Joe Satriani sits in front of a wall of groundbreaking amps—Marshall, Peavey, and EVH rigs that would make the average chamber grinder cry—and for the umpteenth time in this press cycle, he explains that he has none. used none of them on his new album, The Elephants of March.
Satriani recorded all of the guitars in his 19th studio recording using a SansAmp digital plugin. “I didn’t use any of the amps, which is really a perfect example of not being affected by things you might be used to,” he told UCR. “The collector’s attitude, or the ‘I’m cool because I own this’ kind of attitude. It has nothing to do with whether someone likes your music or not. And that’s what you’re really trying to do, aren’t you? I’m trying to create music, a melody, a sound, a groove that really touches people. So who cares how you do it?”
He is quick to add, “But since I’m still a live performer, I like to plug into the front of a loud amp and crank it up. So that’s my curse too.”
Satriani hasn’t had the opportunity to crank a loud amp and perform for live audiences since 2019, as he canceled his 2020 tour in support of that year’s. change shape due to the coronavirus pandemic. He took advantage of the unplanned downtime to make The Elephants of March, which he and his bandmates — drummer Kenny Aronoff, bassist Bryan Beller and newly recruited keyboardist Rai Thistlethwayte — recorded completely remotely. “I still haven’t met my keyboardist face to face,” Satriani laughs. “He’s been in the band for two years and I haven’t met Rai Thistlethwayte yet.”
Watch Joe Satriani’s “Sahara” video
While Satriani has generally preferred making albums in a room with other musicians, this time he has embraced the limitations imposed by the pandemic. Freed from deadlines and the pressure to conform to a certain sound, Satriani abandoned the classic rock styles of his later albums and set out to change the paradigm of instrumental guitar records, just as he did 35 years ago. years with the tour de force of space-metal. Surf with the alien.
“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to write any more love letters to the era of classic rock that I always thought I was missing because I was too young,'” Satriani said. “I want to push myself to write better, to arrange better, to have a more interesting kind of guitar album that is, again, so focused on the quality of the material that the whole guitar technique, showing and proving n is nowhere. found.”
Satriani is all too familiar with accusations of showing off. “It’s the thing that we guitarists throw over and over again for no good reason, which is the ‘technique versus feel’ stuff, and it’s so annoying,” he says. “They’ll never put a classical pianist or violinist against those standards. Why is that? Why do they applaud technical excellence in different areas of music, but not guitarists for some reason? So I thought: ” Forget that. ‘I’m going to create a new standard where all the things that are important to me are much better than I’ve ever been before.'”
The guitarist also didn’t feel the need to compete with the new generation of wizkid shredders who dominate social media and release head-spinning tech-metal albums (and who were likely influenced by Satriani himself). . “They kind of have to overplay the albums they put out because they’re trying to advance their careers,” he says. “They’ve taken guitar playing to this wonderful historic level of complexity, technical ability and technical innovation. . And I love the energy it gives me, even though I know I can’t do it. It makes me feel like, ‘Well, if they can do that, then I should be able to up my game. So get busy.’ I’m a little ashamed to practice more, but not to try to copy or compete.”
Listen to “Tension and Release” by Joe Satriani
Do not worry : The Elephants of March is still a Satriani album, and there’s no shortage of atom-splitting guitar histrionics. But they are in the service of hooks, melodies and general themes rather than an end in themselves. Satriani slows things down on the piano ballad “Faceless,” travels halfway around the world on Middle Eastern-flavored “Doors of Perception,” and transitions to jazz fusion on “E 104th St NYC 1973,” which evokes the late avant-garde guitar wizard Allan Holdsworth. The aptly titled “Tension and Release” sucks in listeners with a meaty funk-rock groove before Satriani unleashes a tidal wave of wah-infused shredding.
Satriani calls “Tension and Release” “a reaction to the fact that I pulled out a seven-string guitar that hadn’t been played in years, and the strings were really loose and sonorous, and so I immediately wrote and recorded the song based on the kind of physical reaction I was getting from the strings.” Despite his desire to make the most avant-garde album possible, he drew inspiration from a classic rock legend on the track. “When he modulated in a minor key, I kept saying, ‘Jimmy Page from ‘Achilles Last Stand.’ “Just the intensity of what he’s playing and how it’s such a rough Led Zeppelin song, but at the same time it’s so unique that Jimmy would have gone so far on this album.”
The lack of deadlines for The Elephants of March allowed Satriani and his comrades to indulge in every musical whim in pursuit of the biggest, weirdest and grandest passages they could imagine. To guide their journey, Satriani developed a story for the LP based on his industrial, Nine Inch Nails-style title track, which is anchored around a sound he describes as “a sort of robotic or alien elephant”. This core idea turned into a full story, which Satriani hopes to eventually turn into a comic book.
“I was thinking: What if, in the future, Earth scientists terraform Mars and turn it into a beautiful, lush garden planet, but unknowingly create this race of gigantic, sentient elephants?” he says. “And with the colonists who have been working on Mars, developing all the raw materials for the evil corporations on Earth, they decide that they’re going to have a revolution and make the planet a unique garden planet, and kind of break apart and become independent from corporations that had nefarious ideas about what to do with the planet. And of course, I understood that the chief revolutionary would have to be a guitarist, and there would be music, and this is how they would communicate somehow.
Watch the video “The Elephants of Mars” by Joe Satriani
Once Satriani established the story, he and his bandmates set off for the races. “When you’re assigned to work on an album, of course you want to do your best and you want to be on time, and you want to follow the direction of the people who hire you,” he says. “But a lot of times you don’t get told, ‘Go crazy and do whatever you want, and have fun with the craziest things you’ve ever thought of.'”
If an idea is fair game, does that mean the Silver Surfer who graced the original Surf with the alien cover (and was replaced on the 2019 deluxe reissue due to licensing costs) could make an appearance and help the elephants regain control of their planet from the greedy overlords of Earth?
“That could be true,” Satriani says with a laugh. “However, we would be sued by Marvel, so we don’t want to do that.”
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