The Best is Yet to Come
Through splits and spats, drugs and death, Red Hot Chili Peppers have remained at the top for 30 years. Anthony Kiedis and Chad Smith tell us why not even John Frusciante’s departure can stop them now…
Words: Tony Bryant
The last time I was in a room with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea threw a bottle at my head, called me a “limey bitch” and stormed out of the room, scattering insults in his wake. It is with some trepidation that I’m back, in the very same hotel, to interview them again.
Fortunately, the chances of a repeat incident seem slim. Firstly, Flea is not here. He’s in Milan talking up the band’s new album I’m With You with Josh Klinghoffer, leaving Anthony Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith on UK press (and, if required, bottling) duties.
Secondly, our argument concerned Flea’s differences with guitarist John Frusciante on 2002?s By The Way album and whether they’d patched things up for 2006?s Stadium Arcadium. But now John Frusciante has left the band – for the second time, after his fame and pressure-induced departure in 1992 – to be replaced by his former protégée Josh Klinghoffer (also in Milan today), peace reigns once again in the Chili Peppers ranks.
“Oh you’re that guy,” hoots Anthony, when I remind him of the incident.
“Wow,” says Chad, a grin etched across his craggy face. “Should I throw another bottle at you, for Flea’s sake?” “Actually,” suggests Anthony, “to make up for what happened, you should let him throw one at you.” Chad, though, is a big man. I decline.
Anthony Kiedis- tanned, moustachioed and with the same powerful physique he had at 25- is remarkably well-preserved for his 48 years, as if his ludicrous former health regimes (ozone injections, drinking nut milk) really did successfully counter-balance the rampant heroin use that fuelled his 1980s and ’90s.
He talks in a low, friendly voice; hints of camp playing round its edges. From the next door suite, you can hear the sound of his son Everly bounding around. Anthony believes becoming a father for the first time nearly four years ago has changed him for the better. Chad agrees, believing the singer to be “less self-centred” now.
Next to Anthony, the drummer looks all of his 49 years. Grizzled, in a Kiss T-shirt, jeans and backwards baseball cap, he resembles your everyday American tourist. Only his vast Rolex hints at his lucrative profession.
It’s been over three years since the Red Hot Chili Peppers were last in the public eye- they took two years off after Stadium Arcadium, and another 18 months to bed-in Josh Klinghoffer and write the shimmering pop-funk of 10th album I’m With You. That it went straight into the UK album charts at Number One suggests it has a shot at the multi-platinum success achieved by Californication, By The Way or Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Those triumphs, though, were achieved with John Frusciante’s guitar leading the way. And now he’s gone. Are they worried?
“The answer is no,” says Anthony. The best could be yet to come.”
John Frusciante, who had himself replaced original guitarist Hillel Slovak after Slovak’s 1988 heroin overdose and death, left in 2008 to concentrate on his solo work- material that might politely be described as “niche”. He went with the band’s blessing and also, they admit, their relief.
“I think we all expected it,” says Anthony. “It wasn’t like the first time he left. That was crushing because we hadn’t finished a chapter. This time, we’d finished the chapter and the book. We were relieved. It had stopped working.”
“Just our ability to co-exist in a productive way. There was no-one to blame. It was just time for a change. We knew he would be happier doing something else.”
Josh Klinghoffer- a gawky 31-year-old who, judging by RHCP’s Koko performance, is more than a little anxious about joining the band -played on John’s solo work, has been a successful session man, and has known the band for a decade.
“John’s more of an immediate presence and force than Josh,” says Chad of their differences. “Josh’s thing is like a fog that creeps around. That made us uneasy [at first]. Flea and I had to talk about it. We agreed to let him be his own person. After that, it got much easier.”
“We were all pleasantly surprised by the amount and sensitivity of his ideas,” adds Anthony. “He’s a smart musician.”
Originally formed in 1983 by Flea, Anthony and Hillel (Jack Irons played drums; Chad joined in 1988) to play a single show, the Chili Peppers have somehow endured for 28 years. In that time, they’ve rattled through seven previous guitarists, sold 65 million-plus albums, and raked in millions of dollars. Having achieved all that, surely it was tempting to call it a day when Frusciante left?
“No,” replies Anthony. “It wasn’t wearying when John left and neither time nor money has ever been the motivating force behind why we write music. We play for the same reason we played when we started, because it’s fun.”
In the meantime they’ve gone from being punk-funk provocateurs who’d think nothing of playing naked, with socks on their cocks, to joining the likes of U2 as part of the megastar, mega-selling musical establishment.
“When we played our first show, we really intended to only be a band for one night.” says Anthony. “Afterwards, we re-evaluated we never saw an end in sight. We were provocative and wanted to tickle people’s ear tonsils with cosmic, psychedelic funk. We didn’t ever stop to think that, one day we were anti-establishment and, the next, we were the establishment. We just like doing this.”
There have been times, though, that even the Flea-Kiedis relationship at the core of the band has hit the rocks. The revelation in Anthony’s Scar Tissue autobiography that he’d once bedded Flea’s sister didn’t exactly help. But things are better now, he says.
“I think he forgave me [for the book] a long time ago. We’re not prone to holding onto grudges,” says Anthony. “Actually, our relationship is frighteningly functional these days. I enjoy Flea’s company very much. I think we’ll share this experience [in RHCP) until the day we die.”
“Our band is in a good place right now,” agrees Chad. “We’re all getting along well. It’s a good time to be a Red Hot Chili Pepper.”
And so, it would seem as they near their fourth decade together, the good ship Chili Peppers is sailing on untroubled waters. But, looking back at that 2006 interview, that’s exactly what they said then too. In fact, John Frusciante reckoned that was “the best we’ve ever gotten along”. Then he left the band.
So whether this does mark stability after the deaths, departures, addictions and arguments, or whether it’s just the calm before yet another storm, remains to be seen. Whatever happens though, it would seem that, after 28 years, this is a band that is never, ever going to die.
Chili Peppers By The Numbers
Albums released: 10
Records sold: 65 Million
UK Top 40 Singles: 22
Original members remaining: 2
Combined age of current line-up: 176
Number of Guitarists: 8
Number of Drummers: 4
Socks abused: 4
Bottles thrown at K! Writers: 1
Thanks to Anthony O’Connor for typing the original transcript