I call Joe Satriani
at 8:35 AM, the appointed time for our interview. The call is put through to Joe
's room. His voice is instantly recognizable to me (we've spoken to each other probably a dozen times over the past years) and he says to wait while he finishes up an earlier conversation. I'm put on hold for about ten minutes and then Joe
comes back on the line.
The guitarist is doing press for Professor Satchafunkilus And The Musterion Of Rock
, his 12th album, and interviews have been butted up one against the other all morning. Running behind schedule is just about par for the course. After we exchange salutations, I mumble something about doing one interview after the other and how it must be difficult for him to come up with original answers. He responds in a mildly agitated fashion.
"As long as you don't ask me, 'cause the other guy asked me, So what's different about this record compared to the last record? I had to laugh. I said, Well, besides ten different songs... that is the worst question anyone could ever ask so you're gonna have to do better than that you know?
UG: I've never asked you that question and I never will.
Joe, before we get into the record I want to do a little bit of Satriani house cleaning. Not counting live records there's like twelve studio records. Do they fall into a chapter or a compositional set of works? Maybe the first three, the second three, the third three and this new one marking the third album in the last threesome? If we look at the Beatles on their early records they were doing cover stuff. Then they got into the Rubber Soul and Revolver thing and then the Sergeant Pepper thing. Do your records fall into different areas like your blue period or your red period?
Well, the most overriding factor in all of this is my life actually. What's happening in the world. From the inside looking out those are the factors that are much more important that nobody knows about. The personal things that went on in my life surrounding each record had more to do with how the records turned out than anything business related or some conception I had about this is where I want to go. It may seem that way and I understand why. When you're on the receiving end of hype and advertising and everything you just figure the artist planned this whole thing out you know? [laughs] At least I can speak for myself and say there's very little that gets planned. Labels have always left me alone; no one ever tells me what to do. We kind of wait to see what develops. What turns out good, what doesn't turn out good, and we tend to put the good stuff on the record and leave off the bad stuff [laughs].
So the direction just seems to happen around us. You know, ninety percent of the time we're at home dealing with home stuff. We drive around through the world like everybody else and then arrive at the studio to do this little thing. So there's a lot of exterior factors that really have an effect on how the project turns out. And then there's random stuff. I mean, Surfing With The Alien wasn't called Surfing With The Alien until the record was just about to be manufactured. All of a sudden out of nowhere it gets associated with a cartoon character I never knew about. If you walked into a store back in late '87 and saw the Silver Surfer on the cover you'd immediately think, you know, This guy must be crazy? Where's he from? He's from outer space! You know, it would be very difficult for someone to realize that I just never read comic books. And it was purely a fluke that some guy at the record company used to be called the Silver Surfer 'cause he was tall and had long blonde hair. It's one of those stories you couldn't make up, you know what I mean? But it happened to us.
So every record has got a series of stories related to it that are like that. Records like Flying in a Blue Dream and how long it took. All the different things that were going on, the different rooms we were in. You know, the record starts off with this weird feedback and this little kid talking and, man, people come up to me with the strangest ideas about why I did that purposely and how I recorded it. But when I try to tell them it was just totally accidental, that we couldn't get rid of RF [Radio Frequency] interference and we decided out of frustration to record it. Purely by accident the tape was wound up to the beginning of the song. The chords came in when they came in. We never shifted it or pro-tooled it, you know? [laughs] We just tell them it was random and that once we had it we had to figure out what to put on top of it and we came up with the feedback idea. It's funny how that is. So I don't see it like you would. I find it very interesting how you might see it that way. I would say though that there was a big shift in the records when the beginning of the end started.
It's funny, I was just having an interview with another guy from Splash magazine and he was asking me about the state of the music business. You know, right after Crystal Planet in '98 was really the beginning of the end for musicians and labels. It was when video games reached their height, you know, when the world of Playstation and everything else was really taking over the brains of people who would normally listen to music. And it was when the internet and file sharing really reared its ugly head in a funny way. Music started this it was sort of like a bullet train into being a de-commoditized commodity. It just lost its value. Unfortunately musicians still get charged for recording [laughs]. So for a decade now its been like, Well, let me figure this out. I pay for it and then I give it away. How does that work? Its right up there with the fact we pay for water and it used to be free. We haven't quite figured that one out yet. But when that happened, you know, its funny how you can point the finger but then you realize, Well, maybe I'm part of this as well? You know, musicians demanded this sort of digital revolution because it really helped us work, and then it just turned around and sort of bit us in the rear end. We created the demand for DATs, and when file sharing came we were so happy because we could get rid of this location problem. I could file share a song with somebody in L.A. and they could put their drums on it; he could send it to someone in Paris and they could work on it and send it back to me and we thought, This is great! Our own little, you know, digital world. Except that is wasn't our own little one, it was everybody's. It's silly to think that we didn't realize that was going to happen. So once that started everybody had to work at home, and then of course studios started closing. Are you still in Los Angeles, Steve?
So you know what its like. For it to hit L.A. as bad as it has should finally let everybody know. 'Cause you know when it hits a little one-horse town like San Francisco everyone says, Oh, yeah, but that's San Francisco. But, you know, The Plant is totally vacant now. There's no more of that wonderful legendary studio where me and Metallica and Santana and Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder have made many many records that's gone. Just about everything's finished in San Francisco, but to hear of those great studios in L.A. closing really hurts. People aren't being trained to be engineers, so engineers are out of work. Really talented people can't make a living anymore which means they can't help people like us, musicians. The labels if they're not getting a return, you know, don't provide the investment for the artist. So what does that mean? How do records get made anymore?
So, anyway, I see that as the only shift when I look over my records. There's not a red period, a blue period, whatever. But there's that period where you can tell I started to do a lot more work at home because it was what was happening in the world. And so the freedom that we were able to express in the Engines of Creation that would never have happened if it was me buying studio time and having musicians show up. You could never do that, you just couldn't. But working in a living room in Laurel Canyon, yeah, you can do that. You take six months, work three days a week and, you know, build tracks and don't have any regard towards the fact that you have to use someone because you paid for them from eleven to two, you know? [laughs]
Exactly. So along those lines Joe, you mentioned that Surfing With The Alien didn't get that conceptualization until it was done. Is that what happened with the new record? I've been reading online and I know there were those two ephemeral chords kind of flying out there. Can it really begin over something as simple as that? And then did songs get written and then its, Oh, its Professor Satch, and, you know, the looking for the answer?
Yeah, well, there's a funny story for every record and that one is that it is true that those opening chords written on piano were sort of like, you know, the opening of the flood gates for me as far as creativity and where I felt I could direct myself. I suppose what it is is you get that one song that gives you creative license in a particular direction and everything gets filtered through that so you get encouraged, you know. I know it seem incongruous but it also made me feel like I could record robot vocals and build a song around a very silly idea of a robot loose in the city. And I had no excuse for it, but I can explain to you that two chords can kind of give you sort of a giddy feeling and you just start writing all sorts of stuff.
Interesting. What are those two chords, Joe?
|"Every record has got a series of stories related to it."|
Well, you can call them a lot of different ways. Basically, I'm playing in a C Hungarian Minor Scale, which was something that I recognized after I had written most of the song, that part of my brain clicked in and said, Oh, by the way you know that you're in Hungarian Minor. And I just thought, Oh, how cool, I've never actually written a song in that particular key. So, anytime you have diads, which are two note chords, its rather ambiguous what you want to call it. I suppose you can say C Major Seven Augmented Fourth to C Minor, that's all it was, those two. But they sound rather odd because there's contrary motion going on with the voicings. So I think that's part of the charm is that the notes are close together in the opposite direction for the second chord and then they split again. If you're looking at it on a piano it almost like a funny geometric thing.
Yeah, exactly. And you mentioned they came up on a keyboard. There's a fair amount of keyboards on this record; they kind of play more of an upfront thing for you.
I was thinking after finishing the previous album that I wanted to have a different sound for the record and I was thinking, Well, how do I go about having a signature tone quality for the album? So I thought, Well, you know what? I think I want acoustic piano to be part of this thing. I didn't want heavy synth or software synth. I said, I think I just want a piano. So every time I came up with a song I'd go over to the piano and I'd say, Ok, now let me rewrite it on the piano and see what I can come up with.
So when I brought it to John Cuniberti [Producer] I said, You know, I think I want fat, soft, round, dynamicyou know, a big dynamic range so that when people turn the record up louder and louder it gets better and better. It doesn't get distorted, you know?
A lot of modern records are made with such a small dynamic range. Just a couple of db at best, you know, so it sounds loud when its played low and then when you turn it loud it just gets worse. It's a disturbing trend, but people are used to it because they're listening to music through video games and there is zero tolerance for dynamic range on video games. But, you know, fifteen years a record would have like a 15db range of dynamics. That's totally lost. The new Metallica record is the perfect example; the thing has zero dynamic range. Sonically it's a whole other thing, you know?
So, I said, We don't compete with other artists. We're not gonna be played up against hip hop records or anything like that. We can do what we want, so let's make the audiophile record of the day. So we came up with a style of recording where we would lessen the distortion on all the instruments put on there; we would allow them a bigger dynamic range and we would make the album sort of warm and fat so that as you turned it up the mixes would envelope you more. And, so, there is a technical way of dealing with that. I'm giving you the colorful speech version of it. An engineer will go, I get what you mean and this is how we do it.
So the piano was part of it. Because what it is is instead of having two or three distorted rhythm guitars all the time and then adding a high-gain melody to it, you know, there's competition for frequencies, the snare drum starts to get lost and, you know, in immortal words of Keith Richards, 'Someone has to be louder, right? [laughs] To solve that I tried to eliminate lots of distorted guitars, and if they had to be there I'd try to create an arrangement where they go away. So like with I Just Wanna Rock those rhythm guitars go away as soon as the solo starts and it becomes just a trio. We did that with the last two tracks as well; there's no distorted guitars anywhere, it's basically a trio or there's some acoustic guitar. So the acoustic piano and the acoustic guitars had a lot to do with opening up the sound of the album. That was a conscious decision.
Interesting. So I Just Wanna Rock is a robot let loose at a rock concert or in the city?
No, it was a silly idea that a robot would get loose from a lab or something, I dunno, and walk around the city and come across a small, free rock concert in the park and go up to people and start saying, What is your purpose? because that would be the only way that the robot could think about reality.
What is your purpose? I couldn't tell what he was saying. Sorry.
I know, me neither. [laughs] It's very distorted. I recorded that at home, first. It was the first thing I recorded to see if it would be funny enough, you know? Once I got that I thought, Oh, that's cool. Then I thought, Well, then what happens? So I thought, Ok, he goes to a rock concert and it starts to humanize him and he wants to rock but he doesn't know how. So he starts to say, I wanna rock, I wanna rock, I wanna learn how to rock with you. And I looked around my room and I'm thinking, I need something to plug into that makes him less of a robot. And my eyes caught the Framptone talkbox, which I had been desperately trying to use for three records and I could just never come up with anything creative that was better than Peter Frampton or Richie Sambora or Joe Walsh, you know? [laughs]
But then I thought, Ah, ok, its not me it's the robot! So I used the talkbox to be that sound of the robot having rock 'n roll change its life. Then I recorded that and thought, Ok, now I can build a song around this. So then I wrote the song actually around those two recorded bits. Yeah, it's crazy.
Wow, you really are weird aren't you?
[laughs] Yeah, but see, that's the freedom. I can do what I want. It's kind of nice in a way being an obscure musician.
I get a sense, those opening changes, I get a bit of an AC/DC vibe. Is that right?
Absolutely, because I was thinking, What would be the most essential, infectious groove? you know? So I recorded this with AC/DC in mind and I nailed it so closely I felt guilty, so I reprocessed the rhythm guitars through a Sans amp plug in to make them sound a little dirtier and robot, you know, and less in your face rock 'n roll 'cause otherwise I'd just be stealing. So I purposely tried to bend them a little bit. I made them as a loop, really. There's just three guitars and I think it's, like, an eight bar phrase, and then I loop that. And that was also conscious 'cause I thought, Well, if I do a live performance of the whole song, again, that's a little bit too much like AC/DC. So what can I do to give some space between the two of us, you know?
Cool. The title track, Joe, is there a real funky thing inside you?
Absolutely, yeah, I grew up listening to Sly Stone, James Brown, a couple of funk bands when I was in high school. It's always been a part of my musicianship and part of my roots. That did in fact come about 'cause I was driving my son somewhere and we were listening to Mos Def and we started talking to each other about the architecture of that particular song and he had said, Oh, It'd be really cool if you could do an instrumental like this. And then we talked further about how you just can't do that 'cause with the rap the whole things just becomes boring and repetitive. The personality of the rapper is what's really making the whole thing happen, you know? But after I dropped him off and I'm driving home I start thinking that's a really interesting concept that he brought up, though. By the time I got home I'd written something in my head that had come from that conversation and listening to that music. So then I record it and by the time he came home I said, Hey, check this out, and he was like, Oh, cool. So I said, You're gonna have to play on it, 'cause it's partly your idea.
So a couple of weeks later, he had just learned how to play sax, I got him on there playing some weird sax.
Yeah, on the intros and outros there.
Must be pretty cool to see your son playing on one of your songs.
Oh, it's great. I really like it. I mean, he's a really good guitarist.
Yeah, that's what he plays most of the time. Sax was a new thing.
Interesting. I get an overriding sense, what's the word, that the record is a little darker. By the title itself, a sense of questioning or looking for something. It's very upbeat but there's a sense of melancholy about it. Does that make sense?
|"I purposely got this record together without a title because I thought the title would effect us."|
It's interesting, a couple years ago I'd been going to the symphony and spending some time with Michael Tilson Thomas, who runs the symphony in San Francisco. One day he had been listening to a bunch of my stuff and he said to me something that was very interesting he said, Brooding, and then he'd shake his head. And I said, Really? Brooding? And he goes, No, brooding is good. I love brooding. I thought, hat's off to MTT for really sort of zoning in on that. 'Cause I never thought of it that way but I realized that it's like what you picked up. I like, I don't know if it's melancholy or whatever but there's brooding and I thought, Yeah, that's what it is. There's no other way to say brooding, that's just what it is.
Some records when we go in, I write forty songs, we work them down to twenty, the guys come over, they listen to them and they say, Oh, you know, no fucking way am I playing that song. So we work it down to sixteen and then we get into the studio and we realize, well, only fourteen should be worked on. Then two of them for reason just don't come together, so then you get down to twelve. And then you decide, Ok, twelve is too many, let's just work on ten and then we'll have a bonus track.
And that's what we did. So I was surprised that certain songs that, you know, maybe were not so brooding did not turn out the way we thought and were left off the record. There was one track called Ghost that I thought was just a little too retro to be on the record. We wound up finishing it but not liking it. We left it off the record and then Apple really insisted on a iTunes exclusive. So we went back to the song and I remember I kind of threw my hands up and I gave it to my co- producer John Cuniberti and I said, You know, remix it and maybe it'll happen. Maybe you can do it without me in the room. He did a remix of it that I really liked and I thought he did it as best as the song could give us, you know? So it would up as the bonus track. Then we started doing it live and it's wound up being like one of the more popular tracks of the record. Who knew? It's not a happy track [laughs]. It's got a very odd, you know, scale. The whole thing has that dark kind of brooding thing; it's got like ten percent of late Eighties metal to it. Which is why I think I left it off, I didn't think it was as forward thinking as Musterion or Asik Veysel or something like that, you know? So it's funny how you just don't know sometimes where your record's going until you're sitting there. We didn't have a title. I purposely got this record together without a title because I thought the title would effect us. So why not have no title? So all the musicians would come in and just think about the song and apply themselves differently song by song. And then of course when the end of the record did come I didn't have a title and I had to scramble for something. In desperation we thought, Oh, to hell with the title. What does the title matter anyway? People buy one song at a time, they re-sequence the album. We shouldn't beat ourselves up over the title.
And so I was sitting there, me and my manager, Jeff was there. We were having dinner in a wine cave in the Napa Valley. And it was cold in that cave, let me tell ya [laughs]. Anyway, so, they're thinking about it and my manager said to me, Well, maybe it should be a long title that just, you know, means something to you but doesn't really need to function, you know? 'Cause we figured after three weeks it's just your new record; people don't care what it's called. They whittle it down into initials. So I'm doing, like, a mental mash up of all the song titles, you know, I came up with Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock and I thought, Wow, I bet people are gonna think I thought about that for a long time and it has a meaning to it [laughs]. Everybody seemed to like it so that's how we got that title.
Cool. Come on Baby, has keys in the Intro, and that ballad thing you do
Well, you know, I wrote that on piano in nineteen ninety three up in Incline Village in Lake Tahoe. It was just a song written for love and it wasn't for production, you know? I'd made a demo way back then in March of that year. I was writing the Time Machine record. I remember it was really dark; it snowed in up there. We had this place that was almost eight thousand feet in the air. So we had a lot of crazy things happening at the time. But I walked out with this cassette recording of me playing this thing. And it wasn't really edited down properly because it wasn't a song that I was going to publish. So the demo didn't reflect the fact that it was either a vocal song or instrumental song.
So I was playing it in my studio for some reason. I just sort of resurrected it; maybe I was transferring it from tape to drive, and my son opens the door and says, Wow, what's that? That's really cool? How come that's not on one of your records? He sort of encouraged me to look at it again and I looked at it, copied it to pro tools and I thought, Well, if it were to be an instrumental, how would I rearrange it? So I went about rearranging it and then I went about re-recording it. Before I knew it, I was recording the album. And so all the guitars and the piano and the bass and so on; my bass was recorded at home. Then I brought it in and Jeff and Matt did their own take on it and voila!, it's on the record.
What I loved about it, and again, maybe this is just you going for a live thing from top to bottom, but the playing is a little simpler side of you. It keeps building on itself and it's like, you're in the studio or your room and you're just kind of playing your guitar. There's no tricks, no big delays. You listen to this playing and it's like Wow! It's just so great; beautiful performance.
Well I'm glad you liked it. I recorded the five guitar parts, one right after another, one take each. Same guitar, same amp, all I did was change the settings on my guitar's tone control. So I never went back. I just said, Ok, first rhythm guitar clean on the left, and then I doubled it on the right. Then I said, A little dirtier on the left, a little dirtier on the right. Let's do the melody and solo. And I got to the end of it and I listened to it and I went, Oh, wow, that's some sweet playing. It's like you said, no reliance on any show biz techniques, you know? It was, like, my homage to classic rock guitar playing.
Part of me thought, I wonder if this is gonna go over everyone's head or under their head or something? But I just thought there was such an element of truth to it that I should just put it out there. Sometimes when we're on tour I really wish we had a seven-piece band and we could do a song like that. It would be really great 'cause it's very close to my heart. I'm glad everything conspired to have me record that and release it on the record.
Absolutely, you hit it perfectly. You talk about an element of truth. I've always wondered, and I'm sure you probably can't separate these, but how do we truly identify a guitar player? Is it his tone or is it that technique? And so I hear this and, you know, whatever's on there is a pretty minimal treatment effect wise, and I know instantly that was you. So I guess an answer to my question, I think what we recognize most in a guitar player is the technique. I mean, you playing the acoustic guitar, I know instantly that's Joe Satriani. We talk about, you know, treating things and all the effects and things, that's auxiliary stuff. You were there, at the heart of this as a player, with this highly identifiable technique. Obviously that's what separates you from a lot of other guys.
Well, that sounds great. I know when you go to play a song like Come On Baby you definitely have to get your phrasing together 'cause the feel of the song rests entirely on how you phrase it. That's a technique that's not celebrated in magazines [laughs] and it's very difficult to put your finger on because it's new for every new song. You have to embrace the idea that phrasing is the most important thing. So, I dunno, maybe I couldn't have recorded that ten years ago? I dunno. But I'm happy that it came together that one afternoon that I applied myself.
Joe, just a couple of last tracks here. Asik Veysel?
Yeah, sorry, you never know how to pronounce it. I think the Turkish pronounce it A-shik Vay-sel. I'm not really up on my Turkish [laughs].
Yeah, I looked it up and they have it spelled V-e-y-s-e-l.?
Yes, you probably have an older piece of press there where they had inadvertently spelled it with an ay, but I know they eventually did correct it. I don't know how far they went with correcting it but I know we did have a reprint on that.
I played in Istanbul two tours ago and had a wonderful time there. The local promoter was so gracious. We were there for four days and they just took us everywhere. Took us to little neighborhood restaurants on both the European and the Asian side of the City. It's just a wonderful place. We visited just every little corner of that place we could and we had this great outdoor show.
This one guy, John, I forget his last name but John was his first name, he was shocked that I didn't know about Asik Veysel. So as he picked us up to take us to the airport on the day we were leaving, he gave me these two cds and said, You're going to identify with this guy, I guarantee it.
So when I got home and I listened to it, I couldn't believe it. This guy's music is pretty much in the Dorian Mode and it's Anatolian Folk music and I'd never heard it before. Its just this guy singing and playing this little three or four-string saz instrument and it sounded like something I'd heard my whole life. It was just really a very strange experience listening to it for the first time. And of course not understanding what he was singing about, I had to kind of research what he would sing about. From what I could tell he's singing about, basically celebrating the connection between the Turkish people and the Turkish land; human and Earth. Basically that eternal connection. So it was really poetry. He's sort of like this country poet, I guess. And he's a national treasure there. I knew I wanted to do something, but I didn't want to be like a culture vulture, you know, and get all Turkish on everybody. 'Cause I kept saying, I'm just an Italian kid from Long Island. Keep it real, ya know?
So, I thought, let's just record impressions. That was my idea, just to record my impressions as a guitar player who likes to crank it up. So I kind of came up with this sort of free form song and in some ways I was thinking about Coltrane's India. Because Coltrane was a supreme musician, you know, and he writes this song called India but there's nothing Indian about it [laughs], but there's something totally Coltrane about it, you know? A couple of chords and bam! off he goes, you know? And I thought, I think that's what I'm thinking about. So I wanted to write something that would reflect the fact that we traveled to this place, and so I came up with that two-handed thing at the beginning with the time signature. I didn't know Jeff was going to come up with playing the hand drum the way he did and everything. That's just one of those things that happens on the album when you're recording it. The bulk of the song actually sounds like an improv but there's a short melody and I stick to the Dorian Mode, and I actually borrow phrases from one of his songs that I could never pronounce for you.
After everyone learned the song I said, Ok, now I'm gonna show you something. And I played them some of the original recordings that Asik Veysel made and they were like, Oh, ok now we get it. Because it's just two chords, you know? It was kind of tough for Matt because it was very few parts. I mean, there's something very funny going on where the song is based on the D chord happening at a different part of the four-bar phrase. So when the improve happens it shifts; it comes in a bar early. It's so subtle though that you'd miss it, unless you had to record it yourself. But it was part of trying to keep it loose. Listening to Veysel's work it's like listening to John Lee Hooker. You know how John Lee Hooker rearranges the blues any way he damn wants; he doesn't care if someone's trying to figure out when the four chord happens, you know?
That's kind of like how it sounds like when you listen to this Turkish music, it just sounds like it's driven really by the poetry, not by some accepted way of playing that kind of music, from an ensemble point of view.
Did you actually pick up a saz just to see what it felt like?
|"The feel of the song rests entirely on how you phrase it."|
You know, he presented one to me the day we were leaving and we were able to play it for a few hours, but then we realized we couldn't take it on the plane and so he was going to wrap it up for us and send it to us. But it never arrived, so I don't know what happened to it? But we did get to spend a few hours with it and it's one of those, in a way, it's almost like a dulcimer, you know? Except it's cradled, not flat. Soon as you start playing it you go, Oh, I get it, no wonder. [laughs]
I think you can even find him on iTunes or something like that. You'd be able to just listen to it for a couple sends and you'll be able to connect it with the melody on that track.
Interesting. And then Andalusia?
We actually spent a lot of time on that tour in southern Spain prior to going to Turkey. Because it was so hot that summer we were doing our shows at midnight when it was only one hundred and ten degrees outside. So I wanted to do something based on all the experiences we had as a family, 'cause I was there with my wife and my son, just hanging around the city for hours and hours. Getting into trouble, getting lost, you know, apart from each other and together. All the great times we had with our promoters and all the great guys who take care of us there.
When I came back I thought, What would happen if Asik Veysel had visited there? What would've been his impression of it? Once again, I didn't want to get too Paul Simon on everybody and make believe, Hey, I know Flamenco, listen to me! So I wanted to come up with an impression through me, you know what I mean? So it really did sound like me having an adventure, but the creative device was a story I made up about the Turkish Anatolian Folk musician visiting southern Spain and then coming away with an impression. So I was really sort of telling a slightly heavy metal Long Island story about a Turkish guy going to Southern Spain [laughs] and that was my excuse for a very long improvisation at the tail end of the song.
Joe, real quickly: Guitars and amps, anything strange?
Yeah, as a matter of fact I'm glad you asked because I always set up some parameters when I'm going to do a record, as a device, to put me in a new space. So this time I turned around in my studio and saw, like, three guitars and a bass and I said, That's gonna be it, Joe. None of this, like, thirty-five guitars all lined up in the studio to pick from. It was just, like, those two guitars right there; a Jazz 1000 and a Jazz 1200. I said, That's gonna be it. That's all you're gonna use, you shouldn't use anymore. And I had a nineteen seventy two P-Bass, maple neck, beautiful candy apple red thing that I'd purchase a couple years before at a guitar show. I said, Ok, that's gonna be my bass. I had my Korg Triton and it's got a beautiful acoustic piano in there so I said, That's gonna be my piano.
And so I started recording like that. That was all I was going to use. I had the prototype for the Satchurator that's used widely throughout the record; sounds quite different on many different tracks. Of course I had the JSX, the Mini Colossal amp. The funny thing is the Mini Colossal amp wound up being used for the bass more than the guitar. We used it 'cause, usually you record bass direct, but instead of using an amp and miking it, we re-amped the bass, the recorded bass that was recorded direct, through the Mini Colossal, set it up for a minimal amount of distortion, and used the speaker simulated record-out on the back of the Mini Colossal, and that was our perfectly tuned distorted bass sound. And because the amp doesn't have a ton of low end in it, it was perfect to stay out of the way of the low register, because that's generally what you use the D.I. [Direct Input] for. So, yeah, that would up being Matt's distorted bass tone was actually the Mini Colossal.
And what kind of acoustic, Joe?
Let's see, the rhythm acoustic was a Martin 000-21. I've had that for several records now. The melody and solo that I did on Andalusia I did on a Bruce Sexauer guitar. What's it called? F 14 might be the model? It's made out of perna and buka wood, it's the most unusual guitar. I've never played an acoustic guitar with that much personality in it. It's really something. And Bruce Sexauer you can find him on the net. He builds unbelievable acoustic guitars and basses out of Petaluma, California.
Joe, the Hammond on Diddle-y-a-Doo-Dat?
That's me playing the Korg.
That's the Korg? OK, so you are you a B-3 kind of guy? A fan of those kinds of guys?
No, I'm really a hack piano player. I really am. I'm not very good. I only use one and a half hands, that's what I tell people. The right hand cooperates, the left hand has been a problem. And I don't think it's going to get any better.
Couple last questions here, Joe, and then we're done. I really appreciate your time. We actually did an interview way back in the day. This must've been just around the time of the Flying cd maybe; I asked you about the ideal Satch guitar tone and your response was, Not that I know of (referring to any ideal Satch guitar tone), I suppose it may be the lead guitar sound on Flying In a Blue Dream, Always With You, Always With Me, Not Of This Earth, Echo, or Surfing With the Alien. To me these are light years away from each other in tone and color, but I can see from an outside point of view how they might sound similar. For me you get a big guitar sound for a big personality or statement, make or squeeze guitar sound for a sad, low feeling. Has that pretty much been the philosophy since that time? Is that how you approach things, or does it even go that deeply? I know I asked you that question at that point in time. Is it just like you say, I pick three guitars and everything is going to work around these three guitars?
That's such a deep question in a way, 'cause I could see where I might've made that decision for this new record to concentrate on a few guitars. Because I could reflect back to having only two guitars [laughs] during Surfing With the Alien and having to switch pick guards when I needed a different sound. I had, you know, one home-built Strat and I had pick guards that had either single coils, stacked single coils or humbucking pickups in them. If I needed a humbucking sound I'd just say, Ok, give me fifteen minutes while I change my pickguard, you know? I certainly didn't have four guitars. So you can go back and go, Wow, I did that whole album with two guitars. So why can't I do that now?
Of course I've made tons of live albums where we only have a couple of guitars live so you think, Why am I getting hung up borrowing all my friends vintage guitars and getting all these unbelievably tweaked out guitars from Ibanez, when all I really need is two, maybe you know?
But it's nice to hear conceptually how I would answer that years ago, because it has held true that the tone of the guitar in my records should really center around the message of the song. That's the most important thing. There is something melancholy and brooding about Flying In a Blue Dream and the guitar sound is not the same it's not a self-promotional or equipment promotional tone. To me, I've always been turned off when I hear guitar players have the same sound on every song and it's because they're saying, Listening to me, I'm big, I'm bold, I've got an amp endorsement and I'm gonna shove it down your throat! I think, Ah, I just don't want to listen to this music. It just rubs me the wrong way.
But when I listen to a Beatle record or a Hendrix record, there's not one sound that's repeated. That's because not one song is repeated, and so I took that to heart. I said, Hendrix didn't need to do that, and I'm sure in a way he needed to do that, but he didn't. If he wanted to play few notes and no distortion, then that's what he did. And if he wanted to hit us over the head with more distortion than ever, he just did it. To me, that's always been the right way to record a piece of original music, is to surrender to the message of the song and to take yourself out of the equation, so to speak. Take your career out of the equation.
Interview by Steven Rosen