‘Foot In The Door
Interview with Joe Satriani of Chickenfoot with Nicola “Nix” Crichton
Recently branded as the best new band, Chickenfoot is a matured mix of addictive rock riffs, sharp drumming, rumbling bass lines and powerhouse vocals – enough to tear the ceiling down. ‘Supergroups’ come and go … but I’ve got a feeling that the collective talents of Sammy Hagar (ex Van Halen), Michael Anthony (ex Van Halen), Chad Smith (red Hot Chili Peppers) and Joe Satriani will leave an everlasting mark on good time rock n’ roll.
Nix chats to solo legend and Chickenfoot guitarist Joe Satriani about how it all started, winning the Classic Rock Magazine new band award, the debut album and crazy drummers.
N: Chickenfoot won Best New Band for Classic Rock Awards in the UK recently! You guys are hardly a new talent. As a collective, you guys have racked up more rock n’ roll miles than hot meals – how does it feel to get that kind of award?
JS: Wow, well it’s always good to be recognized for something positive and fun. I do remember last time we were in London, my buddies from Spinal Tap were there and they did the announcing. At least getting into the running for it – I thought that was very fitting! We’re a pretty humorous band and we like to kid around and have a good time … so it was nice to know that Spinal Tap were ushering us into the running for best new band. It’s great. When you do something like this, it’s a do it yourself project. We recorded the album on our own to keep all of the industry out of our way. Man, we had an impossible schedule to work around. I’m just amazed that we were able to make the record and go on tour, which was really a feat! (laughs). All of those obstacles, so to get an award is good.
N: Chickenfoot met through a series of jamming sessions at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina club – when was the moment you thought, heck – this is it, this is a band?
JS: Those guys (Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith) had been jamming for a while – probably about six months down Sammy’s club in Mexico. I think that after a while, Sam was saying ‘I don’t want to play guitar anymore but this is a cool band, so lets get a guitarist’. Sam gave me a call in January 2007 … or it might have been 2008 – right before the Super Bowl. He said, come down to Vegas where we’re doing a Cabo Wabo show – Chad and Mike came down and came on for an encore. I went down there just to have some fun, but we clicked and there was some obvious chemistry. From that night on, we said lets try to be a band – we all had other jobs but we just wanted to keep it going.
We would get together for two days, and then we wouldn’t see each other for two months … that kind of happened for all of that year. The scheduling problems weren’t a problem for us however. You could have the most perfect schedule and all live in the same house with nothing to do but play together. But if there isn’t any chemistry or magic, then it’s all for nothing. With us, we all had the most impossible schedule but when we all got together and made a recording or two that turned out to be something great that we would be happy to put on a record. So, we were incredibly efficient but it was just the scheduling problems. Both Sammy and I had tours that we were putting out and playing for. Chad continued to do session work even though he was on hiatus from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was difficult, but most certainly it was the magical chemistry that kept us together.
N: You’ve worked off of your own back for years, tons of albums – did you ever consider being in a band before?
JS: Yeah, it was always in the back of my mind. As a young teenager, I was in bands just like Chickenfoot. Guitar based bands with drums and a singer … and we just tried to be Led Zeppelin or the ‘Stones. As I got older, I thought that’s what I’m most natural for – that’s my niche. The solo guitar thing happened by accident and I found that I really loved it – but the responsibility of it is kind of tough. I’m not really a frontman – Sammy’s a frontman. When you’re writing and producing all the stuff and playing all the melodies and the solos AND you’re the frontperson, it’s a different kind of experience than being a guitarist in a rock n’ roll band. It feels great, feels natural. I’ve told a fair few people that I’ve known for a number of years that it really did feel like being back in a high school rock n’ roll band where we were just having fun and we could play whatever we wanted without any commercial concerns.
N: So … why the name Chickenfoot?
JS: From the very beginning we all joked about that name. Sammy had come up with it when he was a teenager and he used it to describe any project that was off the wall or temporary or anything that he didn’t think would get off the ground. So it was a joke to him! When he said it to me, I thought that was kind of a cool name – it was great! I thought it doesn’t really matter what we’re called, people will either like the music or they won’t. Everyone said, we’ll be called Chickenfoot now but we’d come up with a different name later … and nine months later, it was too late! After that, every cool name sounded stupid and contrived. Off the cuff and stupid, that’s always the way.
N: Well, going on the tangent of strange names. A young band here in the UK went under the guise of Thunderdonkey (Heaven’s Basement) for a little bit.
JS: That is a really cool name! Is it used?
N: Not anymore. There you go, a side project for you!
JS: (Laughs) Could well be!
N: Chickenfoot came over to the UK earlier this year, tell us about that?
JS: That was our second tour. We started out in the US doing a really small club tour. We tried to squeeze in years of struggling into a matter of a few weeks. We’d play places that were no more than 400 seaters. We really did have the time of our lives, but it was silly – we’d play a 400 seater venue and then we’d get on a private jet and fly to the next city! (laughs). Saying that, there is no money to be made yet in this project with the way that we fool around. But the experience was great, we just played new music. We didn’t play any Hagar, Chili Peppers, Satriani or Van Halen. We just tried to play the entire record top to bottom to see how it worked and to find out how we were going to do it. When we came to Europe, we were doing mainly festivals. Luckily, we had some smaller shows – like at Shepherds Bush – that is more like what a new band should be doing – playing in front of a smaller theatre type arena where the audience can work on it. You have to work on your delivery and your show – and you have to learn about your songs and how you want to play them.
It was a great night really; it turned out to be crazy. Sam almost got killed by Chad’s floor tom! That was the beginning of his injured bicep. He (Chad) went totally crazy and the following night in Paris he had to stop half way through the show because he couldn’t move his arm. That ended up leading to the cancellation of three smaller shows – club shows in Hamburg and Madrid – maybe Lens as well. We took a week off and he went into intensive therapy. I think he was getting oxygen chamber treatment while we were in Berlin hanging out. Then we resumed the rest of the outdoor shows that we were doing. Boy, it was a whirlwind tour and kind of traumatic but one of the high points was the London show.
N: Rule of thumb, never trust the drummer.
JS: (laughs) Keep your eye on the drummer. You never know what will happen. Especially if they go crazy (laughs). We just did a TV show – it was a Jimmy Kimmel show here in the US. They only film you for the one song but you play two others for the audience that was there. We were at the end of the third song, the cameras aren’t rolling and people started packing up to go home. However, Chad decided to go all the way – he went all Keith Moon and destroyed the drum kit. Absolutely, keep your eye on the drummer.
N: Favourite Chickenfoot track?
JS: Oh … I like them all! I really do. It’s a unique situation to go all the way back and being with a band that has just one album. I did that once! In actual fact, when I first started as a solo artist I had two albums … so that was kind of cheating in a way. But to go back and only have eleven songs to pull out is amazing. We did a Deep Purple song when we were in London just to stretch the set out a little bit. Each song we play is quite unique and I think one thing we did was pick the right first batch of songs. We did write a lot more but we weren’t sure about keys or tempos. So, the ones we left off – you don’t know if that was a good idea until you get out there. Every night on tour, we go and play the next song. Sammy said to me, he loves it when he looks down at the setlist and goes ‘Ah, that song! I love that one’. The loathing hasn’t set in yet … (laughs).
N: Favourite track / jam you’ve had a hand in?
JS: Entire catalogue? Wow … actually, I tell you last night I had to do the final look over a DVD coming out in early February. It’s called ‘Joe Satriani: Live in Paris’ and filmed about eighteen or nineteen months ago. I hate looking at myself on camera. Oh my god, I can’t believe people pay to see me! (laughs). This one particular track is a song called ‘Time Machine’ which in a really stupid moment, I introduced it with the wrong title! I called it ‘Time’ as I also have a song called that. I don’t know what was going through my head but I’m not in possession of all my faculties when I’m on stage. The performance was really something and I think that it was a really cool song. So, ‘Time Machine’ off of the album ‘Time Machine’ that came out in the mid 90’s. It was a song that was never usually played live so when we played it on the last tour we were all really excited.
N: You’ve got your own branding of guitar, effects peddle and amp! What’s your favourite bit of music technology you’ve had a hand in? Tell us about the JS24 guitar model?
JS: Oh yes! Man, it’s a really cool evolution. I started out with the JS guitars clinging on to a lot of vintage guitar ideals. I wanted the pickups to reflect a lot of the vintage qualities of humbucking pickups that Gibson had pioneered in the 50’s. The shape of the guitar and the scale lines were something that was born from the Fender Stratocaster but I wanted to make it sexier and more interesting in the sound. It had to blend with the humbucking style electronics and putting the Floyd Rose on there but just making it a modern guitar. I stopped short when it got to the fret board of going totally modern at the time. A lot of people were doing 24-fret models. Aesthetically, it would tip the balance and be too modern a guitar. Last year when we were making the Chickenfoot record I had the prototype of it and I thought ‘hey, let’s just try this out’. It actually sounded and performed really well on the tracks where I had all these other guitars playing. I thought, this is great, I get it now. ‘Oh Yeah’ has my Ibanez throughout the whole track and in the solos there were power chords where we used an Ibanez Les Paul style guitar. Not only that, there was the organ, 12-string guitar and piano – a whole bunch of stuff on there. For the solo in that song, I ended up using the 24-fret. Any guitar player should notice it because I ended up having a really high G and you wouldn’t be able to do that on a 21 or 22-fret guitar because the string would probably break! There I was looking at it and I went for an improvised solo and thought I’d do what every guitar player does and play too high! Give a guitar player an inch and he takes a yard! It was kind of a cool innovation.
N: You’re a bit of a fan of the Silver Surfer? …
JS: You know, the real story when I wrote that song (Surfing with the Alien) … the album was on its way to being called ‘Lords of Karma’. I’ll try to shorten the story! I was doing an interview with a British journalist long before the record was even pressed. This was back in the day when advance copies were truly advance copies – months and months before release. The interviewer said to me that he loved the album and everything about it but he said to me that he really hated the title. After the interview I thought that was terrible! I didn’t care about the title; I just wanted people to like the music.
So I looked at all the songs and tried to find the least offensive title. I thought yeah, ‘Surfing With The Alien’, that’s a funny song – that’s just a lighthearted subject matter. I called up the record company and I said to hold the press and that I’d like to change the title. It just so happened that the production manager happened to be a six foot four inch, long platinum blonde haired guy who used to work at radio and his handle on Rock Radio used to be the ‘Silver Surfer’. He thought it was great and we could put the silver surfer on the cover … and I said, what’s a silver surfer? (laughs). I was not aware of the Silver Surfer comic series at all when I wrote that song but he was an aficionado of the comic book series so he sent me a few of the comics and I thought man, this was great. That’s how that all got started.
N: Random fact not a lot of people would know about you?
JS: Hmm, random but nothing to revealing? (laughs). Well, I’m currently doing jury duty service! Other artists always get out of it, they always get their managers to write something but I’ve done it before and it’s just something you’ve got to do! It’s a standard thing when they call you up and ask you to sit in a jury and help decide a problem. We had quite a funny moment in the court room the other day. The prosecutor was asking me something about back problems or hand problems – it was some sort of an injury case. They asked me if I’d ever gone to see a chiropractor and I said yeah, all the time. I’ve been jumping around with a guitar on my back for all these years. The prosecutor asked if I was a performer and the whole of the court room yelled out ‘He’s Joe Satriani!’. It was kind of embarrassing because I thought I was incognito! Then the judge asked me all sorts of questions about the gig and everything.
N: Chickenfoot is an epic band of epic proportions. Dead or alive, if you could pick more musicians to jam with – who would it be?
JS: It would have to be Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding for sure! The Hendrix experience, they were really quite special. Like anyone else, if you could sit down with Beethoven and Miles Davis that would be great!
N: Any new bands / artists you rate?
JS: We took around with us Davey Knowles who I think is really great. He’s from the Isle of Man and he’s been over in the States working really hard. He opened for us as an acoustic on one tour and electric for the last big run that we did. I really liked that. I think Davey is a great player with a great voice and a big future ahead of him. I like Warren Haynes a lot and I’m interested in this new band, Them Crooked Vultures. I’ve only heard one song of theirs. I like Muse a lot too. That’s what I’ve been listening to.
N: If you could change or make one law, what would it be? Quite fitting as you’re on jury duty!
JS: Oh yeah! I should say no jury duty! But that would be bad. I think to change a law. I think that they need to – at least in the United States – they need to decriminalize marijuana. It’s a serious issue I think.
N: What are Chickenfoot’s plans for 2010? UK dates?
JS: We really hope to get back to the UK and greater Europe in June. We’re really planning it. I think one way or the other we’ll get back there before we make another record. We’re in a bit of a down period at the moment where we are finishing up a lot of touches on a DVD that was filmed in Phoenix, AZ and I’m guessing that would come out in March or April. Between now and then, we have one show in Las Vegas in two weeks and we might do a few shows in the spring but Chad is hanging with the Chili Peppers at the moment and they’ve got to find a new guitar player then start writing a record. Sammy is very busy at the moment opening a few Cabo Wabo’s. He’s got a line of all for charity restaurants that he’s opened up in airports which is really cool! In March, I’ll be going out on tour with the Hendrix Experience, unfortunately only in the US but I’m really looking forward to that because we’ve got a handful of stellar guitar players and we just play Hendrix all night!
The “Deluxe Edition” of Chickenfoot’s debut album is released by earMusic this week. The Deluxe Edition of the eponymous album includes a bonus DVD disc that includes exclusive behind-the-scenes and live footage, plus promo videos for the singles ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Soap on a Rope’ and ‘Sexy Little Thing’. Visit the official site – www.chickenfoot.us
Words – Nicola “Nix” Crichton / Photos top to bottom © Ross Halfin 2009, © Ross Halfin 2009, © Paul Bachmann 2009, © Paul Bachmann 2009, © Bryan Adams 2009.