Joe Satriani: The Human Touch
GW Let’s talk about the song “Musterion.” It started out with two chords that fascinated you.
SATRIANI That’s right. I stated playing these two chords on the piano. I’m not sure what they are, really.
GW Wait a minute. I thought you were Mr. Guitar Teacher God.
SATRIANI [laughs] Yeah, well…See, music theory isn’t a set of rules; it’s a set of parameters that offer up different ways of presenting themselves. I should know what the chords are, shouldn’t I? Hmmm. I hear both chords as being over C. You have a major seventh with a raised fourth—again, it’s a root and a minor third. On the piano, it looks cool geometrically; on the guitar, it’s different—you have some open-string muting problems. But I really liked the shape of the chords on the piano; I liked the way they looked. Because I’m not a real piano player, I get off on stuff like that. [laughs] Anyway, I love playing those chords on the guitar. They’re strange and mysterious and ominous. To me, that’s big-time!
GW It’s a very beguiling song. “Revelation,” too, has a similar quality, but it’s more soothing.
SATRIANI “Revelation” took me on a real emotional rollercoaster. It was a song I thought I was writing about one thing when, in fact, I was writing about something else. I had found out that a close friend, Steve Morse, had his father pass away rather suddenly, and it inspired me to write this piece of music. The chorus of the song is kind of an homage to Steve’s playing—all the things I love about his intricate yet simple chord patterns and arpeggiations. But as I dug deeper into the song, playing it for hours and hours a day, I realized that I was writing about my experience with my own father’s death. With that came the title, that it was a “revelation” to understand what death means, that we all go through it, and with each ending is a beginning. And that it’s about the love people leave you with, and out of that love comes the strength to keep going. That’s why the song is very cyclical. It’s like it could just go on and on.
GW Has Steve heard the song?
SATRIANI No. I’m too shy to play it for him. I don’t even know if I should be talking about it. I guess it would come up eventually.
GW When you’re writing, how much of a fight do you allow a song to give you? Sometimes songs come easily and other times you labor over them, but how much of a beating do you give them before you say it’s not working?
SATRIANI It’s song by song. I struggle with a lot of them. Each record has a handful of songs that just don’t work out. When we’re in the recording studio, it takes courage for somebody in the room to point out the gorilla in the corner and go, “Hey, you know what? I don’t think this song’s happening.” Usually, a small argument ensues, but eventually I’ll realize the same thing and move on.
GW How did your son, ZZ, come to play sax on “Professor Satchafunkilus”?
SATRIANI Well, I should say that he’s still just beginning on the instrument, but he’s learning fast. The whole thing was very simple: I went to him one day and said, “Hey, I think you should play sax on this song.” So I set up a microphone and he started improvising, and it worked out great for the intro. He did these unusual fluttering- like noises, and I was just floored. I would never have thought of such a thing. It totally rocked with the humor of the song.
GW It’s strange: Most of the album is quite serious, but you have moments of comedy that don’t feel out of place.
SATRIANI I think if you have the tone of the album right, most anything can fly. Look at the [Beatles’] White Album: You have some very serious, beautiful songs, but you have things like “Wild Honey Pie” and “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road,” and they work beautifully. A serious album doesn’t have to be this heavy, burdensome thing.
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