Over nearly 30 years as a solo artist, Joe Satriani has fused rock with blues, funk and world music among other styles (remember his 2000 electronica-meets-rock release, Engines of Creation?), all in an effort to do something new with each successive album. Given the sort of influences he had growing up, this should comes as no surprise.
"I grew up listening to early rock 'n' roll, Motown, British Invasion, funk and soul music," Satriani says. "And my parents were Jazz Age music listeners, so I also grew up listening to Miles Davis, swing music, Sinatra and Coltrane. It was a very eclectic upbringing."
Satriani continued to keep his interests broad during high school. While he took theory and advanced music courses from a former concert pianist, and learned about everything from Gregorian chant to sight reading, Satriani could not shake the rock 'n' roll bug.
"At the same time, of course, I was playing Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Stone, The Doors," Satriani says. "That's what my high school band was always playing, and I was always in a band from age 14 until I left high school. I was always playing in rock bands. So there was this double education going on."
With 14 studio albums to his credit, including this year's Unstoppable Momentum, Satriani's work continues to intrigue outsiders in part because he rarely sings on his albums. In his mind, it almost makes more sense not to.
"I suppose it's because I grew up listening to so much instrumental music," he explains. "There was a lot of classical as well as jazz music in my house, so it never seemed to me that you needed to have lyrics. The music that was played in the house made me feel like instrumental music was just as powerful."
And some of his early and current favorites are not necessarily what you might expect from rock 'n' roll royalty.
"When I listen to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, I don't say, 'Hey man, where's the singing?'" Satriani laughs.
"It's the same thing if I'm listening to Miles Davis: I'm not missing anything. Wes Montgomery, to me, his music is perfect. So by the time I started listening to 'Third Stone from the Sun' by Jimi Hendrix, I thought, 'I know exactly what this is. This is just pure music, and I love it.'"
This love of the instrumental is on full display on Unstoppable Momentum. The crunchy rocker "Lies and Truths" employs suspicious here-and-there riffs to augment the song's sinister subject matter, while the soaring title track is classic Satriani, with memorable bridges, tight guitar work and the sort of epic feel that is perfect for summer time. One pair of tracks that appear next to each other on the album was particularly fun to make.
"There was a time when, after working on 'Jumpin' In,' I realized there was another subfolder in ProTools that was labeled 'Jumpin' Out,'" Satriani says. "It was sort of like the evil twin of the song. 'Jumpin' In' is a song about not being afraid to try different things and is much more playful, while 'Jumpin' Out" is more sinister, so it's like they're bookends. I'm really glad it turned out that way, because they are somewhat related, and yet so different from each other."
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In the end, different is what Satriani is always looking for.
"I'm always looking for that satisfaction, when I'm playing, that I used to get from listening to this wide variety of music growing up," he says. "So it seems natural to me have a little bit of each of those influences as part of my records, or part of my evening's performance."