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Joe Satriani

Joe Satriani
Back To Square One


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Young guitarists usually start on their own these days, they put out homemade videos of themselves online and then if they’re lucky, they get an offer to join a band. It wasn’t always like that, and even Joe Satriani, whom we all know as a solo guitar superstar, had his humble origins in a band playing regular songs with lyrics and a singer. However, The Squares, as this band was called, wasn’t that regular for their time – they were mixing a lot of the styles that were big in the early 80’s with the foundation in hard rock. The Squares never made it big in their time, but some of their recordings survived, and Joe is finally releasing them now on a proper CD. We took this opportunity to have a brief chat with Mr. Satriani and discuss not only the new, or rather the old album, but also other sides of his versatile creativity.

These recordings by The Squares were been lying around for decades. Why did you decide that now it’s the right time to unveil them?

You know what, we have been working together for all these decades - Jeff Campitelli, the drummer from The Squares, has been on many tours with me and my solo records, and my engineer and producer, John Cuniberti, who was our engineer in The Squares, starting in 1980, has continued to work with me, we have done over 18 albums and live DVDs and soundtracks together. We work with each other continually, and we were always talking about what we are gonna do with those old tapes. I really think that after my documentary, “Beyond The Supernova”, was finished and came out, I had a different perspective on some of this old music. I got the idea that perhaps the idea to produce this old music would be to remix everything as if it were a brand new band of young musicians that wanted to be like an 80’s retro band. Once I got that sort of idea into my head, it became clear how we were gonna pick the songs from the old catalogue and how we were gonna remix them to sound as if they were coming out today as a fresh new album. That was really the key with actually just a mental perspective on how to do it.

The title of the album, “Best Of The Early ‘80s Demos”, suggests that much more material was recorded than you actually are releasing. Shall we expect “Best Of. Part 2” or anything like that coming out one day?

(laughs) I think that the title of the album is probably misleading, and I think that when the album comes out, our label, earMusic, may actually adjust the title so that people don’t get confused by it. We did record about 30 pieces of music, but not all of it was very good, and not all of it survived. Some of it actually deteriorated so much that it couldn’t be properly transferred. Some of it wasn’t recorded in a professional studio, we would do it remotely in a rehearsal room or a warehouse, so there were a lot of constraints on what really constituted the best recorded material, as well as which of those songs were actually the best songs. We wanted to bring the best of the best forward, and we also wanted to make sure that we represented the different eras of the band’s recording history properly. That’s why the album contains material recorded in maybe four different sessions over a period of four years.

As you mentioned, you continue working together with Jeff Campitelli and John Cuniberti, but not much is known about what happened to bassist / singer Andy Milton. I only known that he unfortunately died 20 years ago…

Andy continued to play with some local bands from the 80’s to probably about the early 90’s in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then I think he got married and moved to Arizona. He was pursuing a solo career there for a while, and we saw him a few times when we played in Phoenix, AZ. A few years before he passed away, I think he moved to Texas, either Houston or Austin, TX, and he remained kind of like a singer-songwriter, that was his thing, more of a solo artist, he wasn’t really looking to join a band. It was tragic, I mean, he left us too early and he never really got to see The Squares represented on a proper album. That was part of why I wanted to make this record professional, because I felt we needed to honor his contribution to the band.

Looking back at your time with The Squares, do you think that the breakup was inevitable, or were there any mistakes made by the band or people around it that did not allow it to break big? Could it all have gone a different way but for… something?

I think probably the one mistake that all of us acknowledged years later is that we should have released our own album. Back then, in the first few years, we were really certain that if we released a record on our own and it didn’t sell well, then it would not look good to the major labels in Los Angeles. We thought that we didn’t want to make a bad impression, because we really wanted a major deal, and we wanted to work with a major producer, so we focused on that. We didn’t care about selling records on our own, because that was like a small prize, we wanted the big prize, which was a major record deal that could really help us attain our vision. But I think as years went on and the do-it-yourself movement really blossomed, we realized that it was a mistake. It kind of eroded our confidence and eventually led us to breaking up.

As far as I understand, “Best Of The 80’s Demos” was originally released by your own label, Strange Beautiful Music, and after that earMusic picked it up. Is it the correct timeline?

Yeah, it happened really quick. It was one of the things that I just wanted to do, and I wasn’t thinking we were gonna make any money. I just wanted it produce this and put it out any way we could and make it available to any of our fans that were interested. Historically I just wanted to set the record straight so that people knew it was a really good band. But within about a month of us making it available for preorder, we got contacted by earMusic about releasing it properly worldwide, and of course I was happily surprised! (laughs) I’d known Max at earMusic for over 10 years, and he’s a fantastic A&R person, and I thought he was the perfect person to understand what the album was really all about. We honored the preorders that we had already sold, and then we gave everything over to earMusic to release in a proper way.

But do you have any plans to continue with Strange Beautiful Music? Do you plan any more releases on your own?

That’s a label that will always be alive. As a solo artist I’m still signed to Sony/Legacy, and Chickenfoot records are still with earMusic. You know, I have a good relationship with both Sony and earMusic, but my own label eventually, I think, will probably start to handle more material of a more personal nature. But right how I still have strong relationships with the major labels.

The two Squares videos I have seen were directed by your son, ZZ Satriani, and he also directed the documentary which you mentioned, “Beyond The Supernova”. How did the working relationship between the two of you start and develop? Did he volunteer to do this for you, or did it happen any other way?

It’s interesting – he started as a young filmmaker largely because he was a skateboarder as a young kid, and he’s been out on tour with me since he was four years old, so he’d be out skateboarding around the world while we were on tour, and like any young skateboarder, he would be filming himself. As this went on, we realized he had a super-talent for directing and editing, and we started having him do the podcast for the band in the early days of social media. So it was natural that as he developed as a young filmmaker and graduated from the university that he started to work on a major product for us. Eventually doing the “Beyond The Supernova” documentary was a really fantastic experience. He’s the only guy who could have ever really understood what was happening on that tour, and created the story that would became the basis for the film. This time around, I knew that he was up here in Northern California working with Sammy Hagar, he has been doing a long-form film for Sammy’s new album with the band The Circle, and once again he was breaking new ground and doing things that no one else was doing with his camera and editing, and I actually approached him with the idea (of directing Squares’ videos – ed.). He was pretty shocked as he had no idea that I was in this band way back before he was born. I think it was a fun project for him, and it was a challenge, because he had no video for it, he only had photographs of us, so there was a lot of his own artwork that is the basis of the two videos.

Apart from filmmaking, does ZZ also play guitar?

Yes, he does. He plays guitar and keyboards and sings, he writes a lot of instrumental music for the films and videos that he works on. He’s very talented.

Last time I saw you on stage, it was with G3 in Moscow, Russia. I’ve always been wondering – are there any guitarists that you would love to play with in the G3 framework but have never been able to get?

Oh, yeah. Every couple of years we ask Eddie Van Halen, we ask Jeff Beck, and we ask Billy Gibbons. It would be a dream come true to get Jimmy Page to come out, and maybe go on tour with Brian May – these are the players that I grew up listening to as a young player. I think it would be fantastic, but we started focusing on looking for younger players as much as possible. There aren’t as many as there were when we started G3 back in 1995 when I first had the idea for G3, there was a better scene for guitar players back then, the world is more hip hop and pop right now, so there’s less guitar players out there who have solo shows that they can present to an audience. That’s always the difficulty. I’d love to go out with Kirk Hammet, but he’s always with Metallica (laughs), so he doesn’t really have any time for a side band. And Jimmy Page doesn’t really play outside Led Zeppelin, so what are you gonna do.

Apart from G3, there’s also a thing called G4. Can you say a few words about that?

G4 is a clinic, it’s a totally immersive music clinic that we do every 1.5 years. It’s four days of 24-hours-a-day guitar playing. I call it G4 because I invite three other guitar superstars to join me in giving classes, demonstrations and concerts for the four straight days of this music camp. It’s really been an exciting development for me as an old teacher, because I started out teaching guitar when I was in young bands, and when “Surfing With The Alien” (1988) came out I stopped teaching, so it was kind of fun to get back into doing it, even though I only do it once in every 1.5 years. It’s fun to go back to that style of teaching people through real hands-on experience and demonstrations, I find it much more interesting than just giving classes every day or doing singular clinics. Having 200 participants and hanging out with them all day long for a week is a lot of fun.

This next question I ask a lot of musicians when there is an opportunity. How do you view your creativity: is it something that comes from deep within, or is it like you tap into it and turn into a medium to get this music from some place and bring it into the material world? How do you perceive yourself in this paradigm?

I think it’s a combination. You receive inspiration that allows you to unlock what’s inside of yourself. I don’t think that you’re pulling it out of the air, and I don’t think that you’re just dreaming it up in your brain. I really do think that you’re influenced by people in your life and by the events that happen while you’re alive, but that is the sort of energy that gets you to look inward and reflect on those things. Then if you’re a productive kind of person, an artistic kind of person, it will come out as a piece of music, lyrics, a poem, a thinking, a drawing, whatever your artistic nature might be.

My last question is about your future plans: is there a new solo album in the making, or are there any other projects that you’re currently working on?

I’m currently writing for a new solo album that I start recording at the beginning of September. I will be recording with bassist Chris Chaney from Jane’s Addiction, and joining me on drums will be Kenny Aronoff. I’ve also got a tour, another Experience Hendrix tour in October – Kenny Aronoff on drums and King’s X bassist and singer Doug Pinnick will join me.

Joe Satriani on the Internet: http://www.satriani.com/

Special thanks to Maxim Bylkin (Soyuz Music) for arranging this interview

Roman Patrashov
June 27, 2019
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