A Conversation with Joe Satriani
Mike Ragogna: Joe, the last time we spoke, we talked about your box set that was released through Sony and since then, you've released the album Shockwave Supernova. So you're taking all this music on tour now?
Joe Satriani: Yeah, and it's good to be back out on tour again. Performing is amazing. Even if it's fun to have a little vacation now and then, one of those things that's always on my mind is, "When am I going to get out and run around the boards again?"
MR: For many, the opinion is we've become so fixated on studio-made product that artists slave over when it's really the live experience, the musician spending time interacting with their audience, that may be more important.
JS: Yeah, it's a funny thing that happens from time to time, there's a disconnect between the musician's experience making the music and then what the audience hears. It comes to mind that let's say back in the days of the first 78s that were manufactured, or even worse than that, those Edison cylinders. Musicians would be in the room and it would sound absolutely amazing to be right there with a full orchestra, but someone would make a recording of it and they would listen back and go, "What the hell is that?" Some horrible, super low fidelity, scratchy-sounding thing and they probably thought, "Oh this isn't going anywhere. Who's going to listen to that?" But it goes to show you that people will love music and they'll get over the sound quality of it. They're picking up something else, the soul that's behind the recording. So I never think of it that way because when I'm in the studio, of course, we're recording, even if we're doing digital recording. We're at 96k and it sounds absolutely amazing. I know that me and the other guys in the room are listening to the best version of it ever. Once it gets on the internet, it'll be squished down to something that can be passed around, and it's kind of sad in a way. But you're right, our chance to redeem the whole thing is to go out and do it live in front of people and give them the three-sixty, one hundred percent performance where it sounds amazing, it looks amazing, and they can interact with us and we can interact with them.
MR: I'm sure you're able to emulate a lot of the live Joe Satriani experience when you're recording, as well. But the live experience unfolds those MP3s.
JS: Yeah, yeah. I think one of the most important things to remember is that your audience is in a very special place to inform you as to the true magic of your music. I know it sounds funny, but let's say in the process of me writing a song I get inspired about something and I turn it into a reality in the studio. After that, I kind of give it up to the audience, and if they like it I think they're the ones who truly understand what it is, more so than myself. I need to be receptive to that, to what they're giving back to me. In that way it makes the recording simply a step. It's just a step in the process of me getting an inspiration to them and them throwing it back to me. Then I can sort of liberate myself from any shortcomings from the recording. I often tell people if [someone] called one day and said, "Hey Joe, I've got a recording of Mozart, can you believe it? I didn't know they could record back then," we'd listen to it, no matter what it was. If you said, "Yeah, it was recorded on birch bark and they used a bird beak to etch it in there," we wouldn't care. We'd just listen and go, "Oh my God, listen to that, it's Mozart!" I think that's just our nature. Our brains get over whatever the obstacle is in terms of the audio quality, whatever it might be and we just sort of automatically, and without thinking about it, search out the soul of the music. That searching, that recognition, that is the bond, I think, between the artist and their fans.
MR: You brought up Edison cylinders. You know that in the old days, they didn't mass produce recordings, each one was a unique, one-of-a-kind record.
JS: Amazing, huh? I was just at an old shop the other day and I was looking at one of those Edison cylinder recording devices, it's just amazing. So mechanical. Just a little crank motor and a flywheel and that big metal horn with a nail on the end of it.
MR: My parents grew up in Manhattan, and when they were kids they went to Coney Island to a recording booth that popped out little acetate recordings of whatever you did in the booth. In the last couple of years, Neil Young recorded an album for his mother on one of those machines to emulate the spirit of what went into that kind of recording.
JS: That's fantastic. Do those recordings that your parents made survive today?
MR: Sadly, only one of them singing "White Christmas." But it's a cherished possession since they're both gone.
JS: It's wonderful that you have that.
MR: Thanks Joe. So about your Surfing To Shockwave tour, I'm looking at the list of dates I only see like one day off. How are going to do you do that? You ARE the Silver Surfer, aren't you!
JS: [laughs] We generally do eight to nine weeks at a run, there's not a whole lot of singing, so I can play six or seven shows a night. I think I'm only singing one song at the moment. It's something we love to do, and it's more fun when you make it more concentrated, because once you get the momentum going. You really don't want to stop. That's the fun thing about it. In general, we go out for about two years around a record, but we do break it up. Like I said, it's eight to nine weeks, and then we take anything from two to three to six weeks off before we start up again. The guys in the band have other projects that they're doing. My drummer Marco Minnemann and my bass player Bryan Beller are two thirds of The Aristocrats, they just finished a show in Israel two nights ago and they're on their way to the first city, Seattle, on this tour. Mike Keneally, my keyboard player, has been working on a solo record and working with a few other artists. I always have to break up the tours to make room for their other endeavors, and also mine, whether it's Chickenfoot or something else I have to do.
MR: And we can't forget how Steve Vai has to join you every once in a while, too.
JS: Yes, he has to.
MR: See...his taking lessons from you was like a deal with the devil!
JS: Yes. [laughs]
MR: When you go on the road, aren't you taking these tracks beyond what you did in the studio? Do you feel like they evolve into something new by the time you're done with them?
JS: Oh wow, yeah. I'm reminded of a comment that Mike Keneally said somewhere towards the end of the first one we did. We started this tour last year in Europe and we were talking about the title track. We start the show with that song, "Shockwave Supernova." He looked at me and he said, "You know, every time you play that, you play it so incredibly different. It's true. I'd been searching for the most interesting way to play that song. When you have recordings where it's basically an ensemble bit--it might be one guitar, then joined by two, and then there's six guitars. You've got a bunch of things, ideas, and guitar parts that you have to somehow distill into one powerful live performance, and I have been doing exactly what you said. Every night, I play that thing a little bit differently, and when I'm at home and I've been just practicing, I keep thinking, "Well I could do it like this or I could do it like that," I can promise you that song will keep changing.
MR: A lot of bands play their music on stage exactly how they played it in the studio because they assume the fans want a reproduction of what they hear on the record.
MR: And with you in particular, when a live CD or a Blu-ray is released, fans see these familiar songs played in a pretty different way.
JS: I think so. To a certain extent, you want to listen to what the fans are asking for, but I believe that ultimately the fan wants the artist to just be themselves. They want to be surprised. They know what they like, they know what they don't like, but at the same time I don't think they want to control you, really, because that takes all the surprise out of it, outside of the general mechanics of, "If this is your most popular song by a factor of twenty then you'd be kind of an idiot not to play it live, right?" Those things are the most obvious. But I think you do have to show up being very excited about being there, and that means that you've got to be pleasing yourself. The band has to feel good about what they're playing and how they're doing it, and you hope for the best. You hope that the fans are going to be pleasantly surprised and go, "Wow, I didn't think that I'd like the song done that way, but now that I've heard it and those guys put so much spirit into it, I really love it." I tend to think more like, make it an artistic expression, a really great live performance, don't think about the DVD or whatever medium it is that's happening at the moment because, ultimately, that'll spoil it. It's not our job to try and control what people like or don't like. They're going to do whatever they want and we have no control over it. What you should do is go out there and have a great time, feel that you're doing something artistically valid, and do your best to put on the best show possible and accept how the fans take it.
MR: What about the reverse? What are the fans doing that's changing your live performances?
JS: I think any time that an audience gives you indications that they're with you--which is a fancy way of saying they're yelling and screaming and clapping and you can tell they're interacting with you, they're clapping--that just makes you play better, without a doubt. When you get a dead audience, it starts to irk the band. There are so many millions of stories out there where a band comes off the stage and they go, "Man, what was wrong with that audience? They just sat there." I've got to say, my particular show is rather unique. It is ninety-nine percent instrumental. I do realize that when I do go to certain cities and countries that people like to express themselves in different ways. Some people are very vocal; they love to scream and shout and clap along right from the beginning of the show to the end. Other audiences prefer to be very quiet and respectful and they close their eyes and your music takes them to some spiritual place. I don't try to change the way an audience feels they want to react to your music or participate. As a matter of fact, I'm very well sensitized to that whole thing because I've been doing this for a very long time and I got into it rather by accident. In the beginning of 1988, I started a career as a rock instrumentalist. I had no experience at it, I didn't know what to do. I was always in a rock band with singing and suddenly, there I am. I'm over thirty years old and I've got a whole new career and every night was a new night, figuring out what to do. It was very interesting. But that same year, I was playing with Mick Jagger, so I knew, "Wow, this is different." When I'm on stage with Mick, this is a whole different kind of show than when I go and I start to play "Hordes Of Locusts" or "Always With Me, Always With You" or "Satch Boogie" or something like that. It's a different kind of reaction you're going to get from the audience than if you're playing "Satisfaction."
MR: Did you tour with the Stones as well or for Mick Jagger's solo career?
JS: With his solo career. In January of '88, I started my very first solo tour to promote "Surfing With The Alien" with a trio. Within the first two and a half, three weeks of that tour, I got a call, as I was heading towards New York City to play The Bottom Line, to audition for Mick's solo band. I got the gig so I sort of cut my tour short by a week. I was with Mick for about two months. February and March of that year, we went to Japan. Then I went off and toured for about another six months and then I met up with Mick and the guys again and toured Australia, New Zealand, did a show in Jakarta...that would've been like September through early November. I think it was during his one and only solo tour that year.
MR: Looking back, since your first few years of touring, what changed most about your approach to performing live?
JS: It's very different. That first set of shows that we did in January of '88, we were doing two shows a night in clubs that held under a thousand people. Sometimes six hundred people. That's a very different show. Small stages... You can't move around; you certainly can't jump because the ceilings are low. No production whatsoever, just a guy somewhere with red, yellow, blue lights hanging above your head. One of the things that people don't realize is that as "Surfing With The Alien" got more and more popular, even though the record was hot and I was in Rolling Stone and I was on the charts for an enormous amount of time that year, there's a lag before the promoters even here in the US took you seriously and thought that you could sell some tickets. So even when I was in the top thirty, I was still playing very small theaters and clubs and working extremely hard. When you play in front of a small audience, you put on a different show. You don't act like you do if you're playing at the Tokyo Dome, that would be ridiculous. You'd look like an idiot. So in every show you do, the appropriate thing is to reach the people that are there. You don't want to overdo it, and certainly, as Mick once said when we were playing the Tokyo Dome, "This is the kind of gig where waving to the people in the back is probably more important than playing those extra few notes, because they can't hear them anyway." He was right; it's all about connecting to the audience. They won't notice if you've thrown in twenty extra notes, because it's a bit of a blur, the sound. They will notice, however, if you wave and point and look and take the time to recognize that they've come. I look at it that way. Every show is just as important as the last one, but you go out there and you say, "Okay, what's the shape of this place? How many people are here? What do I have to do to reach everybody?"
MR: This is a major concert tour for you, right? Where do you go from something like that?
JS: First of all, you don't think about. It's one thing at a time. I think that the healthiest way to do it is once you make a record, you don't really look back. You go on tour, you play it, and you just keep writing new stuff. There are plenty of great things from great artists over time that you can repeat to yourself. There's this really good quote, I'd have to paraphrase it. "Don't think about what people think about your art. While they're deciding whether they like it or not, you just make more." That's a really good Andy Warhol way of looking at things. Don't get caught up on how people are reviewing or criticizing, just keep moving forward. Let them decide. Their job is to critique and your job is to make, so just get on with it. That's the right way to do it, because that'll freak you out. As a matter of fact, it's funny, in my home many years ago, I took down the platinum awards, the gold awards... I put them away because I just didn't want to see them anymore. It was just getting too voluminous, and all it does it remind you of what you did yesterday and I didn't really want to be reminded. I think I want a home that is about other people's art and other things, not about some funny little quantizing of some achievement I've had in the past. I have to think about today, and that's all I think about.
MR: Joe, what advice do you have for new artists?
JS: I always tell any aspiring artist or musician to be prepared for good luck. That's the easiest way of saying practice hard, do the best that you can all the time, even if it seems like no one's listening or looking. When good luck comes your way, you have to be ready. If you're not, it just goes to the next guy. That's the way it is. There's no justice or reward in the entertainment industry whatsoever. Stuff just happens and if you're ready, you can take advantage of it. On a practical note, it means practice everything, learn everything, know everything, be prepared, make stuff, keep making albums even though maybe you just write them down because maybe you don't have any money to produce them. But have them ready because once that moment comes by where someone says, "Hey, what have you got?" and you've got something to show them and they like it, BAM, you're there. But if you've been sitting around waiting for somebody to ask you to come up with something, that means you've got to start from the ground up, and by then, they've moved on to somebody else.
MR: What about you? What was the best advice you ever received?
JS: You know, Lennie Tristano gave me a long speech about living in the subjunctive mode. He said kids in the suburbs were always worried about what they should've played, could've played, and would've played but they never played what they want to play. He said to me, "Only play what you want to play." [laughs] That's some sort of twisted Bebop Zen way of looking at life and I've just tried to adhere to that as much as possible.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
March 11 / Laurie Auditorium / San Antonio, TX
March 12 / Orpheum Theater / New Orleans, LA
March 14 / Iron City / Birmingham, AL
March 15 / Saenger Theatre / Pensacola, FL
March 16 / Parker Playhouse / Ft. Lauderdale, FL
March 17 / Ruth Eckerd Hall / Clearwater, FL
March 18 / Hard Rock Live / Orlando, FL
March 19 / Florida Theatre / Jacksonville, FL
March 21/ Carolina Theatre / Durham, NC
March 22 / Knight Theater / Charlotte, NC
March 23 / Symphony Hall / Atlanta, GA
March 24 / The National / Richmond, VA
March 25 / Sandler Center / Virginia Beach, VA
March 26 / Orpheum Theatre / Boston, MA
March 29 / College Street Music Hall / New Haven, CT
March 30 / Capitol Theatre / Port Chester, NY
March 31 / The Vets / Providence, RI
April 1 / Tilles Center / Brookville, LI
April 2 / Lincoln Theatre / Washington, DC
April 4 / Count Basie Theatre / Red Bank, NJ
April 6 / Keswick Theatre / Glenside, PA
April 7 / Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom / Hampton Beach, NH *
April 8 / Danforth Music Hall / Toronto, Ontario
April 9 / UAB Center for the Arts / Buffalo, NY
April 10 / Hard Rock / Cleveland, OH
April 12 / Carnegie Music Hall / Pittsburgh, PA
April 13 / Fillmore Detroit / Detroit, MI
April 14 / Pabst Theatre / Milwaukee, WI
April 15 / Chicago Theatre / Chicago, IL
April 16 / The Fitzgerald Theatre / St. Paul, MN
April 17 / Fargo Theatre / Fargo, ND *
April 21 / Grey Eagle Event Centre / Calgary
April 22 / River Creek Casino / Enoch, AB
April 24 / Hard Rock Casino / Vancouver, BC *
FREAKS AND GEEKS GEEKS OUT
Shout Factory! will be releasing a new Blu-ray, Collector's Edition of the much loved and sorely missed TV series Freaks And Geeks. Considered one of the best shows on television at the time--and certainly an inspiration for shows that followed--Freaks And Geeks was, if not the launching pad, the first great showcase for the talents of James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jason Siegel, Linda Cardellini, and even Judd Apatow. This '80s high school send-up with its cast of goofballs was cancelled after only 18 episodes, putting it in a class with Firefly, My So Called Life, and another Seth Rogan comedy, Undeclared. For those unfamiliar with the series, think of it as The Wonder Years' followup with virtually none of the drama but all of the awkwardness on steroids.
Below is a quick, behind the scenes morsel to digest followed by the list of luv Shout Factory! put into this over-the-top reissue...
FREAKS AND GEEKS CONTENT:
- NEW conversation with Creator Paul Feig and Executive Producer Judd Apatow
- All 18 episodes remastered from new 4K scans of the original camera negatives preserved in both the original aspect ratio (1.33:1) and an all-new enhanced widescreen format (1.78:1).
- Special features disc, complete with all extras from both The Complete Series DVD set (2004) and The Yearbook Edition set (2008)
- 29 commentaries from show producers, studio executives, cast members, crew and fans
- Over two hours of audition footage and deleted scenes from every episode
- Outtakes, bloopers and alternate takes from every episode
- Behind-the-scenes footage
HOBART W. FINK'S "NEVER DOUBT" EXCLUSIVE
Disaffected rockers Hobart W. Fink share “Never Doubt,” their energized new video. Just in time for the band’s appearance at SXSW 2016, Hobart W Fink’s “Never Doubt” features breath-taking vistas of Costa Rica that match perfectly with the song. Lead singer Jayk Gallagher carries viewers with him as he ziplines through the jungle, basks on tropical beaches, and rubs elbows with hummingbirds, pumas, and bulls. The song is taken from their recently released The Post Hummus EP. The band are just about to embark on a West Coast tour.
LUCKY JUKEBOX BRIGADE'S "LITTLE FANGS" EXCLUSIVE
According to Deanna DeLuke...
"'Little Fangs' is a song about feeling like something is missing and desperately trying to get it back. It could be someone you love, a place where you once felt at home, a part of yourself that got lost...anything that means something to you deep down. We tried to get that across in the video using 40 strands of lights and some random objects I found in the trunk of my car. It's based on the idea that when you really want something, you end up living in parallel universes. You see the way things are, and you see the way you want things to be, and you exist somewhere in between. We're trying to say that you can shape your reality. Be your own pineapple, pretty much."
For more info: http://luckyjukeboxbrigade.bandcamp.com/
VANDELLA'S "A FEELING I'D FORGOTTEN" EXCLUSIVE
According to Vandella...
"We're very tight-knit, so when our drummer Dan was planning to propose to his girlfriend, we all had to be a part of it. We were holed up at a cabin, surprised her post-proposal, and we celebrated all weekend. As she was gushing about him, the proposal, and all of it, she said that Dan made her feel a 'feeling (she'd) forgotten.' Chris jotted down the line 'cause he thought it sounded cool. I also have a sneaking suspicion that some psychedelics and a camping trip are also to thank for coalescing that one line into the rest of the song, but who knows."
THE BONNEVILLES' "ARROW PIERCE MY HEART" EXCLUSIVE
According to The Bonnevilles' Andrew McGibbon Jr....
"We decided to write a love album, hence the title Arrow Pierce My Heart, but we aren’t balladeers so it ended up littered with our usual topics--death, rising from the dead, murders, drinking, drugs, sex, revenge and more revenge, but that’s ok.
"Because we’re Irish, which isn’t so much a race of people as it is a death cult, we deal with this stuff so you don’t have to and our idea of love is a dark love not the sickly sweet kind. Not so much roses and kittens but whiskey and shame, and that too is ok. We take our responsibility as the conduits of the Gods very seriously. The human experience is about sinning and failing; that’s where the acid is and that’s what we try to write about.
"Arrow Pierce My Heart is our third album and we think its our best one, we would say that though. It’s the new toy and therefore the shiniest, but it’s the culmination of our eight or so years doing this thing called band and we’ve got to see our baby birthed by none other than Alive Naturalsound Records. If we die tomorrow, and we could, at least we can say that."
For more info: http://thebonnevilles.co.uk
BE'S "IF YOU TRY" EXCLUSIVE
According to Be's David Hawkins...
"This song came to me a few years ago when I was going through a hard time in my life; I was heartbroken and discouraged and was playing guitar one morning and sort of wallowing in those feeling when the song came. The melancholy of the verse felt balanced by the guitar part, which is kind of buoyant and cheerful, like a joining of opposites. I liked it and it was soothing to play; it made me feel better. The next morning brought a new perspective and the chorus, with the line, 'If you try, you can.' It almost felt like encouragement from the other side or something, like the Angels in 'Wings Of Desire,' who saved people by giving them hope. And I love how the finished recording turned out, which is stripped down to its essence and captures just what I was feeling.
"For me, writing songs is kind of a combination of prayer and therapy; I do it for myself; it's personal and sacred and therapeutic. It's been a nice surprise to see my music resonating with people and having them respond to it the way they have been. It feels good that the fire that warmed me when I write a song can warm others when they hear it. Those deep emotions are universal; we all experience them and they're one of the things that connect us and make us human. And a song can take us to that deep place so easily. It's a beautiful and powerful thing, music; it can save your life. I know, because it saved mine."
Be's new album You, which features The Posies' Ken Stringfellow, will be out April 8th. For more info: www.beband.net
CANYON SPELLS' "MAGIC" EXCLUSIVE
According to Canyon Spells...
"We went back to our hometown of Baraboo, WI, to film the music video for 'Magic.' Every year we go back to the middle school and talk to the kids about songwriting, so this year we thought it might be fun to have some of our favorite kids act in a sort of karaoke contest. One of the kids, Darren, came to the shoot hyper-prepared, with at least six changes of clothes and an off-the-rack Walmart fedora. It became clear that he had something special, and we let the narrative take shape naturally."