Joe Satriani Opens Up in His First Guitar World Interview from 1987
After five years of club dates and opening-act slots, Satriani decided to split the Squares for his own career. The result was his first LP, Not Of This Earth. It was not exactly an overnight success story, as Satriani tells it:
"It was in the can for about a year-and-a-half, basically It was done in the first four months of 1985, mastered and ready to go in June. Then while the contract was being mulled over, I got the offer to join Greg Kihn. On a musical level, that was great; they're a great American rock 'n' roll band. I'd known Steve Wright, the bass player, for many years, and they had asked me to join the band two years earlier, but I turned them down because I thought the Squares were going somewhere.
"Of course, right after that Greg Kihn became extremely popular, had two Number 1 hits [laughs ]. This time, it came at a better time. I wasn't doing anything, I didn't know if anyone was going to pick up my record, and I was heavily in debt, because I had recorded the record on a credit card. A company in Virginia had sent me one in the mail, somehow knowing that Joe Satriani wanted to do a record and needed it [laughs].
"So the tour helped me out of debt and as well provided a whole new experience of playing live. This was a different league, and he paced a show differently. Plus the combination of Steve Wright on bass and Tyler on drums was great; Pat Mosca and I were free to roam all around musically.
"During the time I was out on the road with him there were petty hassles and delays with the record so that it took 11 months before it was released. But in retrospect, it was perfect timing. The company's been promoting it well, people have been responding to it, and so for a record that I thought I was gonna press a few hundred copies of and then go my merry way, it turned out all right."
A brief tour on his own boosted Satriani's morale and got him into the idea of taking his music on the road.
"After I left Greg I played with Danny Gottlieb and Jonas Hellborg and a Swedish singer named Anika who actually did vocals to things like 'Hordes Of Locusts.' It was a short Scandinavian tour-three weeks. I flew over to Sweden a week after I'd been in a car accident—I was under medication, not in good shape. We had three days to rehearse, and we rehearsed maybe an hour [laughs]. Then we went out and did these gigs, and they were really good. It was all because Jonas and Danny are live players: They have a great vocabulary, they're smart, and they're crazy [laughs].
"I think you've gotta be smart enough to be competent, but you've gotta be crazy enough to go out there and just let it all happen. I mean, you can rehearse and still not be musical, be tight and not be musical; we all hated that."
Though he'd already begun writing for a second LP while on the road with Kihn, now Satriani got serious. His methods: "It's never changed from the beginning, just sort of chaotic and organized at the same time, comes in lots of different directions. I've actually sat down, taken out a guitar, and said, 'I'm gonna write a song that makes me feel like driving at night' or whatever. When the feeling is upon you, so to speak, you act.
Then there are other songs that took a very long time, like 'New Day,' which took so long because I didn't know what it was that I wanted to write. I knew that I wanted to write something that was completely different, so I tried all kinds of things: I would meditate, stare at the tv, go out and see strange movies, run a couple of miles, read strange books, drink lots of coffee, not drink any coffee-whatever would set me off.
"So for three or four hours, day after day, I tried to write, come up with something different. Slowly, I came up with the idea that what I was hearing in my head was a series of fourths, fifths, thirds and seconds, and I realized suddenly I was playing a song that was a melody and a rhythm, and it was built off the idea that there were always two strings being hit.
Then I had to teach myself how to play it. It doesn't sound difficult, but physically it was perplexing. So I had to struggle to learn how to play it so I could write it before the idea left my head. As soon as I was done, it was just like I'd learned to ride a bicycle for the first time—I couldn’t get rid of it [laughs].
"Then other things like The Enigmatic was a scale that I loved, and so I took out a piece of paper and gave myself a lesson wrote but all the triads and all that, this is what it is, now be creative with it. I wanted something really strange, y'know, like fast cuts in weird movies.