What Happens Next is more than just an album title — and title track, premiering exclusively below — for Joe Satriani. It’s a creative mission statement.
“Every time, when I do an album and then I go on tour with it, I know that when you’re rolling towards the last six months of it everyone’s going to ask you ‘what happens next?’ — those three words, with a question mark at the end,” Satriani tells Billboard. “It became sort of an in-joke, so many people were asking me that question. And it’s tough, ’cause you have to plan. You have to book studios, you have to reach out to musicians, look at all the songs you’ve been writing, see if you notice a direction that begins to manifest itself…And it’s hard to answer that question. What I should just say is, ‘I just need to do something different,’ that’s all.”
Satriani did take on a new challenge in making What Happens Next, which comes out Jan. 12. This time out the rock guitar virtuoso put together a trio, but not just any trio, teaming up with a pair of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame buddies, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and Satriani’s Chickenfoot bandmate) on drums and Deep Purple/Black Sabbath/Trapeze alumnus Glenn Hughes on bass. It started when Sammy Hagar called Chickenfoot together for a pair of shows in Lake Tahoe and then the recording of a new track for the group’s Best + Live compilation in March; Satriani recruited Smith to be part of his next album, and Hughes — who Smith has recorded with in the past — was not only “someone who really rocks” but also a way to “entice” Smith into being part of the project.
“Once I floated the idea they both said yes right away,” recalls Satriani, whose material for What Happens Next was tailored explicitly for those players. “This time around I was thinking about those two Chickenfoot gigs and the two records we did together, thinking I’ve done this with Chad before, now all I have to do is open the door even wider for him, ’cause we don’t have to make room for singing,'” Satriani explains. “This is just the sound for the three of us. It had a big effect on how rocking I could write the songs.”
Satriani considers What Happens Next’s title track to be “one of the more modern sounding” and philosophical songs on the album. “It has this curious balance of brooding and questioning, with this feeling of hope that sort of redeems itself in the choruses,” Satriani notes. “If I could be my own therapist, I would say, ‘Joe, I notice you do this a lot. You write these songs where you say omigod, the sky is falling! What are we gonna do?!’ and then you turn around and say, ‘But the sun is still shining somewhere, too, in the world.’ So on this song not only am I questioning myself about what am I gonna do next, musically, but also throwing my hands up in the air in reaction to events that seem to bumble into our lives around the world and around the block that we seem to have no control over. Some of them are tragic and some of them are just bizarre, and you ask yourself, or the universe, ‘Omigod, what’s gonna happen next?!’
“When I wrote that song, that’s what I was reacting to, that moment of feeling a little lost. But by the time I finished the song I said, ‘THIS is what happens next. YOU create what happens next.’ That allowed the song to turn a corner and provide choruses that were hopeful and uplifting.”
Satriani — who’s also the subject of a new documentary, Beyond Supernova, by his filmmaker son ZZ Satriani — will hit the road to promote What Happens Next on Jan. 11 with his latest G3 Tour, featuring fellow six-stringers John Petrucci from Dream Theater and Phil Collen of Def Leppard. The 37-date tour wraps up Feb. 25 in Milwaukee, and while there’s be plenty of musical muscle to go around, Satriani predicts he may come out short when it comes to physique on the tour. “Phil is in such good shape; When you shake his hand, you better be prepared,” he says. “And John is a huge weightlifter and pretty ripped himself. It’s a rock show; Someone’s got to take their shirt off, but it’s not gonna be me. I’m gonna feel pretty scrawny next to those guys, I’ll tell ya.”