's Satchurated: Live In Montreal
is his fifth live release and comes two years after Live In Paris: I Just Wanna Rock
. What makes the DVD so special is that the concert was filmed not only for the DVD but for a general release in theaters around the worldin 2D and 3D. Produced by Satriani and Mike Fraser and directed/filmed by Francois and Pierre Lamoureux, the concert is available on Blu-Ray 3D as well as standard issue DVD. Joe reaches back to his earliest records and presents songs not only from Not Of This Earth
and Surfing With the Alien
but covers virtually every track from his last album, Black Swans
and Wormhole Wizards
To more fully understand the astonishing guitar player on Satchurated, it is important to know where he came from. The conversation began with Joe talking about his earliest bands and how he switched from being a rock guitarist in a rock band to a guitar instrumentalist playing what he described as avant garde music.
UG: When you first picked up the guitar did it come easily?
You know it didn't feel that way. It always felt easier than drums, which was my first instrument. That felt easier to get started with but was like hitting a brick wall when I tried to get really good and it was the same with piano. I could get musical very quickly but improving my dexterity and independence seemed insurmountable.
Was it hard achieving that independence in your hands with the guitar?
The guitar was quite different. It was physically harder than anything I'd ever tried before. It hurt and there was pain in the fingertips and it seemed like there was a lot of tension that got in my way but for some reason it got better consistently. But I think at a slow rate and that was more obvious when I started teaching and I was a teenager and I started to see other young kids like Steve Vai progress much more quickly. I realized, Wow, everybody progresses at a different rate. Some kids reach potential so quickly and other kids have this long arc they have to go through. I always felt like on of those kids that it was gonna take a long time.
Did you play in different high school bands?
I sang in the school chorus because it was mandatory and started playing in bands in school. We'd do Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Beatles and Stones and stuff like that and played a lot of high school dances. There was a band called Tarsus that was probably in all its formations the band that took up most of my high school years. All my crazy rock and roll times were had with that band. It was great fun and a perfect learning ground for not only rock and roll but for life.
Who were the Squares?
I didn't really get going with the Squares until I had moved out to California and established myself in Berkeley, California. So the Squares came when I was just about 20 or 21 or something like that. That was a whole different kind of thing; that was very different. By then I was an adult and I was a musician and I had started teaching a lot at a local guitar store and that was about four-and-a-half or five years of a lot of hard work with the Squares.
Were the Squares doing originals?
The band was a triomyself, Jeff Campitelli on drums who is still playing with me today and Andy Milton who was our lead singer and bass playerand I started the band with my soon-to-be ex-brother in law at the time. He was sort of getting divorced from my older sister at the time but he was sort of like a musician on the side. He was an engineer by profession and at one he decided, Well maybe we could write the songs and just find a band. So we had this idea of combining heavy rock and New Wave and stuff and we tried something. That was the nucleus of that band and we became extremely successful in our little Bay Area scene but to the rest of the world just forget about it. Every time we tried to go to L.A. and make any headway in the music industry, we would get kicked back to San Francisco [laughs.] It was pretty funny. Again we worked so hard; we rehearsed five days a week if we weren't actively doing shows.
How did you get from the Squares to becoming a solo instrumental guitarist?
It was during that period towards the end where I started to work on a solo career. Not as an idea of being a professional but as a way of letting off creative steam on the side. It was truly sort of by accident that all of a sudden I shifted. I quit being the professional musician who played in the Squares in the past and I started to concentrate on this other Joe Satriani that was playing this strange instrumental music that was really just for personal growth but suddenly it became the thing that people knew me about.
At some point it sounds like you were actively pursuing this guitar instrumental side of the music.
It was born a little bit out of frustration. The seeds and the foundation I guess were sewn and built when I was a younger player and as I was graduating from playing Hendrix and Sabbath. I was also getting into Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin and I had taken bebop lessons from Lenny Tristano. I grew up in a house where I was the youngest of five kids so I heard every kind of music: my parents' jazz music; classical music; soul; Motown funk; heavy rock; classic rock; and everything you could imagine. When I arrived at that point of frustration with the Squares, I actually started as just a little side personal growth project, I decided to see during this three-week Christmas break we had if I could start my own record company and publishing company and put together something where I could make a record.
Was that a difficult thing to do?
"When I first picked up the guitar it felt easier to get started with but was like hitting a brick wall when I tried to get really good and it was the same with piano."
I found that it was actually quite easy to do. So I showed up at the Squares rehearsal one day after having a long break from those guys and I said, Look what I did on my Christmas vacation. I realized it was something different. The record I had produced was an EP [Joe Satriani] and it was a very avant garde instrumental record, four of the five of those tracks appeared on the Time Machine double live and studio compilation that came out in the 90s. It was a turning point because I realized upon reading a review of the EP in Guitar Player Magazine, they didn't know about the Joe that was in the Squares that was working as a diligent musician trying to get a record deal. They thought I was this really strange avant garde instrumental guitar player and in a way reading that review made me think, Maybe that is who I am. Maybe the other life I'm leading is actually the false one and I should be thinking about this.
Kind of like art imitating life.
It took actually quite a while to embrace it and I didn't really take it seriously. I was making these observations and laughing at myself at the same time. So the next step was to leave the Squares and to get out of that scene and to make a full-length LP, which was Not Of This Earth. So I recorded, performed and produced that thing and then by way of Steve Vai who had just gotten a deal with Relativity Records to release his Flex-Able record, Cliff Cultreri at Relativity also wanted to release Not Of This Earth. It took about a year to work out the details. But that slowly began the shift towards me focusing on instrumentals. That's a really long story I know but that's how it got started.
Though Not Of This Earth was only your first album, a lot of your sound and style was created on that record.
First of all when I hear myself I kind of cringe. I mean while I'm playing it I just love music and I love playing guitar so I'm kind of lost in it. Listening back is always a challenge and I prefer to listen to everybody else play. But I know with preparing for a tour I have to go back and really focus on a song that let's say I haven't played in 15 years. Which is bizarre all in itself to think that there's over 200 compositions I've recorded and released on CD and I can't remember all of them note-for-note and I have to go back and say, What exactly did I do at bar 285? It's crazy.
What do you find when you go back and listen to the earlier songs that appear on Satchurated?
It is unusual because I think most artists forget the space they were in when they return to earlier work. They can listen to it and go, Yeah, I know these were the chords and this was the setup but what was my mindset? What was I thinking of? Was it a person? Was I heartbroken? Was I happy about something? Why did I choose to express it this way? And that seems to be for me the key is to try to get into the heart of that previous guitar player that I was to try to understand why I made those musical choices.
On Satchurated did you try to bring back the emotions you first felt on an older song like Memories?
Yeah, that's the main thing is to try to jump into that cathartic experience again. But it's been a long time I gotta say. 1988 was when the first live version of Memories was recorded at the California Theater in San Diego that was a crazy day. A lighting guy fell from the rig right in front of us and his heart stopped twice while we revived him before the ambulances came and took him away. When they took him away he was dead. He subsequently recovered but we didn't' know that that day. So he gets wheeled out and the three of usStu Hamm, Jonathan Mover and myselfwe're like completely shell shocked. It was the last show of a two-month tour and we were completely burnt and we just saw this guy die and we all administered whatever CPR we knew. We were recording our second chance of the King Biscuit Flower Hour that night.
That must have been pretty heavy.
That version of Memories is pretty funny because right at the beginning of it, I make a big mistake and it was clear for everybody to hear when we released it on the EP, Dreaming #11, that there was nothing I could do about it. I just remembered that was such a cathartic day; just the whole day was incredible. Just to be able to get to the point where we could put on a good show for people that night was pretty intense and then having it turn into a live record. It became for a lot of fans a sort of what would you call it? A peak of live performances they expected us to get to but every time we would go to play it we'd be thinking about that afternoon and how difficult it was. And so every time we go to play Memories, I can't help but think about that whole thing and not only the studio version but the live version. Then there's the physical thing of being in my 50s now and I just have a different body and I've learned so many other ways to play things. As my fingers start moving in the old way I go, Boy, why did I do that? I should do it like this.
You brought on Mike Fraser to produce the Satchurated soundtrack. You worked with him on Chickenfoot and your last solo album. What does he bring to your music?
Mike is a great engineer with a fantastic set of ears and he has great instincts about music, which is really important. I think when you're an artist and also a producer, it's very difficult to separate the two minute-to-minute. As you're sitting there and let's say working on a DVD you're looking at yourself, which is uncomfortable enough and then you're listening to yourself, which is uncomfortable enough. But the engineer next to you has a less personal stake in it. He's a professional and they're really thinking about the audience more than I think the artist. The artist can't help but feel a little bit more personal about everything that's going on. They're looking at their double chin or the shoes they decided to wear that night or all the other nights where they played that particular riff better and they can't get over it.
Mike Fraser could see it much more objectively than you.
A really good engineer/producer is looking at the overall thing and saying, These people are unique and my job is to bring out the best of this unique moment in time. I think more than most Mike Fraser has got a handle on that concept. He just brings the best out of a recording session and out of a live show and even when you're working with him in rehearsals during preproduction. He has a great overview and he can guide musicians to give their best. He doesn't rush but he doesn't waste time though. He's just got a grew way of handling whatever gets thrown at him technically in terms of the final product. In this case we were mixing not only for stereo and 5.1 but 7.1 and no one had ever done it before so that was the weird thing. It was the first time a live 3D concert film was mixed for 7.1 and we're the first people in line to do it. But he really shines under those conditions.
Pierre and Francois Lamoureux directed Satchurated. They've worked with Rush, Deep Purple and the Pretenders in the past.
They found us while we were on tour and proposed this idea to us. We only had a few weeks to prepare and find a venue and it turned out that the venue in their hometown of Montreal was the only place where we could pull this thing off in time. The key about those guys is they're both musicians and they're very intuitive in how they work together. I think they were so instrumental in letting us do our thing but as the project goes on anyone who's made a DVD knows that getting music and images synched together sounds like it should be easy but it's the hardest thing in the world. I don't know why but it's just the way it is. They just went the extra distance to make sure nothing would get in the way of the audience feeling like they were there. If you go to a 3D theater and see Satchurated and listen to in 7.1, because of their efforts you're going to feel like you were right there in the club that night. They just have a way of doing it without making it feel clunky or mechanical or tweaked or all fixed up. We really went for a sort of concert verite approach.
Satchurated begins with Ice 9. What made that such a cool opener?
We had no time to change the set. When you're on tour your primary focus is the audience and you really shouldn't try to rearrange your set for the cameras because the cameras don't reactthe people react. So ultimately the cameras simply should be there to bear witness on how you're interfacing with your audience. That's the basically the live show we were doing on the Wormhole Tour.
You didn't change anything for the Satchurated DVD?
No, but there is a funny story about that opening number, which is we went out and did our show and we come walking off the stage and Mick Brigden my manager is standing on the side of the stage and waving his hands at everybody and saying, Stop, stop. You have to go out and play the first song again. He explained to us that the hard drives had crashed right at the start just as the entry low drone note starts and we're starting to walk out on stage. They didn't get it back up until we had already started the song. And it was an intense night to begin with so we all sort of like put on our jackets and tried to look like we weren't all sweaty after two-and-a-half hours. And without saying anything to the audience we just kinda walked out like it was the second encore and we played Ice 9 again.
The audience must have loved that.
"While I'm playing I just love music and I love playing guitar so I'm kind of lost in it. Listening back is always a challenge and I prefer to listen to everybody else play."
Now here's the little tidbit for people who wanna obsess over it. When you go see the 3D edit in the theaters or you watch the Blu-Ray you won't see anything that indicates we had to do a little bit of switch just for the first 11 seconds of the song when we're just sort of like playing the chords. But if you watch the 2D edit on the regular DVD, which were a different set of cameras, you actually see me walk out, start playing the song and just shake my head like with half disgust and half just laughing at myself for how things can go wrong. And I remember there just wasn't any other camera angle that we could use for that particular edit. So you see me come out and it seems like a weird thing for me to do at the beginning of a show. But it's because it was the end of the night and not the beginning of the night. To tell you the truth, I don't know how the directors or Mike Fraser were able to smooth that edit over. But that's what happensyou see us walk out and we put on our guitars and start playing and I think it's within like six bars or so all of a sudden we're back to the original part of the show. But you can't tell because everybody played so much like they played it the first time earlier in the night that we were able to make the edit work. Things happen you know?
Allen Whitman has replaced Stu Hamm on bass. What does Allen bring to the DVD that was different than what Stu brought to the Live In Paris: I Just Wanna Rock DVD back in 2010.
Allen I've known for an extremely long time. Back when Jeff Campitelli and I were in the Squares, Allen was in a band called the Fanatics that used to do a lot of shows with us so we knew Allen from back in the early 80s here in the Bay Area. So he was a good friend. He was actually going to be the bass player on the Satchafunkalis album but he plays with the Mermen and has for 20 years. They're a great original surf band here in the Bay Area so the schedule thing didn't work out and that's why Matt Bissonette came in for that record.
The schedules worked out so you could bring on Allen Whitman?
Thistime around it seemed like the material I was writing for Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards was perfect and right up Allen's alley. The way he improvises and his energy, he just has a lot of intense energy when he performs live. He's a really great improviser but he's a really true rock musician. He's got no jazz in him and no fusion and none of that stuff. But yet at the same time his improvising skills are so natural that it's a very interesting blend of rock and prowess when it comes to improvising. It just seemed like we all arrived at a moment in time where it was gonna work having us together. And since Jeff and I have known him for a long it was easy to find those common threads in our musicianship so we could become a really good natural sounding rock band, which is something I always want. I always want the band to have a natural rock band sound.
Keyboardist Mike Keneally also brings some cool rock elements to the music.
Having Mike in the band is the same way except Mike is incredibly schooled. He can play guitar and keyboards like nobody else and he knows every theoretical angle that you throw at him but at the same time he's just a pure natural musician. So in that way he and Allen were able to have common ground quite easily. It turned out to be a really good unit to play with.
Pyrrhic Victory is one of the few songs you actually announce. You don't like to talk very much in concert.
[laughs] Well it's funny because I think there were some speaking moments that have been edited out to make room. We wanted the whole show to be on the DVD so we had to edit some of the spaces between the songs so we could fit everything in there. It was a two-and-a-half hour show plus the two songs during soundcheck so that you get all of the Black Swans record performed live and then it's the documentary on top of that about the making of the album. Sony went the distance with us and fitting all of this in one package was very important we got all of this in there. The Blu-Ray and the regular DVD both contain the same amount of information, which is the entire show and not just the hour-and-a-half that's in the theaters.
So it was just not talking to save time?
I've gotta say there's a funny thing I've noticed over the years and my friends would point it out to me every time we do a live recording and they'd me talking. They'd go, Hey man, what's wrong with your voice? And I think, Yeah, I don't sound like myself. But I just thought it was me because when you hear your voice back on a recording it always sounds weird. I realized that when I get through a song it's so cathartic for me it almost sounds like I'm out of breath. You know what I mean? I realize it's not because I'm jumping around and everything like that, it's because it's so intense for me that I'm actually hyperventilating and breathing heavily and when I go to talk it sounds like I've been running around. But actually it's more of an emotional thing I'm going through and so maybe sometimes I realize I should just keep my mouth shut [laughs.]
Your performance of Littleworth Lane off the Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards album was wonderful.
I should tell you that evening was the year anniversary of my mother passing away and the night before I realized, Oh shit, I'm gonna be recording this DVD and my grieving process isn't close to being over. So I didn't sleep the whole night before and I get to the theater that day to start filming and I'm just telling everybody, Sorry but I'm not myself today. And it was tough do that song that night and Solitude because it was really all about my mom and the family and the house there and everything. But that's just something you go through as an artist and hopefully the music turns out good and people can associate to the music anyway they like. It's not like I wanna force that story on them but that's what was going through my heart that evening.
On Andalusia you pulled out the acoustic. Do you like that moment in the live set?
I love doing thattaking the break and being able to play acoustic guitar and switch off. Because that's a very intense song anyway. I have to say that when you have an improvation that is based on a very simple chord structure, it is more intense for the soloist. They really do have to create more musical movement with less at their disposal. The opposite would be let's say you have a song like Always With Me, Always With Youthat has a specific melody and script that you have to follow. And in a way all you have to do is play it and not screw it up and it does all the work for you because it's written. The more arrangement you have where everybody is playing special parts, it's actually the easier it is to get through the piece because you don't have to really emote and take this small seven notes and create an epic story out of it. But Andalusia is one of those songs where it's just Eminor and that's all it is. So when we go do that long soloand it's a long oneit's all about how much intensity you can put into those seven notes. So every time when I finish that song I am so totally wasted. I can't tell you how cathartic it is; it's just so intense to get through it. And I never know how it's gonna turn out. Some nights it works and other nights I just feel like I'm throwing notes in a blender and it's spilling out all over the kitchen.
How did you feel about the performance of Andalusia on Satchurated?
It was very spirited and I was gifted by the feedback goddess that I got good notes here and there. I think that song and Wind In the Trees I was rewarded for trying some crazy things; holding out notes and I didn't know if they would morph into scale tones that would be dramatic to hold out. The thing was earlier in the night because of where the directors had asked us to stand, they had us in weird positions and my guitar was feeding back in the beginning of the set in all sorts of bad ways in Flying In a Blue Dream and even Ice 9. I was getting feedback tones that were really horrible and I kept thinking, God, I can't stand here. I know I have to stand there for the camera but I really would rather stand over there for my guitar sound. The first third of the show went past and things started to get better. So for Andalusia and Wind In the Trees suddenly things started to work in my favor in terms of the feedback and I was feeling the guitar sound was really helping me out and allowing me to feel more free.
You used your Signature Marshall JVM amps on Satchurated?
Yeah. On Live In Paris it was the final stage of using the Peaveys because right after that we started in with Chickenfoot and it was after that first club tour that Sammy and I went back to using Marshalls.
If you listen to your guitar sound on Live In Paris versus Satchurated can you hear a difference?
"I started to work on a solo career. Not as an idea of being a professional but as a way of letting off creative steam on the side."
More of the difference in the sound is if I go and look at all the live things I've done, a lot of it has to do with the way it was recorded in the environmentin the roomand what decisions we had to make. For Live In Paris we couldn't use a lot of the room because of the way the French crew had recorded the audio part of that record. What happened was they had sort of recorded totally in the red all of the tracks so we lost a lot of dynamics and it was very difficult to mix Live In Paris because we were missing a lot of that up and down in volume. Once the music started we had to really just sort of lean more towards what the band sounded like onstage.
How would you characterize the way in which the Satchurated performance was recorded?
The difference is the Satchurated live performance everything was recorded successfully and what we wound up doing was using all the microphones in the audience. What you'll notice I think is if people sit down and they can get through the whole show let's say with a pair of headphones and listen to the mix, what they're gonna hear is a very vibrant dynamic show that changes song to song. Because they're hearing not only the band coming off the stage but they're hearing what the people heard in the audience. As my live sound engineer would be pushing up the bass, the keyboards or the guitar, that's what they're gonna be hearing in their headphones moving around. It's a very dynamic show and that's got a lot to do with it. When we bring the microscope down and we say, Wow, listen to the cymbals Jeff is using or Joe is using a different amp then you start to hear these other differences.
Can you talk a little about the Signature Marshall?
To be a real guitar geek for a second, the main difference is on Satchurated the prototype for the Signature Marshall head and I'm not using any distortion boxes at all during the show. In other words I'm not using my Ice 9 or my Satchurator; I'm just using the different channels on the Marshall head. That was something I was trying to R&D during that whole tour to make sure you could go out with a JVM 4x10 Signature model and not have to have any boxes. I wanted to see how the amp performed.
Did the Marshall work for you?
It's great and it's what I've been using. I just got off a G3 tour with Lukather and Vai and it was fantastic to be able to have my Signature amp with me.
What were your feelings about Jim Marshall passing?
I was just so saddened by that. Besides the fact I was really looking forward to celebrating with him at the Marshall 50th anniversary this September in London, it was just crazy that I had a Signature amp coming out. It was a dream come true. But I remember actually a number of shows ago I got to meet him with my son and he signed a t-shirt for us and I was just struck with how talented he was, how down to earth he was and what he did for the sound of music was just remarkable. I mean the guy taught Mitch Mitchell how to play drums first of all, which is hard to believe. He created that sound of rock guitar that is our standard and that's amazing.
What was that like doing the G3 tour with the two Steves?
I gotta tell ya that was probably the most enjoyable G3 we've ever done. We just laughed so much when we weren't playing and had such a good time that we were all saying how much our faces hurt from just smiling all the time. When you're next to those guys the energy is just so intense. Both Steves are just incredible players and they're so different from each other. So for me it was very inspiring to be able to be up there with the both of them. It was really a fantastic tour.
Is it a different feeling for you doing a solo tour versus performing on a G3 tour?
Oh, of course. Everybody goes up there and we only have 45 minutes each so you're not really carrying the burden of a two-and-a-half hour show on your shoulders. So everybody feels a little bit more liberated and everything is a bit more upbeat as well. You don't take the audience down into the deepest moments because you don't have enough time to bring them out. And everything is geared towards that jam at the end of the night. Because when we do the jams we don't do any of our solo material and that's also a bit liberating because everybody can kind of drop their guard and play anything that's part of their style and their roots.
You'd like to have Jeff Beck do a G3 tour with you?
Oh, of course. It would be fantastic. We came really close a few years ago to getting a G3 together with Billy Gibbons and Jeff and it just kind of fell apart at the last moment. It's a very difficult thing to pull off structurally to find three or six weeks where everyone is completely available and their side of the business gets worked out and all the promoters are happy. So usually that's all it is that we can't schedule the thing properly. But everyone was willing and it would be a dream come true to be able to play with Jeff or Billy or even to get someone like Jimmy Page to come out. I think the audience would bless them with so much love just because they decided to finally come out. Because when the audience sees a G3 they're seeing something they don't get anywhere else. To see guitar players come out and bounce off each other and play outside of the stuff they're usually campaigning for or their new record, is a very unique kind of a show. And the audience I think rewards the artist with a very special kind of love. It's very hard for me to explain to the prospective G3 player but I always tell them, You gotta be prepared for it because you're gonna love it once you feel what they've given you.
Satchurated was not only a live DVD but it was a theater release; a 3D presentation; and the first time working in 7.1. Did it work for you on all levels?
I was blown away. I got to see it one time at the Dolby Laboratories here in San Francisco and I was just totally blown away that Francois and Pierre were able to edit down the show into something that made sense to see in a movie theater. It's still opening up around the world and it's amazing that we had that kind of positive response from it. I mean they just shot a stunningly beautiful piece of work and that's what's so attractive about it. When you put on those glasses it looks like a 3D film I've never seen before. It's not about me sticking my tongue in the lens and all that kind of stuff [laughs]; it's not made like a slasher film or something like that. The 3D technology is there to bring people in and combine with the 7.1 to give them a real concert experience. I'm overjoyed that I got to be associated with all these artists that could pull this off. I'm just thinking, How can I top this? What will I do next?
If you had to choose three songs from the Satchurated performance that really touched you, which songs would you pick?
Oh wow, I'd bet the three songs I'd pick would be different than the three songs an audience member would pick. I would think maybe towards the end of the set when I started to freak out like Andalusia, Wind In the Trees and War. They stick out. Always With Me, Always With You was very tender that night even though we didn't do the jam. But I'm the worst person to ask. I can't answer that question properly.
Interview by Steven Rosen