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Joe Satriani on Recording Chickenfoot ‘III’ – ‘We All Wanted a Lot More of Each Other’

Joe Satriani
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Joe Satriani of Chickenfoot recently took a quick break from rehearsing with the band to talk with us about their new album ‘III.’ He spoke in interesting detail about the goals they set for themselves individually and as a unit before recording the record, as well as what songs he was particularly looking forward to performing live.

We ended up asking him so much about the song ‘Dubai Blues’ that we have a separate interview all about that song right here, but in part one we focus on the album in more general terms:

Did you aim to make a more diverse record this time out, or is that just what happened?

No, all four of us, and I would also include Carter (John; see separate story here) and Mick Brigden, our two managers, as being co-conspirators, we all wanted a lot more of each other on the second album. The first album, we didn’t know each other, we recorded that bit by bit separated by months at a time, over a 12 month stretch.

I didn’t realize that one took that long to create…

It was only 48 days of recording, just spread out over 12 months. Everyone was so busy. It was kind of rough to get a handle on who we were, and we had never toured. So now, if you fast forward to the beginning discussions about this new record, we had already toured by then, and had all these great live experiences. We actually started to know each other and understand all the other attributes that we had, that we wanted to exploit a bit more.

What kind of goals did you all have in mind for each other?

I was thinking in my mind, I’ve got to write songs where Mike, Chad and myself just sound like the tightest, fattest riffing unit ever. When those things happened live on stage, I thought that was amazing. I also wanted to have points like, for instance, where I’m going into the solo in the live performances, it sounds like we’re all going for it, and that’s more like the old power-trio approach, like Hendrix and Cream in the late ’60s. When the solo break came, the drums and the bass were part of the solo as well, and I thought that was a great and wonderful charm about Chickenfoot, that we should always explore, because it comes so naturally.

Sammy and Michael sound particularly great together on this record…

I wanted Sammy to sing in a lower register on a few songs, because I thought, his voice is unbelievable, he’s got such a huge sounding voice, and it’s capable of telling so many stories, just in the tone, with his inflection. But if I write song where he’s screaming, of course, you never get to hear those things. I wanted people to get more intimate with his voice so he could tell more interesting stories. So I had to be careful about, you know, the register of where I wrote a song so I would give him the opportunity for that. Now, all of these things, we expressed to each other. Sam was telling me, “I want you to let loose more,” I was saying I want Michael’s bass to be louder on every song, I need more of Mike’s voice. I didn’t want anybody else singing on the record, just Sam and Mike. There were little things like that, which I brought into the album. As I brought in those demos last August, a year ago, I kept all that in mind, to make sure I was writing for Chad, Mike and Sam specifically.

Is that how songs like ‘Come Closer’ came about?

Exactly! Yeah, and that was an experiment in itself, because he gave me those lyrics first, and we had never done that, he had never written a song with any of his writing partners over the years that way. But, he handed me these lyrics that were amazing, and very personal. This is the Sam I know, that nobody knows. They just think he’s ‘Mas Tequila’  and ‘I Can’t Drive 55,’ but that’s not all of who he is by a long stretch. I know this other guy who, not only is he a nutcase rock and roller, but also a very sensitive person, and he’s got a lot to share with people. So he hands me these lyrics, and it’s like, “Wow, this is the Sam I know.”

How did you proceed from there?

I went to the piano and wrote this sort of R&B, really dreamy sounding piece of music. I recorded myself singing and playing it on my iPhone, and I e-mailed it to them one morning before we were going to record. He (Sammy) came into the studio that afternoon, saying, “We’ve got to record this song right away.” It took us a few hours to figure out, how were we going to turn this weird piano song into a guitar, bass and drum piece, and yet keep that intimate vocal performance. But it turned out great, it was a really great growing moment for everybody in the band.

Do you know your tour plans beyond the short November tour?

Right, starting early in November, we’re gonna do a week of what we call “Road Test” shows. We’ll play a couple of theaters across the U.S. that will sort of bring us to cities where we have radio shows or television appearances. That’s like a coming out party, letting people know in the flesh that we’ve got a new record out.

You did that for the first album, as well…

Well, that first one we did because we had never played live as a band, so we figured we’d go out in the clubs before the record came out to see if we could actually do it. We had to prove to ourselves that we could be a band and give people a good time without them even knowing any of the material. But now, people know who we are, so it’s a bit different. I think the real tour will start right after the first of the year. Right now it’ll start in Europe, if they’re still financially solvent over there, and hopefully we’ll come back and do North America in the summer — as long as we’re still financially solvent — (laughs) Hey, we’re all in it together, we’ll figure it out!

Are there any songs you’re particularly looking forward to playing live?

At yesterday’s rehearsal, we played just about everything, and we were real surprised at how well the pieces that we thought were going to be difficult to do, with just a power trio and a singer, actually turned out to be really great. ‘Come Closer,’ I was worried about that one, that’s got some rhythm and some melody, and I wondered how I was going to pull that one off. But it actually sounded really good.

How’s it going with (new touring drummer) Kenny Aronoff?

He’s phenomenal, he’s really brought all of his talent to the band, he’s been propelling all the music. Even the stuff from the first record, like ‘Soap on a Rope,’ was just insane yesterday. It’s amazing you know, when you play with different people, and you play a song that has certain elements to it, maybe a crazy swing or an open, improv nature to it, you see where people like to grow into. Kenny seems to grow into every direction that we throw at him, it’s really quite remarkable. All that experience he’s had over the last few decades, it’s really showing up. In a band like Chickenfoot, we give him the ultimate freedom, we just say “Hey, you know learn the song, but play whatever you want as long as it’s crazy.” He’s the perfect guy, I think he’s like Chad’s twin brother, or fraternal twin, anyway.

Check out part two of our exclusive Joe Satriani interview, as we go in-depth into the creation of one of the new album’s most complex and impressive songs, ‘Dubai Blues.’

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