Joe Satriani: Shred Ache
Originally published in Guitar World, December 2010
He helped usher in an era of speed-obsessed ax wranglers. But Joe Satriani can’t run from the “shred guitarist” tag fast enough.
in 1987, with the release of his multi-Platinum album Surfing with the Alien, Joe Satriani rose from obscurity to worldwide prominence and helped spark the “shred revolution.” Twenty-three years later, what are his thoughts on the genre? More importantly, does he view himself as a “shredder”? Guitar World posed the issues to Satch.
GUITAR WORLD In 2010, when you hear the term “shred,” what pops into your head?
JOE SATRIANI I think of putting papers in a machine and seeing tiny strips come out. [laughs] Okay, seriously, when I think of shred guitar…I really only think of a few people who were dedicated to it fully. I remember listening to one of those records by Cacophony [a late-Eighties speed metal band formed by guitarists Marty Friedman and Jason Becker] and thinking, I have nothing to do with this. I’m not knocking it, because I thought it was remarkable—like, “Wow, these guys are truly shredding.” At the same time, I couldn’t relate to it.
GW So did it bother you, then, that so many people—and even some guitar magazines [fakes coughing; Satriani laughs]—put you in the same box as groups like Cacophony?
SATRIANI You know, I couldn’t understand how people would think that I was a shredder. If you listen to Surfing with the Alien or Not of this Earth, which came out around the same general period, you’d know that I was just a total oddball and had nothing to do with that whole movement. When I think of songs like “Echo” and “Midnight” and “Always with Me, Always with You” from Surfing—I mean, there’s no way those compositions could be on a “shred” record. I’m not shredding on the cuts. I remember thinking, I’m much more bluesy than everybody. Maybe people weren’t seeing or hearing that at the time; they were all caught up in a scene. I was really just using speed—fast, aggressive playing—as an effect.
When I recorded those songs, I said to myself, Okay, Joe, in these sections you have to play fast and use lots of notes because that’s what will make those passages effective. And on other songs, I said to myself, Whatever you do, don’t play a lot of notes; you really have to slow down here. So I just did what I did and went off on my merry way. I understand that I’m a hard guy to pin down, and I probably was more so at the time those first couple of albums hit. I wasn’t going to get in Spin or Rolling Stone, so I guess the “shred” tag was very convenient for other magazines to pin on me. People said, “Oh, he can play fast, he’s a shredder.” Personally, that’s the last thing I would have called myself.
However, I do understand the community of shred, and I see the importance of people committing themselves to developing a certain technique such as shred. Whenever TV or movie producers want a section of music with really fast guitar, they’re going to want to find a player who has developed his technical skills to such a level that he can give them what they want. It happens all the time: a producer will say, “Okay, in this part of the movie we want the guitar player to play ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’ but with a really intense edge to it. Well, if you want to be that guy to play that part, there you go.
All musicians, whether you’re a drummer or a bass player or a guitarist or whatever—you have to be ready to explore the boundaries and limits of your physicality on your instrument.
GW Which you did, and Steve Vai did, and certainly Paul Gilbert did, as well. What would you say about Paul Gilbert? Racer X was an all-out speed metal band, so would you call what he did with them “shred”?
SATRIANI Oh yeah. Absolutely. That was shred.