You probably don’t have to guess what “Big Distortion,” premiering below from guitar hero Joe Satriani’s upcoming album Shapeshifting, sounds like. Or is about.
“When I did the first demo for that song I just typed those words, ‘Big Distortion,’ in as a title,” Satriani tells Billboard about the surging rock track, driven by drummer Kenny Aronoff’s thumping beat and the guitarist’s ferocious power chords. “I just loved the sound of it, y’know? When I brought the song to the band in the studio everyone had the same reaction; They were looking at all these (song) titles that were very descriptive, and when we got to ‘Big Distortion’ everybody looked at me — ‘What’s this about?’ ‘It’s about big distortion. That’s what it’s about.'” Unsurprisingly, it’s a subject near and dear to Satriani’s heart.
“I love the sound of a complex, distorted guitar,” he acknowledges. “(The song) is really a celebration of sound and vibe more than anything else. There isn’t, like, a deep story or message tucked away in there. I can be very proud to say this is about the sound of the guitar and the feel of the music. A big smile should come over your face when you hear this beautiful sounding distortion.”
There should be more smiles, and maybe some raised eyebrows, for fans when they get a chance to dive into the whole of Shapeshifting on April 10. The 15-song set — recorded with Aronoff, the Revolution’s Lisa Coleman, Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction, Alanis Morissette) and, on “Yesterday’s Yesterday,” Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel) — is one of Satriani’s most diverse, stylistically; A title such as “Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me” might give you some idea of how wide Satriani shot while making it. He calls it “the complete opposite approach” to his usual way of working, but he was happy with the results.
“Usually you find a certain direction… and every song that comes in gets filtered through that,” Satriani explains. “This time I took all the songs that were written, which were all very different stylistically, and said, ‘I’m going to have the songs and the styles dictation how I play and what I play, not the other way around.’ So I had to change and morph with each (song). I had all these musical styles and directions that seemed to contradict each other, but as a whole it seemed like a really interesting artistic journey.”
That approach made the album title a no-brainer, too. “I became this changeling of a musician,” Satriani says, “someone who has to shape-shift in order to get these songs to be played with the authenticity and truthfulness and heart — everything you want to put into it.”
Satriani is still planning to hit the road at some point to promote Shapeshifting with Aronoff (who played with Satriani in Chickenfoot and on last year’s Experience Hendrix Tour), bassist Bryan Beller and keyboardist Rai Thistlethwayte. The tour was supposed to star on April 15 in Europe and then come to North America, but as with so many other things, it’s on hold for the time being. If nothing else, it’s given him time to prepare for the live shows and get the Shapeshifting material into shape for live audiences.
“It’s impossible to do all those guitar parts verbatim from the record,” Satriani notes. “The record is its own listening experience; You put on an album and put in your earbuds or whatever and you go about your day. And when you’re in front of a band it’s a completely different thing. People want to watch the band play, and they expect different things to happen because of the music. So we have to apply ourselves to make it work, face to face, with an audience and provide performances that allow for a whole other thing to take over.”