THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS’ new double album ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ is weird. Recorded in a haunted mansion, it has a strange addictive quality and goes to places where maybe it shouldn’t DAVE HENDERSON tripped out with ANTHONY KIEDIS and JOHN FRUSCIANTE in an attempt to reach their cosmic level…
WITH FOUR albums already in the can, The Red Hot Chili Peppers could quite conceivably be considered to have already reached their peak. After all, their mixing of Funk grooves and Metal riffs has inspired a gagging gaggle of impersonators as well as opening the floodgates for all sorts of other sound clashes.
You might even have the Chili Peppers cast as a wacky bunch, willing to take their clothes off at the drop of a zip, tattooed into oblivion and prone to paint themselves with luminous paint. Sure, they’re wild and wacky alright, but they’re even weirder than that.
For their new album, they’ve switched labels to Warner Brothers, according to singer Anthony Kiedis, they felt their former label, EMI-USA weren’t able to promote their new product in the right way and, “we just knew that this album was going to be really something!” he exclaims as he sits in a high-rise hotel room overlooking London’s Hyde Park. He’s in town with guitarist John Frusciante to explain why ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ is such an important record. And, believe me, important it is! This is the kind of album that’ll change how people think about the boundaries of Metal yet again.
“When we made ‘Mother’s Milk’,” continues Kiedis, “John had only been in the band three months. After that we toured and now there’s a distinct chemistry to the four of us. We’re very much in tune with each other.”
And the chemistry between Frusciante, Kiedis, bassist Flea – who’s currently making a film in Canada – and drummer Chad Smith needed a special kind of developing. Enter maestro producer Rick Rubin who’d located a house in Laurel Canyon, California, where the “vibe” was right to record. The place was built in the 1920’s and it’s widely rumoured that The Beatles first took LSD there and Jimi Hendrix also stayed for a while. It’s also haunted.
“Yeah, I heard a female ghost there,” enthuses Frusciante, his eyes staring like he’s still possessed by some kind of demon. “That was the only time I had any sexual experience there. I was sleeping in the hall and I got really turned on by this female ghost who was getting fucked above me, so I jacked off. The rest of the time, all my sexual energy went into my playing.”
And, there’s a lot of sexual energy on the record, a double album, that Funks out -“I think it’s got some of the Funkiest things we’ve ever done on it.” claims Kiedis – but goes several streets further in the way it’s put together. If anything, the Funk tracks are the most ordinary work-outs there as the quartet stray into areas that get close to mystical Eastern mantras, Psychedelia and druggy Folk. Too weird? Well, the overall effect is enhanced by the way the tracks are laid end to end, something that Rubin must take major credit for.
“Rick didn’t interfere with what we were doing too much,” recalls Kiedis, “He just let us get on with it.”
“Yeah, we were there for seven weeks, locked in the place. We didn’t leave the building at all,” continues Frusciante, “it was a very uplifting experience. We became totally in tune with what we were doing. We’d just get up in the morning and play what we felt.”
“Then,” continues Kiedis, “When we had all the material together, Rick edited it together.” The texture of the album is also aided by the instruments and recording limitations. Rubin brought in recording equipment of various varieties, plus a selection of instruments and, because of the sprawling mansion, they were able to record all over the place. From the ballroom to the bedrooms.
“I remember when we started,” Kiedis continues, “We had all these drum experts up there saying you’ll never get a good drum sound here, but they were totally wrong.”
They certainly were, as the essential backbeat on the album is the crispest sound ever, very live and very tight.
“Because we were there,” Kiedis enthuses, “we were able to get different sounds, most of it was played virtually live, but I did some of my vocals in my bedroom and John did some guitar from his room.”
THE WHOLE affair sounds like some kind of weirder-than-life world was created and the Peppers, along with Rubin, soaked up the atmosphere of the building, kind of like a ghost band from another time, turning up behind Jack Nicholson in The Shining. The freedom seems to have effected Frusciante’s attitude on life.
Still wide-eyed, he pontificates about the experience, almost rambling in some kind of trance.
“We wanted to have a place to record, instead of going into a studio where you have someone else’s vibe in there and you have all that aluminium foil from ordering in food, or you have sweaty, greasey secretaries with their ugly vibes. Instead we were just filled with spirits and ghosts and our friends who we love and our creativity and our spirits were free to breathe with our physical presences and our verbal presences having no reason to be acknowledged.”
The end result does have some kind of ritualistic life of its own. The double set lifting the listener into a kind of euphoric enthusiasm, so much more than any of their previous records, in fact so much more than many bands, with the possible exception of Jane’s Addiction. “I really like what Jane’s Addiction do.
“I really like what Jane’s Addiction do,” nods Kiedis, “But there’s no real ritual to our music, it’s just four people coming together and being in harmony.”
“We were able to concentrate without the world intermingling,” continues Frusciante, “This album had no verbal or intellectual goals. We just woke up each morning and played what we felt best to play. There was a lot of pressure around the last album but with this record it was just a cosmic flow. It was just like totally getting in touch with the sky and the sun and the flowers and making music in the same way that a flower grows.”
“We were just in our own dimension. The rest of the world didn’t exist when we were making this record. We were just living in a world of unbridled imagination.”
So, how do you think people are going to relate to the record? Obviously they’re not in that kind of environment, they’re out there in the real world with whatever pressures they have. Will they be able to relate to the album?
“That’s not my business, how someone relates to it. It’s just there for them to grow into, however they want to fit. I would recommend that people listen to it as colour, they same way that they would soak up a flower. Some people are incapable of soaking up a flower, those people might have a hard time soaking up the record. But, there are freaks out there who need this music, where it’s just as important to their life blood as their every breath.”
IT’S ALMOST like the recording of ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ has had some kind of lasting effect on the group, especially Frusciante who, inspired by a book on Dada art, has taken up painting -of what he’s not very forthcoming, but to say it’s probably abstract won’t be too far from the truth – and openly admits that returning to the real world after seven weeks in the house, then a fortnight in the jungles of Costa Rica, was something of a shock.
“I could have killed the stewardess on the plane,” Frusciante admits, almost disturbed by an incident where she asked him to stow his baggage. “It really freaked me out. A lot of things really freak me out but I just go into my house and paint, play my guitar and listen to my Velvet Underground albums.”
Frusciante claims that the only way that he can survive is to blot out bad things, to pay more attention to his dreams, to become unimportant, to be invisible, almost like opting out of society. It seems that he doesn’t want to be part of the world, quite content to stay in his own world. By contrast. Kiedis is more realistic about events and about taking the album on the road. a task that isn’t going to be easy. So, how will it work live?
“Well. I’ve got to admit that that’s a mystery to me as we haven’t done it yet,” Kiedis muses as he tugs on his cigarette, “But I think it will be really good because we’ve still got the same enthusiasm about playing every show as if it’s our last.”
“We plan to put as much energy into the live shows as we did into making the record.” concludes Frusciante.
The Chili Peppers way of working certainly has its own individual method but what will people get out of the record at the end of the day?
“What people will get out of it is up to them,” Kiedis continues, “But, what they’ll hear is that it’s four human beings playing music, it’s not based on technology or anything like that. You can hear the guitar strings, you can hear the blood hitting the guitar string and you can hear the spirit of the house we recorded it in.”
Beyond that, there certainly is some kind of addictive nature to the album. Having played it continually for a month, ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ is one of those seemless sets that you can dip into at any point and let wash over your whole day. Why is it so addictive? John?
“These are the kind of things that you just can’t explain… There’s a lot of love gone into that record. If it’s breathing life into people’s lives and it’s giving them somewhere else to live apart from their job, making ends meet, or whatever, then that’s very good!”
The next train to haunted Chiliville leaves in ten minutes… don’t miss it!