Classic Rock June 2006
Back with a double album that was nearly a triple, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with what they think is the album of their career. Classic Rock collared bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and vocalist, Anthony Kiedis and heard how they’re glam, funk, punk, psychedelia, grunge and goth all rolled into one… WORDS: JURGEN BECKERS
As unbelievable as it might sound, considering their well-documented trials and tribulations, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are about to release their ninth studio album. It’s a double, it’s called Stadium Arcadium, and the band are rightfully proud of it. The Chilis’ 23-year journey has been a long, strange trip…
Tell us something about the video for Dani California, the first single from the new album.
We’re playing different characters from rock’n’roll history. Ten each. A lot of make-up and wigs. It gave me the chance to be Bootsy Collins and Sid Vicious. We mainly did eras, not actual people: rockabilly, British invasion, 60s psychedelica, glam, funk, punk, goth, hair metal, grunge, and ourselves being the sum of an those parts.
Do you think Red Hot Chili Peppers has become a genre in itself?
We’ve always lived outside of genres. That’s the way I think about music. Obviously there are genres, but I never look at music in that way. When I got into punk rock, I didn’t stop loving Led Zeppelin. To me, good music is good music.
If there hadn’t been people who hated Zeppelin, there wouldn’t have been punk rock.
I know. And punk rock was a beautiful reaction. Led Zeppelin were definitely out of touch, without a doubt. And punk rock was all about getting in touch with people again, in touch with what people where feeling and thinking. But as a musician, punk rock is not gonna make me disrespect Jimmy Page’s orchestrations, his brilliant sense of timing, texture and colour. On the other hand, I was at the punk rock show slamming my head against the wall. I get that too. At the same time, I still love Charlie Parker.
The Chili Peppers have never been part of any group. At the beginning of our career there was punk rock, then it was new wave, techno, hip-hop, grunge, goth… It’s all music. And as far as those genres were representing youth culture, they’re all part of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Even hair metal?
[Laughs] That’s the odd one out. There’s not one hair metal band that I like. With the exception of Guns N’ Roses. They had some good songs. There were all these weird bands and I didn’t like any of ’em, and then came Guns N’ Roses who had a good groove. They played it down and dirty.
What happened to Guns N’ Roses that didn’t happen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
[Laughs] Axl Rose? He’s this archetypal reclusive rock star. They weren’t willing to accept each other’s problems and stick with each other and be supportive of each other. But I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. At what point do you say: “I can’t play with this person any longer”? At what point do you say: “I can’t fix it”? I don’t know. They were a good band. But, then again, it happens to a lot of good bands.
Stadium Arcadium, the new record, is much funkier than your last one, By The Way.
Yeah, guess it has more rawness to it. A lot has to do with the way it’s mixed. And in the end we were very happy that we managed to get a lot of different stuff on this record. Over the years, we’ve gotten better at writing pop songs, but we got better at writing some really good funk stuff too. We focused really hard on getting all the parts of us out. Everything got expressed. To me, this is our great record. If you don’t like this one, you don’t like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Was guitarist John Frusciante listening to Funkadelic when you were recording?
At some point during the process he was listening to Funkadelic, for sure. As a matter of fact, I was listening to it too. Over the summer George Clinton had his 50th anniversary in showbusiness, and we went over and played some Funkadelic songs together.
Music: there’s so much of it. And my listening is so varied. John tends to get more into one thing and listen to that an awful lot. I have that once in a while, but more often I listen to a prog rock record in the morning, a punk rock record at noon, classical in the evening, and finish it all off with some jazz and African. I listen to so much different stuff.
When did you decide that the new record was going to a double album?
We recorded all this music, and initially we were gonna put out three records: a trilogy, six months apart. But our manager talked us out of it. He said people wouldn’t know which record to buy; we would just be confusing them. Then we wanted to release two records with 18 or so songs on each. We needed to get all 38 on them. What adds up to 38? 16? 19? Whatever. Math isn’t our strong point, right?
Anyway, in the end we didn’t want the music to be a year apart, cos it all goes together, so we cut it down to 25 songs, made a double CD and put it out. We really set out to make a short record; we wanted to try and make this a perfect, classic 10-song record. But we didn’t do it. We wrote all this music and we liked it all. It was hard bringing it down to 25 songs. We all had different ideas about which one was the best one, which one should be on, which one was important and which one was not.
What’s the all-time best double album?
The Clash: Sandinista! [Actually, it’s a triple —Ed.]. The Clash are my favourite rock band of all time. I love The Clash. And Sandinista!, I love everything on it. To me it’s their creative peak, them stretching out and relaxing, using the studio in a beautiful way. And it has Washington Bullets on it, which is my all-time favourite rock song. Me and John once recorded a version of Washington Bullets.
Where is it?
I don’t know. We did it for a Clash tribute album that never came out. I sang.
Chad Smith: drummer
If there were to be an All-Time Greatest Double Album poll, if the Chilis were beaten to No.1, which album would you prefer to be beaten by?
You can’t fuck with The Beatles’ White Album, can you?
Not Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti?
I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and I love Physical Graffiti — don’t get me wrong, it’s fucking great — but it was a record that was raked together, comprised of music from different Zeppelin eras. You can tell the difference in Robert Plant’s singing in ’72 to the way he was singing in ’74. Our record contains only music from the nine months that we took to write it. It’s a statement and a snapshot of where we are as people and musicians and as a band. But still I’m not gonna say our record is more consistent than Physical Graffiti. I’m not going there, man — Chad says: “Better than Zeppelin!”
On the other hand, after 23 years of being together we got a lot of bullets in our rifle. To put out a double album is kinda crazy, but we had to. So much good stuff came out, such a wide spectrum. Sometimes even in one song. I’m pretty proud of it. I just hope that people get a real sense of the love, human connection and passion that we put into it. It was all about the performance, which in this day and age, with ProTools and all that shit, is kind of a lost thing. A lot of rock bands these days cut-and-paste themselves silly.
Have you read Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography, Scar Tissue?
I haven’t_ Any good?
The stuff that’s in there about the band, I was there. I remember him asking me permission to use a certain story… Is there a story in there about us in Baltimore, with spanking girls and stuff?
Not just in Baltimore. [Laughs]
Oh, okay, that kind of book.
Suppose there was a book about you…
There is never gonna be a book about me.
Okay, suppose there’s a biopic about the band, in the same vein as the recent Johnny Cash one, Walk The Line.
That would have to be called Do The Line [laughs]. I didn’t say that. It’s not true! Our drug days are over!
What was your most recent almost religious experience while listening to music?
I produced a record at my house by Glenn Hughes [the forthcoming Music For The Divine — full feature next month]. He’s a very good friend of mine. Very talented. Still relevant. I play on some of his songs. One day at my house, he and his Swedish guitar player were fiddling about on acoustic guitars. They were on the outside of the room, getting ready to do some overdubs, and were playing some simple chords together to check the mics. Glenn was humming a melody. I went over and said: “What is that?” He said: “I don’t know.” It was fucking great! We recorded it right away. Everything sounded great.
That was a month ago, and it was really, really cool. I said to myself: “Music is so wonderful.” I was very pleased to be a musician at that point. I’m not an organised religion type of guy, but those are the moments where I think there must be a god somewhere.
The sound of the cars going by on Sunset Boulevard right now, some people might say it’s noise. But to me it’s music, rhythm. Life’s rhythms are so important and diverse, and to me they make the world a more beautiful place. But there’s other times when being stuck in an elevator with a Phil Collins tune can be kind of a bummer. I would almost say I’d rather be stuck in there with the man himself [laughs]. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love Phil Collins — as a drummer.
If a Chili Peppers record comes on the radio do you continue listening?
I do. I get flashbacks sometimes when I hear our old songs on the radio. My god, how young we were!
I was at the Super Bowl recently, and on the big screen they did a montage containing Give It Away. Really weird. The fucking Super Bowl, and there I am on the big screen, painted silver with horns on my head. I remembered driving home on my motorcycle after that video shoot, still painted silver, and walking into this convenience store for some cigarettes and gum. They thought I was from fucking Mars!
Why did you record the new album at the house where you recorded BloodSugarSexMagik?
The studios we’d done the last two records in had shut down. I think it was Rick Rubin who suggested we go back up to the house. Rick bought the place after we did BloodSugar. . . there. It was different this time. We were different.
And since we recorded at the house, everyone has gone there: Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, System Of A Down, Love & Rockets, The Mars Volta… It was like meeting an old girlfriend who has since fucked a bunch of other guys: she’s a bit torn up, and it’s nice to see her but, you know. It’s okay, but much different. But the place still sounds great.
You were the only one who didn’t sleep at the house during the recording of BloodSugarSexMagik. Did you this time?
I don’t think anybody did this time. My baby boy was born the first week we were recording, so I had to be home to change diapers. I love it! No more sex, drugs and rock’n’roll for me, man! It’s nappies now. Cole is his name. He’s the man now; he runs the shit at our house. It’s different now, all of us have other priorities.
It was said that the first time around you didn’t want to sleep at the house because it was haunted. Were the ghosts still there?
I think all the ghosts got scared away by Manson and Slipknot. For the record: I didn’t not sleep there because of ghosts, every night I drove home on my Harley to clear my head.
Anthony Kiedis: vocalist
Do you agree that the story of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is the story of everlasting resurrection?
Yeah, I like that. There’s lots of ways to resurrect. There has been a bizarre continuation of rebirths and rediscoveries within us along the way. It’s sort of a necessary process to be in the state of desire for change as a human being and a musician. Every record we make is a slight resurrection of sorts; this time it’s just not the obvious John-is-back-in-the-band kind of resurrection. Change sucks, but we’d be nothing without it. Change hurts. It’s like these little laser beams from outer space burning a hole inside of your soul to break down some old bullshit that’s hardened inside of you. True change is pretty painful, and I guess it’s up to the owner of that pain to determine how long it’s gonna last. It’s not easy, but nothing worth anything really is.
But there are brilliant songs that have been written in five minutes.
True. But maybe they’re based on something that happened five days ago that was not so easy. I’m a big fan of songs happening like that. They’re my favourites. And not just because I’m lazy. They just feel the best, the most natural. If you can get into a place where you’re channelling the light from above, and you can just let that business float through you, it really takes a lot of pressure off in the best sense of the word. You don’t have to be so egomaniacal; not “I wrote this song”, but “I showed up to work, was willing to listen to the space, and got a good song out of it.” It’s because I respect the power of the light that
I’m able to let that come through me. There are a few songs on this record that happened in an instant, and they’re probably our best.
Neil Young claims he wrote the first line of Powderfinger 10 years before he wrote the rest of it. Is there a first line of something you can’t seem to finish?
I have one idea for a song that is 20 years old. The song is called Aroma. Hillel Slovak and I started to work on it in 1985 but we never took it off the ground. It was a groove, a lyric, and it was about connecting to the female species through their aroma, and about what a powerful driving force that smell can be. There are times when I walk around in-between records with my little notebook, and get little ideas for words and phrases and feelings and thoughts. When I write them down they seem so good to me and I say to myself: “Ah, that’s gonna be a great song some day.” And then we start writing songs. And at the end of the day, when I look at the notebook, Aroma is still there, still not used.
I had a song title in my notebook for about a year before we started writing this record: Slow Cheetah. But I didn’t know what Slow Cheetah was about. But then I heard some music that John was playing and I wrote some more, started singing some… and it kinda revealed itself. The cheetah in this song is symbolic for life, but also for the female. It’s about that beautiful feeling when life becomes slow motion, and all of the chaos and all of the distraction fades away for a moment and you can see things very clearly. It kind of quiets the heart, and in that instant you get a real sense of purpose.
Iggy Pop believes he has two kinds of songs: bedroom and bathroom songs. Could you categorise your songs in a similar manner?
Rick Rubin sort of jokingly looks at our records when we’re finished and goes: “‘Okay, so you have songs about sex, songs about drugs, and songs about some other thing.” I never see it like that. I divide it into different categories of emotions and spirits. We have a song that makes me feel sad, a song that makes me feel lonely, a song that makes me feel exited, a song that makes me wanna dance…
Any type of different mood. It pushes a button inside of me and makes me feel alive because I connect with that emotion. The subject of the song doesn’t really matter muchl listen to music to have some kind of emotional experience.
Can music be too much?
There are times, yes. Depends on where you’re at in your life. When you’re walking around with a heavy heart and you hear the wrong song, you may just have to lay down and die. Not too long ago I was listening to one of our songs, Hard To Concentrate, while driving down Mulholland, and I started crying.
Was it weird going back to the house where you recorded BloodSugarSexMagik?
I thought it would be but it wasn’t. It’s already 15 years ago since we recorded over there. We inaugurated that house, turned it into a studio, and dozens of other bands have been there since. I think my worry was: this is no longer a house, it’s got the energy of all these different people in it. Aren’t we gonna be trying to recapture something from the past? I’d rather capture something new But the minute we set up and went to work, the history of the house vanished and it was all about making new history. There was very little nostalgia or reminiscence. Everything was different. Every room felt different, the whole vibe inside that place was different, the way we got along was different, the way we worked with Rick Rubin was different. All a new experience. In the same house.
Were the ghosts different?
I don’t think that house was ever haunted in the Dracula kind of way. It had a lot of history, and it had some weird stuff that went on there. You could kind of sense that energy when we first moved into the house. No one had lived there for a very long time. I sensed it much less this time around. Whatever sort of heaviness had been there in 1990, whether it was imagined or real, was no longer imagined at all. I don’t exactly know why it comes to mind right now, but can I please tell you a marvellous Rick Rubin/Phil Spector story? Rick Rubin has an incredible and unbelievable Phil Spector story. Rick is a very historically conscious person, and probably the number one connoisseur of all things Beatles and Lennon. So he’s obviously a fan of Phil Spector. Rick doesn’t really care to meet too many people, but he was curious about Spector. So at this party, finally someone introduces Rick to Phil: “Hey, Phil, this is Rick Rubin. He’s produced records by Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers…” Phil interrupts and barks: “I know who he is, and I think his music stinks,” and turns around and walks away. Oddly enough, Rick Rubin’s feelings were not hurt. He thought it was about as fantastic of a response as you could ever get from someone like Phil Spector. He laughs hysterically when he tells that story.
Did you ask all of your ex-girlfriends’ permission to use their stories in your autobiography?
I did. I got permission from everybody. I even think it was a legal issue. There were a couple of complaints afterwards. I did not mean to depict anybody in an unflattering light, but some people were not so happy when they saw themselves in the bigger picture. I got a little bit of grief, but not too much.
Which actor would you choose to play you in a Chilis biopic?
Oh, my god. That’s a hard one. I think I would haw to have, er… Hilary Swank. She can do it.
Regrouped with Rubin, the Chilis offer up a double.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
In a darkened cinema in Soho in London a roomful of journalists are watching a screen full of stars. Intermittently, song titles by the Red Hot Chili Peppers come into focus and then explode into streams of light, and as they do so we’re taken ever forward on our journey through the cosmos. Welcome to the world of the album playback. Size is important and, as befits one of the biggest rock bands in the world, their album launch is a lavish affair. They turn the lights down so that we might admire the digitised heavens some more and then turn them back up when they realise that no one can see their notepads.
And notepads are something you need to see as no less than 28 songs drift, thrum and rumble past over the next few hours. For the making of Stadium Arcadium (in true Chili Peppers’ style it’s a title that’s more a feeling than a discernable thing) the band returned to the house in the Hollywood hills where they created their landmark BloodSugarSexMagik album. Producer Rick Rubin was there too, to help add to their newfound vitality and so profoundly happy were they that after they finished the initial recording they decided that not one song was less great than another and so they decided to release them all.
The Stadium Arcadium press release trumpets something about the band ‘unleashing’ their latest album, but as men long past their hormonal teenage best (though Kiedis seems to be trying to work that angle still), the Chili Peppers are beyond unleashing anything. These days they’ve left behind the raucous funk of albums like The Uplift Mofo Party Plan and replaced it with something far more sublime. Those who tuned into the band with By The Way or Californication (and an amazing 15 million people did) will find much here to soothe them. Overlong the two CDs may be, but it’s done little to diminish the band’s groove: their songs are now fluid and charming as opposed to blunt and demanding. Sure, Flea still plays his bass as if the future of humanity depended upon it, but he bolsters their sound not dominates it.
The MD of their record label came out before the album was played to tell us he saw ‘five or six singles’ on the album and I can too. Wet Sand is the band at their resonating best, tough yet melodic with a clever conceit to its lyrics, they rage with Storm In A Teacup and are brazen with the confident sounding Make You Feel Better, which tells us that they really do believe that their music makes you, yes you, feel better. It would sound like hooey in someone else’s hands, but the Chili Peppers have that innocuous Californian charm; they believe it’s true so why can’t you, dude?
First single Dani California is totally indicative of Chilis 2006 —groovy, funky and beyond catchy — the spiritual follow-up to the title tracks of both their previous albums, while the superb Desecration Smile has fuelled press speculation that Kiedis may be studying under the aegis of the celebrity friendly Kabbalah faith. But whatever the song’s inspiration it’s one of the strongest on either disc. The band say they were chasing down the ghosts of the Beach Boys with its lush harmonies, but its lovely vocal interplay owes more to those other famous sons of California; The Eagles.
And though delightful and indulgent their voices may be, for the most part, Stadium Arcadium is guitarist John Frusciante’s record; he noodles diligently away all over both discs. Sometimes full of bluster on songs like the excellent Strip My Mind (like good Queen not A Kind Of Magic Queen) and the harrying Readymade, at other times he just bubbles away in the mix. A flurry of notes here, an arcing solo pitched just below the surface there. Blips like Warlocks, which sounds like a rough and ready demo version of Give It Away, are rare and for the most part it’s a familiar, sure-handed cruise through the brightly lit streets of California that the Red Hot Chili Peppers call their own.