Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)
Thanks to Ed Chang, we now have a transcribed version of this story! (Even if he found it online.)
1993 Whole Guitar Book
(Musician special edition)
Joe Satriani reminds Allan Holdsworth about loving what you play : Holdsworth warns Satriani about the dangers of becoming a legend
By Matt Resnicoff
Joe Satriani took a hard left turn in the middle of a thought about his latest recording, THE EXTREMIST, which entered the pop charts yesterday at #22. "It's interesting you mentioned the song 'Rubina's Blue Sky Happiness,' " he said, "because my Allan Holdsworth influence comes through so heavily on that solo, you know? But when we recorded it, everyone said 'that's weird; you gotta do it over'---I thought it was the greatest solo I had ever done. It had so much in it, it was so weird, no one could think of putting all that stuff together in a song like that. It was difficult to play over because the song really just wanted some more music. I felt the need inside to, I don't know....express SOMETHING, and the language that helped me do it was what I learned from jamming with Holdsworth records, his stream-of-consciousness flurries of notes. He opened the door for a lot of things I wanted to play and just didn't know how. I'm glad that survived on the record. And as time goes on and I listen to it, I think, "Man, what would I do if I hadn't heard Allan Holdsworth?" In a chorus of self-discovery, many of the world's other most celebrated guitarists---Steve Vai, Edward Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen---began asking themselves the same question. And those eminently copied players all agree that language alone can't tell the story anyway. Technique was always an scuba affair among guitarists, but the frenzy heated up once "musicianship" starting getting hyped as an aquisition rather than as an instinct. Van Halen is credited with inciting a technical revolutino at the end of the 70's with intricate arpeggiated melodies, a two-handed approached he's claimed was catalyzed by hearing lines Allen wove routinely with one. that untouchable fluidity deified Holdsworth among guitarists: The distorted tone attracted rock fans, the exploratory harmony shucked the instrument's cliches and found him favor with the jazz set. His music's got as many labels as a soup cannery, but whatever record label bin it lands in, it's the most sophisticated abandon currently available from an electric guitar anywhere----you cannot hear his hands. That said, Holdsworth is as crucial to shaping the evolved edge of contemporary electric playing as any blues or rock legend, alive, dead or otherwise encumbered. Joe's well-tuned ear----which discerns much of popular metal soloing as "bad Holdsworth"---has always picked up the goods. His remarkable rise to preeminence as guitar icon, instructor, and, in a most unlikely turn, million-selling instrumental artist foreshadowed another major overhaul in the perception of pop guitar. It may have laid the groundwork FOR pop guitar as a field that no longer needed to be bound to blues-rock, or validated by contrived primitivistic notions of recognizeable sounds or ideas---like the human voice. Where Allan shooshed and cried, Joe screamed, growled, fluttered. It's too easy to call Joe the best of the accessible and Allan the best of the inaccessible, and neither would hear it like that anyway. Both insist their language, no matter how evolved, conveys a story about what's in the heart, the VOICE of the musician. They operate in radically different arenas, with a common intention: to not hear their hands. Joe hadn't seen Allan since visiting him at home years ago, when both were recording for the same label; Joe remembers tripping over Allan's three kid's toys. Since then, both have lost their fathers and have deeply grieved in their playing. On the eve of release of Allan's WARDENCLYFFE TOWER and of what will be the biggest year in the biggest career of any guitarist since Jeff Beck or Jimi Hendrix, or Allan Holdsworth, the elfin Satriani joined his kindred spirit amid a flurry of humming-birds at a rooftop table in central Los Angeles.
INTERVIEWER: I don't want to slant it so that one looks like the elder statesman and one like the newcomer, but facts dictate that when Joe made his first album, Allan's METAL FATIGUE was out, he had long been established, and everybody thereafter who plays electric improv couldn't really help but be affected by that.
JOE SATRIANI: "Oh yeah, without a doubt. You know, I should say at the beginning, a big difference between me and Allan is that I built on stuff that Allan pioneered, and in a small way [chuckles] tried to assimilate a lot of what he did on the guitar technically. So it's very different. His musicianship was so far ahead of mine when I was starting out, looking at books and picking out scales and stuff; Allan was in that stage where he was continually reinventing guitar, and I was a fan in the audience, you know what I mean? So I'd have to say in all honesty, I've TAKEN from Allan Holdsworth, and tried to figure out, 'How can I use what this guy as done to further what I'm trying to say?' I'm sure he never [laughs] listened to Joe Satriani records in that light...."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "No, I have, man. But it doesn't sound like that to me. You know, because over a great period of time when people play electric guitar, bit by bit they take something someone did, or move it around and change it, and I didn't get that so much from when I first heard you; I didn't hear anything deliberate."
JOE SATRIANI: "Well, good.[laughs] Good! I tried. I always had a thing against the sound of the pick. I always thought it was a deliberate sound. Say it was ain instruement in the orchestra, and they had the Al Di Meola section and the Allan Holdsworth section, they'd write differently for each---if they wanted the chup-chup-chup for every note or if they wanted the fluid sheets of sound coming out, like Allan plays. And one day I realized I really didn't like that, it isn't part of the music and it's taking up so much sonic space. And I didn't know what to do about it untial after a jam session a friend said, " I have a record of a guy who's doing what you're trying to do." It was Tony William's BELIEVE IT record, and it was the first time I heard you play..."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Ugh"[laughs]
JOE SATRIANI: "...and I couldn't BELIEVE it. It was beautiful, and at the same time it made me feel like I wasn't such a nerd for trying to figure out a way of playing that didn't include the sound of a chomping pick for every single note. So it validated a sort of strange idea I was having, that someone was already so far ahead with it."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, I never felt I was ahead with ANYTHING. But I look at it compared to other instruments. I never really wanted to play guitar; I wanted to play a horn, and think about how horrendous a horn would sound if you were tonguing every note---it would drive you nuts. There's a time and place for all of that, and I think guitar's more like that now. There's people mixing a lot more picking and LESS picking, which is nice. But guitar being a percussive instrument, it was harder to get away from that. Using amplifiers and trying to get a different kind of sound just seemed a fairly natural thing to do. I didn't WANT the guitar to be percussive like a marimba or something, where the only way you get the note is to hear it BEGIN. And in the beginning, I'd always be able to hear the notes that were picked and the ones that were hammered on, so I started practicing actually playing accents with the hammered notes and making the picked notes seem more slient than the one you played with your left hand. I never got it a hundred percent, but I keep modifying the technique as I go"
JOE SATRIANI: " I tried almost anything to get it happening; practicing atonally so that my musical mind wouldn't hold back my physical mind. Because sometimes the musician in me will start saying, 'oh, that's a horrible bunch of notes,' and might stop my fingers. So I started getting into playing without listening to the notes at all, just to try to develop the fingers, and I started gluing little teeny weights on the back of my nails of my left hand, little funny things like that; some people take rubber bands and tie 'em up. I'd try anything to get me away from the technique I had been brought up playing, which is PICK THE NOTES AND LISTEN. And when I finished that segment of practicing, I'd play music and I'd see how that experience had affected my technique. And what happened was, there was a reserve of all this new stuff. There was no bias in my history against it, it was simply new technique waiting to be played; I'd get an idea of a burst of notes and the left hand would go. I worked like that for a while, because I didn't want to be jaded, you know? A guitarist today winds up listening to players famous for picking alot, and it colors their opinion of picking. That's not good for a student, because there's a zillion subtleties in that one little movement, and maybe someone will revolutionize the art and have that rapid picking sound with so many volume plays that it'll take it to a new level---and maybe it's a matter of not being exposed to these other players so you're thinking freely. I think about that again because I was in the dark until I heard Allan, and then I saw, 'Well, that means there's gotta be a whole world out there of all this amazing technique, and you have to start from scratch and say, 'What are my hands and fingers capable of doing?' "
INTERVEIWER: Allan wasn't barraged with guitar information growing up, you were innovating in a different era.
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " I didn't think of it as innovation. I was just trying to do something that I wanted to hear. I went through a period of working on the legato style, but at the same time I had this thing in the back of my mind saying, 'There's something wrong with this,' and I'd drift back into periods of trying to play more legitimately---[chuckles]---or what was classified as legitimate in my head, in terms of right hand/left hand. And I'd make recordings like everybody when they start; over a period of yeards I'd go back and find something I did before when I was noodling with the legato thing, and I though, 'Oh, that sounds okay---maybe I should've perservered with that.' And then I went back to it. And then kept going on that. One thing I didn't like about the legato technique, that I've worked on getting out of ever since, is the way it's easy toplay notes going in one direction or the other. So what I try to do is limit myself, when practicing, to no more than two notes going in any one direction. It was just to try and---similarly to what you were saying, Joe---break up your way of thinking about it or practicing it. It's not something that just happens on its own; there's a real reason for doing it. As far as I'm concerned, there is only melody; one way or another, I guess one man's meat's another man's poison, so one man's melody is another man's horror story."
INTERVIEWER: Another thing both of you do is reshape conventional chord structure. One voicing you both play is the first chord in Joe's "ALWAYS" and in "WHITE LINE"---that minor second thing.
JOE SATRIANI: "Major with an added fourth? yeah, done that way, yeah, sticking them together."
INTERVIEWER: There's a lot of ambiguity in a chord like that, but also a certain accessible beauty that comes from rethinking how you can play something so simple.
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, because my dad was a jazz musician he had records of most instrumentalists including guitarists, so after Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, I grew up listening to Joe Pass and Jimmy Raney; I loved Jimmy Raney. And all those guys were absolutely wonderful, but there was something about the guitar that I didn't like even then. Guitar chords only consist of four DIFFERENT notes, generally---you can play more, but they're usually duplicates or an octave---so it becomes more limited. When I'd hear chord things, I'd recognize the sound of the chords straight away; you almost knew what was coming. You'd appreciate the fact that it was MARVELOUS---it never took anything away from that---but I thought it would be nice to do something, where the chords sounded different. And unfortunately, unless you have two guitar players and they don't duplicate notes, the chords will naturally sound a bit more ambiguous in some ways, although they're not, you know? So I started to think of chords as being related to families. I don't hear one voicing move to another; it's like, that chord belongs to a family, a scale, and the next one belongs to a different family, and I try to hear the FAMILIES change as the sequence goes. You can play anything that sounds nice, as long as the notes are contained in those scales as they move from one to another. I hear that in piano players I like. They don't sound trapped with this chord-symbol thing. Whenever I hear Keith Jarrett, it's just these harmonic/melodic ideas, and they all sound RIGHT, but at the same time have this kind of FREEDOM in the way they move."
JOE SATRIANI: " There should be a word for it, or a phrase...maybe if people could use the word "harmony" to describe the end result of a chord progression, and think of the harmony as this fluid family of notes being fed by the chords. So the chords aren't the end---they're just the building blocks to the ultimate thing which is the true harmony, and then melodies and solos feed off the end result of the harmony"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah, it's more fluid, where the harmony moves from one place to another, and each time it goes by you could play completely different chords or notes, but they're correct because they follow the harmonic sequence. But it's not like every time you see a chord you play some other inversion of it---if you say 'Stop! What chord is that?' it might not even constitute an inversion of the chord you wanted, though it'll be HARMONICALLY correct, because you'll be playing notes from within that scale. It's like giving all different names to the same scale. See, the only thing that makes one scale different from the other is the way that they are different intervallically. I don't give a C Major scale seven different names, because as long as you know what it sounds like in each mode as you move the bass up from C---I don't think of it as so fixed. It IS fixed, but in another way."
JOE SATRIANI: "What Allan's saying can also be applied to something really simple. In a Stones song like "Under My Thumb", you have a couple of guitar players, a few other instruments. It's a simple chord sequence, but they're not really duplicating each other; they're jamming on each chord, and if you wrote it down, you'd listen to one track and say, 'Sounds like Richards is doing sometimes a major, sometimes a seventh, sometimes suspending it, and Brian Jones is doing SOMETHING, but not quite at the same time, and there's keyboard in there embellishing,' not the fact that it's G, but G relative to what? To the feeling of the song at that point; like at the end of the verse when you're sittin' on that G and sometimes this guy's making it dominant and the other guy isn't. They're saying the chord is not the end, it's just a suggestion as to where the harmony is at the moment. So you have the whole family to play with. There's no way to say ahead of time, 'Wrong. This note, nobody can play it,' because it depends on the circumstance. Someone, [laughs] a year from now, will figure out a way to throw in a note no one else had success with 10 years earlier."
INTERVIEWER: Allan once said something cool: "Style doesn't signify a thing; it's just the way you do something." I asked if style was a consistency in the vernacular you use, and he said, "Yeah, but it's meaningless, like a faceplate from an old amp."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, it is. I was never interested in manufacturing a STYLE. It's good to have a personality, because people hear that in the music in one way or another; it changes as times goes on, as well. There's things I used to do that I don't anymore simply because everybody else does them now. But it wasn't because I INVENTED them, it was just that if I started to hear a lot of it from other places, it made me think, 'Jeez, that must've been really shallow; it wasn't a musical enough thing in itself that it would hold water permanently.' I don't think of a 'style' as being as important as other people do. The MUSIC is the most important thing, the result at the END, whatever that is."
JOE SATRIANI: "It's hard for a musician to recognize their own style, because what they're working on is music, you know? To the listener, the style is all those personal quirks that make up what surrounds what, let's say, a guitar player's playing. But to the player what matters is what they're coming up with."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " And the quirks get in the way! [laughs]"
JOE SATRIANI: "Yeah, it's built in. When we finally think we've cleared out the quirks, when we've gotten to the truth in what we wanted to say about solo or melody---we think it's free of obstacles---someone'll say , 'That's typical Allan' or 'That's typical Joe'. And I have no idea what they mean. If you and I were talking about Allan, we could come up with quite a few things we would agree on, and he would probably look at us and say, 'What are you talking about?' Usually the listener will say, 'Man, how did you do this?', and you wanna say, 'Man, that's NOTHIN'. Why don't you ask me about that part? Now THAT was hard!' [laughter] My tune "New Blues"---not one person ever asked me about the rhythm guitar, but it took me how many years of fooling around with tow-handed technique to come up with a part that would be so rhythm-guitarlike no on would ever say, 'Oh, what an amazing part', or maybe the opposite---you know how some two-handed parts are so obviously tapping away lke typewriters. But here I finally get to a point where it's so wonderful that I've aced myself right out of people noticing it! [laughs] They always ask me, 'How'd you get that scream?' 'Scream? I do that all the time! That's no big deal!' "
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " Yeah, obvious things come up, but the obvious ones are always the ones I want to get rid of. [laughter] You know, in the beginning, I'd REALLY, REALLY avoid playing any kind of blues licks. All my life I've tried to avoid 'em. Then I find myself in the last couple of years starting to PLAY 'em---you go, 'Well, this is insane!' So it's the same reasoning: If I hear something I keep doing, I don't want to DO it anymore. I mean, if I listen to an old album, and then I listen to the last album, I hear a big difference, but maybe, what you're saying is, other people don't."
JOE SATRIANI: "Right. Believe it or not, it's remarkably consistent. And when you mentioned blues, I even remember a song you did that on; was it "Karzie Key," from VELVET DARKNESS?"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah, I guess so"
JOE SATRIANI: " [sings theme] It started out with that bassline, like on B minor or something, moves up to B, then goes to E, and then you start jamming. It's just a great little blues progession, and you totally shred it up. I mean, I listened to that little segment over and over again on that record...
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Oh, I HATE that record, man."
JOE SATRIANI: "...and that had more to do with the combination of what people call "crazy technique" and blues style. I thought, 'Wow.' That reached out and touched me because it was something I wanted to experience playing. My body HAD to resonate to that, and that made me feel good, so that's what makes me play in a certain way, and part of it I heard on that particular track. But it still sounds exactly like you---I mean, there's absolutely no other person who could ever play like that. [laughs] I can recognize you in so many circumstances, I could describe your sound and phrases. That's style. But if someone said, 'Describe yourself the same way,' I wouldn't have a clue. to me everything is servicing the composition, so if someone says, 'That's your style,' I say, 'No, that's what I did for that song, that's all' "
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever transcribe to Allan?
JOE SATRIANI: "I don't think I've ever transcribed ANYTHING for myself. I never had to. When I was taking lessons from Lennie Tristano, he had me bring in records every week and I had to scat-sing with the solo, note-for-note. I remember writing things down in high school, since I had to pass the New York State of Regents, and though I did a lot of music writing, I never got much from it. What I always got off on the most in music was listening and then internalizing it somehow, and I didn't really put the two together until Lennie started teeling me to learn what I liked and sing it, to experience the music in a visceral way. Then it's inside, and the things you like about it will come out in a very natural way. I was going to him for improvising and self-discipline, and his thing was truly improvising---getting rid of all the little knick-knacks of your style, anything you may apply immediately because of who-knows-what. Get rid of the neurosis and really have music, technique, and then you can improvise. And once I started singing I said, 'That's all I'm ever gonna do. I'm never gonna write any of this down unless it's my music and I have to save it.' So I write my own stuff down, but when I listen to someone's music I sing along with it. We've talked about singing Allan's solo in "Red Alert"? [laughs] I brought that one in! It's impossible to sing, I'll have you know. I think Lennie got a kick out of me going BIDILOPIDIDO...[laughs] And after that I figured that there just IS no other way."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Oh, it makes perfect sense, because it's not like you're shoutin' all the changes out to the punters, [laughter] so they can get off on giving you marks as to what notes you played over what chord. It's definitely something you just hear. And singing it is perfect. The limitations would be that I guess you'd eventually have to end up singing it in your head because there's no way you'll be able to sing some things."
JOE SATRIANI: "Some things are hard and you get around it. But his point was to really grasp the music with your mind and your body, your heart and your soul. And that your being will then....I'm getting way too fancy for Lennie, he'd be kicking me in the head if he heard me pontificating like this, but it's like your whole being is getting into the music; you're not looking at a piece of paper and going, 'Ah, minor SIXTH---clever little gentleman.' Cause what's that? I mean, I never heard that when I was a kid. And the joy of when you're playing a record....I remember doing some Wes Montgomery, and you get to the end and you can actually nail it, and sing it right from beginning to end. It's not like you've played it, but you experience it in a way that...it's like seeing a picture of a great work of art or being there in front of it. Or listening to a record, and then finally going to the concert and seeing the people play it---it's like WOW, you're actually experiencing some guy's music and suddenly the beauty is revealed and no theory in the world will ever get close to describing how wonderful it is as a whole thing, from the heart."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "It seems he was saying it's the melody that's most important, because that's ultimately what you get from being able to sing a solo back, isn't it? 'Cause you're REMEMBERING the notes, or the melody, and perhaps not thinking so much, like you said, about what that note is related to this particular chord."
JOE SATRIANI: "Yeah, and you're really getting in the soul of the musician. It seemed like as I learned them, I was getting closer and closer, you know? And it's FRIGHTENING, especially when you're just starting out, and in a period of six days you take a solo, Wes Montgomery or something, and it's like this THING, a mystery, you don't know what he's doing, and by the end of the week you've nailed it and you'll never forget it. And I remember every solo I ever sang, and I don't know why. It's just part of me now, and sometimes when I'm improvising, I hear....they're like my ghost teachers, [laughs] all these guys kinda hanging around me that I've learned from, because I digested their musicality. That, with my own idea of what is tasteful and what is not, sort of guides me. But I loved that part of practicing, I really did. Since I taught a lot, I had to transcribe eight hours a day. The last thing I would want to do when I got home would be to transcribe something [laughs] The thing that made the difference was the student. A beginner started taking lessons from me, and he had a great set of hands, and he brought in, God, I forget what record of yours, Allan, and said, 'Man, this is great, how does he DO it?' At that time, he was still memorizing major scales. He was so far away, mentally, from understanding where you were at in tersm of the tools you were using, but he had drive, so I showed him a couple of completely atonal hammer on/pull-off exercises and said, 'Go home, put earplugs in, just play absolute nonsense as many hours a day as you can----just make sure you're hammering on and pulling off all over the guitar. Then play these weird chord exercises stretching your fingers.' He came back and in seven days the kid was amazing. He said, 'I don't know what I'm doing,' and he was RRRRARARARARA all over the place, [laughs], and I said, 'Okay, now, let's go over some of the stuff Allan's using.' I'm just scratching at the surface of Allan anyway, but I told him, 'Okay, he's doing these chords, and some DO go like that, and others are quite conservative-looking but sound big. And when he's doing those solo's he's playing lots of notes, big intervals, moving across the board and up and down, changing direction all the time, similar to what I had you playing in the last week.' In a couple of weeks he had it---you know, as much as a student could get something as mindblowing as an Allan Holdsworth piece. But the way I approached it was to take it to where he was at. Because if he wanted to play the solo in "Red Alert" it was like, man, where do you START? How do you condense years and years of musical knowledge and taste and then years and years of TECHNICAL knowledge? But sometimes a student's physicality can pull their mind along. Other times, you find players---and I always thought I was one of these guys---who had great ideas, but the fingers were jokers, and it was a constant STRUGGLE."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "That's how I always felt: like I could hear all this stuff and could never get my hands to do any of it. And it never changed. It feels exactly like that now, because no matter where your playing is, your head is always...it's usually quite a way ahead of my hands. For me. The distance always stayed the same. No matter what I ended up playing, what I wanted to play was always that much further away."
JOE SATRIANI: " [laughs] Very hard to believe."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "But that's what makes it. It's like if somebody walks into a room and you go, 'Oh, that's Joe,' cause he LOOKS like that. The person is apparent in the player. I guess no matter how hard you try, you can't get rid of it. I'd love to be able to change my face, but I'm stuck. [joe laughs] So I guess I'm trying to do the same thing with the guitar."
JOE SATRIANI: "Just trying to have more fun with it, you know?"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Oh, did you know that Ollie Halsall died?"
JOE SATRIANI: "Oh man. About a month ago, yeah."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " Yep. He was living in Spain or something. At age 43."
JOE SATRIANI: "You played with him a long time ago."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah, he was a fantastic guitar player. When I played with this Top 40 band, we'd play upstairs on the weekend and the big bands would play downstairs, and then the rest of the week we'd be downstairs, and usually the band would come up and check out the other band. And I remember these guys sayin', 'Hey, you sound like that guy Ollie Halsall,' and I'd never ever seen him before; I didn't know who he was until we played in Tempest. He played totally legato, but I'd never heard him. But he was an influence on me because he was an extremely creative individual. When I first moved to London, he was the popular guy; everybody was saying, 'Hey, check out Ollie.' I don't know what happened---he was there, and he was gone. When I saw him he had an SG and the old Gibson Vibrola, the little spring steel tailpiece they had on SG's after the Sidewinder. They worked. I mean, those days, nothing would stay in tune, it was something everybody put up with. I remember in New York when I started playing with Tony [Williams], I used to go around to all the music stores looking for tremolo bars. Everybody would look at me like I was NUTS: "Whaddya want THAT thing for, man? Whaddya gonna do with THAT?" It's crazy how it turns around: now no guitar is made WITHOUT one, you know? [joe laughs] But I saw the whammy bar, which I don't use much anymore, as just something that happens in a space of time. It's like when those MXR phasers came out and everybody had one, and even on that Tony Williams record, you can [stamps foot] stomp on that and know right away what year it was made! [laughter]"
JOE SATRIANI: "The bell-bottom of the guitar world! [laughter]"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah! It's just another toy. And as soon as everything starts to sound the same, you go, 'Well, time to look for something else.' There's no end to what can be done. It's just, people always look to what's...I don't think they look inside enough somehow."
JOE SATRIANI: "Everybody wants a gig. [laughter] You go through that."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "I mean, it's great to LIKE people and be influenced, but there's a difference between being influenced and trying to play like somebody else. I've actually started to hear Scott Henderson clones! Nothing gets left alone. There was a time when you heard Michael Brecker and it could only have been Brecker---and it still could only be, anyway, because there's always something WRONG with the rest of it---but it's that strange thing of so many people trying to sound like him. It's sad...it was like that with Jaco. The most important thing about Jaco was what he was PLAYING. But nobody picked up on that; the first thing they go for was the SOUND."
JOE SATRIANI: "Yeah, get a fretless and a JC-120! [laughs]"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH:" So everybody gets a bass with a bald fingerboard, and tries to play like Jaco, and it's all out of tune, HEWIN' and a SKEWIN'---and it's a DRAG, because the thing that made him stand out was the musicality. People are sometimes so influened by---so INTRIGUED by something, that's the only thing they see."
JOE SATRIANI: " That happens to anyone, including us: They hear a certain amount of technique and think that's what the song was about. I went through---and I still do, probably always will---people commenting on solos. No matter how many signs I flash, no one ever says, 'By the way, I noticed you played rhythm guitar on your last five albums.' [laughter] And certain sections of the press will never pick up on, 'No one's ever done a sus4 to augmented back and forth before and then built a Hungarian-scale melody on top of it.' They may be sensitive to other things, like, 'Record's really rockin' or 'Love the sound of the drums' or something. I'm sure when Pastorius started to notice the clones, he thought, 'Well, this is funky, man---everyone's pickin' up on the superficial part of me, and no one's really listening to what I'm playing, and it's gone so far that now people are PLAYING like that superficial image.' And then it's out of control. You hear it now with people trying to play like Steve Vai, and they haven't a CLUE as to what Steve Vai really is all about. But they've emulated the sound, that strange blend of noise with music, that only Steve has control of, that you can notice right away when someone's going brrr-drrr [apes pressing and letting go end of whammy to let it wiggle] I heard a CD of some English guy doing that and I just couldn't believe anyone would spend that much money to make a record, only to sound like somebody else. And it was a perfect cop of, you know, [laughs] one-zillionth of Steve. You know, they're missing the depth."
INTERVIEWER: I think in this one case, there's a real disparity between the personality of the person and the character of what you hear. Allan's attitude keeps him from stagnating; not allowing yourself to feel that you've accomplished anything significant keeps you on the path towards something better for yourself.
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah, I don't feel I've accomplished ANYTHING, really. I just love music, so all I wanna do is play music. There's other things about music, like music BUSINESS, that sometimes I hat so much that I go through these periods of just wanting to STOP, but even if I did I know I'd always keep playing. It's just that I'm so useless at EVERYTHING; there's nothing else that I can do, so if I quit, what would I do? I guess I just keep going...not keeping doing the same thing, I don't feel I'm doing that---I'd get a job in a bike shop first. [laughter]
INTERVIEWER: But you're both very consumed by what you do, and there all all these distractions in your lives. Is it a question of forcing yourself to be creative?
JOE SATRIANI: "I look at it in a different way: when nothing is happening, when you're creatively spent and you're sitting around with boring people and it's a boring day, you're wearing boring clothes, what's happening? The big question mark descends---"What are we doing? Let's get up and do SOMETHING." And the more that happens, the more there is to write about, the more there is that needs to be turned into music. I mean, every time I do something, the experience is something, it's part of life, and the music needs life, and life needs music. For me, nothing is more distracting than sitting down with a guitar and realizing that you're playing like shit, and just saying to yourself, 'I am a turd today,' you know? To me, that's the ultimate distraction."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well....that's a constant. For me, anyway."
JOE SATRIANI: "[laughs]But it's all energy-fed; there's experience, there's something happening. Eventually, you'll get around to the guitar, and you'll have all this STUFF that is life that will have happened, and it'll fuel the creative fire. At least it does for me, when I'm sitting down and I realize I've got NOTHING to say, it's like you've got to put that guitar away and go make some life."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "You hear all the time people who can play really well; you know the guy who's practiced and you know he can play, but at the same time you go, "What is it? What is being SPOKEN?"
JOE SATRIANI: "That may not be their desire. I've met people like that who don't want to write songs about loss, they don't want to write songs about anything, they just want to be a musician in a band 'cause it's a cool way to make a living, and it looks like a risky yet exciting way to become really famous. I do know those people, and you can't blame 'em---if that's the way they naturally feel about music."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "No, there's other guys, too, that want it bad. I've known a few musicians that really want it, but unfortunately---being really cold---it can never be. I actually know some players woh practice all the time and you can see the work, but it doesn't matter. It's the opposite of somebody like Gary Husband, a drummer I've worked with for a long time. When he takes an instrument that he can't play, or initially couldn't play, like guitar, after six months the guy plays incredible guitar, on a harmonic depth you don't get in that amount of time. I always look for that part of the musician speaking out from inside, rather than the guy that just put a lot of work in. I'd rather have the one than the other. I'm lazy; I know I could be a lot better if I worked harder. I still practice, but I've always been the same: I'll work hard on something, but I just get to a certain point and then go out and have a beer. When I should stay there and work [laughs] The only thing regimented in my life is riding a bike; that's the only thing that gets an alloted space. The guitar is just whenever I feel like it. And sometimes, when I take time off from the guitar, then when I get back to it, even though my hands won't work properly for a few days, I'll feel I've accumulated something in the time I wasn't working on it. 'Cause sometimes if I practice alot, I find myself doing the same things."
INTERVIEWER: You never seem happy about what you're playing. I always think, "God, how can he justify what he's doing if he feels so passionate about music, and that passion translates into a desire for something more that's never really sated?
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "I never felt that I played anything perfect. I don't know if I actually COULD. But the thing is that, you know, sometimes I've listened to something afterwards, especially if I hadn't heard it for a while and FORGOT about it, and then I hear it again kinda fresher, then I might actually sort of almost like it."
JOE SATRIANI: "[laughs]"
INTERVIEWER: I wanna start closing up because the sun is going down. What about establishing a genuine voice on your instrument?
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "It's easier than people think, actually. I used to go to this little bar and have a few beers, Baxter's, down in Irvine---before they turned it into a disco and everybody I knew stopped going---when they had live bands, and it wouldn't matter how good or bad the musicians were....and some of them were GOOD, but you'd hear the guitar player keep doing this little thing and you'd go, 'oh, that's neat.' So long as you remember that if someone was listening to YOU, they'd probably be able to hear something really unique."
INTERVIEWER: You both like to bypass circuitry, and will mix on different consoles than you record on, if need be.
JOE SATRIANI: "I think the history of all my records has been such that there's always some disaster or some ridiculous set of circumstances."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "But generally, even those old recordings, I think they still were trying really hard, unless we're talking about a bootleg or something"
JOE SATRIANI: "It's funny how when you're in the middle of trying to get the best bass tone or something like that, someone'll whisper in your ear, "You know, people have bass and treble control," [laughs] and it'll kinda remind you about when you were 14, and if only you could go back to your little Walkman or stereo system. And you realize you had the controls all this way and that way, and you'd be putting on records saying, "oh, this record man, you gotta go like THIS," and you put on this OTHER guy's record and, "You gotta go like...."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "[laughs]"
INTERVIEWER: Allan, are you still using your speaker box?
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Well, I've used it on everything so far, except when I start this new album, I'm not gonna for the first time because I actually have a room that I can use now."
JOE SATRIANI: "And it's so touchy. And there's the noise generated from equipment versus what it does to set you free to make the performance happen. Of course, then there's the whole idea of, "Is he the kind of guy that plugs right....you know where it peaks? It peaks right up with technique versus feeling: These arguments, I don't know who makes them up.[laughs]"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "You know, amps are EXPENSIVE and everything, and a young guy who's just started goes out and buys an amp 'cause someone else...it might be horrendous. I think a lot of kids worry about that when they see ALOT of stuff, especially somebody like me, who has a big train set. But I use things in subtle ways. I'll use four single delay lines to get a chorus when you can just go out and buy one box that does it; I can take four used $100 delay lines and blow any thousand-dollar chorus uint out of the water completely. If another guy had four pieces, he'd be able to get four completely different sounds. I guess people try and get the most from the minimum, but I can't find any new multiprocessor company that can make anything like the sound I want---BUT, the downside of that is it's four against one rack size, so it ends up being a big box. [laughs] You eventually end up with a lot of stuff, but you're not...I always remember one gig we played and this guy came up and asked, "hey, how come I saw two racks up there and I only heard two sounds all night long?!" I was thinking to myself, "Yeah, but were they okay or not?"