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