The Joe Satriani Interview

Musicians are able to convey thoughts and feelings through their lyrics. For most of his career as an instrumentalist, Joe Satriani has used the guitar as his means of expression. Shockwave Supernova, his 15th studio album, encompasses the widely-acclaimed guitarist’s repertoire and reveals some of his new licks as well.

With accompaniment from Mike Keneally (guitar, keyboards), Marco Minnemann (drums), and Bryan Beller (bass), Satriani makes a bold musical statement with his new release, allowing Shockwave, his alter ego, full rein.


The song titles allude that this album is very personal to you. I know every parent loves their kids equally, but would you say that this record is extra special?

You know, if you asked me that question two months ago you would have caught me in a really frenzied moment as I was trying to wean myself from working on my 15 little babies (laughs), as you put it. Every little thing I wanted to be perfect and I was lamenting the fact that I couldn’t work on the album for the rest of my life. It’s always hard to just stop working on something. But after awhile something happens where if you don’t listen to it — you give yourself a couple weeks where you don’t listen to it — the internal artist starts to forget, and all of a sudden you start hearing new music in your head. So the last couple of days have been that turning point where two things have happened: I’m writing new music and I can listen to the album like a normal person (laughs), not like a crazy artist that’s obsessed with every little nook and cranny of every song. The short answer is yes. Every song is extremely special to me. It was cathartic, getting through each song. It’s a funny thing. I don’t know how to explain it. Even the songs that are supposed to be light-hearted and not carry any extra heavy emotional weight, for some reason, put me through the wringer anyway. I wind up getting all twisted up, trying to make sure the story gets told correctly, just with the notes and the sounds. But I love doing it.

Is the song “Shockwave Supernova” calling out your alter ego — the onstage personality strutting his stuff, playing guitar with his teeth?

If you talk to the people who meet me before the show — they see a totally different person. In the concert I think they’re assuming I’m much taller and very intense, live, and then they meet this soft-spoken, easy-going guy. I can tell. It always takes them a second to realize, “Oh, this is a real person here. He’s not that guitar demon kind of thing.” But I’ve been around a lot. It’s been 30 years that I’ve been making these records and people have been exposed to me through all these interviews that the press has been so generous to publish. The clearest part of the story is, in fact, that there are two people. Some performers are the same. You think about David Lee Roth. He seems to be the same guy when he’s on camera and in print as he is when he’s onstage. But I know so many people in the entertainment industry that are like me. They are private, artistic types, and then they’ve got to take a really deep breath when they step out onstage and become this other thing. It’s part of their personality like Shockwave is part of mine. But it’s not like the person you’re talking to now.

“Butterflies and Zebras,” the title itself, is a nod to Jimi Hendrix, right?

Yes. You know, it’s a song about how when two people, or entities, have a moment (where) they look at each other and they realize they could be meant for each other. There could be the ultimate love, the ultimate affair. But then they also realize it can never be because of who they are or where they are or what people think of them, or society disapproving. I was thinking of “Little Wing” by Hendrix…but it’s more like you’re talking about this girl, but she’s such a free spirit. You can’t hold her down. You need to let her be free — let her be herself. So there’s a melancholy aspect to that song. One of the phrases is “Butterflies and zebras…That’s all she ever thinks about.” So as my nod to Jimi, my hero, I thought, “That’s really great, because what if a butterfly and a zebra did exchange a look (laughs) and they realized there was something inside of them — the life force that said, ‘We were meant to be together. But there’s no way we can ever be together.’” As simple as that moment is that you could think of, that’s what that song is all about.

In closing, is there anything you’d like to say that would summarize how you feel about Shockwave Supernova?

Just the other day I picked up a box and I pulled out the double vinyl package of Shockwave Supernova and the CD package. It’s still a big thrill for me when a record gets made. I just can’t believe that part of me that was just a little kid, who loved music, sitting on the floor listening to Rolling Stones records when I was like, eight-years old. I still get that thrill… I’m very excited… I can’t wait to finally get fans to hear it.

I was knocked out by the packaging. A very good friend of ours, Todd Gallopo, worked so hard on the packaging. And the guys at Sony Legacy just went all the way with allowing us to make this kind of a package and manufacturing it for us. I always apologize to the photographers, because I’m not an easy person to photograph and make look good. But Todd came up with a brilliant concept. It’s really funny how it just takes a whole team to pull something like this off. But they all came together — including my wife who found that ridiculous jacket (laughs), which I don’t recommend anybody actually ever wearing. Because once you put it on your body temperature goes up like 20 degrees in about five minutes. It’s not a comfortable jacket to wear. But when you shine a light on it it’s the perfect thing for jogging at night, let’s put it that way. The joke was, “Only somebody like Shockwave Supernova would wear something like that and put up with the uncomfortableness of it, just so that they would shine.” So there’s some sort of poetic tie in there.


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