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Joe Starani at Sacramento

Joe Satriani

....... Joe Satriani. is no ordinary six-string virtuoso. His instrumentalist ability fills his songs with discernible melodies and recurring themes, making them accessible even to pop fans for whom music without vocals is usually anathema. Satriani's albums have been among the few instrumental efforts of the past couple of decades to chart, let alone go gold and platinum. And he has achieved one other accolade accorded only a precious few: hundreds of high school prom bands covered his song "Always With Me, Always With You" in the late eighties. Satriani has occasionally attempted to spice up his albums by including some vocal numbers. The instrumental Crystal Planet puts the emphasis back on Satriani's skills as a composer and solo star. A wide array of sonic textures, with well-structured tunes, and chops . The album Crystal Planet stands alongside Satriani's fine efforts of a decade ago, Surfing with the Alien and Flying in a Blue Dream. The guitarist shows off some of his fleet-fingered technique on the engaging opener, "Up in the Sky." "House Full of Bullets" is a loose-limbed, funky jam that showcases the fluidity of Satriani's playing and his guitar's gorgeous, warm tone. Crystal Planet keeps him at the forefront of composers and players of instrumental rock.

INTERVIEW WITH Joe Satriani....11/14/98

Q: How are things going with your time off?  

JOE: Pretty good. It was kind of nice. August we had just one gig and September the same thing. It wasn't too bad. I had time to reorganize my studio and work on my new record. It's a year away just from starting it, but the preproduction and writing, you have to get a jump on it. 

Q: It seemed like when your album "Surfing with the Alien" came out, it really exploded and everyone was really aware of you, versus what was going on before that. Then along comes "Crystal Planet", another explosion. What makes your passion to excel creatively like that?  
JOE: Ever since I was really young I really loved music. I just really got into it. All the intricacies of it, the variety that I was exposed to at home. I was the youngest of five kids, so I got to hear them go through all their musical changes while I was still too young and my parents were really into music. I started taking drum lessons seriously when I was 9 years old and I always saw myself as a musician. I haven't really lost that feeling that thinking it was just the funnest thing in the world to do - to play music, to study it, to goof around with it, to play it in front of people, to do it privately. I just really enjoy it. So, I always jump at the opportunity of making a record or going out on a tour, or collaborating with somebody. The music business of course, is a really hard business. As a matter fact there is a song on a new Brian May record called "Business" - it's a great song because it express it very well...'It's a hard business going out on your own". It's kind of like that, you got to just put it all together, you have to represent it to people - not only the audience, but the people you want to work with you.  

Q: How did you get started?

JOE: This instrumental thing was really quite an accident. I was just sort of making home tapes for myself when I was busy trying to get famous as a normal musician in bands and stuff like that, and somebody was convinced that my tape would do quite well because his own tapes had gotten a record deal. So one thing led to another and I had a deal and they wanted me to make more of these records and I was really very inexperienced at it. The second record that I did for Relativity Records was "Surfing With the Alien" and that was the first year that I ever went out and toured - standing up in front of people just playing guitar for a couple of hours. That really clicked as you said. It just kind of exploded. It was a good time. I think Michael Jackson and Motley Crue were battling for number one and two on the chart, so I was kind of off in left field somewhere, doing my own thing. 

Q: Do you love doing live performances?  
JOE: I really do, yeah. I like what happens between musicians, even if you are dealing with a heavily scripted show, there is always an enormous amount of room for improv, especially for the position that I occupy, because I play the melody, so there is so much phrasing that goes on. Every three minutes you can change your attitude and it's a new gig for a formula like that and of course the energy. So I really like that, and of course the energy of the people is unpredictable and exciting and ever changing. You can always count on the audience being always different and them never reacting the same way to anything, so that's all part of the thrill. 

Q: I saw one of your live shows at the Warfield on the first leg of this tour and your connection with your fans is quite incredible.  
JOE: I do like them. They are a great bunch of fans. They really listen. They let us experiment. They are very enthusiastic. 

Q: I think you are a fantastic influence. What a wonderful background. They seem to look up to you for inspiration. With the absence of a singer, you seem to overcome that barrier, because you literally make that guitar sing.  
JOE: Thank you. I have always been a player that's really loved melody, and so when I pick up the guitar and I start to write a song, I think that I should adhere to the same standards as great vocalists and other great instrumental writers and players. There's some great players even in this very town that almost revolutionized phrasing on an electric guitar. I think about Carlos Santana and Neal Schon here in the BayArea were influences on me and of course, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix - Jimi Hendrix being my main influence. But as far as instrumental players, Jeff Beck of course in the early 70's, also along with Carlos, they blazed a path you know. I always think about Hendrix, because Hendrix made these records where every song, his guitar sounded different and his records sounded different. He just wasn't an egotistical player, you know what I mean. He didn't try to get people to identify with his one and only sound. He loved reflecting what was going on in the world and he would do anything. He could make his guitar sound big or really tiny, or well played, or hard to play. Whatever he thought would make the song be really fun to listen to. That's what he did and I thought that was so admirable and left us just a wonderful catalogue of music that changed the world.  

Q: I could really tell that you really learned from Hendrix. With special effects nowadays, you can just overwhelm a particular song where people can hardly even hear anybody singing and whatever else is going on and there might be so much distortion. I noticed that you know how to take and control that environment where it sounds so smooth.  
JOE: Thanks. That's a real challenge in the studio when you can plug anything you want in and you can turn it up to 10. I have always depended upon the well informed opinions of my cohorts and companions. I think it's important to have people around you who are relaxed enough to tell you exactly how good you are or how much you really stink that day, or if some idea that you are doing is just really bad. Because sometimes when you are the player, you start to concentrate on the mechanics. It's only natural if you are working on a performance to be recorded, you may start to not notice some things that a listener is going to notice right away and so that's why you need a good producer and you hope that your drummer and your bass player are the kind of people who will tap you on the shoulder and tell you that you should turn that effect down a little bit.  

Q: You really picked some excellent band mates. Bassist, Stuart Hamm and drummer, Jeff Campitella.  
JOE: Yeah, boy those last two years of working steady with Stu Hamm and Jeff Campitella have been great for me. They excel at what they do and at the same time, they just keep this great foundation and I am able to play so much better now, then in previous years where it was really pretty difficult to keep track of what was going on behind me. 

Q: On the "House Full of Bullets", that blues number was just so awesome, how did you cross-over or have you always had blues in your roots?  
JOE: I have always aspired to be a great blues player. I have had this sort of long term view about it. That if I could live long enough, I would finally break into my own as a blues player. You know, maybe when I am an elder statesman, it's not something that I like to treat lightly, and I know that you have to collect your dues, just like any other person on the planet. We all go through stuff and blues musicians has that ability to express it in that particular idiomatic way. So, ever since I could barely play guitar, I have been practicing my blues feeling, I guess. That's the only way to do it. You sit down, you learn licks and new finger moves from blues players, but eventually you have to find what your own blues sounds like, and that's a long musical journey of introspection and exposure. You kind of have to go out and expose your heart and soul to people. 

Q: I like your deepness in the way you describe your music, I can just see that in your live performance. You go into this mood. What is the connection with this alien thing?  
JOE: (Laughs). It's really funny how those things happen. Jumping back ll years now, I came up with the song title called "Surfing With the Alien" and it wasn't going to be the title of the album and I had no connection, nor did I even know who the Silver Surfer was. But, as I turned the album into the record company, I switched the title at the last minute to the one song "Surfing With the Alien" and its a funny story, but it's just coincidence. The product manager there is tall, a guy with long platinum blond hair. He used to be called the "Silver Surfer" when he was a disc jockey. So the first thing he said when he heard the album and saw the title, was that we should make some connection between my album and the silver surfer and he then educated me on who the Silver Surfer was. He knew where Marvel Comics was in Manhattan and so he just went down there and struck a deal to get this image on the cover. And, from there it was really my beginning to learn about the Silver Surfer Comic Strip and stuff. But what happened was the record came out, people just put my name and the Silver Surfer music together and 'you sound like that guy'. There are lots of songs that involve the world around, us and outerspace like that, but I guess the connection just kind of stuck. It doesn't help when you shave your head and put on some weird sunglasses. 

Q: What was the feeling during the G-3 concerts between the musicians?  
JOE: Oh yeah. That's funny, the camaraderie, even before you mentioned the G-3, among the guitar players was really good. Once in while, you find one guitar player all wigged out about confrontation. But certainly like my friend Steve Vai, we've been together so long, playing together for hours, we naturally sinc. Some players though, get frightened or worried about how they are going to come off, or something like that. 

Q: Have you done any acoustic stuff?  
JOE: With acoustic stuff I have recently been getting into the 'open E tuning' that Andy Fairweather Lowe used quite a bit on the Joe Satriani album. I liked how he was able to reinterpret my guitar parts, and yet keep a complete distance from my guitar. It was really a stroke of genius and I was very impressed how he used the E tuning. Prior to that, I used a lot of open G tuning, not always in the same idiomatic way, as let's say the Stones or country bands use it. Like I used an open F tuning for "Flying in a Blue Dream" and very difficult tuning to keep in tune, but it's the only way to get that song in the right key. 

By Randy Cohen

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