movie, you know that. The director wanted me to stand in a particular place for the 3-D camera and as soon as we started the show I was getting the wrong feedback note. That said, since I don’t use in-ear monitors I have the wedges for feedback reinforcement.
Joe Satriani plays the title track from his 2013 album, Unstoppable Momentum, on his Ibanez JS2410 in Muscle Car Orange.
Why the book and retrospective now?
Because I was asked. Jake Brown wanted to do it along the lines of his others, which were interview style. We spent a year focusing only on the studio records, no live records or biographical stuff. When we found a publisher, they wanted it more first person and autobiographical. It took another year for me to write it as if I was talking to the reader.
I assume it will be available as an audio eBook?
Yes, we’re going to have music start off each chapter. We need to find the right voice, someone whose delivery doesn’t get in the way of the story—though I started out thinking it should be Nigel Tufnel [laughs]. Another thing that came up was video content. There is a lot of film John Cuniberti took back in 1989, like me laying down the solo for “Can’t Slow Down.” You would only be able to access it through the eBook.
The idea of the remastered box set started a little before the book. Once we got Sony and the publisher together it really started to happen. It took a long time, but that worked out well, as we were able to include Unstoppable Momentum in both the box set and book, which really brings it up to date. It was Sony’s idea to put the USB drive in a chrome head. It’s pretty weird when you hold a mold of your own head in your hands.