After writing and recording eighteen solo albums—and contributing some immense guitar skills to countless other projects over the course of three decades—one could potentially find themselves a little lacking for inspiration or fresh ideas. That is not the story of Joe Satriani. With his latest release, 'The Elephants of Mars' (out now, via earMusic), Satch is back with a sonically spellbinding new album that ushers in a new era of Satriani musical mastery. Guitar Interactive Magazine editor Jonathan Graham sits down with the instrumental guitar pioneer to discuss the writing and recording of the latest record and much more in this issue's exclusive cover feature.
The 80s were a particularly special time for electric guitar players and fans alike. With each new passing day, a new six-string superstar would appear to emerge and seek to push the boundaries of what was deemed possible on the instrument, however, with varied results in the "but is it actually any good?" department. Enter Joe Satriani. More than merely a virtuoso soloist, Satriani has made his name in music, crafting and executing beautiful melodies that left some wondering why we even bothered with vocalists in the first place. Not only is Joe a musical icon, but he has also been a tutor to such luminaries as Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde of Primus and fellow New York native, Steve Vai. The mentoring of these contemporary greats alone would make Satriani a significant figure in the history of rock guitar. However, for Joe, this was just the beginning.
Satriani moved out to Berkeley, California, in 1978, supporting himself through teaching and performing with local bands. His first notable steady gig was with power-trio The Squares, self-releasing an EP in 1984 (a full-length release of the original recordings would eventually follow in 2019) and then joining the Greg Kihn Band in 1986. At this point, inspired and fully determined to launch a solo career, Joe financed his full-length debut LP, 'Not of This Earth' through his a newly acquired credit card. A gamble on paper, but one that truly paid off. 'Not of This Earth' saw a wide release through Relativity Records in 1985 to critical acclaim, however, it would be his follow-up, 'Surfing with the Alien' that would launch Satch to the stars. Dropping in the fall of 1987, (also on Relativity), the album's almost unanimous rave reviews among the guitar publications helped start a steady march toward the rock mainstream. Over the next year, "Satch Boogie" and the title track "Surfing with the Alien" ranked on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart and pushed the album to 29 on the Billboard 200; going on to be certified platinum by the RIAA. An unusual occurrence to this day for an instrumental album.
Satch's apparent overnight success brought him considerable attention, not only from the Rolling Stones' frontman Mick Jagger, (playing guitar on his 1988 solo tour of Japan) but also from many of the large guitar brands, including Ibanez. 1989 proved to be an important year for Joe with the Japanese guitar giant, as the JS1 (his first JS signature guitar), would be introduced. Based on the 540R (Radius) model that Satriani had been previous utilizing, this custom model with refined body contours, neck shape and hardware, became the classic signature model we all recognize in Joe's hands (albeit with a few design tweaks over the years) to this day, from that original JS1 to the current JS2450.
With new axe in hand, the stage was set to work on the next album, 'Flying in a Blue Dream.' Released in 1989, the album even contained a couple of cuts where Satriani sang lead vocals. A mainstream concession that may have helped the record climb further in the charts—supported by the singles "I Believe" and "Big Bad Moon," that both climbed high on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.
After a lengthy period of writing and recording, his fourth release, 'The Extremist' would finally be unveiled to the world in 1992. Driven by the lyrical "Summer Song," (his biggest hit ever—reaching number five on the Mainstream Rock charts) 'The Extremist' peaked at 22, Satriani's highest-ever position on the Billboard chart. This record showcased Joe's ability to explore new territories in the field of folk, jazz, blues as well as hard-rock, served best by classy examples such as "Rubina's Blue Sky Happiness," "Why," "New Blues" and "Cryin'"—cementing his status as a household name for all guitarists to this day.
Over a dozen more incredible records have been released in the decades that followed, including the Glyn Johns-produced eponymous album from 1995, his 1998 epic 'Crystal Planet,' the electronically infused 'Engines of Creation' (2000) the prog-minded 'Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards' (2010) and hard-rock/fusion focused 'What Happens Next (2018), just to name a few.
With each album or project comes a "levelled-up" Joe Satriani, ready to tell a new story with a fresh delivery each time...while bringing along some of the good bits from the previous instalments for good measure. In no better way has that been actualized than in his latest record's melting pot of ability, experience and intent, crafting an album that will quickly become an instant fan favourite. 'The Elephants of Mars' marks the legendary guitarist's 19th studio album in his more than 35-year career in music. This album also marks the debut of his new label partnership with earMUSIC, the international rock label of entertainment group Edel.
Joe Satriani had an admirably productive workingman's holiday, with the pandemic forcing time away from the road, that ultimately gave him and his touring band, all recording remotely in separate areas of the world during the lockdown, the ability to deliver an album-length journey that never dulls. "The Elephants of Mars" crackles with an exciting new energy, briskly travelling through stylistic roads that feel freshly updated, viewed through new eyes.
The guitarist challenged himself to create a "new standard" for instrumental guitar albums to be measured against, one which would work from "a new platform of his own design," as he terms it. "I want to show people that an instrumental guitar album can contain far more creative and entertaining elements than I think people are using right now."
From the gripping, sci-fi madness of "Through A Mother's Day Darkly," to the isolation felt in a decaying urban landscape, as depicted in the album's first single, "Sahara," to the general endorphin levels that peak as the elephants finally roar in the title track, "The Elephants of Mars" will stampede across your mind, leaving a sonic imprint that doesn't fade.
In 2020 with all-time constraints removed, "The Elephants of Mars" truly represents the album that Satriani himself hoped he could deliver with his band. "We did everything. We tried the craziest ideas," says Satriani. And we entertained every notion we had about turning something backwards, upside down, seeing what could happen."
'The Elephants of Mars' is available via earMusic in all formats worldwide now.
'The Elephants of Mars' Track Listing:
Joe Satriani has made the very tough decision to once again reschedule his European tour. Originally scheduled to take place in 2020 it had been rescheduled to begin in April 2022. However, with the current Covid restrictions and quarantine mandates not yet standardized throughout the world, it has been decided that the best path forward is to reschedule once again. The new tour dates will now be moving to 2023.
These NEWLY rescheduled shows are now set to begin on April 1, 2023, in Oslo, Norway and wind up on June 4th in Bordeaux, France.
Fans who are holding tickets for these shows, originally planned to take place in April, May and June 2022, will be honoured for the rescheduled dates.
His current band features celebrated drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty) bassist Bryan Beller (Aristocrats) and keyboardist Rai Thistlethwayte (Thirsty Merc) with Joe Satriani on guitar.
To find out more about Joe Satriani's brand new album and the 2022 tour, visit: www.joesatriani.com