Joe Satriani Discusses His New Comicbook ‘Crystal Planet’ & His Forthcoming New Album
By Andrew Catania
I would never imagine in the 35 years of being a fan of Joe Satriani that we’d be talking about comic books he’s releasing. It’s quite an interesting story for people to read.
He’s also excited about the new album he’s releasing next year which is due in April 2022.
Joe and I spoke at length about his new comic book and album.
How different, Joe, is writing a comic book versus an album? Are there any similarities?
JS: It is different than music. I write the music; I record the music I produce it. I have a hand in every part of it and then I go out every night and sell it in front of an audience. Being a musician is so hands-on it is crazy. It is 24/7 for the rest of your life. Authoring stories with my partner and then gaining other talented partners to bring it to fruition is fun because you do not have to do all of the work all of the time and you’ve got these really creative people who join your team and they just come up with these really great ideas which they can run with.
The people who draw and the people who color; the ones who produce the script for your book… and just collaborating with Ned it is great, you know. We had written twenty-five properties so far for our company, Satchtoons.
It is a hyper-creative thing, I love that.
For me, every album that I have done has been collaborative, so that means that there is a lot of similarities between producing concepts for an album and a concept for a story that you want to see turned into a comic book.
But here is an interesting way of looking at stories – something I learned from someone else who spent a lifetime producing stuff which is that when you come up with a story, it’s a good idea to see what happens when you turn it into not only a short story but also a novel, and a comic book and a video game. Just, you know, as a creative exercise and find out just what happens to your characters when you try to get them to really expand in this different format – into all the different story-telling formats.
It is very much like when you are in the studio and the producer comes to you and you brought a song that is a bluesy song, and the producer says to you rock it out and you remove some of the blues influences and you added some metal. Or you turn it upside down and you make it a reggae tune. You do it and you go wow, I just learned something about this chord progression that that chord over there does not work with every style. But these other chords seem to travel. No matter how many assorted styles I use to interpret this song, 95% of the structure sounds great. That really teaches you a lesson about what is solid about this song as a composition. We learned that about Crystal Planet by taking that advice and really trying to see what would happen when we turned them into little 12-minute video episodes. When Ned eventually authored the novel, wonderful things came out of him by doing that exercise. He had never done that before so when he sat down to do it, he realized like “Wow!” all of the stuff that came out of him/ All of the stuff that happened…when he handed all of that stuff over to the guys, over to Lexi and everyone, they really absorbed all of the versions that we had written over seven or eight years and they were able to distill from that even more stuff… like we were providing even more raw materials and it was really fascinating, you know, how that works. But there are similarities to the storytelling, whether it’s music or a comic book.
Does your son have anything to do with the comic books at all?
JS: Ahh, no. This is something that we have been doing on our own. He has not yet gotten involved in any of that. But at some point, when we go to do or get the chance to do a movie, we will get him involved. That is his main thing – editing and shooting movies.
What made you want to do comic books?
JS: Well, the story is quite innocent. It goes back to 2013, I was preparing to go on tour with Unstoppable Momentum and Ned has just gotten a new day job making films for some company. He was making in-house films to educate the company employees about stuff. It was just a side job he had at the time. Our Satch Tunes office was – this is all happening in Boise, Idaho – Satch Tunes was located up there at that time, that’s where Ned’s from. So, he said, I have some free time, do you need a video for one of your songs? I was saying I did not think we were going to waste our money on any videos like MTV or any old-school idea like that. Instrumental music is so rough, you know, spending money on doing any videos, you really got to be careful. If the world is not receptive to it, it is better to spend the money somewhere else. We were thinking we could make a video and show it during the show. Throw it up on a big thirty-five’ x 30’ LED screen that we put in behind the band. He said, okay, send me a song and I will do something. He wound up taking my art book that I had just produced that year and he took the characters from the pages of my art book, and he animated them into this funny kind of a sci-fi thing. It was interesting because although it was a very two-dimensional, sort-of studio gibbly looking, Japanese anima style, there was a life to it. I remember being on tour and I am looking at this thing every night and I thought wow, this has something to it. So, we started to have these phone conversations about what happened when he took those characters and made them just fly around on the screen. He was being playful with it. He would go out to the countryside out there in Idaho and he is filming stuff, and he would treat the film and he would use it has a background as animated versions of my art characters and make them look like they are flying and walking and saying things.
We just sort of thought, let us give each person/character a name and give them a story and we thought why we do not make this into a real thing. We started having these long, you know, 2-hour conversations a couple of times a week while I was on tour. We developed this story that we decided was Crystal Planet. It was about this main character who, through some strange exploration of energy sources for a soon-to-be-known, evil company – taps into the earth, way into the future, which has turned into this strange, inhospitable crystal planet. There is a war being battled by the descendants and the present-day bad guy is looming over Crystal Planet. You know, we started out having just so much fun creating these characters and putting everything that we felt about current attitudes towards the misuse of natural resources and the planet into developing a story about it. What we learned from that process was not only was it fun to take the music and this story, the characters, and the artwork and put them all together to get an even bigger bolder, story, but we also found out that we had this cool story that was bigger than the sum of its parts. Once we started it, it forced us to learn to be better storytellers. This eventually led us to reach out to Brendon Small, one of the creators and voices of Metalocalypse. He is a great guitarist and funny and smart comedian and actor. He eventually gave him a call and we said we have this thing, and we are so excited, but we do not know what we are doing. (Chuckling) You know, Ned and I are just guitar players, and we are lost at this point. We have never done T.V. shows and we have never authored books or comic books or anything. We have been writing songs and playing guitars for our whole lives. He was able to step in and decide, okay, I will be like your producer and see if I can get a handle on what you are trying to do. That led us to typing up the story and expand it into many different forms which we talked about earlier today. Authoring a novel, making it into a video game –just seeing what happened to the story when we took the core idea and made it work in different media. Eventually, that lead us to Heavy Metal Magazine – with the former owner – and we did get a pilot with a Brendon Small script released in a Heavy Metal issue. It was not exactly to our liking, but Ned and I, both being in the music business for so long, did not see that happening. We start out with good intentions and by the time it gets released you’re scratching your head and wondering what just happened. I am happy it is there, but it was not what I thought it would be. But, the funny thing was, and this is just such a weird thing, the way the world works…There was a guy working for Heavy Metal magazine at the time, a guy that I knew, but I didn’t know he was there, it was Llexi. So, Llexi Leon was there. He has been working with Megadeth and some of the others, trying to get heavy metal music artists and the comic book together.
I had worked with Llexi ten years prior, and on the (did not catch it) project and we created a character zombie that they put into a story, Eternal Descent. So then after the CEO/owner, whatever, of Heavy Metal gets ousted, and the new owners come in. Llexi winds up getting promoted into a position where he must develop the musical talent section, of getting these musical artists who have content, to produce stories with heavy metal. So, he comes to us and says “I’ve been here all this time watching from afar – because he’s been in London—and he says this is one of those projects that I think is really great and we should really go all of the way. We should do it. That guy is gone. New guys are in, and we can make this happen. So, we were incredibly happy about that because not only had I worked with Llexi but once you sit down and talk to him you know he is a super talented guy who gets things done. So that began that relationship of pulling together all the elements that Ned and I had worked on for years – getting them over to Llexi and his team and then Lexi finding the illustrators and the colorists/story editors pulling the story altogether to create what is now our comic book series.
It is overly exciting, It is a lesson in tenacity, I will tell you that. You just cannot give it up. You got to just keep fighting for your creative ideas.
I have noticed that ever since I saw your comics, it seems that a lot of bands are coming out with their own comic books, too. It is the new trend now.
JS: I think so…I have noticed that as well and it’s nice to see that creative people are finding fewer barriers to their creativity. I have to say, I have spent my whole life around musicians, and they are not one-dimensional talents. You find musicians who are great cooks and gardeners and they’re great at fixing cars and illustrating and painting and making clothes…But, you know, what happens is there is only so much time in your life to spend on your main job and you have to make a living and you only have certain resources, so, yeah, a guitar player who is also an artist has to save his money for guitars, and amps and can’t be spending it on paints and canvases unless there is extra money. So… but because of where technology is going and how the marketability of a celebrity is increasing, the upside of this is that we’re seeing more creativity coming from these people who – as I’ve said I’ve known all my life and they’re multi-faceted in their creativity – so it could be some as simple as Sammy Hagger having a great nose for alcohol and coming up with great drinks, you know? (laughing) but it is a talent. It is a weird talent, but it’s still a talent, and its commercial as well. But I know Sammy well, and he is a great singer – an amazing singer – a great entertainer, good at making people feel good and he just has a way of knowing what a good tequila is, what is a good rum…and it is a talent. I mean people like me, I can take it or leave it, but it takes someone with the talent to know what is good and what is not. I certainly, now, in dealing with Scene Four art, I see there are other musicians out there who do have a real talent for not only painting, but I would say mixed media, who were working hard but they were just never given a chance — who decided to tap into musicians and see if they could do a collaborative art project. And I am incredibly happy about that because they introduced me to the Wentworth Galleries and now, I am close to producing one hundred canvases for them. The main art gallery shows will be starting in late January. So, it has really been great because it is given me an opportunity to paint a lot every day. I am looking forward to having my fans see my artwork in a gallery setting.
Is there going to be any chance in the future that you are going to have Steve Vai or Kirk Hammett involved in your comic?
JS: (Laughing) Those guys have their own comic book thing…Kirk and Metallica, have so many things going on all the time. I am guessing there will be a movie, a fictional heavy metal story about Metallica that will be turned into a series or something like that. I could see Steve doing his own thing and he’s a very prolific writer and I could see him producing his own approach. That is what he does. He takes his time producing an original approach to things. One thing I have known about Steve since he was 12 years old is that he is always working, always super creative; he is just a great creative force, so you know, I hesitate to jump on the bandwagon to just sell the initial ideas before we get a chance to bring the pure idea out… You know, it brings up the idea that was thrown at me many times over the last 30+ years — by every record executive over the years – that you should have so-and-so sing on your albums because it will get more press and it might sell more records. And I would say why would I do that? This is an instrumental album that I must go and play live on stage and that famous person who is going to sing one song is not coming out on tour with me. So, why would I do that? What is it that you think I am doing? And there was always this disconnect… there were always these people at the record company who just always wanted to know how many pieces of this little plastic can I sell? They had no feeling or insight into my career as an artist and a musician and my life as a performer. They did not care about any of it. They just wanted to know, when I get this piece of plastic, how many can I sell. Sometimes, selling a lot is counter-productive to a person’s career. I know that sounds counter-productive, but I am sure you are aware of the hit singles that ruined the band. You know, a band starts out and they get known for one song and it just so happens that that one song is not what the band is all about and they cannot survive the success and they become a one-hit-wonder and they break up. I would always try to explain it to them, you know. I am not going to have some famous people sing on the album for one song just to get on the radio for three weeks. That just does not make any sense.
Are these guys even aware that you are the last guitarist, the last instrumental guitarist with a major label deal?? Others have just an Indie or the release the stuff themselves.
JS: Yes, do you know what? It has been a wonderful, fortunate association with these labels because all the people who got it wrong were eventually fired and moved on. The people who got it right were the people I had the longest relationships with. But I got to say, the pandemic changed everything. And concurrent with the pandemic was also the monumental growth of streaming which was the perfect storm to challenge musicians in the worst ways. The pandemic stopped us from performing live, which was our lifeblood, and then streaming came along and really lowered the bar for everybody in terms of compensation. It counteractively increased our ability to enter the worldwide fan base in a more democratized way because anybody can get their music on the internet and on streaming services. You know, you are right there next to Ed Sheeran or whoever, but, at the same time, the pay schedule has not really helped the average musician. Only the people who are getting billions of streams can really benefit from it. If you just look back, even 25 years ago, it is so different. The rewards system is so different that it made everybody re-think what they do when they wake up in the morning if they are a musician. What are the five priorities that are going to put food on the table, pay the rent and insurance and everything else plus pay for my band going out on tour? Those things have just been completely obliterated. Everyone is just kind of scrambling trying to figure out what to do next. It is something I felt when I put out the album, What Happens Next, I remember feeling that and I certainly had no idea there was going to be a pandemic. I certainly remember feeling that the younger musicians were really in the toughest spot that I have seen in a long time. It reminded me historically of, like back in 1900, or around that time, like here in the States, people had to go somewhere to see music. Then music publishing came in and then people could buy the music and then play it at home. They did not necessarily have to go somewhere to watch a musician play music, they could play it in their parlor or go to their neighbor’s house who had a piano and play it there. That was super disruptive to live musicians because only a few, like Scott Joplin, was one of the few superstars of music publishing who would be selling enough of that stuff – you know, their songs. Meanwhile, 95% of the live musicians were suddenly out of work because people were not showing up anymore, they were just staying home; playing music at home, reading sheet music, you know. Then records came out and that disenfranchised so many musicians and yet it created an entire industry of music business people. Again, it changed the live venue setting and their operating rules dramatically because people could play music at home now, they did not have to go to the bars, so it made a lot of things happen. The economy got challenged in those venues in a super drastic way. Again, musicians were impacted because the people could play their records at home.
So, when you think about all these disruptions – if you are not the one being disrupted – of course, it is the greatest thing in the world. Right now, it is the greatest time in the world for a certain group of musicians because they have been waiting for the moment when they could just write a song, record it a just release it to every person on the planet who has an internet connection. That is amazing and it is really a cool thing, and it needs to be seen in a positive light as a musician, but it is also the ultimate disenfranchising technology for people who really depended on live performances and being compensated fairly for their recordings. That whole economy was laid to waste bit by bit over the last few years. What happens usually is only a few rises to the top who continue and there is a whole lot of people who just must close shop and do something else, you know? I do not think the music business has ever been steady. It is always chaos. I can say that since having been in it since I was a young kid, it has always been chaotic. And it just seems like every few years you must totally rethink your approach. So, I would imagine whether you made widgets, tires, blankets, or whatever you do for a living you have to be able to react to an ever-changing landscape out there. That is where musicians are right now. We are just once again being resourceful.
Do you have any new music coming out in 2022?
JS: Yes, we just delivered a new hour-plus instrumental album and it’s due to be released on April 8, 2022. I am waiting to find out, tomorrow, find out what the first track will be and when they’re going to release it. So, there’s a couple of things I cannot tell you about it because I do not know yet. But yes, the story behind the album is crazy because just as the pandemic started, we were releasing Shapeshifting, and we decided to just go ahead and release the album even though we knew the first leg of the tour was going to be canceled. Of course, we did not know how long this was going to last. The Shapeshifting album, even though it was my highest-debuting album, we had super success with the single, 1980, that we made the video for, we had no tour. It was sad to realize that we might miss a large amount of touring, why do not we record two albums that we give away as supplemental albums. So, when we finally do hit the road, we say, hey, you buy, and ticket and you can download these other two albums which is the live band showing you what they can do. So, the guys in the band said yes, let us do it because they are just sitting at home going crazy. So, we started doing that, and then it got too long. The postponements just went on and on and I realized that by the time we hit the stage, people are going to be thinking there is a new album, not thinking supplemental albums. Shapeshifting will be a distant memory even though it came out in April 2020. It will be a distant memory, so I thought that whatever I release next it must be a new thing with a new vision. So, I revamped that and took the vocal songs that I was writing, and I brought them over to Ned and I said, “Ned, why don’t you and I do more of an acoustic album with these songs.” Ned and I did finish that album. It is not finished recording but all the demos are written. It is really an incredibly special album, but we do not know what we are going to do with it. But the focus during this period was to get this instrumental album done. We did get it done and it features Kenny Aronoff on drums and Bryan Beller on bass. An Australian musician named Ray who is on tour with Louis Cole right now, but he is playing keyboards. It was produced by Eric Caudieux who’ve I been working with since 1986, he also plays keyboards and does mixing
You have been with Eric for a long time.
JS: Yes, I have. I love this album so much. There is a story with it, unbelievably. Ned and I have already written the story about what it is and we will pursue it as we did with Crystal Planet. It is really a fantastic album, incredibly unique in its compositional scope.
JS: (Laughing) Yes, I know it is a funny title and everything, but it all makes sense when you hear the title track. People will get it. But yes, I am extremely excited about it. The hardest part right now is that I must wait and find out if we are going to have a full tour of Europe starting in April. It is booked. Tickets are sold, I am just waiting for the pandemic to ease up.
I ask you all the time, but is there any Chickenfoot news, or is that beating a dead horse?
JS: It is not beating a dead horse, but there just is not any news. Sam is busy with his Circle stuff, and Chad is busy with the Chili Peppers so you know, I think if something was going to happen it would have to be done slowly to make it work. Because we did two cool albums, and we would not want to rush the third one. I think it’s still a band it’s just on hiatus.
To purchase Crystal Planet comics, click on this link here