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Chickenfoot: rockstars just wanna have fun


They’re back! Barely two years after their first album and a tour, Chickenfoot are back with a new album called III. The least we can say is that the quartet of super rockstars has a hell of a lot of motivation, and where there’s motivation, there’s life. The Get Your Buzz On DVD released between the two albums drove the point home regarding the viability of the band by showing four smiling musicians having fun and using the songs from their first album as an excuse to embark on crazy jams.

There’s no doubt the songs from this new record, even if they’re a little more polished, will serve as a good foundation for the new tour: “We realized the new songs give us a good basis for improvisation”, says Joe Satriani, the band’s prestigious guitarist – even if drummer Chad Smith won’t be able to join his mates on all the dates because of his commitment to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His temporary replacement, Kenny Aronoff, was introduced in the hilarious video shot for the single “Big Foot” – and we have to say that the band still works wonderfully with the man with the shaved head and the Satch-y sunglasses.

At any rate, one thing’s certain: Chickenfoot know they have a rare thing called chemistry, and they certainly don’t want to ruin this.

We offer you a double interview with guitar hero Joe Satriani and former Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony, who told us all about this state of mind and more.

« One thing I can tell you is that there’s nothing normal about making music with the guys in Chickenfoot! »

Radio Metal: The new Chickenfoot album is called III. Sammy has justified that title by saying that the songs are so tight that it felt like you guys have jumped one album. So what are the aspects of your music, or your approach of it, that have evolved?

Joe Satriani (guitar): (laughs) First of all, the title really is a bit of a joke. That’s the way we are, we like to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously. The album was actually gonna be called IV, then we decided to make it even sillier and drop it to III. But I think in retrospect, it’s a comment about how we do feel like. From the very first record and going through the tour, we did go through a serious maturing process as a band. The way this album was recorded, over such a condensed period of time, made us feel like we did grow quite a bit as a band. So it seemed to make sense that we would skip the number II and go to some higher number. I think we wrote songs that complemented a lot more the good things that we do naturally as a band. When I was writing the demo for everybody, I was trying to write songs that would make Sam’s voice sound better, make Mike Anthony’s voice and bass playing come out more to the front, capitalize on Chad’s ability to not only go crazy, but also to provide a super heavy groove. And of course I was really hoping that I would write a lot of great grooves and interesting compositions that would give me an opportunity to play lots of different kinds of styles on the guitar. Once we got it all together and we were able to really pull it off, it made sense that we should give it a higher number than II, because it’s like we’ve jumped ahead.

Does that mean that, when composing for Chickenfoot, you have some specific parameters or requirements in mind that you don’t necessary have normally?

One thing I can tell you is that there’s nothing normal about making music with the guys in Chickenfoot! When you go in the studio everyday and play with a bunch of guys, you just have to be ready. Especially with Chickenfoot, all our recordings are based on live recordings. We don’t use click tracks or sequencers, so the performance is like that of a live band. We finish the songs by over-dubbing on top of the live performances. This includes vocals as well; so if Sammy’s got some vocal stuff going, he’s doing it. I don’t think we’ve ever tracked a song without Sam, he’s always singing along when we’re tracking. So the feel of the band is a very important thing in helping us determine if we’re on the right track. I think every song is an opportunity to grow. That’s the way I look at it.

The first Chickenfoot album had a very jam-oriented feeling, but on this second album the songs are a little bit more polished and to the point. It sounds as if a little bit more thinking was put into the songs and a little bit less spontaneity. Is this what happened?

Michael Anthony (bass): Yes. The first album obviously being the first time that we were in the studio as a band, there was a lot more jamming, a lot more of that going on, because we were still trying to be comfortable with each other in the studio, and musically, with the idea of being a new band and the first time getting together. Now, Joe knows what Sammy does vocally, and so a lot of the ideas are a little bit more evolved, I think. Just the fact that we spend a lot of time in the studio now, and being on tour as a band, everybody got more comfortable with each other, and I think that really shows. Luckily I think we are going in the right direction with this.

Joe Satriani: I think one of the things we found when we came off the tour we did for the last record was that we could take any of these songs and turn them into live events. So we weren’t afraid to sit down and really work up or polish our song structures. When we started out, we didn’t really know what kind of a band we were. As we made that first record, we experimented with not finishing stuff and leaving some questions marks, let’s say, in the arrangements. But it wasn’t because we were being clever, it was because we really didn’t know that much about each other. For a song like “Turnin’ Left”, we were trying different things in the studio, and we weren’t quite sure how the song was going to turn out. We would get lucky now and then, and a song like that or “Down The Drain” would just happen spontaneously. But then you go out on tour and start playing these songs every night, and you go: “Wow, it’s too bad we didn’t tie that up when we had the chance”. I think all of us arrived in this second stage thinking: “Let’s work a little bit harder, so we don’t have any of those regrets, where we record something and it’s got a little too much fat on it. Let’s trim it now, and we can always expand it when we’re on stage”. That’s kind of like what we do. We did a live Internet show the other night, and it was great. It was the first time we ever actually played the new material for an audience, and we started to loosen it up. Once you crack that door open, you realize that the material has great opportunity for improvisation. It’s nice to know we can always go back to a very solid format that we’ve put on the album. I much prefer it this way, where the tour is more of an expansion rather than trying to rein something in. It’s a good position to be in.

« I never really liked that term “super group”. I guess it’s a good term you can attach to guys that get together to maybe do one project, one album and then they shake hands and that’s the end of it. »

Chickenfoot is made up of four excellent musicians; yet you don’t overplay but rather stick to what the song needs. Is it important for you not to fall into a kind of demonstrative exercise, which would otherwise be easy for a band like yours?

Yeah, I think so. We’re a band of four completely different personalities, and it’s pretty comical the way each of us wants to pull the recording situation in a different direction. But one thing we learned quite early in doing the first record was that, it just so happens that if someone has a completely different idea than you, it might be the right one. We always check out the other persons’ idea. Nobody puts their foot down and says: “I’m the leader and this is how it’s gonna go”. We approach it with a democratic process, because we want to make sure everybody feels like they can express themselves. And we have trust in each other; the guy next to you may have a better idea. So we do spend quite a lot of time fooling around, just seeing how the other guys are reacting to something you brought in. A good example would be the song “Come Closer”. Sam sent me completed lyrics and said: “Write whatever you want behind it, and see what happens”. I wrote a piano song that was very drifty, part Radiohead and part R’n’B. Sammy loved it, and when we showed it to Mike and Chad, they sort of created a rhythmic to the song that was their reaction to it. We recorded the basic track in about an hour, it was so quick. But Sam and I never stopped Mike and Chad from changing the arrangement. We basically asked what they thought, and that’s what they came up with, so we went with that. It’s a very interesting thing: Sam first trusts me to write music for his lyrics, and then Sam and I trust the guys to come up with an arrangement. Then we just go from there. It’s a great creative exercise to work that way.

Michael Anthony: During the later years in Van Halen, Eddie would play so much I would pretty much just sit back and pedal on the root note, just trying to keep the foundation of the root going. Nobody is really told what to do in this band. Musically, unless it is really crucial for the songs, everybody can put their own input in, as far as what they want to play, and everything in it is great because musically, I am able to stretch out a lot more and not just play single notes.

So you mean you didn’t have this kind of space in Van Halen that you have now in Chickenfoot?

Yeah. In the early days I did, but later on Eddie would say: “Well, Mike just play this on that note” on a lot of the music. I don’t think there was one time on this new album where Joe asked me, or I asked Joe: “Why don’t you try playing this or playing that?” Everybody was really allowed to stretch out and put their input in. Plus playing next to Joe Satriani and Chad Smith… I mean, you can’t help but be inspired, as a musician, to come up with some different ideas, because these guys are amazing musicians in their own right.

Actually, your trademark backing vocals are even more present on this new album than on the first album, or even on any Van Halen album, as a matter of fact. Does this mean that you wanted to further expand your vocal contributions?

I expand it as far I can, but I am sure Samuel won’t let me do any lead vocals! (laughs) He would kick me out of the band! No, I’m just kidding! (laughs) From the first Chickenfoot record, Sammy and I really wanted to explore the backgrounds and bring them a lot more into the front, because in Van Halen it was a real signature sound, vocally. And I think with the new Chickenfoot record, in a lot of the music that was written, in some songs, Samuel sings the lead and you don’t really hear much vocally in the background. Samuel and I sat back and listened to these songs and we were just like: “Oh my gosh! We got so many different places where we can put great backgrounds”, instead of just “oooohs” or “aaaaaaahs” or whatever. And I think, as far as the background parts goes, this is probably the best album I’ve ever been involved with, singing backgrounds. I really love this album for that fact, and this could probably be the best album I have been involved with.

But would you actually be interested in doing some lead vocals?

If the situation came up, yeah! I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I don’t wanna be a lead singer, because you know how lead singers are.

How are they?

They are the loud mouth of the band. I’ve been in bands with lead singers before and I know what they are like, I don’t wanna be one! (laughs) I have fun singing in the background and if that’s where I can really contribute vocally to the band, that’s what I am gonna do. Luckily I can still do it halfway good.

Joe, do you feel more comfortable in the situation you’re in with Chickenfoot than in your solo career, where you’re the sole captain of the ship?

Joe Satriani: (laughs) It’s great to have less responsibility. When you’re producing and writing and playing the main role in a solo record, you have to think of everything: when you’re gonna tell everybody they can break for lunch, what strings you’re using… And of course there’s all that music to think about, and you’ve got to keep your eye on the budget and everything. It’s a lot to juggle. But when I switch to being the guitar player in Chickenfoot, I’m no longer the primary producer, I’m not the lead singer. I’m one of four guys, and it’s very different. I can just kind of be a rock’n’roll lead guitar player. It’s liberating, I gotta say that. That aspect of it makes me excel and feel more relaxed, which is always good. I think anybody in a band situation where they know everyone is contributing all the time can relax. It has a great effect by sort of increasing the creative output, because you don’t feel confined by responsibility. So sometimes, the ideas that come out are a little bit crazier.

« A lot of musicians today can do what they do within their band, but if you put them on a stage with other musicians just to jam, they really can’t do that. »

While the album III comes in a 3D packaging; the first album came in a heat sensitive packaging. Is it important for the band to add these extra features to make a difference?

Michael Anthony: When I grew up I loved having an album in my hand and I could look at and see pictures of the band, whether it was backstage or in the studio or whatever. And it’s like we are trying to bring all that back., but we’re trying to do something a little different and fun for the fans. The way everything is going now, with downloads and whatever, I think it’s really cool to have something in your hand that you can look at. Actually we’re pressing a certain amount of vinyl, too, and the 3D looks really great on the big vinyl, as did the heat thing on the big album cover. It’s just something we all grew up really liking. I really hate to see even CDs go away now. It’s something for the fans to have. Today, you just say: “If you want the booklet from the album, go online to this website and then you can download it”. That’s cool, but I have always enjoyed going to the record store and being able to pick it up and have it in my hand. (laughs) Then I can download it on my computer.

And do you have other ideas of that kind for maybe future albums?

Not right now. There a gentleman by the name of Todd Gallopo, who has worked with Sammy for many years, and he works for us in Chickenfoot on ideas like that. He actually came up with the III idea, and we thought it was a really great idea. We have great people working with us and everybody always got crazy ideas coming out. So I am sure something will happen for the next Chickenfoot record, which probably won’t be called Chickenfoot IV.

Maybe II?

Someday we’ll go back and we’ll do the early albums!

Because Chickenfoot is considered to be a supergroup, people have extremely high expectations and think the music is going to be over the top, while your only ambition seems to make good songs and have fun. Do you think the band is suffering in a certain way from being considered a supergroup?

Joe Satriani: No, I don’t think so. It’s just a term. We don’t use it. I know you use it because you’re a journalist and you have to call it something! (laughs) What else are you gonna call us, you know? By having this word “supergroup”, it’s easier for you to introduce your story to your readers, instead of saying: “This new group comprised of…” And then you’ve got this long sentence describing everybody. That’s all it means, we don’t take it seriously. We’re just a group, that’s all.

Michael Anthony: Yeah, I never really liked that term “super group”. I guess it’s a good term you can attach to guys that get together to maybe do one project, one album and then they shake hands and that’s the end of it. But we formed this band out of friendship, not like “let’s get Chad Smith cause he is in the Red Hot Chili Peppers”, or “Let’s get Joe Satriani”. We all know each other and it was just by chance that we all got together and were able to jam. The magic and the chemistry were such that we really wanted to get in a studio and make music together because we have fun. And the first thing we told each other was we don’t want to put any kind of pressure on ourselves. If the fans have high expectations for the second album, that’s great, that’s the fans. Obviously, as musicians we want to push ourselves, and do the best we can do – I know on this album we did. Because musically, that’s what a musician does, you obviously want to be better every time you put something out. But we really don’t want to feel any kind of pressure from the fans, because that’s not the reason we even started this band. None of us needed the money, we’ve all had fame with the bands that we did and what we’ve done in the past. We purely wanted to do this as four friends having a great time, making music. And luckily, the music that is coming out is great.


Are the stupid band name and the funny videos a way to play down the importance of being four big rock’n’roll stars and to say: “Hey, we’re just a bunch of dudes who just want to have fun”?

Exactly! We leave that to the twenty-four-year-old guys who want to get up there and be the big rock stars! (laughs) I’ve done big things with Van Halen. I’m obviously sad that we didn’t come over and play in Europe more, we probably should have played there a lot more than we ever did as a band. And that’s one thing Chickenfoot is going to do. I wouldn’t be speaking to you right now if we were not going to be back over there. We love playing over in Europe. With everybody’s schedule, this time around unfortunately Chad can’t be with us, but Kenny Aronoff is totally in 100%. The guy is an amazing drummer and we will really be expanding our tour in Europe this coming year.

Joe Satriani: Yeah. I think our fans around the world kinda relate to our sense of humor. It’s our way of letting them know who we really are, so that they don’t buy into any kind of hype. But once again, since it’s a do-it-yourself project, and our respective record labels are really partners, I think we can connect with fans on a much more personal level. We’re inviting them in, to know us as we really are. We’re not using anything false, if you know what I mean.

« I don’t want to go in a studio or out on a tour and not have a fun time. It’s not worth going out purely for the money. »

When watching your live DVD we see how much fun you guys have and how much you guys like to jam, I have been talking with Glenn Hughes from Black Country Communion about how jamming was kind of a lost art nowadays, so is it also your feeling?

Michael Anthony: Yeah, I think it is. By the way, I know Glenn very well. He’s a great bass player. I really admire the stuff he has done, everything from Trapeze to Deep Purple, whatever. He’s a great guy. But yeah, there are still some of us around, like Glenn in Black Country Communion, or Jason Bonham. We all come from the genre of musicians that know how to jam. I was just talking to somebody about this the other day: a lot of musicians today can do what they do within their band, but if you put them on a stage with other musicians just to jam, they really can’t do that. Even if they are great musicians, it’s nothing bad. We grew up in a time where we jammed with a lot of musicians. I enjoy getting up on stage, in a club or whatever, with different people and jam. I really have a lot of fun, and it inspires you to learn different things. Obviously you don’t stagnate that way as a musician. That’s one thing Chickenfoot really wanted to do: we didn’t wanna loose that live jamming feel. When we go in the studio, it’s not like Chad puts his drum part down, and then I play bass, and Joe puts the guitar and so forth. All our basic tracks are done live in the studio as a band. I can play little pieces where there might be a little glitch, or somebody might slip on a note somewhere, or whatever. But the fire happening in the vibes, that’s really the way to capture the music. And with us obviously it spills out on the live shows too, because we love jamming. With our first record we only had barely even an hour worth of material, and we stretched that into a two hours show.

Chad Smith isn’t going to tour with the band because of his commitment with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He doesn’t even appear on the video for “Big Foot”. Do you think he will have to make a choice between both bands, one day?

Joe Satriani: I don’t think so. I think there’s plenty of time for both bands. Nobody wants to stop anybody in the band from doing their other projects. I’m confident we can work out any kind of schedule that we come up against. We’ve done pretty good since 2008; we’ve done a good job juggling Sam’s solo career, my solo career and Chad’s involvement not only in the Chili Peppers but in the Meatbats as well. So yeah, I think it’ll be fine. We knew Chad wasn’t going to be available for this tour a year ago, and he handpicked Kenny Aronoff to sit in the drummer’s chair for this tour. We’re all grown-up musicians now, so we can handle this kind of scheduling problem and keep it in perspective.

It’s quite funny, because just like you Kenny has his head shaved and both of you are wearing black sun glasses in the video. Aren’t you afraid to have people thinking: “What is Joe doing behind the drums?”

(laughs) No, I’m never afraid. By a strange coincidence, Ken has the same sort of look. We’ve had some fun with that. The main thing is that he’s an amazing drummer, and since he’s very close to Chad, they seem to have that same crazy energy as well. As anyone could have seen from our webcast the other night, he fills Chad’s shoes remarkably well, and he brings in some new, unexpected energy into the band, which is great. We’re looking forward to the next year of touring with them.

Having two ex-Van Halen Members in the band, is it hard for the band not to be compared to Van Halen? Actually, does it bother you, Michael, to be compared to Van Halen?

Michael Anthony: I think for the first Chickenfoot record, there were a lot of comparisons. Obviously there are still comparisons with the second record, but that is one of the reasons we don’t play any Van Halen or any Red Hot Chili Peppers on stage. We want our fans to know that this is a band, we are not relying on songs we did in the past with our other respective bands. I think with the second record, we have really niched out our own sound. We talked about maybe doing some Van Halen on this new tour, but we probably won’t, because we are having so much fun playing the Chickenfoot stuff. I think the people that just make the comparison are obviously the Van Halen fans, maybe just the fans that have nothing better to do because they haven’t grown in ten or twelve years! (laughs) The comparisons don’t bother me, because I know in my heart that we are not trying to be like Van Halen. Obviously we can’t help but kind of sound that way, because Sam and I were one half of the band for a long time, but there is really no conscious effort. I don’t know… It doesn’t really bother me. It used to bother me a little bit sometime back, but now it doesn’t bother me at all.

By the way, are you still in contact with the Van Halen brothers?

I actually have not spoken to either or one of them since we finished our tour in 2004. Unfortunately, that tour ended so badly… We should have come over to Europe and played around the world five times, and it didn’t happen. It just obviously wasn’t meant to be… The state that Eddie was in back then… They have moved on and I have obviously moved on.

Do you think somehow they were kind of mad at you because you kept a musical and friendly relationship with Sam? Do you think this is a reason you are not in the band anymore?

It probably has a part to do with it. When I started going out guesting on some of Sammy’s shows, I was looked upon as a traitor. I always thought that it was just great going out and being able to play some of the Van Halen music for the fans. I didn’t see anything wrong with it at all. But at this point of my life and in my career, I want to hang around people that are very up and positive, and I want to have fun making music. That’s an important thing for me now. I don’t want to go in a studio or out on a tour and not have a fun time. It’s not worth going out purely for the money. With Chickenfoot, it’s great, we are all hanging out, we have a great time, and we get to make some money too, so it’s all great!

Do you think Van Halen is here for the money now?

I don’t know. I can only speculate like all the other fans. Obviously not putting out any music… I really don’t know. I really couldn’t say if they are doing it for the money or what.

Actually would Chickenfoot accept to play with Van Halen for a special tour?

As far as I am concerned, we are open for Van Halen any time. And I’m not saying that like I’m challenging them or whatever. But when we go on stage, we do our own thing. Van Halen used to say this too: “We will go on stage and will play with any band. For that hour to two hours, or whatever, the stage is ours”. I have no problem at all doing that.

Interview with Joe Satriani conducted on Thursday, September 29th, 2011 by phone. Transcription by Saff’.
Interview with Michael Anthony conducted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 by phone. Transcription by Lynda et Saff’.

Chickenfoot’s website : www.chickenfoot.us



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