Two years ago, when the idea of compiling a career retrospective box set of his studio albums moved beyond the talking stage, Joe Satriani was prepared to have a few nitpicks. He was surprised, however, that what first raised his eyebrows had nothing to do with music. “I looked at the jackets I wore on the album covers and went, ‘What was I thinking?’” he recalls with a laugh. “Everybody’s got certain photos from their past, but when you make records, and if you’re lucky enough to have a long career, those old fashions can stay with you.”
Soon enough, as he began the process of reviewing his earlier albums, Satriani’s predilection for perfectionism threatened to overwhelm him. “I just wanted to do everything all over again,” he says. “Rewrite, replay, re-record, remix – you name it, I wanted to change it.”
While nothing as extensive as re-recording took place, Satriani and his longtime engineer and producer John Cuniberti did a thorough remastering job on the guitarist’s complete catalog, everything from 1986’s Not Of To Earth to last year’s Unstoppable Momentum. But before the project got too far down the road, Cuniberti sent Satch an e-mail that put things in perspective.
“It was an Andy Warhol quote, and it’s something that really stayed with me,” Satriani says. “It goes like this: ‘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 John’s response to my agonizing over everything. You need a little reminder now and then about that kind of stuff, the big picture.”
Legacy Recordings gave Satriani and Cuniberti carte blanche in terms of budget and schedule, allowing the two to go back and bake tapes, resample sounds and scrutinize each track to their hearts’ content. “As we went through the material, I became thrilled at what a great opportunity it was,” Satriani says. “We were able to right some of the wrongs of past production, to tell the stories correctly. Sometimes records can be mastered in the heat of the moment – everybody’s nervous; there’s a release date to meet – so hindsight can be a real blessing.”
Box sets offer fans the option of going the episodic route or diving in for a full-on binge listen. An extended, chronological airing of the entire Satriani package reveals the many sides to the veteran guitarist – playful, devilish, wildly eccentric, deeply lyrical and unabashedly over the top – but it also demonstrates the limitless extent of his ideas.
“You always hope that something this ambitious can fulfill a lot of purposes and expectations,” Satriani says. “As for myself, it allows me to sit back and really appreciate everybody else’s performances a lot more this time around. And I feel that way about all the different levels of participation from the guys at the label; my manager, Mick Brigden; and of course, the engineers and co-producers: John Cuniberti, Mike Fraser, Glyn Johns and Andy Johns.
“What I’m really happy about is how great everything now sounds. John knows my music from more angles than anybody, and he really got to the bottom of everything. You can listen to two or three hours of my music now without your ears getting fatigued.” He thinks for a second, then chuckles. “Whether you get sick of me, that’s up to you, but you’ll sure love the way this sounds.”
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