In terms of live performance, the weight of expectation varies from group to group. As Hit The Lights
reveals all too clearly, some performances are met with hefty expectations, whilst others are met with little at all. Many points happen to be a factor, one such factor being reputation. One newly formed outfit rightly falls into that category, boasting members who possess potent CVs. Two earned their stripes as valued members of none other than Van Halen
, whilst for the last two decades, the other has drummed for fellow multi-platinum act Red Hot Chili Peppers
. The group's axeman, meanwhile, has carved himself a solo career as a virtuoso instrumentalist, forming the celebrated G3
concert package in 1996, which has since paired him against other noted guitarists within a live setting. Dubbed Chickenfoot
, the act certainly has much to live up to.
Erstwhile Van Halen alumni Sammy Hagar
and Michael Anthony
held jams at Hagar's club, Cabo Wabo Cantina, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith
drummed with the two, the trio getting on quite well. Thus, the seeds of Chickenfoot's birth were sown. Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani
subsequently entered the fold, the quartet jamming on 2nd February 2008 at Las Vegas' The Pearl Concert Theater during Hagar's concert. A three track covers set was performed, including Led Zeppelin's "Rock 'n' Roll" and Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy". This cemented Chickenfoot's lineup. Tracks developed, spawning plans to cut a full length. In September, Chickenfoot entered George Lucas' Skywalker Studios with producer Andy Johns
to begin recording a debut album. The eponymous opus was laid down over three blocks of recording sessions, the final sessions occurring during December.
In March 2009, it was revealed that earMUSIC would issue 'Chickenfoot
' in Europe, Australia and Japan on June 5th, and in the UK on June 8th. Best Buy, meanwhile, would issue the album in North America on June 7th. The full length is slated to be packaged in heat-sensitive artwork, where should you place your hand on the CD inlay, photographs of the group members will be revealed behind the Chickenfoot group logo. Later that March, the tracks "Soap On A Rope
" and "Down the Drain
" were made available for streaming via the group's official MySpace page. From mid to late May, Chickenfoot will perform at dates across North America. From mid June, meanwhile, Chickenfoot will perform its first tentative European shows. Including a London date on June 25th at London's Shepherd's Bush, the outfit's European trek will wind up during mid July.
To promote 'Chickenfoot', Joe Satriani
scheduled a four day European press trip. To take place during April 2009, the axeman would visit Hamburg, London, Paris and Milan. On April 6th, Satriani
was due to conduct a slew of interviews in London from 9:00-18:00 GMT. However, such slots were quickly consumed, and so Joe
kindly allocated a block of time on the 5th. Hit The Lights' Robert Gray
was asked to telephone reception at 17:25 GMT at London's K West Hotel on that day, and to ask reception to be put through to Satriani. Less than an hour prior, Robert missed a mobile call. Through email, it was then confirmed that the hotel's phone line was down, and that Satriani would have to call instead. Robert returned the mobile call and provided a landline number. Satriani then phoned via Skype at the scheduled time to mainly discuss Chickenfoot
, as well as his impending copyright case
Hi. This is Joe Satriani, and I'm calling for Robert.
This is Robert. How are you Joe?
I'm fine Robert. I'm calling you via Skype, so if we have some type of computer problem, I'll just call you right back. Ok?
Ok. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Yeah, go ahead.
How did Chickenfoot come together?
I've known Sammy for quite a long time, and we live in the same area. For a short period, we were actually part of a group together called Planet Us. He called me roughly a year and a half ago, and asked me to join him onstage just for fun. We jammed at the end of one of his Las Vegas shows, and that was really the beginning of the Chickenfoot experience. Chad, Mike and myself all just thought we would jam, and have a good time, though it turned out to be profoundly good. We looked at each other onstage, and said "Wow, we should be a group. What will we do about that?". We took it from there. We promised each other that we should write some tracks, should get together, and should see if we could take things towards the next step. For roughly nine months, we pursued this here and there, but then we finally put our feet down, and said "Ok. Let's enter the studio, and pursue this for real".
Are you comfortable with the term "supergroup"?
"Supergroup"? People can say whatever they wish. If you're a performer, and record albums, then people say the funniest things (laughs). Whatever. I don't care. I just want people to listen to 'Chickenfoot'. If they want to call us "super", or just want to call us a group, then fine. I can confirm that we're definitely a group, and are not a project. We can certainly perform live, and we will perform live. As a group, I hope that we have a future ahead of us.
Since you're pursuing a solo career, and Chickenfoot's other members have their own musical endeavours, was it difficult to set aside time to record Chickenfoot's debut album?
We managed it. That jam took place roughly a year and a half ago, during February 2008, and at that time, I had just finished mastering my twelfth solo album 'Professor Satchafunkilus'. On April 30th, my solo world tour was scheduled to begin, and there was nothing I could do about that. We had already sold tickets, and had six months of touring booked in Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and North America. Each of them realised that I would be touring until November 15th. Every two months, when I didn't have any dates scheduled for several weeks, I convened with those guys. We wrote and recorded, and did that on three occasions. Finally, we all cleared December 2008 in our schedules, so that we could have six weeks of uninterrupted recording.
Chickenfoot was originally a tentative name for the group, though the group obvious opted towards maintaining that name. Why did the group opt to keep the name Chickenfoot?
I think it was just a goofy code name. We had to call ourselves something, and thought about possible names in the meantime. We thought of clever names, though I never thought any name was as good as Chickenfoot (laughs). Chickenfoot is just a name which is so eerie, yet at the same time, is perfect. I wasn't surprised when the public overwhelmed us somewhat by just constantly referring to us as Chickenfoot. The name just stuck, I guess.
Is there a story behind Chickenfoot's name?
I think Sammy knows the true story. He's told us a few tall tales about where the name came from, so I wouldn't know which one is the truth. You'll have to ask him about the story behind Chickenfoot's name.
How would you describe the musical chemistry which exists between Chickenfoot's fellow members?
Each time we played, we discovered something new about each other, and that was what happened to be really great about convening with these guys. I don't think they realised how much old rock 'n' roll and blues I was really into, how I could really play it, and how much I really hoped that those elements would be part of the group. Also, I didn't realise how much Chad could jump all over that material, and how much Mike could really make that material swing. I was really shocked. Additionally, I discovered that me and Sam had some of the same grooves, and that was very exciting. Each time I brought in a new track, we had this fantastic jam which revolved around the track idea. We had some shared grooves, as well as similar musical backgrounds. Each time we convened, that's what happened. Our chemistry really came from those roots.
What type of blues influences feature upon 'Chickenfoot'?
"Each time we played, we discovered something new about each other."
Everyone has their own story, I think. We've never really sat around, and discussed our personal music. Each time we convene, we have an extremely tight schedule. I've spent more time talking with Sam, since we live in the same town, and have spent more time together writing tracks. If people listen to my solo records, they just might not know that I practice playing blues, and serious blues. I practice finger picking, and acoustic slide guitar playing, but just because it doesn't eventually feature upon my solo records, it doesn't mean I'm not really into it. That's the type of thing we eventually wished to be a part of. When Sam heard me playing harmonica, he said "You have to play harmonica somewhere on the record". Chad said "Do you play slide?", to which I replied "I love to play slide". He then said "Well, why don't you play some slide?". That's how we worked off one another. We wished to create a diverse record, and an eclectic record. At the same time however, we wanted the album to swing, to rock, and to have its own group identity.
So those who listen to 'Chickenfoot' will potentially hear a different musical side of yours? Which they might be surprised by in some respects?
I hope so. For me personally, I cause surprise by injecting fresh life into my musical experiences. I hope that my fans, and those who haven't really paid much attention to my material in the past, will be pleasantly surprised to hear me playing in these different styles.
How did tracks come together for 'Chickenfoot'? Would you write tracks, and present them to the group's fellow members? How did the process work?
I made demos at home, and that's how most of the tracks began. I sent the tracks to Chickenfoot's fellow members, and they reinterpreted the tracks in question. After several months, we would convene, and record how the track would be interpreted by a live group. Some tracks were inspired by discussions I had with Sam, who gave me a suggestion, direction, or a title. I wrote a track called "Avenida Revolution", and thought no-one would ever like it. When Sam heard that track, he just went crazy. Whilst I toured, the members convened, and recorded the drums, bass and vocals over my demo guitar part. When I returned from touring, "Avenida Revolution"'s recording was completely finished (laughs). I was surprised like that, sometimes. On other occasions, we finished writing a track right in the studio, just moments before recording said track.
I listened to two Chickenfoot tracks ("Soap On A Rope" and "Down the Drain"), and was surprised. Most who've heard your solo material might think you'd play guitar everywhere upon the album. However, you enter the tracks at the correct time, as opposed to over-playing the guitar.
Yeah. Certainly, you don't want to over-play your part when you're part of a group like this (laughs). I wanted to place some good distance between.. How would you describe it? The stylistic approach to recording 'Chickenfoot' versus an instrumental album. For decades, people have continually asked me about the differences between recording a rock instrumental, and recording a rock track with vocals. I've always explained how it's so completely different - you have to arrange such tracks differently, and you have to record such tracks differently. Now, I think they'll understand. Listeners can hear me playing, but listeners now have the opportunity to hear me playing in a completely different way. I had to. When Sammy Hagar is part of your group, the last thing you do is provide him with only a small amount of space (laughs). You provide him with a lot of space.
"Soap On A Rope" features a hard rock vibe in the vein of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. What spawned this track?
That track surfaced due to the fact that Sam and me had a conversation regarding cool tracks, and what we felt the group would be good at. We just drank tequilas, and riffed upon ideas. He said something which stuck in my head, which was; "It would be cool to write a track where you guys play, and I sing in one whole, and then you guys play once more". Sam loves to listen to us play, and noted that if we wrote a track of that nature, then he could sing, and subsequently listen to us play. He also commented that such a track would be more exciting for him. I thought about that, and so I whipped up a demo, and sent it to the group's fellow members. Everyone liked that demo. The second time we convened to record some demos, we all arranged the track right there on the spot somewhat. Sam encouraged me to conduct a long jam at the end of the track, and to just go crazy. That's how the track was born. We could record different versions of that track all day long, since it's a fun track to play.
Judging by the two Chickenfoot tracks I heard, the music resembles, as you more or less said, a blues jam type affair.
It's funny. Blues jam type tracks are very difficult to hit correctly - if you don't correctly hit them, the track just sounds like a blues jam (laughs). If you hit them correctly, it sounds as though it was actually purposely written. It becomes classic, causing you to think "Man, how come no-one ever wrote that before?". You walk upon a fence where you attempt to make the track new and original, though you don't want to over-arrange the track. You want the track to have some type of looseness, so that it musically resembles a group just wanting to hang back, and groove for awhile. Everybody felt that way. I'm glad that you commented upon that - it was a good comment. We didn't want to become too clever, didn't want to make each track super polished, and didn't want to achieve the tightest arrangement. We just wanted every track to breathe a little, just like the tracks would whilst playing them the first several times.
"Down the Drain"'s tempo is slightly slower than "Soap On A Rope"'s, and during its verses, Sammy's vocals slightly resemble Anthony Kiedis (upon 1991 single "Give It Away"). What spawned that track?
"Down the Drain"'s story is so unique. We got ready to record another track, though I can't remember the name of the track - its name might have been "Turnin' Left". I had just tuned my guitar, and we'd just gotten the sound right. We'd changed the snare drum, and I just sat there. I checked the tuning of my guitar, and played a little riff from a track of mine called "Rubina's Blue Sky Happiness" from 'The Extremist' (1992). Chad looked at me, and I saw him start this type of beat. Spontaneously, I just started playing this blues riff. As I started playing that riff, Sam thought I was playing him a track which he hadn't heard yet, a track which turned into "My Kinda Girl". Over the microphone, Sam began saying "Joe, is this the new song? Is this the new song? I like it, I like it", though I couldn't hear him - I didn't have the vocals feeding through my monitor yet. I just played, but played very lightly with my left hand, since I didn't want to put the strings out of tune. I figured that any second, we would stop, and get back to business, which was recording the other track. We just kept jamming, and then Sammy started to sing. Basically, he literally worded the track on the spot. When we were finished, we all looked into the control room, and said "Did you record that?". Of course, Andy (Johns, producer) had. He's a smart gentleman, and knew something was happening. That was the one and only occasion we ever played "Down the Drain". The track was written upon the spot, and we just entered the studio, contributing some keyboards here, and an extra guitar there, as well as contributing a background vocal. That's the most magical writing moment I've ever had as part of a group.
Will a music video be filmed in support of 'Chickenfoot'?
We have to film some videos. I've noticed that in my schedule, a video shoot will occur during May. I don't know which track that music video will be filmed for, though such things have to be put into place. 'Chickenfoot' will generate a couple of tracks worth of videos.
Will a second studio album from Chickenfoot be recorded?
"I'm happy for Coldplay, and in a very weird way, I was happy to hear my melody being celebrated."
I really hope so - I could see Chickenfoot recording three to four albums.
Have you written any material which you feel would be ideal for Chickenfoot to record?
Not really. Once we completed 'Chickenfoot', I really just focused on rehearsing. I didn't even really think too much about new material. I have several fragments, though it's so early to contemplate writing. I want to wait until we embark upon touring, since I think experiencing playing before audiences across the globe will be very inspirational. I want to make sure that Chickenfoot's second album is partly based on the fans reaction.
Chickenfoot will tour Europe from mid June to mid July. Could you tell me about that?
Yeah. We wanted to initially play here in Europe, since I'm really keen for Chickenfoot to perform at as many festivals as possible. The festival audiences are a fantastic mix of audiences, I think. They really don't inspire such a feeling in the US, or possibly anywhere else in the world. The variety of acts that wind up performing over two or three day periods at European festivals, whether it be in the UK or as far east or as far north as you wish to go into Europe, is really spellbinding. For us, I think it'll be inspiring to mix it up with a lot of different groups. I didn't want to embark on a solo tour right from the beginning - when you tour alone, it can be rather isolating. I just thought it would be much more fun to hang out with other groups for a month or so, before getting down to serious business so to speak. We've scheduled roughly four to five solo shows; we'll be performing at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, at Hamburg's Grosse Freiheit, and at Holland's Heerhugowaard. I forget where the others are, but we have a few scheduled. We then return to the States, and will work solidly until the end of September. We have a lot of shows booked already.
Would it be ok if I briefly touched upon the case you've filed against Coldplay?
What would you like to know?
I'd like to know where the case is presently at.
Our respective lawyers are talking to one other, and trading papers. There's much protocol which needs to be followed. These types of cases tend to drag on, and with very little interesting news for months and months (laughs). None of us are meant to discuss any of the really interesting aspects, so all I can say is that the case is still ongoing.
You aren't allowed to discuss the case until it's concluded?
That's pretty much it (laughs). I can confirm that the case is still going through its paces.
What's your reaction to Coldplay winning the 'Song of the Year' Grammy Award for "Viva la Vida"?
I'm happy for the group, and in a very weird way, I was happy to hear my melody being celebrated. However, I was slightly confused that NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc.), the organisation which handles the Grammy Awards, would even consider nominating a track which they knew was heavily contested. These are the people who voted for Milli Vanilli, though it isn't really their job I suppose.
When Coldplay won that Grammy, weren't you pissed off?
No, not really.
You might have said "That's my Grammy", I thought.
I think Coldplay's Grammy really concerns that particular track. It isn't about the track versus the people. It's really just about a group of musicians trying to work out an equitable arrangement - that's really what it's all about (laughs). We could've been group members going to court over this, but it just so happens we're in different groups. Nonetheless though, it really has nothing to do with the Grammy's, or with the audience. I'm pretty sure that Coldplay's members would also like to keep this case separate from the outside world.
At present, do you have solo plans?
Our DVD from the 'Satchafunkilus' tour is almost finished, and that will likely be issued during September. The DVD boasts a really fantastic live show at the Grand Rex Theatre in Paris, and has a crazy, psychedelic production. It was filmed using roughly fifteen HD cameras, and is a really visually stunning video.
Do you have a message for your fans?
My message is always the same: I thank my fans for everything (laughs). I hope to see them at the Chickenfoot shows.
Ok. Thanks for the interview Joe.
Alright. Thank you very much.
Interview by Robert Gray