Joe Satriani

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

When your older sisters utilize their artistic abilities to encourage you to make art, you end of making incredible art. Guitarist/Songwriter Joe Satriani not only is an extraordinarily talented musician who has sold over ten million albums and has been nominated fifteen times for Grammy Awards, but now he will be showing his amazing art pieces at Wenworth Galleries. South Florida fans will be able to experience this incredible event on Friday, September 8th at Wentworth Gallery at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Saturday, September 9th at Wentworth Gallery at Boca Raton Town Center Mall and Sunday, September 10th at Wentworth Gallery at Las Olas.

Catching up with Satriani just prior to his art show, he revealed some details about the show, his early years with art, some current art projects and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: In 2019 you had “Radiant Collection”, in 2020 you had “Radiant Echoes Collection” based off of your performances on your fret board utilizing the glove technique by SceneFour. Is this artwork part of that? What can fans look forward to?
Joe Satriani: Its wonderfully complicated (he laughed). It started about eight years ago. I made a transition from illustration, sketching, computer art. You know, I’ve been making art for guitar straps, tour posters, t-shirts, guitar picks. All kinds of stuff. I put out an art book in 2013 of digital art and I wanted to start painting canvases. Something I’d never really done before. As a side note, I avoided it mainly because it was messy and guitar players have to keep their hands really clean all the time. I didn’t want to get involved in turpentine and solvents and all that kind of stuff that went with oil painting and canvases, but I decided to try to figure out a way to work with acrylics because I just wanted to be a little bit more hands on with the art and deal with it in a larger way and in a more analogue way to get away from the computer. So that’s the background of it. Then maybe four years forward, I was invited by Cory (Danziger) and Ravi (Dosaj) from SceneFour art collective in L.A. to take part in what you had described. The time elapsed photography, wearing the LED laced gloves performing in the dark and then getting these really beautiful prints made from computer altered photographs. So, during that session, I was showing the guys some of my artwork that I had been working on, and they were all a lot of striking odd portraits mainly. They got very excited about doing some collaborations where they would photograph me. They would make a print. They would send me the prints and then I would paint on top of the prints, and once that got rolling and it became very popular, I think we did our first showing in 2019, Christian (O’Mahony) at the Wentworth Gallery got interested in commissioning, oh I think he said on the first phone call something like at least three hundred pieces. I was pretty overwhelmed, but really happy to get that kind of interest from the biggest galleries in the United States. I was excited about it. So, we started down this road of original pieces. Everything from something familiar like a flag or a heart, all the way to some of my really unusual portraits of odd-looking characters. We obviously started doing guitars themselves. First, the guitars were as art objects only to be displayed inside cases, and then we started to do art on guitar where the guitar could be finished professionally and you could use it as a professional instrument. So, to make a really long story short for you, fast forward now, we are at that level of three hundred plus paintings and electric guitars that have been done, and these dates coming up will have every version of the art that I did. My original pieces, my collaboration with G4. Some new collaborations that are one off silk screen on paper with additional painting on top. I’m actually, just working on the last twenty-four right now, and I do get to play the guitars at the show which is really fun.

SFL Music: You said you had been doing art over the years. Were you schooled in art? How did it come about that you started doing that type of artwork as well as playing guitar?
Satriani: I grew up with art in my family’s home because I’m the youngest of five and my two older sisters, my twin sisters were professional artists. They got degrees in Fine Art, so there was always art. Their artistic talent blossomed when they were very young, so there was always painting, drawing going on in the house. There was materials all over the place, and since they were charged with looking after their little brothers very often, they just sort of would give us art materials and we’d sit in the corner. So, we’d always be drawing and painting. We didn’t have that kind of talent in fine art that they had, so we would just always be drawing and painting abstract and bizarre things like young boys would do. I just really took to it although I turned to music starting at age nine and that was my main focus. First the drums and then the guitar. I always try to work in my drawing primarily because it was easy to go on tour and bring a sketch book rather than a whole paint set up. It’s a little inconvenient when you’re traveling around the world, but the sketches actually wound up, I think the first time the sketches wound up in a CD package was maybe The Extremist album in 1992. And then posters, the backdrop, t-shirts, hats, all that kind of stuff. We started to take some of the digital art about ten or fifteen years later and it would wind up as projections on the stage scrim behind us as we played. We wound up using them, myself and I have writing partner at Fast Tunes Media which is a company that Ned Evett and myself have where we generate science fiction stories and other fiction stories. So, we created the Crystal Planet comic book series and the original versions actually featured characters that were all taken from my first artbook from 2013. Each time that I’ve put something forward, it’s really interesting how it turns into something I wasn’t expecting and it echoes what happens in the music world. It’s like when you write a song about one thing and your audience decides to use it for another thing. It proves to you that art in general has a very unique power, and once you give it to the audience it becomes theirs (he laughed). So, in this particular case, these drawings that I did being at the genesis of the Crystal Planet comic book series, they were really just the first step. Then eventually other artists that do comic books for a living took their cue from the artwork, but eventually morphed it into something that would tell the story in a larger way. So, it’s been really interesting, but as I said before, its complicated to tell the whole story because there have been so many unusual left turns that fortunately have all brought me to newer exciting opportunities.

SFL Music: So other artists used other pieces of art that you drew for their comic books?
Satriani: Well, the way that we started out in the Crystal Planet series was that Ned Evett and myself were really into this sort of vintage anime from Japan, and so we had a very flat two-dimensional approach to these characters. Then once we started to work with Incendium and Opus out of London, we realized that there was an opportunity to take the Crystal Planet story and sort of modernize it, and that’s kind of like what we did. Although we didn’t go totally the most modern kind of three D digital comics, we found a spot that we felt was quite unique. It wasn’t quite Dungeons & Dragons and that kind of stuff. It wasn’t as fantasy-oriented let’s say as some modern comic books. It still had sort of one foot in the vintage comic book world of both the American style and the Japanese anime style. So, small elements get lifted from story. It’s very similar to like when someone makes a movie out of a book. You use the book, but the book isn’t a movie (he laughed). It doesn’t work that way. Yeah, when people are looking at the screen you have to reinterpret the story that makes sense for that medium. It’s very much like when you re-do a song in a studio, you have to somehow reflect the beginning version, the first version, but you really have to cut ties with it if you’re gonna do something new. That would be something that I would prepare myself for every time. Let’s say I made a new partnership to create let’s say an animated T.V. show of Crystal Planet. I’d have to be prepared that this new creative team was gonna have to leave some of my stuff in the past and sort of modernize it, but that’s what makes collaboration so much fun. That’s how this whole thing got started really as I said before, it’s just that chance meeting with the guys from SceneFour and saying, yeah, I’ll get photographed in the dark. Why not? (He laughed).

SFL Music: What would you say influences you when you write your music?
Satriani: You know, just about all my music is based on personal experience, life experiences. It’s a funny journey from something heavy and serious and even stuff that’s really light and frivolous that I experience and how I turn that into music. It’s not that I’m trying to get people to connect with that original inspiration. I’m just using it to express the art. The most important thing like for me, is to recognize these feelings and thoughts and emotions, turn it into music, but then once I give it to the audience, they’re free to reinterpret it as they wish. I can tell you an interesting story about that. Many years ago, when my father passed away, I had written a song that was really just about trying to come to terms with the grieving process and focusing on good memories, things like that. So, I wrote the song and I didn’t think it was something that I would share with the public, but it was something I would do as a musician. Express those inner feelings musically, but it did wind up on The Extremist album. The song was called “Cryin’” and I was happy that it came out, but I was prepared that the audience wouldn’t necessarily know what it was about and I thought, I should really tell them or force them to you know, come to grips with what the story was about. So, the record gets released and as we’re touring Europe, I find out that in Germany and the Benelux Country’s there was a T.V. show back then called Ron and it was a soccer program. Every Sunday they would have all the highlights of what happened in European soccer or around the world and they would have players they would interview and it was shot in front of a live audience, and they were using the song as their round up theme song to show all the highlights of the past week of world soccer and football. I thought well, that’s really bizarre that they would use this song. For some reason they thought it was the perfect song, and then we got invited on the program to play it live. I just remember thinking what a bizarre you know, twist of music and of events that this song was coming from a very different place in my heart, and now these people are enjoying it and they’re seeing it as sort of a song that represents the triumphs and the tribulations of playing even football (he laughed). So, as a musician you realize you have to let people use your music as they wish. You really have no control over it when it comes to how people feel about it. So, I’ve always felt that way about the art as well. The experience of the artist is in the doing and then afterwards you shouldn’t try to change the mind of the art lover and how they perceive your art and how they want to use it. You just never know. I should tell you this, the last gallery showing that we did, when people buy the paintings, we spend about fifteen minutes together talking privately about the painting. It’s a really interesting exchange between artist and art lover, and this one gentleman came in and he bought a painting I never would have guessed that he would have purchased, and it was an abstract too. It wasn’t a very large piece, maybe thirty-two by thirty-two or something like that, and it was an abstract that I had done, in my mind it was about re-birth and blooming and things. I was just playing with some really beautiful colors, but everyone who looked at it would say, “oh, that’s an orchid isn’t it?” or “no, that’s a spaceship.” It really was an abstract. So, this guy doesn’t come to the show looking for me. He doesn’t know who I am. He’s walking past the gallery. He sees the painting in the window. He goes in, he buys it and he sits down and he tells me all about his life and what the painting means and how it represents all the things that he went through to get him to where he is today which is a very good place finally. It was such a remarkable exchange. I was so moved by being able to talk to him about that and just knowing that he’s taken this painting of mine home and gets to look at it and it represents something very important in his life. It’s really something. Something I was not prepared for years ago when I spoke to Christian the first time about paintings and doing art shows. I had no idea what that was gonna be like and it’s turned into a wonderfully cathartic and exciting adventure.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to a new artist or musician?
Satriani: Well as a consumer of music and art, I always want to be surprised. I don’t want to tell the musician or the artist what I like and could you please make it. I’d never want to get involved with that. The analogy would be, you go to a restaurant and it’s supposed to be amazing and the chef comes out and says, I’ve got some surprises for you and you go, oh please surprise me! You don’t want to tell the chef what to make. You don’t want to say, make sure you do this, this, this, this. That would spoil the whole thing, right? No, you say surprise me and then you get surprised. Then you have an experience and it’s something new and exciting. You let the chef put all their heart and soul into it. That would mean like when you and I turn on our favorite radio station, streaming station, whatever, we don’t want to tell the station what to play. We just want them to play something to surprise us to make us feel good. So that means that the advice to the artist, musician would be, be original. I would say from a songwriting point of view, what I often tell young players, let’s say at my G4 clinic series, I’ll remind them that we’re all unique individuals. We all have unique lives and everybody, if we’re united at anything is that nobody knows kind of like what we’re doing here. Where we’re going. What’s it’s all about, and so we look to each other for conformation of that metaphysical quest and also to find out maybe if I listen to like this person’s story, I’ll understand mine a little bit better. So, that would mean that it really does instruct the artist to be as original as possible because that’s what is gonna make you stick out and be sought as a unique perspective of what it means to be alive. All of us, like I said when you and I turn on the radio, we want something to touch us. We want to find out more. We want to be happier. If we’re sad, we want something to commiserate with us, whether it be a painting or some music. Again, that puts the sort of the emphasis on the artist to be original and not to be afraid to expose their deepest feelings, questions, and observations. The artist I think has to be brave enough to take the good and the bad reviews (he laughed) equally. I learned that when I was a young fourteen-year-old playing my first shows in high schools and things, that some kids hate you and some kids love you and it doesn’t really mean that you should practice any differently or change what you like. It’s just something that is. So, accept it. There’s gonna be good reviews and bad reviews. It’s got nothing to do with the process of you telling your story to the world.

SFL Music: That’s great advice. How did you get into music? What made you become a musician?
Satriani: I think my earliest, most exciting moments when I was a kid was watching my family and older siblings experience music, singing, dancing, concerts, things like that. It really hit me more than anything else. More than going to like my first baseball game at Yankee Stadium or other sports kinds of things, but I remember visiting a dance that my older sisters were going to and being allowed to like poke my head in the door and watch the band for a couple of minutes, and that made such a big impression on me, just watching musicians play music for teenagers who were going crazy. Listening to it, feeling the music and watching the whole thing go down and I thought, this is the greatest thing ever in life. This is way better than baseball and going to school, playing in the backyard, whatever. It was just one of those things that stuck with me. Then as I saw musicians playing on television in the early days of rock music, it sort of solidified that, and that’s what got me to play drums was watching The Beatles and The (Rolling) Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show. I really date myself, but that was when I was a little kid in the early and mid-sixties. Then when Jimi Hendrix died, I switched to guitar ‘cause I was such a big Jimi Hendrix fan, and so I just stayed dedicated to the guitar after that.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want to add for people to know about the art show?
Satriani: Yes. I’ll be there. I’ll be available to meet everybody and I’ll be playing a short set, and I’ll be playing the guitars that I‘ve painted. I know that a few of the guitars have already been purchased, and so those patrons who play guitar can come up with me and jam at the event actually. It’s really a lot of fun and it really doesn’t matter the level of musicianship. We always figure something to play. Some of the patrons who buy these guitars, they play just a little and we have fun. It doesn’t matter, and some of the guys who buy these guitars play better than me and it’s really exciting (he laughed) to watch them shred. So yeah, it’s like a mini concert and an art show public appearance all at once.

SFL Readers, look for the entire interview in the October issue!

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