Meeting a guitar hero is quite an adventure, perhaps because it is the natural modern instrument that has cemented the sound of not only every variant of rock, but also the best jazz fusion and everything in between.
Now imagine talking not only with a well-versed technical master of world stature, but with a leader who has gathered around him in a series of concerts the most influential guitarists of several generations, ranging from veteran Steve Lukather to Kirk Hammett (Metallica). .
That was my feeling when talking to Joe Satriani, referred to by all references as the best-selling of all solo instrumentalist guitarists (ie dedicated to music without vocals).
This 2022, Satriani edited The Elephants of Mars, a surprising account of what it means to be 66 years old and suffer the effects of the pandemic locked up for a lover of concerts and surrounding himself with fellow guitarists. An album that has been a surprise for its fans due to its really refreshing sound for these times.
About the track that opens the album, “Sahara”, he points out:
“I think when we were deciding what the 14 or 15 songs on the album would be, we ran into the always problematic criteria of sequencing to achieve a meaningful structure. This process has always been difficult for me and so I made a diagram based on the tones of the songs, their times, their intensities, and tried a certain order where one song would naturally lead to the other to achieve an effect of certain continuity and so that when you finish listening to the whole album and it seems that you went back to the beginning. We all agreed that “Sahara” had to be the first song, just because we all felt involved”.
And with that spirit you decided on the title of the album, The Elephants of Mars?
It’s funny, because when you decide on the name of an album you have two paths: Either you choose the same as the single, which is the most common in pop, or something that has to do with the complete album mode. It has always helped me to choose a song that was originally a joke, for example with my first solo album Not of This Earth (1986), I wanted something my high school friends would like because we loved a horrible sci-fi movie with the exact same title. I wanted when they saw the title to go back to those times bringing us together in spirit and also remember what idiots we were back then!
He adds that back then he didn’t really think about building a career as a solo guitarist, but one thing led to another and soon he had other titles like Surfing with the Alien (1987), Flying in a Blue Dream (1989), Crystal Planet (1998) and Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards (2010).
“The funny thing is that the sequence was changing and the idea was to start with the album’s homonymous song and achieve a sequence, which is very difficult that way. Now I have thought the other way around: making the songs, designing the sequence and finally choosing the name of the album, which I now think expresses to my fans my sense of humor and my love for science fiction”, he adds.
The album cover is fantastic, how did you get to it?
Yes, thanks to the great Todd Gallapo. I met him because he is responsible for the image of Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo bar, and the idea came up when I talked to him about my refusal to appear on the album cover after so many years of career and after the long seclusion in my home because of the pandemic, so he didn’t want any photo shoots and then after telling him the title of the album and sending him a first recording it occurred to him in just one day to use parts of the guitars as the ears of the elephants, fantastic , not?
Sure. Do you think that by using tempos to build this musical sense you are also creating a narrative with your music?
Yes, and it’s a great way of putting it, as I’m talking about very personal journeys in our lives, facing new realities while sometimes feeling lost in memory and respect for our dead. Although I did not start recording with any restrictions or preferences on any subject, I wanted this album to be completely expansive, mostly because of what I felt at the time and I hope the result worked for everyone involved… The mechanic was to submit an original idea to my producer and I always gave him space to react and to bounce ideas off the compositions.
“When we started we didn’t know which songs would turn out and over the months 25 or 30 would accumulate, provoking a different force since we had to decide within the creativity once it was expressed, complementing it with the final songs… The secret is that I wanted the songs will work as I approach the musicians I like and whose songs I listen to over and over again because of the emotional charge they cause me, and listening to them is the best way to relive them. That’s what I think about when I make music, it’s not just about me but how we share with people”, she adds.
After studying with the exquisite jazz player Lennie Tristano, Satriani became a technical master of his instrument, appearing with such giants as Alice Cooper, Mick Jagger and Deep Purple, among others. And even he had the luxury of fighting over royalties on Coldplay’s latest hit, Live life!winning in a private arrangement with the English group.
Not satisfied with his 18 solo albums, Satriani has organized a veritable coven of guitarists around the live concept known as G3 alongside a host of colleagues from John Petrucci (Dream Theater) to Robert Fripp.
Do you make demos to achieve everything possible in the studio? How do they sound?
It’s interesting, because when you record digitally you’re basically creating the basis of the final product and that file can be sent anywhere in the world and eventually receive endless versions that can live forever. This for me is like when Mozart wrote on a ruled paper and although he could write it a thousand times each copy was an original of his creativity… It is not like when we worked with magnetic tapes and it was very frustrating to find better versions stored in a drawer. Now everything is possible in community and it really is something very exciting. For example, the homonymous song of the album was created in 1998 with a very basic orchestral idea and it survived after many projects and until in a review of a soundtrack that I did 8 years ago I found a sound that seemed perfect for the original song, so I started to think about it until I sent an almost final version with a guitar solo that I achieved in a first take to my producer and he liked it so much that he shared it with the whole band. That tour is fascinating thanks to technology.
Which of the 14 songs was the most surprising for you at the end of the album?
I think “Desolation”, because the story behind it is very strange, since it started with a 20 minute version but we had to split it into three sections, with the original in the middle and because we did that precisely, I only liked the last section of three minutes, so we went back to work for weeks as a group in the studio and the last time I tried I found in an improvisation a theme that was perfect for this song that has resulted in a simple expression of pure feeling…. And it has become a very difficult song to play live as it is totally opposite to my way of working but it comes straight from the heart.
So good luck is also an important element when making music?
Yeah… I always say, when I teach at Berkeley, that students have to be prepared for good luck. You have to practice a lot, get your hair done, get a lawyer and be ready, always ready because if not luck will knock the next door.
Do you like classic music?
Of course, when I was a child in my house, I listened primarily to jazz but also a lot of classical music, so when I remember my childhood it always comes back to Bach, Satie and Stravinsky as part of my development because my parents wanted to give us that opportunity. I was lucky enough to meet a recent Julliard graduate in high school who shared with me at a fantastic level classical music that was difficult to find then since he also sang in a choir, knew how to read music and played Led Zeppelin with my friends.
You have invited almost all your musical guitar heroes to your G3 concerts, but what do you ask them to be part of the project?
Only that they share their genius and their good vibes on stage, since each one has professional careers in their groups. The G3 concerts are simply a celebration of the difference between us as guitarists and Robert Fripp is going to be totally different to Yngwie Malmsteen and Eric Johnson or Steve Vai or me… You have to be ready to give it your all on stage.
Me tracks Your favorite album is “Through a Mother’s Day Darkly”, what can you tell us about it?
It started really very curious. It was the 10th of May and I quickly wrote the theme song and sent it to the band that night as a gift to all the moms of my musician friends, and was surprised when everyone thought we had to put it on the record. Although I knew that the structure was very primitive and the guitar solo very simple, they all shared their ideas creating more complicated sections until the final version was formed with the voice written from a previous album (Crystal Planet), but it started out as one of my typical jokes.
And so was the conversation with this living legend, a gigantic guitar hero who represents much more than a successful and consummate musician for having achieved a distinctive and personal sound, nowadays not so applauded by the new generations accustomed to incessantly banal noise. of Tik Tok.
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