Joe Satriani, the all-time, bestselling instrumental guitarist, launches a new approach with his new album and U.S. tour.
Three decades after beginning his journey from guitar teacher to guitar icon, Satriani attempts to leave the outer space imagery behind him.
With What Happens Next, his new album released Jan. 11, Satriani, 61, wanted to take a new direction. Breaking through in 1987 with the all-instrumental Surfing With the Alien, he continued the interplanetary themes in many of the album and song titles through his 2015 release, Shockwave and Supernova.
But for his 16th studio album, Satriani departed from the routine. He decided to take a different direction when his son, Z.Z. Satriani, 25, filmed the documentary of his father called Beyond the Supernova.
“In my usual way of pushing the artistic license, I created the idea that this alter ego wanted to take over my real personality,” Joe Satriani said. “Then, we realized we were one and the same. This guy, ‘Shockwave Supernova’, is part autobiographical. It’s part science fiction.”
The 37-city, U.S. leg of Satriani’s “G3” tour begins Jan. 11 in Seattle, Washington, and concludes Feb. 25 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Supporting Satriani will be Phil Collen of Def Leppard and John Petrucci of Dream Theater, who each will play 20-to-30-minute sets before Satriani performs 7-to-10 songs. Then, all three will play together on stage for an extended jam session at the end.
Satriani and his touring band of Mike Keneally on guitars and keyboards, Bryan Beller on Bass and Joe Travers on drums, will play Feb. 2 at Barbara B. Mann Hall in Fort Myers, one of five consecutive nights in Florida.
Collen said he has been hooked on Satriani since Surfing With The Alien, because he fused rock, metal, jazz and blues together in a cool, new way.
“It was a real, iconic record for a reason,” Collen said. “He was the first who could really step over and do that, and that was the album that did it. It wasn’t like metal or something people didn’t understand. It walked both sides of the road, really. You could hum the melody.
“I love what he does. What I really like is his evolution and not just as a guitar player.”
This marks Petrucci’s seventh G3 tour with Satriani.
“When I was asked to do a G3 tour way back in 2001, in the middle of recording a Dream Theater record, I actually didn’t have any solo experience,” Petrucci said. “It was a little nerve-racking. I wasn’t sure I could do it.”
The experience has both enhanced Petrucci’s playing in Dream Theater and increased his respect for Satriani, he said.
“He’s one of the few solo guitar players who has been able to carve a career out of it,” Petrucci said. “It not only speaks to his prowess as a guitar player, but it speaks to his prowess as a songwriter.”
Satriani recorded the new songs with a pair of veteran rockers. He chose drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, also a bandmate of Satriani’s with Chickenfoot. He recruited bassist Glenn Hughes, a journeyman rock musician who once sang for Black Sabbath and played bass for Deep Purple.
The demands of the trio’s schedules left a window of less than three weeks to record “What Happens Next.”
“It really put the pressure on me to put it all together,” Satriani said. “This was Glenn’s first time recording on an all-instrumental entirely. It was so much fun to watch him try not to sing. He’s so natural. I knew that spirit that he has put into all of his vocal performances was going to show up in the bass. He’s one of these underappreciated superstars of the bass guitars.
“Chad plays in such an unusual way. It’s so instantly loveable with what he’s doing with his drumming. It always sounds like the drumming you want to hear. Everyone was in top form, because they just walked out of either the studio or off the stage. We had just the best seven or eight days.”
As detailed in his memoir, Strange Beautiful Music, Satriani gave up high school sports in favor of learning the guitar Sept. 18, 1970, the day Jimi Hendrix died.
“He’s constantly evolving as a player,” said Jake Brown, who co-wrote the book with Satriani. “There’s never any rehashing of anything with him. I have 43 books in my catalog. I’ve written about all manner of bands, from Motorhead to Heart, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, everybody. There’s no ego in Joe. I think that’s really quite remarkable. I think that musicians of Joe’s talent are allowed to have that ego. But he’s just this remarkably down-to-earth person.”
Satriani played in an early 1980s band called the Squares that sounded a bit like Green Day or Blink 182 but a decade before those bands became popular.
“We were kind of like Van Halen meets the Everly Brothers, which is probably why we weren’t that successful,” Satriani said.
Satriani said he lucked out when he began his solo career in that no one remembered he was “Joe from the Squares” by the time he released Surfing With the Alien in 1987.
The native New Yorker also spent a large part of the 1980s as a guitar teacher to supplement his then-meager musical earnings in his adopted home of San Francisco. While many of his pupils, including Steve Vai, formerly of David Lee Roth’s band and Whitesnake, and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, have gone on to play in front of arena-filled crowds, Satriani settles for more modest venues, usually with 5,000 or fewer seats.
“If you’re just playing instrumental, it cuts off a big chunk of your audience,” Collen said. “But the key to it, is it’s about the songs. I’ve played in front of four people. With Def Leppard, we played in Rio in the mid-90s, and no one showed up. This is Def Leppard, and we had like 100 people there. And we went on like we were playing in a packed, Wembley Stadium. There’s no shame in playing if you’re doing your own thing.”
Satriani has created a niche audience for himself, and it’s one Z.Z. Satriani documented on film after, at first, professionally separating himself from his father.
“I really wanted to do my own thing instead of being in the shadow,” said Z.Z. Satriani, who is an avid skateboarder and filmmaker. “So I was doing my own thing for a while, and he approached me with this idea. I didn’t feel like I needed to make my own name anymore. I was like, ‘Yes, let’s work together.’”
At the Beyond the Supernova release party, father and son were on stage for a question and answer session, and Joe Satriani later described the awkward moment, one that fueled him with his latest batch of songs.
“I’m standing up there without my guitar on and without my sunglasses,” Joe Satriani said. “I realized I was nervous. In that way, I felt like I was 14-years-old again and standing up in front of class, doing a report on music or something.”
Satriani said he wanted his new album to sound stripped down. He wanted to reinvent himself a little bit, to create that nervousness he felt, unhooded.
“Nervousness is also excitement,” Satriani said. “It provides an enormous amount of inspiration and energy. I thrive on enormous. I wouldn’t call it stagefright, because I know people who get sick and tremble. It’s more about excitement. That first step onstage is so exciting. I get butterflies and just like anybody else. Do I really know what I’m doing? Am I ready for tonight’s show?
“Playing music with people is fun. It’s not so much that you’re worried. But you can sense that you’re going to be emotionally vulnerable. You’re walking in front of 5,000 strangers. You’re going to open up and be vulnerable. You’re in this heightened state. Adrenaline starts to flow. It’s excitement.”
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