BIG INTERVIEW Joe Satriani: 'I just wanted to be in the studio and rock out with two other guys.'

Joe Satriani. Picture by Joseph Cultice
Joe Satriani. Picture by Joseph Cultice
Lower Than Atlantis, live at Engine Rooms in Southampton, April 12, 2018. Picture by Sarah Gerrish

REVIEW: Lower Than Atlantis at Engine Rooms, Southampton

Joe Satriani is widely revered as one of the greatest living guitarists, he has taught many others who have gone on to great things, released 15 solo albums and spent more than 30 years exploring and pushing his instrument's limits.

So you might well ask, what happens next?

And that is exactly what Joe has named his latest album – What Happens Next. The follow-up to the sci-fi-influenced, prog-tinged epic, Shockwave Supernova, album number 16 is a back-to-basics effort which sees Joe joined by former Deep Purple bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

'Change is something I always do,' he tells The Guide. 'Sometimes an artistic path will take me a couple of albums to get through, sometimes it’s really quick.

The first three records - the eponymous EP, Not Of This Earth  and Surfing With The Alien Were all kind of the same, then the next two albums were not only different from those, but different from each other. Flying In A Blue Dream – 18 songs, six of them with vocals. Then The Extremist followed that, and that was totally a salute to my classic rock roots – no vocals, and it sounded completely different because it was a live band in the studio, not the overdubbed, slightly old-school techno-vibe that the first couple of records had. Then I kept going….'

'The last couple of records were different in that I was playing around with progressive rock elements but the records were interrupted by [supergroup] Chickenfoot records and touring, so I was living in these two different worlds.

'By the end of Shockwave Supernova, I had done it musically and that last record had such a strong narrative, then we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Surfing on the tour, and I turned 60 on the tour, so it felt natural that I circled back and was starting something fresh – I just wanted to be in the studio and rock out with two other guys.'

Joe works with Chad on the Chickenfoot project, but had never worked with Glenn in the studio before now. 

'I had bumped into Glenn a couple of times around the world as we were touring, and then we were next to each other on stage at the 50th anniversary of Marshall show in London a few years ago, and that was the only time we’d played together, but it was obvious we had some kind of connection there that we should explore. I was a huge fan of his singing and bass playing.'

I didn’t think he would be interested to tell the truth. When I had this brainwave about working with Chad, first I had to get over the hurdle that he might not want to do an instrumental album, we’d done two Chickenfoot records and we’d had a lot of  fun playing live  they were the craziest sessions ever. But he always knew that I ran a disciplined ship when it came to doing the instrumental thing, so I didn’t know if he would want to do that - plus he’s got his own thing going with [Chad Smith’s Bombastic] Meatbats.

Joe Satriani. Picture by Joseph Cultice

Joe Satriani. Picture by Joseph Cultice

'As I was travelling around Europe on the last tour I was thinking really hard about what I wanted to do, I was writing all these songs that were more basic in nature and focussed more on performance in the studio, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we can trick Chad into doing this record somehow besides just saying "please"? I thought how would I do this, and the key was the bass player  the rhythm section has to really have fun, they have to really want to go something and want to go create something interesting.

'I thought who do I really want to work with that Chad’s played with before, and of course Glenn’s name was at the top of my list - they’ve done records together and they’re friends, so I should just put it to them both.

'I was a bit shy about putting it to them at the same time, so I asked Chad first and he said yes immediately, then I reached out to Glenn and he said yes immediately too.

'From there I was inspired to finish the writing because I knew who I was writing for.'

Joe sent them both demos shortly before they were due in the studio together, but knew they were busy with their respective projects. 

'Glenn was in the studio finishing vocals for Black Country Communion and Chad was on the road until the day before we started, so I knew if they listened to the demos it would only be five minutes here and there.

'I kept it up wide open in the structure, so that one of them might say: "Can I do it this way?" or "Can we do it faster or slower, or twice as long?" or "Joe, you should get rid of that part", so I went in with an open mind.

'I also had producer/engineer Mike Fraser with me and I’ve done almost half of my records with him, so he had that freedom to wave the red flag and go: "Hey, that really sucks, I’ve got a better idea..." he laughs. But that’s what I wanted them to do, I want them to tell me if I’m going down a rabbit hole.'

But for this tour Joe, which comes to Portsmouth at the end of the month, has revived his G3 concept. Started in 1996, he asks two other renowned guitarists to join him, and it has seen him tour with a veritable who's who of guitar virtuosos, from Steve Vai, to Robert Fripp, Yngwie Malmsteen and many more.

On this round of shows, he's joined by former Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth and John Petrucci of prog-metallers Dream Theater.

Uli replaces Def Leppard's six stringer Phil Collen who played on the American leg of the tour.

'It’s a combination of sending out feelers and invitations - it has to be done pretty far in advance because you’re pulling people out of their normal schedule  like in Phil’s case, it’s a world-famous stadium playing band – and that band plans well in advance.'

Phil had joined Joe at his G4 Experience summer guitar camp last summer for the first time.

'We had a really great time, I was so impressed with his musicianship and his personality and how flexible he was with the enormous talent he has. I knew he was a pro, but I didn’t know how deep his playing went and how much he enjoyed sharing it.

 'When we came up with the idea of starting this album’s touring cycle with a couple of G3 runs, we started looking around and I think it was Phil who had thrown his hat in the ring. He said he was up for it and available, but could only do the US run. I loved idea of having John Petrucci and Phil Collen standing next to each other  part of the thrill of G3 is that you have players with some connections and similarities but also these big differences in what they can do because then that creates this very interesting energy between all of us.'

'But when we got to the Europe leg we thought, well what are we going to do now?

'John and I had done a few of these G3 runs now, so I was thinking about some of the other guys who had done one and hadn’t done one for a while, and I’d done one with Uli and [fellow ex-Scorpion] Michael Schenker back in '98, but we hadn’t done one in a while.

'It was natural to reach out to Uli and see if he was up for it, and he had that opening that enabled him to do it, and again Jon had never played with Uli before so I thought this is great  this is exactly the kind of recipe we want.

 'Ever since I started G3 in 96, the way we operate the show is that there’s three bands, three solo artists, each of them does a set of 45 minutes to an hour - that depends on the venue and how long we can play. I’m always the last guy on and at the end of our set, I bring out the other two to play with us.

'We generally learn a whole bunch of songs, and sometimes we switch them up - the songs are a kind of vehicle for us to expand on. We’ve had players who can go anywhere in a second, guys like Steve Vai and John, guys who are little bit more rock-performance oriented like Paul Gilbert, or a bit more blues-oriented like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, or people who are completely out there on their own like Robert Fripp!'

 G3 is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Sunday, April 29, from 7pm. Tickets £40.20 to £68.20. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.