Joe Satriani on playing for the right reasons

For those not privy to the process, normally a conference call operator is the person who connects media through to their interviewee. Imagine the surprise, then, when Joe Satriani – one of the world's most famous guitar players – cuts out the middle man and calls directly. “There's always a crazy amount of interviews – they make you do them all back-to-back on the one day,” he says. “I figured I'd just get through them all by myself.”

He's calling from his home in San Francisco, where winter is setting in and Christmas time is nearing. The down-period has allowed the 61-year-old virtuoso to reflect on what he's been up to this year – primarily, splitting his time between promoting his new documentary, Beyond the Supernova, and recording his upcoming 16th studio album, What Happens Next.


The former was shot, produced, and directed by ZZ Satriani, Joe's son, while his dad was out on tour in support of his previous LP, 2015's conceptual Shockwave Supernova. Satriani is particularly proud of what his son has achieved through putting the documentary together – especially because that's not what they had originally set out to create. “We didn't really know what it was going to be,” says Satriani. “I'd given him a call to ask if he wanted to come out on tour and film some background stuff for what I thought would just be another concert DVD. Just to have a bit of fun on the road with us. After a couple of weeks, I realised the quality of what he was shooting required its own format somehow. Another live DVD felt like a waste of time.”


The documentary follows Satriani and his band across the globe on their tour, interspersing in-depth discussion of his creative process with live footage and rehearsals. Satriani himself recalls sitting on stage with ZZ at this year's Mill Valley Film Festival as they were interviewed about Beyond the Supernova as one of his proudest moments as a parent. “That was really special,” he says. “It was such a wonderful moment to be up there with him. It turned out to be a really powerful film – I was as shocked as anyone else. I think he is the only person who could have gotten this out of me.”


Not long after finishing the tour and the editing of Beyond the Supernova beginning, Satriani was back in the studio to record What Happens Next. Recorded with a rhythm section of Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes on bass and Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith on drums, Satriani wanted the album to serve as both moving on from his last record, but also acknowledging where he came from. “It's more of a personal, cathartic change than what people would see on the outside,” he says.


“We're used to people changing externally – changing their appearance, moving to a new city, reality TV kind of stuff. What I was going through was an artistic struggle – it was subtle on the outside, but quite profound on the inside. People are going to hear this record, hear the guitar playing, and still know that it's me. To get to that point, however, I had to go through these artistic crises. You're conflicted – 'I'm not gonna do that anymore’, you say, 'I'm gonna do this.' You jump through hoops in the hope that you'll come out of it with a fresh outlook and a new position.”


Once What Happens Next hits shelves in January, there's one very obvious thing that will happen next: touring. When asked about fan response to him playing newer material live, Satriani testifies that he's been able to win over audiences by conveying how much he believes in his most recent output. “I think there's a good understanding,” he says. “I guarantee my audience that I'll always be myself up there – and that means everything that comes with it. I still love playing the old songs, of course – 'Surfing with the Alien' and all those tunes. I never got famous off music that I didn't like playing – it's all been for the right reasons.”



What Happens Next is out Friday January 12 via Sony Music.


(Photo: Joseph Cultice)