A Conversation with Joe Satriani
Mike Ragogna: Joe, it's an honor to be interviewing somebody who makes such strange, beautiful music.
Joe Satriani: [laughs] Thank you.
MR: Let's start by talking about your complete studio recordings. It has fourteen albums plus a bonus disc of the stray tracks.
JS: It was everything that you would expect, it was both cathartic and exciting and frustrating at times, but mostly illuminating, especially on the artistic side to have to go back and really pull these original recordings out of the vault to re-archive them. I kind of rediscovered them because of the way that we were able to remaster them, it sort of brought them to life in a way that I thought was impossible. The whole thing, in the end, turned out to be a wonderful experience.
MR: What was the remastering process like?
JS: Actually, it's a funny story about how we were approached by the guys at Legacy Sony about doing a box set and we were thinking to ourselves, "A box set? Really? These days?" And then we were thinking, "Well what would we do to make it worth our while?" and what my partner John Cuniberti and I decided was that we really need to be given the opportunity to bring these things into the modern era with the highest degree of audiophile expertise. This meant pulling tapes out of boxes, baking them in ovens for a couple of days, transferring the raw tracks meticulously to ProTools at 24-bit/96k and then being given the time to sift through all of these things to make sure that we were going to be able to offer the fans something they didn't have before, which took about two years from that original idea. John Cuniberti has been probably the engineer and co-producer who I've made most of my records with, if you add up all the guys that I've worked with. Over the years he's turned into my archivist and he's the one who actually knows where everything is and what form it's in. He's just got that right kind of personality and all the talent to rescue the things I've forgotten about, that are sitting on a shelf somewhere. But he's been able to do that, and that's what led eventually to us being able to hand the guys at Legacy the best versions of everything including stuff we didn't know we had.
MR: After working on these sonic upgrades, does it feel like you finally got everything out the way you always wanted people to hear it?
JS: Yeah, absolutely! Each era that we released records in had some parameters that were frustrating. We had a time problem with Flying In A Blue Dream, which was a very long record with eighteen songs, the way that we got around distortion on the LPs was to use this thing called Direct Metal Mastering where you're mastering right to copper, skipping the etching and vinyl process until you're actually starting to stamp out the vinyl pieces for the public. That was one extra step that we took to try to rescue all of that sonic brilliance that's on the two-inch tapes and half-inch masters. But we were releasing records when there were cassettes, LPs, minidiscs, the first generation, very harsh-sounding CDs and then I'm sure you've covered it before in your articles the way that records have been mastered has changed so drastically. When Surfing With The Alien came out, I think it's got something like a 24dB dynamic range. That's unheard of. No one would do that today. Today's pop records come out and they have maybe one decibel of dynamic range. This is like what it sounds like on a video game, where there is no dynamic range, because the music has to sit there with sound effects and people talking over it. But that does not create a good music listening environment, when you have less dynamic range. Over the years society's anxiety about wanting music to be louder and punchier and more aggressive and more competitive on radio or television would lead to some questionable mastering in retrospect, so we were able to look back and say, "This is not a collection of number one pop hits, this is a collection of audiophile-created music for people who want to listen to it over the long haul, hours of listening, and we want people to be able to go from record one to record seven, record three to record eleven." The only way to do that was to let them breathe and sound how they were originally intended, as you said, the way we heard it in the studio.
MR: Because of the clarity you've achieved in this remastering, some of these tracks could be mistaken as re-records.
JS: Yeah, I think all of the recordings wind up sounding like they have more parts to listen to. There's more space around each part. I think you can hear the exotic Brazilian percussion on The Extremist more because it's not like that original CD that came out during a period where that was the best they could make CDs, and it certainly didn't live up to the analog tape that the record was recorded on. But now, on both the box set and the Chrome Dome with the high-res music files, you can hear the space around all the guitars and the drums. Music just sounds bigger and better. We're talking about more frequencies and not that sort of peaky sound that was permeating CDs in the first decade, where everything sounded a bit tinny or harsh or something.
MR: And other than not really caring about the sourcing, many labels were using EQ masters because they felt they took into consideration the changes the artist wanted, not considering adjustments were made for the limitations of vinyl.
JS: [laughs] It's funny you should say that because I distinctly remember the very first time we got a CD of my very first Relativity record, which was Not Of This Earth -- that album starts with this one guitar playing these three chords all by itself, just naked as can be, right out there. We put on the CD and we go, "Where's that tape hiss coming from?" We couldn't figure it out. What had happened was what you said: They used the quarter-inch EQ tape copy to make the CD, which is insanity. But people were trying all sorts of things because they didn't really know what a CD was.
MR: Yeah, and I have a feeling it was easier to use that data than try to hunt for the original master.
JS: That brings up a very funny ironic kind of thing about the modern age and the internet: In the older days, I even remember going to Singapore in 1990 and buying a cassette of Flying In A Blue Dream on the street from some street vendor, and I remember listening to it and going, "Oh my god, where did they make this thing?" It was totally different. Now these days of course when you release something it's on the internet in that original form instantly and there's really no degradation. It's not like you've traveled to southeast Asia and it's on a cassette and you don't even know who made it or if it's a pirated thing or just some branch of your record company forgot to follow up on something. But in this case, yeah, when we released a remixed alternate version of a song like "Cool #9," that version winds up sounding exactly the same all over the world instantaneously. It's an irony in a way.
MR: But you have to be careful because people want to save space on their computers and save everything as MP3s. It's another barrier to getting people good sounding music.
JS: It is! It's definitely true, people like what they're used to, so if someone's always listening to MP3s on their earbuds, I bet it's a bit of a shock when someone sits them down in front of some nice speakers and plays them their playlist at 96k.
MR: Basically, the box set goes from Out Of This Earth through Unstoppable Momentum. How did it hit you when you listened to your creativity from top to bottom?
JS: Well I'll be totally honest: It's torture to listen to one's own work. I like other people's music. I love listening to music all over the board, old and new, I don't really care about the sonic. If you gave me a tape of Mozart fooling around in his living room I'd listen to it, I wouldn't complain about the format, so when I sit down and listen to the stuff I know every other version of the song, how I was trying to write it, my demo, the day in the studio when I did six solos and for some reason I picked number three, and maybe I'm thinking, "Oh, I should've picked number four." I'm worst person to ask that question. It was difficult. Anxiety, sweaty palms, sitting there going, "Oh no, I'm back to where I started from." I still haven't gotten over it. But it wore me down. I have to say that I had good messages that I had collected over the years. Can I read you something? I never get this right, but I refer to this very often, it's something that John Cuniberti sent me back when I started to complain the way I just did to you. I said, "Oh this is torture, I can't believe I'm going to have to listen to all these records again," and he just says, "Andy Warhol said, "Don't think about making art, just get it done, let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they're deciding, make even more art." That was the extent of his email, but I got the message. That was something that was echoed by producer Glyn Johns one day in the studio when I was fretting over some arrangement thing or the sound of my guitar or something and he just took me aside and he said, "You know, it's not your job to decide whether people will like it or not like it, it's your job to play your guitar, so just go out there and play your guitar." It was just a good little slap in the face to wake me up and stop the second guessing and all that kind of stuff and just be natural with it.
Once I got over that, I did start to think, "Wow, how did I come up with that? Where did that come from?" Ultimately the answer, it comes from the people you're living your life with and the things that happen in your life. At least with me, since I'm writing these songs about my experience in life, that's what's informing the crazy ideas to go against the grain in terms of song structure, arrangement, harmony, whether I do a six-minute solo or I put no solo in a song, I'm always trying to be different and bend the rules and sort of be a rebel in my own little world here. It's because of the things that are happening, the people I love, the people I argue with, the things that happen on the way to the studio. I can think of so many things that happened that would change a day. When we were doing the last record I had a 45-minute drive from San Francisco out to George Lucas' Skywalker Studios and I'd always drive with the top down, I just love wind in my face, going down the highway.
One morning, I come over a blind summit going about sixty miles an hour and there's a car sideways, stationary against the median. There's no time to do anything except hope that car doesn't move, and the driver actually starts to move out into the freeway. I had just filled my tires up again with air because they were getting low and I was able to miss this woman's car going sixty miles an hour by just about an inch. I remember getting to the studio thinking, "Wow, what just happened," because after I passed this woman about ten cars slammed into her. It was just a huge accident and I had just missed it because I was in the front of this group of cars. I remember telling everybody, "Wow, I've got to take a minute here, guys, I'm a little shaky because I just threaded the needle on the highway and somehow got out alive." I don't know what song we did that day, but I'm sure it had something to do with the way that I played and the way that I conducted the session. When you go back and you're listening to your old work you hear these things. You remember the day that someone broke into Cuniberti's car and he sliced his hand trying to fix it and then he came back and he had to remix the last part of the song and his hands were getting blood on the tape, all those stories come back to me and I go, "Yeah, that was all part of how those records turned out and why we played the way we did" and all that kind of stuff.
MR: Bout this collection, I've read, "The most comprehensive collection from the world's top rock instrumental guitarist ever." "Ever," Joe. What do you make of that?
JS: I think you remember your worst review. Before you start struttin' around your house thinking you're all that you just remember, "Oh yeah, remember that review when somebody said I was the worst thing to ever happen?" and then you realise it doesn't matter. That should not be part of your every day world. First and foremost I always remember I'm my parents' son, I have sisters and a brother, I have a wife and a son and I've got friends and a community and these are the things that are the most important, and then this other part of my life, the professional part, there's going to be lovers and haters and everything in between and that's okay. They're allowed to do that. That's part of the gig, when you say, "I'm going to release music," and say, "Hey look at me," you have to be ready to take a hit now and then. No one likes it, but it happens. It brings up a funny thing that I should've put in a book, but you've kind of jogged my memory about it: We once had a review--back in 1988 or 1990 or something -- and the review was so bad, it was so wonderfully horrible, like a thing of beauty except it was completely negative. It was a guy who had come to review a show we had done in San Francisco which was a great show at the Warfield Theater, it was a beautiful night, and this guy obviously saw an entirely different show. But he went and he attacked each one of us in the band individually, the way we looked, the way we spoke, the way we played, the show, he then went and attacked the way that the audience looked, and this review was so bad that we printed it up on t-shirts and wore them all during the tour. Just to remind us that that's happening too. Because everything was going great and we felt really great, but this guy's review was just such the opposite of what we were experiencing that we felt we should make it part of our reality to remind us that that's also the way that people think about it.
MR: Joe, what motivated you to use that Silver Surfer cover artwork on Surfing With The Alien, although it's kind of obvious?
JS: Very interesting story, I'll try to condense it for you, this is like early summer of '87, the record is finished, not yet manufactured, but it's being sent out. As it was in the old days, you could send copies out months in advance. I did my very first interview with a British Journalist who enjoyed the album but at the end of the interview said to me, "It's too bad about the album title." I said, "What do you mean?" and he said, "I don't understand why musicians are always dipping into Indian mysticism and using titles and things like that," it just rubbed him the wrong way. It was because the album was originally called Lords Of Karma, which was a song on the album. After the phone call, I started to really worry that what I thought was my last chance ever at releasing a record, because I thought they were going to let me go after releasing this record, that people would get the wrong idea, so I thought, "Okay, let me look at all the song titles. What title would let people know that I have a sense of humor and I'm not taking myself too seriously?" So I looked, and there it was, "Surfing With The Alien," and I thought, "Who could not like that? It's so funny." So I called up the label and I spoke to the production manager, this guy's name was Jim Kozlowski, and he's about six-two with shoulder-length platinum blond hair. It's part of the story. I say to him, "Look, I just had this interview, it went bad," because of the last thing about the title, "so let's change the title to Surfing With The Alien."
He says, "That's a great idea, we can use my namesake on the album cover," and I say, "What are you talking about?" He says, "The Silver Surfer, that was my nickname when I worked at WBAB radio!" and I say to him, "What's a Silver Surfer?" Because I had no idea that there was a comic book character called the Silver Surfer because growing up my parents refused to let comic books in-house. So this is really funny because what followed of course was people thinking that I was a real Silver Surfer fan, but in fact they didn't know this story that I was introduced to the character through Jim Kozlowski, this guy who used to be called the Silver Surfer. But he knew the people at Marvel because he lived down the block from them, so he went back to his apartment that day in Manhattan and walked down the street and said, "Hey, I've got this instrumental artist, no bad lyrics to worry about, no strange devil worship or political associations to fret over, can we get a license to use the Silver Surfer being borne out of the hand of Galactus or whatever?" At that point the character was pretty much dead, it was a low point for the character and also for Marvel, so they were very happy to grant us a license for a small fee, and then that thing just kind of blew up. Suddenly, the record became very successful and coincidentally, the Surfer got revived.
MR: Yeah, and with that cover, you played no small part in helping to revive the popularity of the Silver Surfer.
JS: I'd like to think so! I've always thought about that, but I never got to Marvel until last week, I visited the offices. It was a cool thing to do, to finally walk around the offices and get to meet everybody and just look at all the drawings and covers. That's like comic overload when you go to their offices.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
JS: Oh! From the looks on people's faces they're always rather disappointed when I say this, because they usually want me to tell them, "Call this guy and he'll make you famous," or some sort of pure nugget, "take this pill and you'll be amazing," but what I think is the most important thing is for artists to learn how to tell their unique story. That is the most important thing that I look for as a listener. When I sit down and I poke through YouTube or Spotify or iTunes and I'm just hungry for music, or I'm asking my friends, "Who have you heard that I haven't heard yet?" I'm waiting to hear something about life on the planet Earth that's gone by me somehow, from somebody else's perspective. It could pure fantasy, or it could be the usual, "I'm in love, I'm not in love anymore, I'm going here, I'm leaving, I'm coming," things that we all write songs about. But that's what I'm waiting to hear, I want to hear that unique story from that unique person. That's what makes guitar players so unique, I think that's what makes Hendrix unique, I think that when you hear somebody like Jack White that's what you hear; you hear a unique story that only he can tell.
There are lots of bands that play great and they do all the right things and they look perfect for the part, but it kind of just doesn't reach you, and then there's the unlikely looking person that comes along that just sells a kajillion records and everyone goes, "Huh? Really?" It's because they're telling you the truth, they're giving you their story, so that's always my advice... Try to figure out how to tell your story, whether you're going to try to be an instrumental guitarist or you're a singer in a band or you're a solo singer, you can't hold back, you have to reach deep down inside yourself and tell a unique story that is going to help people celebrate and commiserate and everything in between, because that's how we use music. Let's face it, right? If you and I went out one night and we saw something terrible happen and it was a terrible experience, we would go home and put on something to help us get through it. The same thing, if we were on the same softball team and we won the softball championship, when you get into the car on the way home, you put on music to help you celebrate. That's an important thing that I think musicians have to remember. Forget about the career, that's usually the kiss of death, to think that you're doing the right thing for your career, because nobody knows--it's like the stock market. Nobody knows that they're doing, it's just something that's happening.
MR: Is this same advice you would tell yourself at fifteen?
JS: I think I would benefit from a visit from Future Joe. Can you imagine what that would be like? I'd be sitting there, hair down below my shoulders, and all of a sudden future bald guy comes to me and says, "Don't be afraid, young seventies Joe, I've got some advice for you." I would probably dismiss the future Joe in a second, because I thought I knew everything back then. That's the beauty of being in your teens, you think you know everything. But I think that sort of wonderful blindness is something that helps you focus on your thing, because if you really took in what was happening in your world you might just not walk out of the house in the morning.
MR: Let's touch on your new book Strange Beautiful Music. What was it like working with Jake Brown? How did he help you with clarifying or archiving the events?
JS: Jake came out of the blue with this idea to write an "in the studio with Joe Satriani" kind of book. At the time I was thinking, "Really? What are we going to talk about?" He had the vision for the book where he wanted to bring the process of being creative to the fans, because he thought, "They've seen the videos, they've got the music, they come and see you live, but there's really no story, no explanation about how you go about writing the song, the inspiration, how you start to put the thing together in a studio." He wanted to do that, and I started to think, "Okay, that sounds good." Of course at the time it sounded like he was going to do all the work, so I thought, "Okay, yeah, sure, I'll talk to Jake." But eventually what he pulled out of not only me, but all of the engineers, producers and musicians were these incredible in-depth stories.
When we presented the idea to the guys at BenBella they fell in love with the book except they said, "We'd like Joe to turn it into his own voice." That's when I realized, "Oh, I'm really going to have to do some work here, I can't just lean on Jake to do this." So Jake handed all of the transcripts over to me and said, "Just make it sound like your voice. Don't try to make it sound like you're somebody you're not." We'd go back and forth, I'd take a chapter and I'd organize all of my ramblings from all the tapes and everything and then I'd send it to Jake and Jake would send it to an editor, we kind of went back and forth until ultimately, Jake and I felt that sounded like my voice telling the story in a coherent way.
MR: It must have been an enlightening process.
JS: [laughs] I guess it's just spending a year with the transcriptions. That was the first time I ever had to do that, so it was cathartic. It was a daunting process anyway for a musician to all of a sudden think about writing a book, but I was blessed with having Jake hold my hand through this whole thing. I stayed with Jake's original idea which I thought was really brilliant; don't worry about a tell-all book, it's not an autobiography, it really is around each studio album and tell the story as deeply as you want. They even let me put in the index in the back where I listed all the guitars and amps and pedals and everything, that's a real geek kind of thing. But I knew from reading book like Sammy [Hagar]'s book, Keith Richard's book, Levon Helm, Don Felder, all these other musicians' books, that's what I was missing. I really wanted to know what guitar Keith used on that song or what size symbol Lee Von Helm was using on that song, so I put that in my book.
MR: I know your influences, if you were to listen to something casually these days, would it be Hendrix or Wes Montgomery?
JS: Oh, it would be both.
MR: It still would be both?
JS: It still would be both. Wes Montgomery never played a wrong note. It's the weirdest thing. I never noticed this until I was taking bebop lessons from Lennie Tristano a year after high school and I had to scat sing solos and melodies all the time, every week I had to bring in a new song and he would tell amazing stories about playing with these guys because he was hanging out with Byrd and knew Wes very well and he pointed out to me one day, "I dare you to find one wrong note or one note that's out of tune." I started to really study it and I realized, "Wow," it's amazing, he just played the right thing always and managed to make it swing. So I still listen to him. I think my mother introduced me to his music in the seventies, so I have great memories of listening to that at home. But I always listen to Hendrix. I listen to The Band a lot, too. I think these last three weeks I've been listening to music from Big Pink like way too much. I don't know. I'm going through a thing with that. Reading Levon Helm's book probably got me back in the mood. But that record has got some special voodoo in it. It really touches me.
MR: One of the things you could do as Joe Satriani is go grab an album that's one of your favorites and tackle it. Lots of instrumentalists do it.
JS: Yeah, that's a good idea. That's tough, though, boy, because those vocal performances are... wow, you know? Those are so unique, the performances are once-in-a-lifetime.
MR: It's capturing the moment, but if you did something like that, you'd have your own moment.
JS: Thank you for that vote of confidence.
MR: Where does it go from here?
JS: I'm still trying to get it right. That's the way I always look at it. With every song it's another little way of looking at a couple of the eternal subjects of, "Why are we here? Where are we going?" Love attained, love lost, all the classic themes and questions that we all share about life. I'm always trying to get it right, I'm still at heart a guitar player so I'm fascinated by the instrument, I'm fascinated by amplifiers, I'm always looking for that ancient amplifier that someone forgot in the back of a store that's going to give me that sound that's going to make me write that song. My days are filled with the difficult-to-explain emotional approach to writing songs as well as hours tweaking little pieces of equipment changing string gauges, anything that'll excite me to write that next song.
MR: Well in some respects it's a good thing you're The Extremist.
JS: Exactly. It's really funny how that is. Just yesterday I picked up a very rare Vox 210 twin amp that I didn't even know existed, this thing's from back in '62. I don't know when I'll ever use it, it might be just those four chords that come in towards the end of a song, but just sitting in my studio playing it I wrote three songs. It's just so inspiring to hear my guitar playing sound so different all of a sudden because of this funky old amp.
MR: Well, any words of wisdom?
JS: Ooh, words of wisdom... I wish I had some. I don't know, you asked me before what advice I would give to people. Besides telling them to tell their story, which like I said they always look at me like I'm nuts, the other thing they don't like to hear is when I tell them they've got to practice. Especially today, no one wants to practice when there's autotune. But in fact, there's nothing that is better than being prepared for luck. Musicians need luck maybe a little more than other people because it's a tough road out there, but if you're not ready when luck comes your way then it just keeps on going, it'll pass you by. I think musicians just really need to practice. It's the same whether you're an architect or a journalist, you need to really know your vocabulary, you need to know your tools to be ready for when that inspiration comes. You don't want to be suddenly inspired and have no language to express it. That would be terrible.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Sebastian Bach
Mike Ragogna: Sebastian, I hear you're going to Give 'Em Hell. How are you giving 'em hell this time around?
Sebastian Bach: Number one, I just love that title. Good titles are a dime a dozen in rock 'n' roll. Try to find a better name for a band than Skid Row. It's like, "Wow, that's such a good name." It's like Coca-Cola. Wow, this is crazy, I don't know if I've changed that much in my life. Last night I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I totally loved the movie, and the term "Give 'em hell" is like from old Marvel comics like Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace -- that one was DC. "Give 'em hell!" That's what I feel like, the moment of a concert when the lights go black and I'm about to jump out there and go insane, right at that moment I hear Sgt. Rock and his howling commandos going "Give 'em hell, boys!"
MR: Uh-oh. Do you have a love of comics as much as I do?
SB: Yeah, well I'll tell you this, you are on the phone with somebody that is the proud owner of Amazing Fantasy issue number fifteen.
MR: Holy crap!
SB: Ooh-hoo-hoo, for the win! For the win! For the win!
MR: Okay, we have to talk about the album first and then we're getting back to comics. You've got the album, the book, the video... What's behind the proliferation?
SB: You know what's wild? I read this a long time ago, an interview with Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and he said that when he first started out in rock 'n' roll he was so excited and flipped out and he thought it was all going to be taken away from him, and then he realized as the years went on he can choose when to rock. I learned this a long time ago, I choose when to rock and when I choose to rock, get out of the way.
MR: And when you choose to rock, a lot of people like to rock alongside. You have some pretty highfalutin' guests on the album.
SB: Well, the word "guest" is used but I would say that guy can't be a guest if he plays on like half the record, which Duff McKagan does. He's not really a guest on this record, he's really the bass player. But I've got Duff McKagan on most of the album on bass, he also plays guitar on a song that he wrote called "Harmony," it's just a beautifully heavy melodic tune. Then I've got John 5 on the first single, "Temptation." He has reinvented electric guitar playing as we know it. And if that's not enough I've got the legendary Steve Stevens from Billy Idol's band who I've been a fan of since 1983, playing electric guitar, his "stun gun" sound that he's known for, it's so amazing. So I'm a very lucky guy, I played with these guys in a band that plays corporate events around the world, actually. I just said to Duff on the bus, "Dude, do you want to fucking collaborate on some music?" and he goes, "Hell yeah, what kind of music?" and I go, "Rude!" and he starts laughing and he goes, "'Bas, I can do dirty." And he sure can! He sure can. I'm a fan of all these guys. I'm a fan. I'm a total fan of all these guys that are on this album, so that is a great feeling for me. I can put on Give 'Em Hell on the headphones and go for a run and I will run through a brick wall listening to this stuff.
MR: So you really gave 'em hell this time out.
SB: I signed a record contract--that sounds like an ancient term, a record contract--but I signed this deal about eight years ago and when I sign a record deal I don't read it. I assume that it just says, "Hey, you're the band, we're the label, you make the album, we'll put it out." What else could it say? Nobody's going to tell me what to do or when to do it, it's never worked like that in the past, but the difference with this record is that I had a deadline that was on the contract I signed years ago, and when I go into Best Buy nowadays, or Wal-Mart or Target and I say, "Hey, where's the CD section?" they point me off in the corner in the Radioshack world with like wires and shit and there's one little aisle with lunchboxes and a couple of CDs mixed in with blank CDrs. It's like, "Wow! Slim pickings in the old CD section!" So then I have a company saying, "You owe us this CD" and I go, "How cool is that?" Every time I go on the Internet or Blabbermouth, I read bands explaining why they can only put out a single or they can only do an EP, "Times have changed," and blah, blah, blah, and I'm like, you know what? When I get on the plane on a five-hour flight and I'm bored out of my mind and I want to listen to music, I don't listen to an EP, I don't listen to a single, I listen to Steely Dan Aja or Neil Young Harvest; I listen to albums, and I always will, and I think most of us always will! So I consider myself so lucky in 2014, here's my brand new CD while CDs still exist. I'm like one of the last dudes making these things. [laughs]
MR: How does the modern delivery system take the art and soul of something like that and turn it into something three minutes long? You can't do it.
SB: You talk about the modern delivery system. This album and also the last album I had really showed me one crucial thing about the business these days -- you have to be so vigilant. Dave Grohl posted some article with the headline "The Biggest Part Of Being A Musician Is Saying No," and I laughed when I read that because I am an expert at saying no. You talk about the modern-day delivery system, this album just showed me how incredibly tricky it is to get the actual sound of what we make in the studio. We spent a year, a year, a year! making this album, and when it's done in the mastering studio it's like Star Wars. It's so incredibly mind-blowing the way it sounds, but then the night before my video's about to premiere to the whole world the first time any of you will hear it I look at the file at like three in the morning and it's like an MPEG video file that's been emailed and uploaded and downloaded and put on a website and posted and podcasted and I don't even know and the resolution is so crappy that I have to like email everybody and be a total prick and argue and explain everything and all I'm trying to do is get what I actually made to you, the fan. You only get one shot to make a first impression.
So luckily at like five in the morning I got the high-res blah blah blah emailed it and uploaded it and I made it happen, but if I was asleep or drunk or not on top of shit--the only one that makes that s**t happen is the artist these days. The modern-day delivery system wants to make it as quick and as convenient as possible. I would rather have a larger file that takes one more minute to download and sound better than something that doesn't sound as good. I think the answer, really, is this PONO music player that Neil Young is coming out with that plays the highest resolution files in your pocket. I will be the first one to go buy that and I would love to have Give 'Em Hell on there, that would be so great. But that's a tricky thing, getting the highest quality sound to you, the fan, with all those crappy little earbuds that they give you with the phones. Hey, newsflash: United States Of America, throw those in the garbage!
MR: [laughs] So how did you come up with the material for this album? What inspired you and it?
SB: It's always so hard to put into words the feelings... When you make a record you go into this room, the studio, with nothing, zero, on the first day, and then months later the object is to come out with something you feel proud of for the rest of your life and put your name on it and do interviews about it and put it up next to the other album you've already put out, so my intention is always the same, I just try to make something that you want to listen to over and over and over again. That's it. It's got to sound good, the performances have to be top notch, the songs have to be great. I'm a Rush fan, I love Rush, Black Sabbath... These guys are 70 years old, Tomy Iommi has cancer and he's putting out Black Sabbath's 13. [laughs] That kicks ass. I'm way younger than all of those guys, I've got a ton of albums in me. This has always been the plan for me. I know people love "18 And Life," "I Remember You," and "Monkey Business," they love that because they have an emotional attachment from when they were in high school or whenever. So when you're competing against people's memories of their lives, this shit had better be good.
MR: You're a great interview. I really love how up front you are about this stuff. What advice do you have for new artists?
SB: Make something that you love. That's it. If you honestly love it yourself you win. You win. Because nobody can take that away from you, and that lasts forever. In my experience, if I really love the music that I make myself and I want to play it every single day and it's like my favorite CD in my collection, the one I made, which Give 'Em Hell.Give 'Em Hell is my favorite CD. [laughs] I'm not just saying that. When I go on a seven mile run, which I do as much as I can, that is the f**king CD that I put on. My own CD. I'm not just saying that, it's the one that gets me through the run. When you have that in your pocket and you want to shake people by the collar and say, "Hey, listen to this, man, I'm so proud of it," that's what I would say to younger musicians: make something that you just can't wait for the whole world to hear. That's the best feeling that you can have.
MR: Nice. Do you feel like you've taken that approach with all your solo material plus your Skid Row records?
SB: Yes I do, except for one exception: one CD called The Last Hard Men, which was an interesting experiment to see if the worlds of heavy metal and alternative could combine and the answer is no! They can not. [laughs] There is actually some good music on there, but that was not my best moment by any means.
MR: I'm think a lot of people also enjoyed it.
SB: The Last Hard Men?
MR: Yeah, as much s**t as you might have gotten, I think some people were looking at that as a nice swing of the bat.
SB: Well that's cool! There's a great ballad on there called "The Most Powerful Man In The World" written by Jimmy Flemion, it's a beautiful song, but from my perspective, in that time period in my life, that was like 1996, I felt as a vocalist that it was very uncool to sing good. I thought that nobody wanted to hear the Sebastian Bach "I Remember You" style of vocals, and I was probably right, but I am meant to sing like that. I have this voice that's a physical part of my throat and it's a shame to not use it. When I really started to scream high again was when I was in the Broadway show Jesus Christ Superstar and I was forced to learn these Ted Neeley high screams in this play. I could do it, but it took me like a month to sing like that again because I didn't think anybody liked that anymore around the mid nineties. But then when I did Jesus Christ Superstar I felt so awesome hitting these screams, people's jaws would hit the floor. It took me like a month to get that range going again but once I get it going it's ripping and I'm really proud to say on Give 'Em Hell, there are some of my best recorded screams in my career and that's saying something. There's one scream in the middle of "All My Friends Are Dead" that is like this blood-curdling roar and I'm like, "Jesus Christ, I can not believe that's coming out of my mouth."
MR: [laughs] Do you have good memories with the Guns 'N' Roses tour?
SB: Oh yeah, absolutely. Probably my personal favorite memory of touring is the 2010 Guns 'N' Roses Sebastian Bach South American Tour. You know, when you go on tour and your album is number one on Billboard you kind of expect the whole city to come to every show, but then in 2010, twenty years later you don't know what to expect. That tour that we did four years ago was so huge, it was like thirty, forty, fifty thousand a night, just Guns 'N' Roses and my solo band, I would walk on the stage and I can't describe the feeling, twenty years later and bigger than ever. Axl has been extremely kind to me and now Duff has been extremely kind to me, so those guys are my friends for sure.
MR: Nice. Beautiful. What's the future look like?
SB: Well right now the future for me is touring. I'm going to be touring all over the world, I've got about sixty shows coming up, which is a real rock 'n' roll tour, which is cool. I make CDs and I go on tour! That's what I do.
MR: Sounds like a good life, buddy.
SB: Yeah, that's right, man. As long as they've got the little section left at Best Buy. I'm also doing a book for HarperCollins and I have a TV show on ABC TV, the first time in my whole career that I've had a major network show--I was on The Gilmore Girls but that was on the CW, this is ABC, dude--and it's called Sing Your Face Off. It's eight episodes and I'm one of the starring contestants along with Jon Lovitz, Lisa Rinna, and also on the show are Carmen Electra, Tom Arnold, Richard Simmons, it's a crazy piece of American culture coming your way on May 31st, 9 PM on ABC TV. Sing Your Face Off.
MR: I know I have to let you go, but I said we'd get back to this... What did you think about Captain America: Winter Soldier?
SB: I loved it! I loved it! I loved it! When the Marvel movies are done right, they're almost physically hard for me to watch because I have collected comics since I was a little boy in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, where I would buy, in 1975, the latest Captain America for 15 cents and all I had was my imagination, just like every other kid then. To be so immersed in that comic book world as a little boy in a snow bank in Canada, and then to be 46 years old and see it happen live in your face, not only that, but in IMAX 3D, it's almost overwhelming to me. The Avengers is the greatest movie I've ever seen in my life, I've never seen a movie that beat the crap out of me with pure excellence, but you know what I would really love to see? The one thing that they have not done yet? I would love, I would love, I would love to see, like, okay, you know how they make grindhouse movies, like Quentin Tarantino makes seventies retro exploitation movies, you know what I'm saying, that look like '74? Can you imagine a Ghost Rider movie that looked like Ghost Rider in '74 with the black leather and the way that seventies movies looked? Can you imagine that shit? Like a movie that would almost look like Jack Kirby?
MR: [laughs] And all the square faces..
SB: Yeah! That kind of look! That specific silver age look. That's the next thing they need to do, make a movie look like that. People would freak out.
MR: Yeah, they've got the Frank Miller look, but I would love the Jack Kirby approach.
SB: I'm dying for that! When I watch the Batman 60's television show, can you imagine if some producer or director made a Marvel movie that was new technology but had that look? That's what I want!!
MR: Hopefully, they'll read this article and do it.
SB: That sounds like Give 'Em Hell! You've got the classic voice of me, with new technology. And I appreciated the attention to detail in it; all the stuff that they're talking about, you've really going to be on top of your Marvel game to know all the references and everything. They're not dumbing it down.
MR: And I think Chris Evans nailed Captain America.
SB: Yeah, it's great. My fiance saw Captain America hanging from a chandelier once, but that's another interview...
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne