Joe Satriani has long been known as one of the most technically proficient rock guitarists around, a speedy fretburner and masterful creator of—to use the title of his 2002 album—Strange Beautiful Music.
The beauty in his tunes has a lot to do with his ability to craft gorgeous melodies. You may recall the hubbub that ensued a few years back when Satriani sued Coldplay for allegedly ripping off one of his catchier works. And he hasn’t lost his talent for them since then, proof being his latest release, Shockwave Supernova.
“I tried to make it the most melodic thing I’ve ever put out,” explains Satch on the line from a tour stop in Atlanta. “That was my quest since the beginning of making the record. I’d really worked with melodies on records past, but I just thought there was room to make ever bigger strides towards an ultramelodic electric-guitar record.”
Satriani had a lot of help creating the melody-drenched music on Shockwave from the team that is also his current touring band—keyboardist-guitarist Mike Keneally (ex–Frank Zappa) and bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann (rhythm section of the Aristocrats).
“It’s really about their unique talent that they bring to every song,” he says. “You give ’em an idea and you see how it stimulates their creativity. For ‘If There Is No Heaven’ I told them a story that was about an ego having a crazy time in the early ’80s, and beginning to question what to make of life—if there is a god, if there is a heaven.
“So the performance that Marco gave was very early-’80s—almost Stewart Copeland–ish. And I played the guitar with the chorusy, clean sound that was used a lot in that period. It all helped that these guys could be like musical shape-shifters, and really change depending on the direction that I gave them, ’cause their technique is endless. The cool thing is that they can really apply their personalities, which is what you want in the studio.”
All the technique and personality in the world wouldn’t have made “If There Is No Heaven” nearly so stellar without the choice melody that Satriani infused, though. So does he wake up in the middle of the night with scores of melodies filling his head or what?
“I’ve done that in the morning,” he replies. “Like, I’ve just gotten up with a song in my head that it feels like I’ve been dreaming about. But I think the key is listening to the great music of the last 500 years and going back and looking at stuff that you’ve written and learning how to edit it. Generally, when you’re a player, you’ve got all these notes to write out a song, but the key is just using as few as possible. So you’ve got to learn to pore over your stuff and edit it down to its most essential.”
Joe Satriani plays the newly rebranded Molson Canadian Theatre at Hard Rock on Sunday (April 24).