Many thanks to Hamish at RHCP Sessions for these scans.
Stand-Up Or Stand-In? Warner Bros. Records’ scorching new signing, Red Hot Chili Peppers, is about to ship its label debut, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” Pictured at the signing, standing from left, are attorney Eric Greenspan; Ray Harris, senior VP/ black music; Benny Medna, VP/black music A&R; producer Rick Rubin; Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony IGedis; a cardboard stand-up of Warner Bros. chairman Mo Ostin (who was unable to attend); group member Chad Smith; Michael Ostin, senior VP/A&R; Carl Scott, senior VP/artist relations; group manager Lindy Goetz; Davis Altschul, senior VP/business affairs; and, kneeling, Chili Peppers members John Frusciante and Flea.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Magik’ Touch
Warner Gives Wide Rein In Making Album
? BY CHRIS MORRIS
LOS ANGELES—Warner Bros. Records, pursuing the artist-development philosophy that has helped generate big sales for such alter-native acts as WEAL, Faith No More, and Jane’s Addiction, has taken a free-swinging approach to its first album with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the pioneering funk’n’roll band.
Although the group, a fixture of the Los Angeles rock scene for close to a decade, cracked only the gold-record barrier with its last EMI release, Warner Bros. has extended a laissez-faire hand to the Chili Peppers in the making of its Warner debut “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” due out Tuesday (24).
The hand cut the album this summer in a sprawling mansion in Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon, where band members resided during the cessions. Producer Rick Ruler installed a 24-track console on the premises, and Warner executives were encouraged to drop in and witness this somewhat quixotic style of record-making first-hand.
The unusual recording setup is being exploited as a major component of the marketing campaign for the album “Funky Monks,” an hourlong documentary film about the house-bound sessions for the album, will be screened at major-market release parties, and the movie will also be issued as a sell-through home video in October.
Shot in black-and-white at a cost of $60,000 by Gavin Bowden, brother-in-law of Chili Peppers bassist Flea, the film was originally conceived of as a video press kit, but Warner Bros. ultimately decided to put it to both internal and commercial use.
Neither Rubin nor Warner Bros. president Lonny Waronker will dis-uss actual dollar figures for the coat of renting the Laurel Canyon house and recording there, but both downplay the expense.
“In the big picture, it may be less expensive than staying in the studio for months,’ Waronker says “This was a way they could work at any time, and control the environment. I don’t think it was all that costly.”
Overall, however, Warner Bros. is clearly paying a considerable amount for a group that has had only one gold record. Although Waronker will not say how much the label is forking over, Epic had previously offered the Chili Peppers $5.7 million for three albums, according to one source, and lead singer Anthony Kiedis says that “at the very last minute, it just dawned on us that it might be worth taking a little less money to go with a West Coast company that we really believed in.”
Why was Warner Bros. so eager to sign a band whose career has not thus far translated into big sales numbers’ “I think the reason we signed them.” says Waronker, “outside of your normal record company greed.
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WARNER BROS. BANKING ON ‘MAGIK’ FROM CHILI PEPPERS’ SET RECORDED IN A LAUREL CANYON MANSION
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really has to do with the future—the future in terms of a band that really has a musical point of view and a tremendous amount of strength that has reached a certain level. You can just tell they have all the intangibles.
“We all want the success factor, in terms of commerciality, but the other thing with long-term careers has to do with credibility and the aesthetic of what a band is up to. When you have both those things going for you, I think those are the best bets you can have.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have long been recognized as trailblazers of the now highly commercial fusion of funk and rock’n’roll. As Warner VP of product management Steve Baker says, “Not unlike the Velvet Underground, they’ve inspired a lot of other bands.”
Aspects of the Chili Peppers’ sound can be heard in any number of current label acts that followed them, including Faith No More, Living Colour, Urban Dance Squad, Fishbone, Jesus Jones, Primus, and Follow For Now. But Waronker says that the signing of the Chili Peppers is not merely trend-mongering.
“If there’s a trend, there’s a trend, but it wasn’t about that,” Waronker says. “I think there’s a danger in trying to jump on what appears to be a musical trend. That might be a little snotty on my part, but it never works for me. I think the thing that interested us the most was that there’s a vibe about those guys. Musically, they’re messing around in a neat area, if that’s what you’re saying about funk-rock.”
The Chili Peppers survived four different lineups and the 1988 death of guitarist Hillel Slovak by a drug overdose, finally tallying a hit with their fourth EMI album, “Mother’s Milk;” in 1989. The record, powered by a heavily played video of the band’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” has sold more than 650,000 units to date.
However, the group members, while hesitant to condemn their former label, claim that EMI “misunderstood” the Chili Peppers. According to manager Lindy Goetz, the group was heavily courted by Virgin, Geffen, MCA, Epic, and other majors after the success of “Mother’s Milk.” It initially decided to go with Epic, but ultimately switched its allegiance to Warner Bros.
“We all got a call from [Warner Bros. chairman] Mo Ostin after we had definitely decided to go with Epic,” says Flea, “and he called all of us to tell us, ‘Congratulations and good luck with your career, and we’re sad you didn’t go with us, but I wish you the best.’ That was a real sign of a class act, a gentleman, just a good guy.”
Says Waronker, “They liked Mo very much. They made a decision that they ended up regretting and came back, and I think that the main reason was Mo. They had a very good feeling about him … There were a lot of people involved, but it was really their feelings about him that did it.”
The group chose Rubin to produce its Warner debut due to his eclectic credits, which include metal bands Slayer and Danzig as well shock-rappers the Geto Boys. Kiedis says he decided that Rubin might be the man to harness the Chili Pepper? sound, which incorporates elements from hard rock, rap, and funk. “Our sound has so many diverse elements to it, [and] I just realized he could probably comprehend and put all of those elements into a cohesive format,” the singer says.
According to Rubin, it was his inspiration to take the Chili Peppers’ album sessions out of the studio. “It was my idea to get the house, to record there,” Rubin says. “The guys just decided they didn’t want to leave.”
Kiedis, Flea, and guitarist John Frusciante lived in the rambling Laurel Canyon house, which the band maintains is haunted by the spirit of a former occupant, throughout the eight weeks of sessions. Only drummer Chad Smith demurred, because, according to Kiedis, “Chad feared the wrath of the ghost and so he never moved in. He’s got a Midwestern fear of spirits.”
“Recording in this place is infinitely superior to recording in a re-cording studio,” Flea says. “There’s no one here except who we want here, just the people who are working on the record and the people we love. That’s it. It makes for a creatively fertile situation.”
Rubin, who moved old Neve and Soundcraft consoles into the house’s former library to record the album, made thorough use of the mansion, recording 25 tracks (17 of which appear on “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”) in various rooms inside—and, in one case, on the lawn out-side—the house.
“I recorded all the lead vocals from my bedroom,” Kiedis says. “John recorded acoustic guitar tracks from his bedroom. We recorded a Robert Johnson song called ‘They’re Red Hot’ from up on top of the hill behind the house. All of the amplifiers for the bass and guitars were in the basement and they were miked down there. We had two different drum rooms. We had an intercom system. In the foyer, where you come in, we had an incredible percussion hoedown—trash cans and hubcaps.”
The Laurel Canyon site still reflected the creative chaos of recording when Warner Bros. executives, including Baker, senior VP of creative services Jeff Gold, and VP of merchandising and advertising Jim Wagner, paid a visit in late June to hear tracks from the album.
Santeria candles flickered in nearly every room. The foyer was stacked with crumpled pieces of sheet metal used as percussion instruments on the track “Breaking The Girl.” The, dining room, which doubled as the main recording area, was crowded with Marshall amps, a baby grand Yamaha piano, and Frusciante’s instrument collection, which included a lap steel, an electric sitar, and a mandolin.
The experience of recording in the house seems to have inspired a new diversity in the Chili Peppers’ music. Beyond the band’s trade-mark hard funk-rock, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” includes the crazed country blues of “They’re Red Hot,” the graceful, waltz:time “Breaking The Girl,” the acoustic-based ballad “I Could Have Lied,” Kiedis’ confessional “Under The Bridge” (which features back-ground vocals by Frusciante’s mother and two members of her church choir), and the almost Led Zeppelin-like hard rocker “The Greeting Song.”
The film that sprang from the unusual recording setup is a key to Warner’s marketing plan for the album. Regional marketing managers are screening “Funky Monks” for retail accounts, and sales VP Charlie Springer has set up pizza-party’ screenings at various branch offices. Keyed to the album release, Warner’s alternative marketing and promotion departments have set radio screenings with top commercial stations at local clubs in 13 major markets.
“Funky Monks” also will be is-sued by Warner Reprise Video on Oct. 29, priced at $19.98. “Besides being a neat promotional tool, it’s also going, to be on sale—it’s that good,” Baker says.
Manager Goetz says the band will embark on a U.S. tour Oct. 16, culminating with a New Year’s Eve date at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. A month of European shows will follow, then American concerts will continue from mid-February through the summer. The manager expects that dates will begin at the 3,000-5,000-seat level, and will move into sheds by next summer.
“We’ll be working this album for a good solid year,” Goetz says.