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Joe Satriani writes a lot of riffs. Some become songs, a few even become stone-cold classics, but the majority of them get tucked away, hoping for their day in the sun. Late last year, the guitarist came up with a twisty, hooky chord pattern that sounded so unbelievably right to him, and it happened so spontaneously, that he knew it couldn't be contained.
"All at once, the riff just consumed me," Satriani says. "I played it over and over again. I wanted to play it 100 times a day. It felt good, it sounded good, it looked good on the guitar – all the things you want a riff to be. I had visceral, spiritual and intellectual reactions to it all at the same time."
As soon as Satriani completed sketching out the rest of the song, a simple yet bold phrase entered his thoughts that seemed to express everything he was feeling: unstoppable momentum. "The words fit the song, but then I realized that they meant so much more," he says. "They applied to the rest of the album, the album that was going to be. Forward motion, unlimited potential – that kind of vibe just carries you away."
The 11 songs that appear on Unstoppable Momentum, culled from upwards of 60 musical ideas in various forms of completion, cover considerable, and even surprising, sonic and emotional ground. More so than ever before, however, a pronounced, sustained feeling of buoyancy informs the set, even on songs that are dead serious.
"I had to be brave enough to be lighthearted," Satriani notes. "But how do you do that and still be heavy? The Beatles did it. Lennon and McCartney were so good at that. Beck is the same way. Some artists have a way of being entertaining while dropping something heavy on you. They make the weight available to you, and if you want to find it, it’s there. Exploring that is pretty interesting."
Earlier this year, Satriani returned to one of his favorite studios, Skywalker Sound in Lucas Valley, California, to record the new album. With him were a couple of trusted colleagues from past projects, co-producer and engineer Mike Fraser and versatile keyboardist Mike Keneally, along with a couple of wild cards: Jane's Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and drumming icon Vinnie Colaiuta.
Despite the players’ impeccable credentials and acclaim – this is especially true for Colaiuta, the recipient of hosannas and huzzahs from every drummer on the planet – Satriani admits that he had no idea how the whole thing would pan out. "It’s always a guessing game," he says. "What makes a band work well together can be a real mystery. But you just have to trust a feeling that everybody is going to play off of one another, and it's going to click."
Not only was Satriani elated at the musicians' chemistry with one another, but he was particularly struck by their response to his material. "Everybody was approaching the songs in very inspiring and interesting ways," he recalls, "which let me settle back and not have to tell people what to play. Every time we did a take, everybody would play something different, and I would say, ‘Wow, that was really great!’ Seeing them so inspired rubbed off on me, and I became more excited as we went along."
Unstoppable Momentum will be released on 7 May. You can pre-order the album at this link. On the following pages, Satriani talks in-depth about the writing and recording of all 11 tracks.