If you know a thing or two about guitars, chances are one of those things is Joe Satriani. The sexagenarian soloist is renowned among the musically minded for his genre-bending compositions and virtuosic guitar performances, both of which can be found in abundance on his latest record, What Happens Next.
After a 32-year career playing oddly timed, finger-breaking guitar parts alongside literally every big name in progressive music, Satriani has simplified things a little bit on What Happens Next, getting back to roots he swears are in rock and roll.
Having spent most of 2018 sharing the record with fans around the world, he is gearing up to bring the ‘What Happens Next Tour’ down under for six dates across the country (and one in New Zealand).
In the lead up to the final leg of the tour, we sat with Satch
MI: You’ve been off the road for a few weeks. Enjoying the break?
JS: “Definitely. I’m home right now because we’ve got some carpenters working, so I’m just writing some music and watching them. The other guys needed to go out with their bands anyway, so it worked out well.
“My bass player, Bryan Beller, is going out in September with his band, The Aristocrats. The other two guys, Joe Travers and Mike Keneally, are working with the Zappa family. So they’re back in LA working on some sort of hologram Frank Zappa tour for March. So, everyone needed some time off, and we’ll come back together in Australia.”
Seems like they’re all in pretty high demand. Is it hard locking down a tour with such busy guys?
“You have to compromise and communicate. Everybody’s gig
Joe Travers is a highly technical performer; a real drummer’s drummer. It’s surprising you guys didn’t link up sooner. How did it finally come about?
“It’s funny how it all got started. A number of years back I was at the Jammy Awards in Madison Square Garden – it was an award show for jam bands and things like that. I was walking around backstage when Zappa Plays Zappa came on, and I’m right behind the curtain, behind the drummer, and I was just blown away by how great this guy was.
“I thought, ‘How does a musician do that? Keep track of the most complicated music but still make it sound like you can tap your foot to it.’ He never turned around and I never saw his face.
“So, a couple of years ago, I’m in the studio with Mike Keneally, and we’re trying to figure out who’s going to replace Vinnie Colaiuta. I just happened to relay that story about the Jammy Awards, and he said ‘You’re talking about my best friend, Joe Travers.’ So we called him right away.”
“Joe fits perfectly into this tour. As the new record was
If your roots are in Rock and Roll, how did you end up an icon of the progressive rock scene?
“I started that way back in the beginning of this century, whatever that year was when we did Strange Beautiful Music (2002). I went to Jeff Campitelli and said, “I’m going to try and put more progressive rock elements into this.”
“Jeff and I are not prog heads, we’re both straight forward rock heads, so we thought that was cool and decided to go bit by bit and not overdo it. But by the time Unstoppable Momentum came I really wanted to ramp it up, and by the time we hit Shockwave Supernova we had sort of taken it as far as we could.
“But, you know, when someone does a huge drum fill twenty times in one song, it gets repetitive to someone who doesn’t listen to that music. ‘Why is that guy hitting everything all the time? Why doesn’t he play like Ringo?’ It’s just a different head space.
“If they don’t appreciate the artistry of progressive rock then
Was writing a ‘straight forward’ record a bit of weight off the shoulders? I mean, is it easier to find and express a melody without all the pressure to be a ‘prog guy’ and do it in 9/8?
“If you look at progressive rock, what it does is that it asks everyone in the band to sort of accessorise their part. And that works better if you’re doing stuff in 5, 7 or 9, because it gives everyone more chances to be clever.
“But, at some point, all that accessorising and filling up space makes it harder for me to put a melody down.
“I do find, though, that when you pull away all the
You’re widely regarded as being among the best guitarists in history. Was there ever any ego attached to that? Pressure to be ‘the best’, or to compete with the other big names?
“It’s when I’m talking to journalists, like yourself, or meeting fans that I have to come to grips with the way people perceive who I am. But 99% of the time I’m just me, who I’ve always been. I feel like a struggling musician; someone who needs to practice every day, someone who has that healthy anxiety about ‘Am I going to write something new today’?
“So being one of those guys does me no real good. It’s interesting, and it has been helpful in my career, for sure. But I write songs with melodies, and that, not the technique, is why my catalogue has stood the test of time.
“These days, if you develop some amazing technique, within 24 hours every kid on Youtube knows how to do it better than you. So technique is transitory. It’s just a tool to get your musical ideas into the ears of your fans.
“It’s a good introduction to an artist, like finger-tapping was good for Eddie Van Halen. It was his incredible, wonderful sounding writing that made him famous, though. And Mariah Carey; yeah she can hit those high notes, but it’s the songs that made her a superstar.
“So everyone has that cool thing that they can do, but ultimately it’s the music. It has to be the music.”…