Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘By The Way’ Due in July from Warner
By Jill Kipnis
LOS ANGELES- Singer Anthony Kiedis experienced the full range of a relationship’s emotions while crafting the Red Hot CHili peppers’ latest Warner Bros. album By The Way, due in stores July 9. He took inspiration from love’s immeasurable joys and also from its knotty pitfalls, and in the process, came together with his band mates to create a compelling follow-up to the group’s best selling album Californication.
Kiedis says that it was the “energy of relationships and being in love and the overwhelming feeling of ‘everything is OK because I’m with this person, and my heart is pounding and my blood is flowing and I feel this huge connection'” that first came through while writing for the project.
“There are a lot of sort of full-circles in this record because as I was writing, I was with the girl I’ve been with for the last three years. I felt such huge waves of euphoria and elation toward her,” he says. “While we were recording the record, we broke up. It wasn’t a ‘confused, what’s going on, tragedy’ break-up. It was kind of a ‘it’s time to go on a new path’ break-up. We both wanted slightly different things out of life. I never fell out of love with her. We’re just not together. So then I had the inspiration of that kind of pain and enlightenment of detaching from something that I couldn’t imagine being without a few months before. Both were equally inspiring, and I got the entire spectrum in the making of this record.”
The album—also conceived by guitarist John Frusciante, bassist Flea, and drummer Chad Smith—does indeed come across as
exuberant at times, while at others, it explores the murkiness of human nature. And it often combines the two feelings within a single track, creating an interesting lyrical and pop/rock musical dichotomy.
Case in point is the album’s title track and first single, which features an atypical melodic chorus and hard-driving verse. The song, which Kiedis describes as “meant to paint a picture of any given night in Los Angeles,” stands out as both funky and poppy.
“That’s one of the things you go for when you write songs,” Frusciante explains. “I noticed that songs that I thought were good had a verse that completely offsets the chorus, and they contradict each other in some way that balances one another. When that difference has a certain type of mathematical exactness to it, it ends up being good.”
While the single isn’t specifically about love or relationships, those are the themes that truly predominate. On “Dosed,” for example, Kiedis talks about the beauty of his girlfriend, but also about “this other story happening at the same time, which is about a death, a murder. It’s about loving someone so much that you actually kill them, even though I’ve never had a murderous instinct in me. I read a lot of really wonderful detective novels. Dashiel Hammett. Raymond Chandler. Those kinds of ideas were lodged in my subconscious when it came to death plots and people killing people that they love. The verses are kind of strictly about relationships. Then the chorus, even though I don’t say it specifically, it’s about killing someone you love.”
There are several tunes that look at the carefree side of romance, such as “Universally Speaking,” which combines a some-what 1950s sound with 1970s psychedelia and features an instantly hummable, feel-good chorus. Similarly, “The Zephr Song,” containing poppy background vocals, is about flying away on a plane with a lover to escape a confining world.
One of the album’s standout tracks is the expressive, melodic ballad “I Could Die for You.” Frusciante says the track is “one as a guitar player I am really proud of. It’s got a lot of interesting chords in it from a musical standpoint. On top of that, the lyrics just blow my mind.”
What also played into the album, both lyrically and musically, were the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania, which occurred while the band was recording the project “It actually turned into a very positive thing,” Kiedis says of the events. “For a couple of days, we stopped rehearsing. Then John started feeling antsy. He was like, ‘We have to make music. This is what we do, and this is how we make the world a beautiful place.’
“We started focusing on the infinite beauty in joy and love and nature,” he continues. “The darkness just seems like it’s put here for us to learn. It is almost like the dark is a creation of the light. Instead of feeling like it was the end of the world and the end of joy, it seemed like just a small and sad episode in a much more infinite and beautiful picture.”
Components of this idea are teased on a number of tracks, including “Don’t Forget Me.” The slow, dark song, with its intriguing guitar introduction, is perhaps the most reminiscent of the band’s earlier punk-oriented sound and deals with the issue of personal spirituality.
Most of the tracks, which are published by Moebetoblame Music, came to fruition in jam sessions, which later led to the lyrics written by Kiedis. “When we were writing the songs, we kind of improvised a lot,” Smith notes. “That’s how a lot of our music happens. There’s a lot of bouncing ideas off each other. There is this synergy, and there is this musical telepathy that we have from playing together so long. The cool thing about our group is no matter what kind of style, whether it’s fast or slow or hard or soft, it always sounds like us. I’m really proud of that.”
Likewise, Frusciante explains that while each Red Hot Chili Pepper has a completely different personality, the group is able to gel musically. “Not one of us has that much to do with each other in a lot of ways,” he says. “But we get along absolutely perfectly. When I write a piece of music and then I hear (Kiedis) doing something over it, when I come back with another piece of music, it’s going to be from someplace even deeper. He’s singing lyrics that are so personal and heartfelt, and it’s inspiring to me. You want to give him something completely heartfelt.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers are anxious to perform this new material live and are preparing for an extensive world tour this fall covering Europe. South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, with domestic stops beginning early next year. The tour will be booked by Don Muller of the LA-based Creative Artists Agency, and the group is man-aged by Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch of New York-based Q Prime.
Putting on strong, entertaining shows is the group’s main goal right now, and thoughts of having to live up to the phenomenal success of their previous project, 1999’s Califomication, have barely registered at all. Califomication, which sold 4.9 million units, according to Nielsen Sound-Scan, and reached No. 3 on The Billboard 200, spawned the No. 1 Modern Rock Tracks hits “Scar Tissue” (which held that position or 16 weeks), “Otherside” (No. 1 for 13 weeks), and “Califomication.”
“You can’t expend energy on that. It’s out of your hands,” Smith says. “Who would have thought that our last record would be our biggest record ever? We’ve been around for 18,19 years. I feel like were just kind of hitting our stride, so to speak. Having John in the group again, we’re at the point in our lives where we appreciate the second chance to have these four guys together. It’s an exciting time for us.”
Through the years, Red Hot Chili Peppers have gone through a number of lineup changes. The band initially formed in 1983, with Kiedis, Flea (then known by his given name, Michael Balzary), guitarist Hillel Slovak, and drummer Jack Irons. The L.A.-based Peppers made a name for themselves with their unique melding of funk and punk rock and for their onstage antics, which included wearing nothing but strategically placed tube socks.
Slovak and Irons briefly left the group prior to the release of its eponymous debut on EMI in 1984 but returned to make the EMI projects Freaky Styley (1985) and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987). Slovak died from a heroin over-dose in 1988, prompting Irons to permanently exit the group. After Kiedis and Flea tested a lineup with guitarist Blackbird McKnight and drummer D.H. Peligro, Frusciante and Smith joined the band in 1989, when Mother’s Milk (EMI), its first gold album, was released.
The foursome also recorded the group’s 1991 break-out project Blood Sugar Sex Magik for Warner Bros., which sold 4.3 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. While Blood Sugar Sex Magik was a largely raw and stripped-down album musically, the group got its first taste of mainstream attention with the crossover success of the album’s single “Under the Bridge,” a No. 2 hit on The Billboard Hot 100.
Frusciante soon left the group as the result of a drug problem and was replaced by Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro for 1995’s One Hot Minute (Warner Bros.). The guitarist released three solo projects-1995’s Niandra Ladies and Usually Just a T-Shirt (American), 1997’s Smile From the Streets You Hold (Birdman), and 2001’s To Record Only Water for 10 Days (Warner Bros.)—during the time that Navarro worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers.
One Hot Minute did not generate as much sales success (1.7 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan), and Navarro had difficulty fitting in with the group. Eventually, Frusciante rejoined in time to record Californication, a far more pop-oriented album than any the band had previously recorded. Frusciante says he still plans to continue working on side projects, including music for an upcoming Vincent Gallo film.
Now, on the heels of its best-selling album and with a steady lineup, Warner Bros. is setting up a varied marketing campaign for the new project that will include strong radio, retail, online, and TV components. The company’s senior VP of product management, Peter Standish, says that the plan will begin with the May 28 roll-out of “By the Way” to alternative, rock, and triple-A radio.
Atlanta modern rock station WNNX PD Leslie Fram is looking forward to a new single from the band. “Califomication was a big record for us,” she says. “If you look at the tracking, it really shows they are a core band. We still play all of those tracks, so this new record is highly anticipated by our listeners.”
Additionally, Warner Bros. will be working on campaigns with major retail chains nationwide. The Troy, Mich.-based Harmony House’s senior music buyer, David Levesque, says that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are “one of those bands that the fans buy automatically and will spread the word to those that might not otherwise buy it in the first week of release. I anticipate a good reaction.”
Similarly, Storm Gloor, director of music for the Amarillo, Texas-based Hastings chain, says that “people in our stores have been asking about the album. People are anticipating it, definitely. I think people are hungry for this type of music.”
Standish says that in June, the band will be ADCs artist of the month. He also reports that Warner Bros. will be working closely with both MTV and VH1 to help set up the album. MTV2 will promote the album the weekend prior to street date, while VH1 will re-air an updated Behind the Music show about the band.
For Kiedis and the rest of the band members, By the Way was just another chance to continue to explore new musical territory. “There’s no need for us to play anything we already played,” he says.”‘ think we innately and intuitively know that. When we go to play, we just keep going forward. Like feeling that you don’t want to backtrack when you’re driving somewhere, even if you forgot your keys. It’s like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just keep going straight, and we’ll find a way to get in when we get there.'”
Additional reporting by Margo Whitmire in Los Angeles