Joe Satriani Discusses His Most Heartfelt Album Yet
GW “Solitude” is gorgeous. It sounds like you’re playing an acoustic, and there’s a great room ambience.
SATRIANI [laughs] Yeah, it does sound like that, but it’s not. I’m playing an Ibanez JS2400—the very first one, the prototype—straight into the Millennia STT-1 [preamp], and I recorded it right into Pro Tools. It’s an incredible sound. The Mo’ Joe [bridge] pickup is remarkable; it has so much depth to it. I did two passes of the song, and then I got the right take. It’s just me using three or four right-hand fingers lightly picking—there’s no tapping or anything like that. Again, and I keep going back to this, but it’s me trying to be economical and saying what I need to say.
I was working on this song called “Heartbeats,” and I was at something of a low point. “Solitude” was supposed to be the intro to “Heartbeats,” but I got into Skywalker [Studios] with the band and “Heartbeats” just wouldn’t work—everybody felt a little funny about it. But I didn’t want to lose the intro, so it became apparent to me and to everybody else that “Solitude” could stand on its on. Mike Keneally said it first, and then everybody else went, “Yeah!” I was a little nervous about it; I thought it was too naked and unadorned, but everybody fell in love with it and made me realize that it worked all by itself. This is a record where I was really taking some chances. Sometimes that’s a scary place, but oftentimes that’s where you have the greatest victories.
GW Which leads me back to “Littleworth Lane” and “Two Sides to Every Story.“ The first is pure blues, and on the second you’re playing in a very jazzy, George Benson–ish fashion.
SATRIANI But George Benson would never play that middle section, which is more…I don’t know…Pink Floyd–y meets Hendrix, because it goes into a minor key. I was just over the moon at how well those turned out. “Two Sides to Every Story” had some rhythm guitars and a solo and some Moog that I had already done, so as a band we had to play around it. We didn’t have to work on it very long, though, and the take that the band did live was the one we went with. Which is pretty remarkable. Finding rock musicians who can relax and play in that kind of time signature and sound at ease—that’s really something. This is a very special group of guys.
As far as “Littleworth Lane” goes, the melody guitars and the rhythm and the organ I had already recorded at home, so Mike was playing live piano, Allen live bass, Jeff was on live drums, and I played acoustic guitar. That’s how we tracked that one. It was a difficult song to get right. It’s a powerful song, but nobody wanted to overplay it. Getting the right take that wasn’t heavy handed was key.
GW Let’s go back to “Wind in the Trees.” Like the last two you mentioned, it’s very reflective on a personal level, but musically you went pretty crazy with it.
SATRIANI [laughs] I did. It’s a funny story. I got a call from my manager, Mick Brigden, and we started talking about popular artists and how prevalent Auto-Tune was. Then he just said, “Have you ever played your guitar through Auto-Tune, Joe?” And I told him I did on a few occasions, but nobody really noticed it. But that got me thinking: Well, what if I really went nuts with Auto-Tune? It’s like a contrarian view—because so many people have a negative view of Auto-Tune, I decided to embrace it. So I put the guitar through Auto-Tune, and I turned it to the most radical, full-on setting, and I used it as an effect. As I played the song I used the vibrato bar, and what would happen was, Auto-Tune, which was tuned to Eb, was “fixing” what I was playing, so I got this incredible effect, which really does sound like tree branches scraping against a house or windows. It’s wild! Sometimes the most innocent of ideas presents you with an opportunity to try something cool.
But yes, as you mentioned, it’s a very personal song, too. I remember when I was growing up how I used to love to look out my window in my bedroom in Long Island. It’s such a wistful memory, but I always loved watching the trees blow around in the wind and the sound they would make. Some things just stay with you, you know? [laughs] It’s funny to think that a memory like that would wind up one day with me playing my guitar through Auto-Tune!
GW What guitars did you use on the album? Were there a lot?
SATRIANI Not too many. My main guitars were the JS2400. Plus, I used an orange prototype of that guitar with an alder body, which has more of an upper midrange to it. The hallmark of the JS line, however, is the basswood body, which is more balanced tonally. I also used a blue Ibanez Strat-type prototype. I played that guitar on the Hendrix tour, but I don’t know if we’re going to go into production with it. The one acoustic that I used on “Littleworth Lane” was a 1948 Martin 000-41. And I used a JS1200 with a Sustainiac pickup on the solos to “Wind in the Trees” and “Dream Song.”
I was very intrigued by the Sustainiac, but I didn’t want to sound like other guitarists who have done so many great things with it. What I ended up doing, though, was play with a SansAmp [plugin]. I really enjoy the tactile feedback I get using that plug-in; it gives me a different kind of response, so I don’t feel as though I’m aping other guitar players who have used the Sustainiac.
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