"This might be my most outrageous and most personal album to date. Working on these songs made me dig deeper, take more chances, and embrace a bolder approach to instrumental guitar music."
- JOE SATRIANI
You can easily make the case that the idea of shapeshifting is a consistent element that has been present throughout Joe Satriani’s incredible career which now stretches across nearly 35 years. Never one to make the same type of record twice, the symbiotic relationship that he has with his existing body of work and how it feeds into the next chapter that he’ll add to is a fascinating one.
While some artists are often reluctant about looking back, Satriani sees it as an important part of the process. “Each album is to a large degree, informed by what just happened the last two years,” he says. “The previous record, the cathartic experience of dreaming it up, writing it, recording it and then taking it on tour - that is quite an experience.”
Shapeshifting, his 18th studio album, grew out of a plan to focus on the idea of changing as the central theme. Listening to the initial demos that he had recorded, he thought the “shapeshifting” phrase is one that would fit well with the songs that he had come up with. “I started to think that that sounds like 15 different guitar players,” Satriani says. “I know it’s the same guy, because it’s me, but it sounds like I’m really moving into an area where each melody requires me to almost be somebody else.”
He enlisted a wide range of collaborators, both old and new, to help him bring the songs to life. Legendary drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty), bassist Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction) and keyboardist Eric Caudieux were the core musicians on the new album with additional contributions coming from Lisa Coleman (The Revolution) and Christopher Guest.
Jim Scott (Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) co-produced the album sessions with Satriani. Longtime associate John Cuniberti was on board as well, handling the mastering duties. With the right team in place, Satriani and the band were able to focus in on capturing the right performances on the songs, which inspirationally, came from really interesting places.
The retro AOR feel of the album's first single, “Nineteen Eighty” finds Satriani spiritually revisiting the time period when he was working with his first band, the Squares. The future guitar hero the world came to know less than a decade later, would have to wait. He recalls that in those early days, they “dialed back the guitar solos and histrionics to try to create a cooler new-wave vibe.” Decades removed from those goals, he was free to go forward and attempt to recapture what was on his mind in 1980.
Staying true to the sounds of the time, he even used a vintage MXR EVH phaser. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Eddie Van Halen,” Satriani says. “In my mind, he just crystallized that era. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he kind of saved rock guitar. So that’s what I would have been doing.”
You’ll find a lot of different kinds of racket on Shapeshifting, which stands as one of the most interesting and intriguing records that Satriani has made to date. It’s one that effectively bottles the incredible journey that he took with his collaborators over the past year as they worked on music together. Listening back to the album, he’s quite pleased with what they have accomplished.
“I think that Jim and I were both feeling the same way that the performances and final mixes for Shapeshifting should be bold and dangerous. We should let the musicians breathe their own life into each part. Give them that freedom and let’s see where it goes. It really paid off.”