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July - 2009 If you ever find yourself in the same room as Chickenfoot (Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith), the first thing you’ll notice is how much these guys love just hanging out together. It’s a virtually endless stream of wisecracks, in jokes, and obscure musical references. The second thing you’ll notice is how much they love talking about making music together. In a lot of ways, it’s like your first band in high school, when the excitement of just getting together to play would override everything else. It’s refreshing to see that a band composed of musician’s who’ve pretty much done it all and seen such great success with other projects can still be so incredibly enthusiastic about playing and making music together. In fact, that collaborative spirit may well be the key to the music they make.
We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Chickenfoot at Guitar Center Seattle on the day of their first full-blown live show. They set the mood for the interview by playing an impromptu version of Thelonious Monster’s "Sammy Hagar Weekend". Between drummer jokes, Chad Smith’s enthusiastic attempts at flamenco guitar, and frequent reverent nods to 1930’s tenor banjo virtuoso Wilbert Peske, we discussed band life, the creative process, and the excitement of playing live.
Guitar Center: "So what's it like to have the experience of starting a new band at this point?"
Sammy Hagar: "It's fun. It's always fun. We've been trying to get together for over a year. We've just been kind of waiting for everyone's schedules to come together."
GC: "Is it like starting over, kind of going back to square one, in a way?"
SH: "It's like as quick as we did the album, in a way. We recorded really fast, wrote really fast 'cause everyone just clicked. But other than that, we just can't stop goofing off. It's like we kind of just goof off and then all of a sudden it's like…"
Chad Smith: "No, we're very serious."
SH: "We got a gig. Like tonight, our first show and we're just goofing off here all day. But when we play it seems like it's serious and whenever we're not playing…"
Michael Anthony: "So now it's going to be serious?"
SH: "Yeah, when we play. It has to be. It's real music. But it's true. It's like if you see us hanging out together, you think, well these guys can't be serious, you know. But when we make music it seems to be good, so it's kind of a special gift between us."
It’s obvious from the band’s presence on YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace and other internet venues that somebody’s been paying attention to the Web 2.0/interactive marketing world. From a website with easy access to music and tour info to daily updates on the social network sites, there’s not a lot that happens with these guys that doesn’t hit the information highway pretty quickly. But despite it all, they seem to stay focused on the most important thing – doing a great live show. We started off by asking them about how they use new media to promote the band.
CS: "The interweb."
SH: "Twitter? [to Satriani] That's your favorite. That's how you got in the band. Twittered your way into this band."
MA: "Joe's plugged in."
GC: "How do you see that all playing into your strategy as a new band at this point?"
Joe Satriani: "Use everything. You just want to cast the largest net you can. That's what you want. … You use whatever you can to send the message out to bring people in."
GC: "With the prevalence of music downloading, do you think the music industry is heading back to focusing on singles, like it used to be, rather than such a strong focus on albums?"
SH: "Live shows. It's heading back to live shows. We made a recording so that we can go out and play live, and however the people decide they want to get that recording is fine with me. They can buy it, steal it, you know, trade it. I don't care."
MA: "Probably buy it."
SH: "I don't care. I'm here for the live shows. That’s why we all started playing in the first place, you know, to play live."
Every band approaches the writing process differently. Sometimes a band is a vehicle for a single writer’s vision. Other times it’s a collaborative venture, and working within each other’s creative process can be a challenge. Since both Satriani and Hagar are accomplished, experienced songwriters as individual artists, we were curious about what kind of creative dynamic they’ve developed in writing for Chickenfoot.
GC: "What's the writing process like for you as a band? Has it changed the way you think about putting a song together?"
JS: "It's great to write for a band. I mean it's fantastic. I'm really trying to inspire and I'm leaving huge chunks up to the moment when everybody hears it first that Mike, Chad and Sam are going to say, I've got an idea. Let's go in 180 degrees this way. Sam will say something like I got the story in my head. I know exactly what the songs going to be about. And that's very exciting. That's different from having to sort of mastermind the whole thing and never having lyrics to work with… It's essential to take advantage of the chemistry."
SH: "You know, the main thing about the musicianship of this band – everyone's great on their instrument, but the magic here is that we all play really well together and we get along musically so well. Everything somebody [comes up with] in this band, we're like, yeah, yeah, yeah - and the whole thing gets higher and the whole is better than the sum of its parts and that's a fact in this band. Instantaneous creativity.
"It’s kind of like Joe would always come with this musical idea and have like four or five ideas on the table. We'd all go, "We like one and three." Then we'd get together and work it up and I'd have to write lyrics. It's great to have a guy like Joe who just has a well of ideas, you know. I mean you get visuals from that music. It's that inspiring and that emotional that when I listen to it. Like Avenida de la Revolucion, – I see people trying to cross the border and get eaten by dogs, you know, whatever. - getting shot by policeman. So when you've got something like that, you're going, ‘Come on, Joe. You need to go on vacation or something. Get some more ideas.’
"But towards the end of making the CD, when we all got in the studio every day, then we started writing together a little bit. We wrote three songs, I think, that just actually came from nothing – out of the ether. That was exciting. I think I could see us exploring more of that. "
It’s no surprise that such individually accomplished musicians can make great music together, or that this particular combination of players can make a live show an experience that you’ll carry with you for a long time. What’s most surprising is how much of a band these guys are and how much they look forward to just getting on stage with each other and cutting loose. After all the success they’ve had and giant tours they’ve played, that the members of Chickenfoot are still having so much just plain fun playing music together should be an inspiration to all of the musicians still struggling in the trenches. It’s a reminder that all of this is supposed to be fun. And that’s something that Chickenfoot is certainly doing.
Or, as Chad Smith said; "You can't take it too serious. Guys that take themselves too serious, it's boring, you know? Rock and roll's supposed to be fun and taking chances and that's what we're doing. We're taking chances and we're having fun."