In all the years I have listened to rock music, I had never given Joe Satriani’s solo music a solid chance. Sure, I knew he was a great talent but I favored my rock and roll fronted by a lead vocalist. In my mind, instrumentals were either filed under jazz at the other end of the record store or chirped to me in an elevator somewhere.
Reluctantly, I must say, I put in the newest DVD by Joe Satriani, Satchurated: Live In Montreal, and I found out how wrong I’d been all these years. It was that simple. (Read review here) Even in the absence of a singer I was not bored at all with the live DVD. Quite the opposite. In concert, Satriani’s solo music is an emotional ride, up and down, both soothing and bewildering.
Satchurated: Live In Montreal was filmed at the Metropolis in Montreal, Canada on December 10, 2010 during Satriani’s Wormhole Tour, supporting his studio album Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards. And the show was recorded in both 2D and 3D for DVD/Blu-ray and theatrical release (trimmed down to 1.5 hours for the movie theater near you).
It seems amazing how the man has so much energy. His other band, Chickenfoot, featuring former Van Halen-ites Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, and Red Hot Chili Pepper drummer Chad Smith, has the recognition of a Supergroup and the success of a gold debut album. And in-between all the Chickenfoot tour dates, Satriani tours in his own “G3″ guitar show, featuring some of the greatest guitarists on the planet (this year’s G3 tour has the likes of Deep Purple’s Steve Morse, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci, Toto’s Steve Lukather and the legendary Steve Vai.)
Powerline began an interview with Joe Satriani asking about his own impressions of concert DVDs — in particular, the Satchurated DVD:
Joe Satriani: The world of concert DVDs was, I think, a boon to people like me who you wouldn’t find on Entertainment Tonight or MTV, or, you know, Pop radio. At first there was a funny reaction when everyone wanted to film us, labels wanted us to put out DVDs, we kind of jumped at it. So we started with Live in San Francisco, Satriani Live!, Live In Paris … Now with Satchurated. And we’ve had three DVDs filming my G3 concerts with numerous players. When you add in the Chickenfoot Get Your Buzz On DVD, I’ve had seven or eight concert films put out. But this is the first time we’ve put out a 3D, 7.1 Blu-ray package, plus a theatrical release.
Besides all that, how do you feel this live album is different than the previous ones?
Satriani: Besides the obvious 3D thing and it being in theaters — that’s huge — but content-wise the biggest difference is that this is a concert where we played 100 percent of the new album onstage in front of people. When we filmed that night [for Satchurated] — because of time restraints — we ended up taking two songs out of the set. But we filmed and recorded us playing those during soundcheck, which is also part of the DVD package.
That part of it is sort of a new chapter for the fans who have our other DVDs. I think people understand that when you’re out there touring, you’re always playing most of your catalog and a little bit of a new record — getting your fans familiar with the new album. This serves the live performance really well but it can make people at home who primarily buy the DVD of the tour scratch their heads because they wind up getting versions of the same song over and over again. And basically it’s your hits. There are certain songs in my catalog that the live audience demands that we play. You know, if we don’t play “Flying In a Blue Dream” people walk out of the show being upset because they may see us only once in their life and they really want to hear that song. But that’s at odds with the DVD process, you know. So on that particular tour — the Wormhole Tour — I kind of put my foot down and said ‘Damnit, we’re gonna play the whole new record live somehow’ and by the time they filmed us we had some experience. We’d already been to Europe and we were coming close to the end of our U.S. run, so the show was getting to be more of a well-oiled machine. We had arranged the set pretty well. It was an intense show from a musician’s point of view and emotionally very cathartic for me to go through all that material every night. So it made the DVD very unique, especially when you put it up against Live in Paris, Live in San Francisco, Satriani Live! and the G3 DVDs.
Why did you choose the Montreal show?
Satriani: It was a practical matter, actually. We were approached just a few weeks before filming, to do the film, by [filmmakers] Pierre and Francois Lamoureux. So, we only had about four shows to choose from. One of them was in New York City, which would have been a nightmare of costs — union and all sorts of other fees — and there were other places where the shape of the venue did not allow for cameras. It just so happened that Pierre and Francois’ hometown of Montreal not only had a venue that, although smaller than what we were used to, had a beautiful look and sound to it. It did afford the placement of two sets of cameras — both 2D and 3D — and it just so happened that that week we were going to be playing in Montreal. A lot of the talent that they wanted to draw from, from the film community, was available. We got what they told us were their favorite guys for camera work, lighting work, sound recording. And that team was a really stellar team and they were able to get it together for only one show. Because we only filmed one night. It wasn’t like we had a whole week to put this together. It was another one of those make or break kind of things. And the audience in Montreal that night was just fabulous.
You mentioned the word cathartic before. Was there a certain song that emphasized that word the most?
Satriani: Well, probably for me, “Littleworth Lane.” When I decided to film that night, it didn’t really cross my mind until I got closer to the date that it was the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing away. And although leading up to it I thought I put the grieving process in order in my mind, in my heart, but the night before it all just came back. I was going to be in New York the following night, which is where I’m from, and my family was, and it was going to be my first show in New York in my whole solo career that my mother wasn’t gonna be at. And it affected me more than I thought. So I wound up not sleeping the night before and showing up at the venue a bit of a basket case. It’s an odd thing. When you are a performer of any kind and you are carrying around some sort of extra emotional weight, I think you sometimes put up a wall to protect yourself. So you wind up not looking like you’re troubled. You look almost the opposite. But, in fact, there was a lot going on inside and it came out through the performance. I can laugh at it now because it’s something my mother would laugh at. She had a great sense of humor. She loved show business and she would have been the one pushing me onstage saying the show must go on. Put all your feelings into your playing. So that’s what happened that night, and I remember right before I played “Littleworth Lane” I wasn’t even aware of what I said to the audience but it made absolutely no sense. Because I thought, whatever you do, do not tell people how you’re really feeling. Then you’ll just break down and the whole show will stop. Let’s just say by the time I walked off stage I felt like an emotional wreck.
I had never seen you live, and this DVD was the first time I have seen you in concert … I was blown away. I had always preferred to see live shows with a vocalist. Evidentaly, I had missed out. Do you hear that a lot — where people say that they didn’t want to see an instrumental show and then after seeing it say ‘Wow, I was wrong’?
Satriani: Certainly. You know, when I started doing this back in ’88, I really didn’t know how to do it. I remember walking out on stage for the Surfing with the Alien show and thinking to myself, I had never played instrumentals in front of an audience before. Me and my bass player Stu Hamm, and my drummer Jonathan Mover, we really were wondering ‘How is this show gonna go?’ It’s not a fusion band. It’s not a jazz band. We’re a rock and roll band. But there’s no singer? so what do we do? Do you jump around a lot? How does the show actually proceed? After two weeks of doing it, I started to realize that I can just be myself. I’m basically a rock musician but you didn’t have to worry that there weren’t vocals. Be yourself but if it’s a rock show then you get people to rock out. And I think a lot of people like me didn’t really understand it and they don’t until they see it. Then they realize, ‘Wow, you can fun at a show like this!’ It’s not all serious. It’s not like going to see a jazz show or a classical performance. It is, in fact, a rock and roll show and you can make noise and have a good time, along with everybody else (laughs).
And the instrumentals seem so much different live than in the studio. When hearing “Hordes of Locusts” [on Satchurated], the solo was almost like a rock singer screaming. It almost sent shivers down my spine.
Satriani: That’s great. I love to hear that. To me, the live performance is like a super high point in the cycle of writing, recording, and going on tour. I get lost in it. I can’t take credit for what I do live onstage entirely, because I get lost in it. I get lost in the moment. The only way I can play well is if I surrender my emotion to the moment. Some nights are just crazy cathartic rides that I take myself on. I hope that the people in the audience get it — that they are part of it, that they are receiving it.
In the studio, do you do things in one take or is it usually more that that?
Satriani: It really depends. I can go through the catalog and tell you stories about how this particular song was the first take and the engineer refused to let me play it anymore. (laughs) That happens a lot. And then other songs I spend three hours working on some little thirty second passage but it turned out it was worth it. So you never know. You have to respect your artistic process. And if you say, I’ve done it once and that’s the best it’s gonna be, then respect it. But if something inside of you says ‘I’ve got to play this thing until my fingers are bleeding’ — well, then you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to follow your artistic urge. Otherwise you will be unhappy as an artist. I know it sounds silly but that’s the only way that it makes sense. You have to follow that inner artistic direction. And sometimes it doesn’t seem logical.
Throughout your solo career, did you ever consider a long-term, full-time vocalist?
Satriani: Right after Flying In a Blue Dream , I actually signed a second record deal with Epic Records. By that time they had already started a process of acquiring a small label that I was signed to. They were interested in me starting a band with a full-time, lead vocalist as a second project. And we spent about a year or two trying to find that guy. And I remember during that period, this was 1990, some of the greatest vocalists around were coming out — Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. It was the grunge explosion. And I kept hearing all these singers and it was like ‘How come we can’t find anybody like that?’ Which is such a character. Has a great set of pipes… and it was almost as if the only people we met were trying-to-be Axl Rose clones. So after about a year or so I just gave up and I gave the money back to Epic Records and we agreed to just tear up the contract. Because it didn’t seem like we were ever gonna find the vocalist we wanted.
It’s too bad Sammy [Hagar] wasn’t available.
Satriani: I know (laughs). That would have been perfect.
Do you think with a vocalist, the songs would have had more mainstream success?
Satriani: Maybe temporarily. There’s no way to answer that. If there was any way that anybody in the industry could guarantee success (laughs), they’d be flexing that muscle. The fact is, none of us know how people are going to receive what we do. We really don’t. And like baseball, the music business is a game of failure. You have to kind of get used to it.
I was going to ask you if you were a big baseball fan … because your music being used in the movie Moneyball …
Satriani: I wound up being in that film for whatever it is … ten seconds or so, in a funny twist of fate. I had starting playing the [National] Anthem right around … boy, September 10th. Right before the attacks of 9-11. I think that’s when I told my manager, ‘You know, I’m gonna start saying Yes to all of these requests.’ So fast forward a few years and the Oakland A’s had asked me to play at their pre-season game. I went out there and they gave me a misdirection as far as when to play. Because, you know, it’s quite confusing out there. There’s a million people walking around and basically they assign you a person, and you look at that person, and when they give you the signal, you start playing. So this guy gave me the signal a little too early and I finished the Anthem and there were 10,000 people in front of me that were all standing with their hands over their chests … they thought I played the Anthem, I thought I played the Anthem, but when I finished I heard the announcer in the stadium announce my name telling everyone to stand up for the Anthem. And then the crew came out and took my amp off the field, so the whole thing got screwed up. The Oakland A’s were very apologetic, so they asked me to come back for the opening season game in two or three weeks. I said, sure. I came back for that game. Everything went perfect. It just so happens that that night is covered in the film because it was the first season where the whole Moneyball scheme was having its debut, so to speak. That team was Billy’s first run with his new system. Anyway, when the director found that out, of course he called around to say we need the guy who did the Anthem that night because we want to make it as true to reality as possible. I wound up being in the film just because of that funny little mishap. I always think that’s a real funny thing.
Being from New York, did you still remain loyal to New York teams?
Satriani: You know, I’ve done a few Anthems in San Francisco where the Mets or the Yankees have played and it’s an odd thing but I’m not that crazy about baseball where I pick teams and things like that. To me, professional sports is very much like the professional music scene. The players are very much like musicians. They travel around, they play for different teams throughout their career. So getting all territorial about your favorite team is a bit over the top.
I never thought of it that way. It is kind of true. I guess, they are like musicians.
Satriani: They are, really. You find a guy who plays with the Mets for eight years and then he plays for St. Louis and then he’s down in San Diego. They look at it differently than the fans do.
How do you pick your touring band? Is it different than picking a band for the studio?
Satriani: Sometimes it is, yes. Sometimes you have to pick musicians for a record that you think support the material. And sometimes you wind up with an album that is eclectic — so eclectic that you need different groups of people for different songs. And then when you go on tour, of course, you need to find a group of people who represent your whole catalog. So you may not bring your guy from your most recent record out on tour because he may be someone special only to the new material but doesn’t relate to the old material. I kind of had that situation in the beginning where the very first tour I did with Jonathan Mover and Stu Hamm. They weren’t on any of my albums and their temperament and musical style were not really sympathetic to what I was doing on record. They were not like rock musicians. They were more progressive and like fusion musicians. And that’s not what I did on my albums. Eventually that’s what led to a split because it just didn’t make any sense to have them trying to represent music that they didn’t actually feel sympathetic to. Eventually I wound up playing with Jeff Campitelli on drums more often than not because stylistically we come from the same place. He’s been on more of my solo records as the drummer than anybody else. He can represent the different shades where I have had Gregg Bissonette on drums or Simon Phillips on drums …
Do you feel the band on Satchurated is the one you’re most comfortable with?
Satriani: On that particular tour, I took a real risk where I brought in a keyboard player and that’s the largest band I’ve ever had. I’ve done power trio quite a lot and then I started as the four-piece … This time around I added keyboards and I thought ‘I’m going to see if it’s fun playing with a five-piece band?’ And it was. It was very important that we could represent the new album [Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards] on the tour. And having the five-piece band made that happen because Galen [Henson] could take over a lot of my rhythm parts and Mike [Keneally] could represent the keyboard parts that he performed on the album. I think the oddest thing was bringing in Allen [Whitman] because Allen I’ve known since 1980. We’ve been great friends. We used to play in different bands on the same bill very often in club shows around the Bay Area. And I love the band that he plays with. He plays in a band called the Mermen and they are just a fantastic band. So just to get him in the band was great. He’s a very unique musician, different from all of us. His way of thinking and his way of playing is just so different. I took a chance that there would be some interesting creative spark between Mike Keneally and his style of bass playing. That’s what I was looking for. I just figured there would be something unique about putting Allen Whitman together with Mike Keneally, and it really did work. When I was looking at the DVD each musician onstage is so totally different in the way that they think about music that it creates a very interesting dynamic.
You’ve collaborated with so many musicians? Is there a famous musician that you have collaborated with that maybe the fans aren’t aware of.
Satriani: Probably jazz guitarist Pat Martino. I think most of the people that I have collaborated with has been public record. Pat is world famous in the jazz world but my audience is mainly in the rock world so they probably don’t know who Pat Martino is.
You did some dates already with G3 this year. You are now touring with Chickenfoot the next few months, then G3 tour again. Is it easy to shift gears from one kind of musical mindset to another?
Satriani: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s exciting. And this year is the first in my career where I’m not only playing with Chickenfoot and working on a solo album but also playing three completely different G3 tours [Australia/New Zealand, Europe and then South America] and that’s something that’s quite unusual. It’s very inspiring, to tell you the truth, because with the G3 tours, you wind up hanging out and pushing your musicianship with who you are right next to onstage every night … amazing guitar players. It has a great affect on me. And having this six weeks of Chickenfoot tour is something. I’m really looking forward to it. And by the end of the year you realize that you’ve absorbed a lot of grey creative energy and influence, and I’m hoping that will have a good affect on the recording the (upcoming) solo record.
And Sammy and the guys are cool with you doing your own thing and working around it, right?
Satriani: If there’s one thing about Chickenfoot that you can count on is that everybody is busy with at least two other things, all the time. I mean, our drummer is out with the Chili Peppers now so we have Kenny Aronoff as our sort of unofficial new member of the band, which has been great. We’ve done two tours with him already. He’s a fantastic drummer and is an honorary member of the ‘foot. But everyone’s real busy, especially Sammy. I mean, he’s got to be the busiest guy. I’m not sure he’s the hardest working. He’s the hardest partying, busiest guy in show business, I think. Because he always makes sure he is having a good time. Any time I tell people you can’t book me now because I’ve got to be in South America during G3, everyone says ‘Oh fine, because I’ve got this other thing I want to do.’ It all works out.
G3 becomes exciting because you wonder, carrying it on, possibly getting guitarists like Eddie Van Halen. Guitarists like that, you usually don’t see outside the setting of their band.
Satriani: I would love that. You know, about the first ten years of G3 I would contact Eddie Van Halen every time. I would contact Jeff Beck every time. And we basically got turned down all the time. But one year we came very close to getting Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons. It was almost set in stone but the scheduling is so difficult and it’s something I understand completely when we reach out to these players. It’s a very difficult thing for them to do — leave their current trajectory of album tours and join us, especially if they are part of a band. In essence, Eddie Van Halen, who is just an absolute genius, for him to step out of his band must make him scratch his head. Because he’s probably thinking why would I do that. I already got my own thing going, you know. So I understand. I am very understanding when I get some of the declines. It’s not for everybody, let’s put it that way.
I want to mention Jimmy Page because some of us never had the experience of seeing him perform live. In a setting like G3, with other guitarists, that would unbelievable.
Satriani: I think he should do it and if he reads your article, let’s hope he can. (laughs)
This friday is a Montrose tribute show coming up where you are playing. Did you know [the guitarist] Ronnie Montrose [who died March 3 from complications of prostate cancer]?
Satriani: Not really. I met him only once and shared the stage with him at a Bay Area music awards and that was many years ago. I played with his drummer Denny Carmassi once and I know Denny a little bit better. Of course, Sammy [Hagar] and I are close so … when this unfortunate event unfolded I was pretty shocked and Sammy called me and asked me if I would do it for them. And so I agreed that I would be part of a tribute to Ronnie’s legacy — not only for Ronnie and his family but because I know it was something very important for Denny and for Sammy. It’s basically Bill Church, Denny, Sammy and myself and we’re gonna play the first album. [Note: Concert for Ronnie Montrose: A Celebration of His Life In Musicwill take place April 27 at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. And a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Ronnie Montrose Fund for San Francisco Bay Area Musicians through SweetRelief.org.]
Do you find a lot Chickenfoot fans crossing over to your solo stuff now, and vice versa?
Satriani: I think so. I think there’s a lot of cross over there. There are quite a lot of fans of mine that probably had not paid too much attention to Sammy Hagar and I think the opposite of that is true over the years and they started to sort of cross pollinate, to a certain extent. But we’re so different. I think that’s why Chickenfoot is something that is artistically successful. It’s an unlikely pairing of four people.
BTW, Did you ever imagine Chickenfoot being this big? It really took off. You can call it a supergroup, I guess.
Satriani: Yeah, I was always scratching my head because when we did the first record it took so long and we played together so little. We were literally recording the album and we never done one show together. And , you know, we would meet up for a few hours and then after two days there would be two songs recorded on album and then I wouldn’t see them for two months. (laughs). I kept thinking, ‘This can’t be the way a supergroup records an album.’ You know, it’s crazy. To tell you the truth, I remember when we realized we had finished recording that first album and no one had actually listened to all the songs in a group. And slowly over that Christmas vacation people started to email each other saying ‘Have you listened to the songs? I think it’s an album.’ I think we were surprised at what it was. Because, maybe in our minds, we thought if I ever played again together with Chad, Michael and Sammy it’s gonna sound like it but it didn’t. I think it sort of surprised all of us, what the Chickenfoot sound was.