Onward and Upward
An obvious and endearing quality of The Red Hot Chili Peppers is that they do not hide their light under a bushel.
Neither, for that matter do they hide it under a bush.
A conversation with the men who have taken the concept of full frontal rock ‘n’ roll to its literal and logical conclusion is peppered with a machine gun spray of self-laudatory adjectives – when it comes to their music and their relationship with music.
Their music is evidently a beautiful, divine and sacred thing, and the best part about it is they sound sincere.
And while they regard their music as a spiritual affair, they patently devote a large portion of their fervour to worshipping at the temple of the body.
HALF OF the band who have pioneered the transplant of the sports sock from the basketball court to the boudoir sit before me.
Bassist Flea wears a Hendrix T-shirt and a Dodgers cap perched atop hair which resembles the tumbleweed that always blew across the landscape in The High Chaparral.
Singer Antwan’s straight long hair frames cheekbones from hell, and if I had pecs like that I’d understand the logic of conducting my interviews topless. Should anyone ever cast a middleweight version of Rocky, Antwan’s your name.
The guys respond politely, talk fast and to the point. Their almost stock answers doubtless honed by the barnstorming promotional tours of college radio stations- essential to the elevation of ‘Mother’s Milk’ to the number one slot in the US PoMo charts (Post Modern basically equating with Peel and Janice Long’s old show).
It is with this composed manner that they deal with the issue of the drug-related death, in June 1988, of guitarist Hillel Slovak.
Antwan: “We’ll never really get over it. I mean, when you lose somebody as beautiful and wonderful and sensitive and amazing as Hillel, someone you’ve grown up with, you’ll never get over his memory.”
“He was such an important part of our lives that he continues to live on through us, in a sense. For one thing, musically speaking, he was fundamental in the creation of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Without him the direction of the band would never have been quite like it is.”
Flea: “Different people deal with things like that in different ways. One thing I know is we miss him really badly. It was a loss of someone we loved dearly and shared many hours, days, months and years of happiness and learning and growing up together with, and now he’s gone. His spirit lives on in The Red Hot Chili Peppers and always will.”
WHILE UNDERSTANDABLE it is, nonetheless, curious to hear two members of a band with a self-promoted wild image and reputation got recklessness shackles by an emotional response to the harshest of realities.
What effect has Hillel’s passing had on their outlook?
Antwan: “Anytime something this sad happens in your life, you’re bound to learn from it. It’s certainly changed my own approach to drugs and alcohol- not that I didn’t want to change that anyway. That was just part of a change in my life.
“I think we’re still completely reckless but not necessarily set for self-destruction.”
Maybe you’re more grown up?
“I don’t know about that, because we’re still a bunch of knuckleheads. But the whole self-destruction aspect of my life diminished severely when I realised it was no longer a positive influence in my life.”
Do you feel a responsibility towards your fans?
“More than anything. I think it’s a responsibility to be true to ourselves and, in doing so, hopefully we’ll have a positive effect on the world.
“I don’t see that we have to be role models. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have evolved around a nucleus of positive thinking. It’s not so much a responsibility as a natural reality.”
Flea: “It’s very important not to let everyday things interfere with the important things in life, which are love and friendship.”
On this note, Antwan launches into a few of his own, screeching out Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Let love Rule’ (“love him/dig his new record/amazing rocking voice/he’s a wild man!”).
The death of Slovak and the subsequent departure of drummer Jack Irons for personal reasons, led to the introduction of a new guitarist, John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith.
Antwan: “Since half of the band has changed, it’s obvious that there would be changes in direction and overall approach of the band. The two new guys came in knowing what we were all about, and they injected their own experiences and feelings.
“The Red Hot Chili Peppers is a band of equal opportunity. Each person is as important as the next. We’re ecstatic with the outcome. It’s worked out miraculously.”
Flea: “Right now, I think creatively we’re better than ever. We’re really strong and powerful. There’s a serious spark in this band right now. It’s a beautiful thing. We are more creatively fluent that we’ve ever been, and I think that our next record is going to be something else.”
But what of the present? The current album. ‘Mother’s Milk’, has sold almost half a million in the States?
Antwan: “It’s wonderful! That’s the reason why we’re doing this, to infiltrate the minds of the beings on this planet. We want to reach people and think we’ve got something very unique to offer.
“It’s taken years of hard work and touring to create the foundations, plus the fact that we made an outstanding record which has received a lot of recognition. It comes as a harsh slap in the face to come to Europe and find ourselves at the level we’ve always been here, playing at relatively small places (if you call 1,500 capacities small).”
THE CURRENT single, taken from ‘Mother’s Milk’, is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’- a perilous venture, but the men have emerged from the fray with considerable honour.
Why tackle it in the first place?
Antwan: “Well, first of all, Stevie Wonder is deeply loved by everybody in the band. He’s a musical god. His music has so much emotion, which is what we try to convey in our music, so it was natural for us to cover it.
“Flea has been wanting to do it for about three years now, but I was a little apprehensive about doing justice to the vocal. But, fortunately, it turned out real nice. We had about 20 people singing the chorus, friends we invited down to the studio for a party.
“It also made sense to do a song of that spiritual nature at this time in our lives. It leads us to the higher ground that he’s talking about, raising the level of consciousness to a higher plane.”
Flea: “Also, I met Stevie Wonder and asked if we could do the song, and he said, No way, I’ll never let you idiots do that. So I punched him out.”
I think this is called humour. And if their dicks don’t fall off in the meantime (“I love to f***, I f*** to love,” avers Antwan), they may yet see their hard-won following extend into Europe.
Flea: “We’re not ashamed of anything. We’re comedians as well as serious musicians. We’ll do anything in the name of entertainment.”
Socks on cocks? Well, I guess Ladies and Gentleman, that is entertainment.