Joe Satriani Interview

By: The Sound Guitar Magazine

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The Sound: How is your European Tour going, and what has the fan reception been like to the new material from Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards?

Joe Satriani: We have had a fantastic six weeks out here, and the new material is coming alive every night. The response has just been really great, I'm just really overwhelmed with how people have taken to this album.

The Sound: Is there a story behind the title of the new record?

Joe Satriani: Sure! As I was editing down songs for the record (which numbered about fifty), I had to really focus in on about fifteen or so, and I started to really get attracted to the ones that made up an eclectic group. So the phrase that kinda popped into my head - a phrase that I've known about for a while - black swans ... which represents something unexpected, something you don't expect to see or hear or to happen but once it does it sort of changes your view or changes the game, so to speak.

I had written it down it my book a while ago after reading it in some English literature, as I was intrigued by the phrase. So as I was looking over the list of songs I thought, "Oh, these are like my little 'black swans'," because they're maybe going to shock some people and change their opinion of me, but once they hear them it'll be the new reality of what they think of my playing.

But I thought that title would be a little severe all by itself so I wanted to attach something else to it that was the complete opposite, and as I was scrolling through the song titles, "Wormhole Wizards" kinda jumped out as having nothing to do with black swans. When I put them together they sounded like they meant something ... although they don't! [Laughs] But sometimes you put a few words together and they make you think twice, you repeat the phrase in your head a few times, and I thought that was a good enough reason to make it an album title.

The Sound: What songs from the new album have you most enjoyed playing live?

Joe Satriani: Well ... all of them! We started out playing nine songs but we found that we were simply playing too long every night, so we fooled around with dropping one song or another every night. It seems that within the last week we've pretty much settled on the setlist, and the surprise hit-- of not only the album itself but of the live shows-- is the unlikely song, "Wind in the Trees."

It's probably the least commercial song I've ever put on a record, and it's a very long song, at almost eight minutes. Plus it has a long piano solo in it, as well. But people in the audience seem to absolutely love that point in the show where we really "stretch out," and we do improvise in it quite a bit. The whole band gets involved in the improv, and that's been going over really great.

The Sound: "Longing" and "Heartbeats" are two of my personal favorite tracks off the record. What led you to release them exclusively as bonus tracks?

Joe Satriani: Well, it's really funny you should say that because I actually thought for some reason that I could have done them better. I really love those songs but I didn't see how I was going to get them to fit in with the other tracks which I felt were more sharp sounding or more polished. But I really love those songs, especially "Longing," which was a personal favorite of mine. But it's a very simple song and songs like that are very difficult to pull off because you don't have big obvious choruses and solo sections ... it's sort of just one long constant statement. But the thing to know about me is that the period where I'm alone in my studio, when I'm writing these songs and recording them for the first time, that's the most special moment for me, it's what I live for. Once I introduce it to a band and we start bringing it out into the real world, it's always then somewhat diluted for me, or just not the same as that moment where I hear it back for the first time in its demo stage. So I felt that I somehow didn't give good enough instructions to everyone, or didn't come up with a final icing on the cake to make that song really sparkle, but I am very happy to hear that you like it!

The Sound: Did you use the Ibanez JS2400 during the recording of Black Swans, and are you touring with it currently?

Joe Satriani: Yeah, actually I kept a small stable of guitars for this record! I didn't use like thirty or forty instruments. I used the two JS2400'S I had, and I also had a JS1200 with a Sustainiac pickup in it. Those did ninety percent of the work on the album.

The Sound: Could you talk a little a bout the development of your newest VOX pedal, the Ice 9 overdrive?

Joe Satriani: Yeah! I've been a big fan of general overdrive pedals over the years. The thing about an overdrive pedal is that it's not a distortion pedal, so it doesn't give you that full-on replication of... let's say, an amplifier turned to ten. It's more about trying to get that perfect amount of warm breakup out of a small vintage-style amp. What players who get bigger sounds realize is that you can use it as that thing that takes you to eleven. You know, if your amp is set up to sound perfect at ten, but you need just "one more step" as they say in Spinal Tap! The thing that works about those overdrive pedals is that they have a little bit of clean signal mixed in, so they can boost you as well as add in that overdrive effect.

So what I did for the Ice 9'S development is take all of my favorite vintage overdrive pedals and try to see what I liked and didn't like about each of them. We then eliminated the problems, increased anything we thought was a good quality, and said, "Let's make a pedal that's more dependable, more consistent, and gives you two different approaches to the sound." In that regard, we have two different levels of gain built in, right at the touch of your feet. So I think that the Ice 9 is the definitive update to all of the older Tube Screamers and various other overdrive pedals that have been out there for the last thirty years.

The Sound: This year saw the release of your solo DVD, "Live in Paris," as well as Chickenfoot's "Get Your Buzz On" live DVD. Do you have any plans to do a future solo DVD featuring the material from BSA WW?

Joe Satriani: Well, when we hit the road we're always approached by a lot of people who want to film us, so we're sort of wading through those ideas right now and seeing if it's something we want to do.

The Sound: Are there any new gear developments you can talk about?

Joe Satriani: Marshall is probably the most exciting thing! I left Peavy a year ago and I started working with Marshall again. We now have a couple of prototypes for a new signature amp, and they're out with us on tour right now and are sounding really great. So we're hoping that maybe in about ten to twelve months we will have a Joe Satriani Marshall amp ready for retail!

The Sound: Do you foresee the eventual return of the G3 Tour? If so, who are some of the guitarists you would like to potentially play alongside in the future?

Joe Satriani: We're definitely planning here in the G3 headquarters, but it might be a year off. I'm still talking the Jeff Beck every year, trying to convince him that he's got to do one! [Laughs] ... And I'll keep calling Eddie Van Halen, but I can't promise you that he's ever going to say yes!

The Sound: Do you already have most of the material composed for Chickenfoot's follow-up, and is the band still planning to return to the studio at the beginning of next year?

Joe Satriani: Yeah, actually, at the end of January we're booked! Engineer Mike Frazier will be joining us, and the original line-up will get together. We have fourteen songs sitting with Sammy right now, so he's working on melodies and lyrics. But I'll probably bring a few more in once we get together.

The Sound: Tell us about a slightly lesser-known project, the Little Kids Rock charity! Most recently, you contributed a very unique item to their auction fundraiser. Could you tell us about that?

Joe Satriani: It's a great charity; they basically find schools that are under duress because of budget cuts and that need a music program, and they provide instruments, help out with curriculum ... and we make it happen! It's a great charity with fantastic organizational skills that really help people out. There's another one called Music in Schools Today. It's another U.S. charity that does a fantastic job, and I've worked with them as well. They can go into a school that has had its music program cut, and they can bring in the funding, the instruments, manuscript and pencils or whatever is needed, and truly get that program started up again.

The Sound: Any advice for players who are just starting to play guitar and music?

Joe Satriani: Sure! Of course, you have to practice a lot, so I would say to spend a good amount of time a day memorizing all the things you know deep in your heart that you have to memorize, and don't put it off. Get that work done with because once you memorize it you never have to again. For those wanting to play for a living, I would recommend you go out and get the book called This Business of Music. I's published by Billboard Press, and they put a new one out every year. Read that cover to cover so you understand what you're getting yourself involved in.

The Sound: The official music video for "Light Years Away" was just released. Could you tell our readers a little about the making of the new video?

Joe Satriani: Yeah, it's funny, that video started out with one idea, we just wanted to create some film for the background of the live show, and as we got close to the point completing it, we had the idea that we could turn it into a regular video just for fun, something we could float on Y ouTube. So Jon Luini got hold of the footage that our live director had put together, and edited it together with two or three live performances that we had done in the U.S. and in Europe. So now it's a pretty cool, trippy looking piece of video.

The Sound: Thanks a lot for your time, Joe! We look forward to catching you live on your upcoming North American tour!

Joe Satriani: I can't wait to get back stateside, it's going to be great!