Photo: Chapman Baehler
Joe Satriani: GRAMMY.com First Listen
GRAMMY-nominated guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani is set to release a career-spanning box set, The Complete Studio Recordings, on April 22. Ahead of the set's release, GRAMMY.com has your exclusive first listen to the remastered techno mix of the GRAMMY-nominated ballad "Until We Say Goodbye." The original version of the track was featured on 2000's Engines Of Creation.
The Complete Studio Recordings contains remastered versions of each of Satriani's studio albums — from 1986's Not Of This Earth to 2013's Unstoppable Momentum — plus a compilation disc titled Additional Creations And Bonus Tracks. The set is also available via a "chrome dome" limited edition USB version, featuring all studio recordings in high-resolution audio. Satriani, a 15-time GRAMMY nominee, will couple the box set with the release of Strange Beautiful Music: A Musical Memoir. Co-authored with veteran music writer Jake Brown, the book offers deep insight into the making of each studio album and provides a snapshot of the evolution of Satriani's creative process.
In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Satriani discussed reflecting on his career with the box set and book, teaching guitarists such as GRAMMY winners Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett, and the status of his side project, Chickenfoot, among other topics.
Working on your book and remastering your catalog certainly allowed you to go back into your past quite a bit.
When Jake had first approached me about doing the book, I thought, "I'm way too young to put out a book." But he convinced me that I was completely wrong and that I should really focus on the recorded music, the way that I wrote it, and the method behind my creativity, my madness … and include all the technical stuff that the fans really want to know about and maybe the journalistic community has been shying away from because their editors are telling them [to]. We figured out a way to do it, and that was my excuse to say yes.
The last two years have definitely been about the art of carefully reflecting or, with reckless abandon, going deep into my past and trying to uncover the reasons why I recorded this or wrote that. That's been my life in constructing the book and overseeing the remastering of the catalog. It's been a very unusual way to go about my day-to-day business as a musician because most of the time I'm always pushing forward. I don't reflect back, and I'm looking to put myself in a new creative position and try something different. But instead I had to continually work on what I did in the past, which is pretty unusual. The most life-changing part of the process was that reflection, the constant reflection. When I got through with it, I finally realized I was finished and could really walk through that new door that's ahead of me. It was pretty liberating once it was done, but it was pretty heavy while I was going through it.
Your friendship with Steve Vai goes back to your teen years. You taught him as well as Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Testament's Alex Skolnick, and other well-known guitarists. Have you followed your old students to see what they're doing? Do you think that they have taken your lessons to heart?
When I hear Charlie Hunter or Alex or Kirk playing in their different bands, I have flashes of what they were like when they were 17 or 18 years old. I knew Charlie when he was 8 or 10. I flash back to those memories of when I saw the personalities just beginning to come out on their instruments and can recognize that today, so I have a special perspective on it. I don't really hear my lessons or [say], "That's my lick" or "I taught them that." They are all good enough musicians where they understood the key point of the lesson, which was, "I'm going to show you something, now you go and do something with it that represents you, something that you've reshaped into the sound that you need for this particular song or band."
Some of the guys started one way and turned into something else. Charlie Hunter is a good example of a young kid who was into rockabilly [and] not into metal like the rest of his high school friends, then he turned into this jazz monster. Kirk was in Exodus at the time and very quickly got the gig playing with Metallica when Dave Mustaine was asked to leave. That was an extremely exciting time. He was still a pretty young player, so he had so much work that he had to do and so much stuff he had to figure out. Although I don't think they knew it, they were on the cutting edge of creating a new style of music. A lot of people don't know it, but it was hard for them to get respect and to get gigs around town, but I knew it was the next big wave because all of my students loved that kind of music. It was a very interesting time to be in my teaching chair and watch kids Kirk's age and younger creating a new style of music that was going to take over the world. It was very exciting.
The whole concept of narrowcasting that emerged by the mid-'90s was very dangerous for rock radio. Only certain artists were being played ad nauseam. And there were many one-hit wonders and not enough artist development. Your generation was much more album-oriented. It was about the whole package.
You know, when I look back on it, I realized how difficult it was, how time-consuming and how much work we all put into recording [for] radio. Once we were relieved of that — that's the positive way of looking at it — suddenly there was all this time and energy that could be focused on the fans and on creating new music and forms of promotion that more suited what it was that I was doing. The Internet, although it is part curse, was an opening of a new technology that allowed me to truly go global and talk directly to the fans without having to go through hoops for other forms of radio, which was constant. I would go to all these countries and do all of these radio shows. Who knows what they wanted me to do, but it was always difficult. But now it's not. In other words, when I release a track on my site or talk about the book on my splash page now, kids in Mumbai are looking at this as well as in Santiago, Quebec City, Paris, and Amsterdam. They're all getting it at the exact same time, and I'm most likely going to be there within 12 to 18 months. That really was impossible to do back in '88 or '90, it really was. There was no Internet that allowed me to talk directly to the fans. I had to go through this gauntlet of radio and MTV, which never really gave me a free pass. So I benefited greatly from that. As the regular avenues of promotion started to close down a little bit for my style of music, what opened was far better.
Changing topics, is there any possibility of a new Chickenfoot album coming out soon?
No. I think the last six months and probably the next 12 will be the most difficult to try to get the guys in the band to get together. I was really hoping for January or February [of this year]. After the first half of the Unstoppable [Momentum] tour finished up in late October, I left six months open to see if we could record something, but it didn't happen. I'm not sure when it's going to happen.
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)