Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Joe Satriani.
On What Happens Next, the legendary guitarist reveals a new persona: himself.
Joe Satriani is the world’s most commercially successful solo guitar performer, with six Gold and Platinum discs to his credit (including one more Gold award for the debut album by his band Chickenfoot), and sales in excess of 10 million copies, as well as garnering 15 Grammy nominations. His last studio album, Shockwave Supernova, was hailed as yet another creative breakthrough – this for a guitarist who has routinely topped numerous guitar magazine polls since the release of his first full-length album in 1986. His 16th studio album, What Happens Next, will be released on January 12th with a full U.S. tour slated to begin the week of release.
As fans know, Satriani hinted at the demise of his alter ego in 2015’s Shockwave Supernova album after that character threatened to battle Satriani for his very soul. As Satriani hit the road in support of the album, he discovered Shockwave Supernova, the latest in a long line of alien personas Satriani had created, was truly suffocating him—a process captured in a new documentary directed by Satriani’s son ZZ, which will debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival. “As I was doing the last few legs of the tour, I started to think ‘Wow, maybe this is real life.’ I am feeling like I should just drop this guy and figure out a way to do something very different.”
What happened next was nothing short of a metamorphosis. “It was an internal artistic rebirth,” Satriani says. “I’m thinking, ‘No science-fiction, no time travel, no songs about distant planets or aliens or anything like that.” Instead, Satriani looked inward, writing songs, he says, “about a human being, two feet on the ground, heart pumping, with emotions, dreams, and hopes. That seemed to be the direction I really was yearning for.”
The stunning result is What Happens Next, the most accessible, straight forward rock album that Satriani has ever made. The set pulses with a vibrant energy, starting from the dynamic opening track, and first radio single, “Energy“.
If Satriani was going to “drop everything and go into something brand new,” he needed to surround himself with co-conspirators whom he knew could fulfill his vision, so he turned to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith – also his bandmate in Chickenfoot, Deep Purple bassist and longtime friend Glenn Hughes, and producer Mike Fraser.
Utilizing a trio instead of a full band, Satriani hoped to replicate the energy he found working with Chickenfoot on their first album. “It was basically three musicians and Sammy [Hagar] screaming on top of us, and there was none of that waiting to see what the other guy plays so much as we were just all going at the same time,” he says. “We were just attacking it with so much fun and energy. It’s a unique quality that makes the listener feel like there was something bigger than the sum of their parts and I wanted to make sure that we captured that.”
Satriani, reached out to Smith, relaying, “‘I’ve got this crazy idea—rock n’ roll record, fresh, immediate, lively. You, Glenn Hughes on bass and me’,” Satriani recalls. “I was expecting him to tell me to go take a walk, but he signed on immediately.” So did Hughes.
After sending Smith and Hughes the songs, Satriani laid down a few ground rules, which boiled down to “Keep It Simple”. “I said to Chad in an early text, ‘No odd time signatures, no progressive stuff, pure rock and soul.’ The last two records really showed that I was enjoying playing with progressive elements, and when I reached the end of Shockwave Supernova, I said, ‘I think I’ve done it. For some reason, I don’t feel like going back over that anymore’.”
Once in the studio—they recorded in San Francisco and Los Angeles— Satriani wanted space for the threesome to nimbly shift as they found their groove. “I said, ‘If you got an idea, just start doing it, and we’ll react as a trio,’ and that was the idea— to record us reacting off of each other, and try to create that magic sound that a three-piece can make.”
In 1987, Joe Satriani broke through to the masses with his second studio full-length, Surfing With The Alien, a massive seller (which hit #29 on the Billboard Top 200) that included the radio hits “Satch Boogie” and the title track. The success of that album caught the attention of Mick Jagger, who asked Satriani to be his lead guitarist on his first-ever solo tour, in 1988. As a live performer, Satriani has toured the world with each new release – his last concert tour for 2013’s Unstoppable Momentum saw the guitarist touch down in 32 countries across the globe. In 1993, he joined Deep Purple as a temporary replacement for Ritchie Blackmore during a Japanese tour, and in 2009, Satriani traversed the globe again as a member of Chickenfoot – the all-star band (which also includes singer Sammy Hagar, former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith) has issued two albums: their Gold-certified debut and 2011’s follow-up, Chickenfoot III.
And he’s far from finished. With What Happens Next, Satriani asks his fans to join him in a new chapter.