Joe Satriani Discusses His Most Heartfelt Album Yet
GW It’s certainly understandable. You went through a very emotional time with the death of your mother. If that hadn’t happened, do you feel you would have made a different kind of record?
SATRIANI Yeah. Absolutely. I don’t know what kind, but it wouldn’t have been this record. It wouldn’t have had “Littleworth Lane” or “Two Sides to Every Story,” I can tell you that. You know, whenever you go through an event like that, it changes you profoundly. And to try to ignore that, to say to myself, No, I’m supposed to make a “happy” kind of record because that’s what I do, it would have been a lie. Her death…it still feels strange to talk about her in the past tense…it impacted the whole record. Which isn’t to say it’s a mournful album, but it’s one from the heart. As a writer and certainly as a guitar player, it made me try to do more with less.
In the past, I probably would’ve floored everything a bit more. This time, I was really looking at the songs and searching for the spaces and saying, “Did I say it here? Do I need to put in more? Has the message come through?” I was applying a bit more restraint as a guitarist, but hopefully in a way that allows the songs to work the way they’re intended.
GW When you say “restraint,” that shouldn’t be mistaken for “holding back.”
SATRIANI No, because “holding back” implies something totally different. What I was trying to do was get more bang for the buck. I was trying to play less and say more, so in that way, I wasn’t trying to hold back. In fact, I was trying to give more. But again, I wanted to make as honest a record as I could, and I think that’s established from the very first song, “Premonition.” It’s interesting, because without me even thinking about it as I wrote it—and that song, too, started out as a potential Chickenfoot song—it served as the perfect album opener. Originally, it didn’t have such a dark, minor-key melody; I rewrote it and explored the ominous nature of it all. I do a bit of shredding on it—
GW Oh! There’s that word—“shred.” [laughs]
SATRIANI [laughs] Yeah, well, it just needed to build. I was thinking for a second, Ooh, too many notes. But Mike Fraser said, “I’m using that pass, Joe. That’s the one.”
GW It has a great breakdown section, that gritty little riff.
SATRIANI Thanks. That, too, was left over from when I thought it was going to be a Chickenfoot song. Those kinds of parts work well for that band.
GW Your guitar tone on “Premonition,” and on a lot of the songs, in fact, is very different than on your previous albums. It’s fatter, in some ways.
SATRIANI It is. I was trying to get away from what I had done in the past. Although I was still trying to sound like myself. I didn’t want to sound like somebody else entirely. But part of that, too, was just serving the nature of the composition and giving it what it needed. Because the song is called “Premonition,” it called for something heavier, fatter, more…dangerous.
GW Going back to shredding, you pull out the stops on “God Is Crying.”
SATRIANI Yeah, I do. That song is just an explosion of emotion, really. I know this sounds all heavy, but I was thinking about God—the whole concept of God, actually. Where is he? Why do we need him? So many questions. And then I started thinking…see, this is going to sound so heavy…but I started to think, What would happen if God came down to earth? Not just as a spirit, but really came down here physically and walked around and took a look at what we’ve done to the world. And all I could think was, he would cry. He wouldn’t be too pleased at what we’d done with the planet.
Anyway, musically, it’s got some big rock moments, but they’re not there for superficial impact; they’re there for real drama. That’s going to be an amazing song to play live.
GW Tell me about “Dream Song” and how it actually came to you in a dream.
SATRIANI That was amazing. I was having a dream, and in the dream was this song. I wasn’t playing the song in the dream, but I could hear the song—it was all right there, pretty much complete. I woke up and told my wife, Rubina, “I just dreamed a whole song. I have to go downstairs and work on it right now.” And that’s what I did. I started with the melody and the chord changes and the groove—Pro Tools is great!—and then I put on a gritty rhythm part. The wah-wah guitar opener that floats through the tune came later. I tried to not make it so “Shaft”-like; I knew I had to come up with a different kind of pattern. I thought it was just an opener, but Mike Fraser convinced me to keep it going.
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