Satriani on Chickenfoot III - and win a copy
The new album by Chickenfoot is out. It's called Chickenfoot III. I only got to hear it once, via one of those music-company streaming tools, before I spoke to lead guitarist Joe Satriani. But I was struck, straight away, with what a great new rock record this is. A big sound, huge sound - a lot of fun; big, dumb rock music and there's nothing wrong with that.
I guess I should declare/confess that I was a fan of the self-titled debut by Chickenfoot. In fact I still am. In the war of the supergroups I think they're winning. It might have seemed weird - or wrong - that two ex-members of Van Halen, the drummer for The Red Hot Chili Peppers (and stunt-double for Will Ferrell) would team with an 80s guitar-shred hero to make an album, to form a band, but I couldn't complain. I was very sure that I would not like the album - but was won over. Big grooves, Satriani was actually writing songs - something he seemed to run out of a while back on his solo albums. And Sammy Hagar sounded as though he was having a blast but it was not, thankfully, another of his solo albums. Michael Anthony got to show that his contribution to music was always about so much more than just playing bass parts that Eddie Van Halen now claims he played himself. Anthony's backing vocals are an important part of the sound of this band, just as they were in Van Halen. And Chad Smith hasn't really played anything - of note or need - on a Chili Peppers album since One Hot Minute. So he must just love the chance to sit back and unleash a bit of his inner Bonham.
Smith is a chops player and he sounds far more exciting - and interesting - on Chickenfoot and Chickenfoot III than he does on record with the Chili Peppers. In fact all of these players sound as though they have a buzz going; they sound as though they're enjoying it. That (instantly) translates when you hear the new record. And it was palpable talking to the band's guitarist.
Joe Satriani talks fast and sounds like an excited teenager. He is in fact 55 - but he's not the oldest member of Chickenfoot. That honour goes to Hagar, the 63-year-old tequila tycoon, restaurant owner and Red Rocker.
"Yeah Sammy's older than me," Joe laughs. "But it's hard keeping up with him - he's got a million things on the go and he works all day every day, then when he gets time to play he plays harder than anyone."
That Chickenfoot III exists (despite the name, it is in fact the band's second album) shows that the four musicians wanted to make a band of this; wanted to be taken seriously as more than just a press-hyped supergroup.
"That's absolutely true," Satriani tells me. "And more than that, this is where we actually become a band. That last record was just four guys who were strangers, we hung out, we knew a bit about each other, Sammy and Michael had played together, sure, but as a group we were strangers getting to know each other. The tour helped us bond and this record came about from a desire to offer more - we really want to show y'all what we got!"
Satriani says he wanted to make a very strong album ("that was the goal"); to write better songs, to be "more developed".
But he doesn't believe there was any pressure, any Sophomore Slump issues. He says, through much laughter, "if anything that was motivating. We understood that there was some pressure, or that there might be - from the press or fans or whatever. There is always some feeling of pressure. I think it helps that we're pretty seasoned. We've all felt that pressure with our other work so when we get together for this it's work, but it's about fun - it's about rockin' out and just unleashing the crazy beast that is Chickenfoot." More laughter. "So, you know, I think it was just a motivator - the fact that some people might want this record to be better than the first was great, you know, because so did the four of us!"
I get the feeling that Satriani is the guy who pulls these other players together - the wrangler.
"Yeah, well it's become that way. I think it is a bit of a case of wrangling, we're all busy still with our other work and our lives, our families. I was enjoying the idea of being in a band again; of rocking out - just playing some rock music, just jamming. And you know I wanted to be the f**k-up of this group." Pause for a huge hoot of laughter. "But last year the songs sort of fell to me and so I've sorta assumed this role. But I should say that everyone in this band creates parts, everyone puts in the necessary work in their department.
"So last year we got together to write more - I started writing demos in August of 2010 and I headed out on a solo tour. Sammy's busy all the time too. So then we got together in February 2011 and then five months on from that we get to work in the studio. We knew that Chad's time was tight - he was busy with the new Chili Peppers record and going on the road there - so time was definitely tight.
"It was a case of live recordings, without sequencers or click tracks and we all just loved that - it made for a really fun recording process. Old school rock and blues jamming, everyone was charged."
I make the point that none of these players are getting younger - will Chickenfoot be the legacy; will this band be how Satriani is remembered?
"I do want to make sure this last chapter turns out good." Here there's no laughter. Here Satch sounds very serious. "This band reminds me of my first high school bands at 14. And that's what I love about this. I still have my solo projects. Everyone here in this band still has their other music but it's really feeling like we've decided to bring it - and I'm really inspired by that, really pumped. I think we've made a great record. We've made a rock record that I want to hear."
This world-renowned guitarist started life as a drummer - so I ask if that has an impact on his playing, if it makes him listen in for a great drummer, hook in with what they're playing.
"I was, in my head, this phenomenal drummer," Satriani says laughing. "Unfortunately I had four limbs that wouldn't cooperate. I was light years behind any good drummer. But I do listen in for great drummer - and Chad is definitely that. Chad is a monster in fact. He's also a very good musician. And this is important for any drummer - to actually be a musician. We have a song on the new album that Chad wrote the chorus for. I had some chords and most of the structure of the song and we jammed on it - then Chad says he has an idea for a chorus. The one thing it was missing. He asked to borrow my guitar and went off while we had a break and returned with the chorus that you hear on the song. On the record."
And it's not just Satriani and Chad Smith that play guitar. Sammy Hagar was a guitarist before and after working with Van Halen.
"Oh Sammy is great," Satriani opines. "The thing with Sammy, he hasn't played a lot of guitar with Chickenfoot, apart from live. I think Sammy was pretty happy to let me do the guitars on the record but we get together and play and he's got the history in his fingers. It's there. And it's great to watch and learn from someone like Sammy."
Michael Anthony receives some praise from Joe too. "I started out playing at least as much bass as I did guitar. I did a lot of session work for people, recording adverts and jingles and songs and I would do a lot of bass work and on my own records I played a lot of the bass early on - and Mike has a great approach. Great hooks. And his singing is just great. Really, really great. That's the thing about this band. We're all fans of each other - and it comes across, I think. We're there to have fun. We're into it. But we just love having a jam."
There are some great rock songs on Chickenfoot III. Hopefully we'll get to hear them live.
Satriani ends the interview, as is almost always customary, with "we definitely have a Southern Hemisphere tour planned. And we're going to come and see you in New Zealand. We've all been there with our other groups and I've been there solo so we need to come and blast you guys with some Chickenfoot."
Three lucky readers will win a copy of Chickenfoot III - my thanks to Mushroom Group Promotions and the Liberator label for offering the prizes.
So if you'd like to see - and hear - what's so good about Chickenfoot III, just leave a comment below. Tell me why you'd like to win. I'll pick the three I think are most deserving.
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