2016/09 Drum

Poster from Drum

Poster from Drum

Note: There was a double sided poster with this magazine. One side featured the above (I took a photograph as it was easier than trying to scan it as it was larger than my scanner) and the other featured a photo of RHCP and had thumbnails of covers of the magazine featuring Chad Smith along the bottom, However, the poster was glued into the magazine and I couldn’t remove it without tearing the article pages (the Chad interview; would have torn anything else!) or the poster itself so I left it inside the magazine and was unable to scan or photograph it.



Chad Smith and the Road Less Traveled





For more than 30 years The Red Hot Chili Peppers weathered controversy, tragedy, and the fickle winds of the music business. The band’s lineup has changed now and then, though the current configuration has been solid since 2009, when lead singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, and drummer Chad Smith welcomed guitarist Josh Klinghoffer aboard. What’s most impressive is that as the band evolved, it continually raised the bar on itself and maintained its high standards without interruption. Two constants in the story have been the band’s epic live performances and long relationship with Rick Rubin. The Chili Peppers began working with the producer 25 years ago — that’s more than three times as long as The Beatles and George Martin shared. Surely, these two constants would continue to guide the Chili Peppers through a long and fruitful future. Or maybe not. On the latest album, The Getaway, the band veers off both paths, recruiting a new producer and trying out his distinctly non-Peppery approach to recording. Obviously this was a risky decision, particularly for Smith, who had to assume unfamiliar responsibilities on much of The Getaway. Still, he’s happy with how things panned out.

“By around February last year, we’d written a pretty good batch of songs,” he recalls. “This time around we felt we needed to shake things up and work with somebody new in the studio. Now, we love Rick. Rick’s our friend. He’s obviously a great producer and we’ve had a lot of great success with him. But it was time for a change.”

After weighing the alternatives, the band decided to go with another producer friend of theirs: Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse. “He came down and listened to our songs. He liked most of them. Some of them he didn’t, but that’s normal. So we were like, ‘Cool, let’s do it.”‘


Unfortunately, just a few weeks before sessions were supposed to start, Flea injured himself in a snowboarding accident. With severe fractures to his left wrist, elbow, and arm, he had to allow six months for recovery. With everything on hold, though, Danger Mouse had more time to reflect on how he wanted the project to unfold. Once he had a blueprint in mind, he started with Smith. “Brian was like, ‘I’ve been thinking about this. I dig your songs. But you know that my forte is to go into the studio and start songs from scratch. So if you really want to use my talent, I’d like to start by bringing you into my studio to come up with beats. Then the other guys will come in and lay their parts over it.”

Smith was more than a little surprised. “I mean, recording live, that’s our forte,” he observes. “We have a real chemistry when we play together. And we’d already written 25 or 30 songs for this album. We’d rented a house in Malibu, where three of us live — Josh, being the ‘new guy,’ had to drive up from Hollywood — and wrote for a few months. Then we’d gone to Flea’s studio in Silver Lake to do more writing and record what I call ‘fancy demos’ for a good six months. Some songs came out of jams. Some came from ideas people brought in. And everyone had creative input.

So we were a little apprehensive. But then we were like, ‘Okay, ifs sort of an experiment Let’s see what happens.”‘


This was new territory for Smith. As one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time, he and Flea had forged a unique bond, grounded in real-time interaction. “I wouldn’t be half the drummer I am today if it wasn’t for him,” Smith acknowledges. “He inspires me. If I just sat back and played the same old beats, he’d be like, What else you got?’ We push each other that way. It’s great to have that musical telepathy that comes only from playing with someone for a long time. We know how we walk and breathe on our instruments.

“But,” Smith adds, “that’s a good and a bad thing. The good part is that it’s real natural. I know his feel and he knows mine. Playing with him is like putting your foot into an old shoe that feels good. At the same time, you don’t want to get stuck in that. You want to try on other shoes and be a little uncomfortable for a while until you wear them in.”

Forget about new shoes: The idea of inventing rhythm beds alone, without any input from his band or even any idea of what they would play on their turns to overdub, was like switching to high heels — especially because he had to do so on Burton’s kit, which was nothing like what Smith was used to playing.

“Brian has a room at the Sound Factory in Hollywood,” Smith says. “It’s all his gear, his engineer, and his drums, which are an old Ludwig set probably from the 1960s. It’s a 4-piece, like Ringo played, with two cymbals. On a couple of songs, like ‘Go Robot,’ where there’s a long drum fill in the bridge, I brought in an extra floor tom. But mostly it was the Ringo setup.”

It wasn’t just the kit that was different. “Often Brian had me play lighter than I normally do. He was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds good, but I can manipulate the microphones and make it sound better if you play a little bit lighter.’ It’s funny because I always keep my drums wide open, big and loud. I especially like a really bright snare drum sound. I like it to ring and cut through. But Brian doesn’t like things like that. So sometimes he put some towels or tape on the drums to soften the sound.”

Smith also toned down his playing per Burton’s request. “Then I’d go into the control room and listen. Because of where the mikes were placed and the outboard gear he was using, his engineer Kennie Takahashi was able to manipulate my sound in interesting ways. I thought that playing really quietly would give me a less intense sound, but he compressed it and did other things I don’t really know too much about. Also, by playing softer I could use lots of dynamics and subtleties because I had plenty of places to go between quiet and loud. So I embraced it. It was still me, no matter what, but you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

The idea of playing quietly carried over to the rest of the band as they layered over the drums. “It was different,” Smith admits. “It did make everybody play differently. When we record together, it’s really hard for me to play quietly because we’re all looking at each other’s faces and inspiring each other. The ones that started with just a drumbeat, they didn’t know how hard I was playing. They just heard the sound coming out of the speakers. It was a wide-open canvas to paint on, so actually it was kind of freeing. It didn’t have to be aggressive because it was just based on how you hear what you’re playing over.”


Inventing rhythm patterns from scratch, with nobody but Burton and Takahashi in the studio, tested Smith in ways that went beyond dynamics. In place of the band’s habit of writing together, he was essentially the first writer on these tracks, with everyone else’s contributions following sequentially, like links in a chain.

“It was really weird,” he admits “Brian would go, ‘Okay, I need a beat that’s super funky, something really identifiable, kind of like [Aerosmith’s] ‘Walk This Way’ or ‘Rock And Roll’ from Led Zeppelin: As soon as you hear it, you know what the song is because it stands on its own. And I’m like, ‘Oh, sure, I’ve got five or six of those in my pocket!”

Each of the remaining Chili Peppers received similar instructions as they took their turn. “Brian seriously challenged us,” Smith says. “But it was great because we needed to dig down and put a lot of thought into it. Before, when would come up with parts by jamming and improvising, it was more free flowing. I wasn’t as concerned about what I was playing as how it would fit into the music that was happening at the moment. For me, for the other guys, too, for any musician, it’s about the sum of the parts.

“But this way,” he points out, “anybody could play anything on top of what I was playing. Of course, Flea would come in with, ‘Here’s the key. Here’s the melodic or rhythmic idea I’m feeling.’ So once I got over just trying to come up with something interesting or something that feels good, it got really cool.”

That was only the beginning of the process. “We would loop some parts of what I would play,” Smith says. ‘Then the arrangement would start coming together. We’d replay the loops. I’d make appropriate choices of fills or whatever was needed for the song. Brian is a very musical guy. He did not take anything that was just okay or good enough. He always pushed us. Often, especially with the other guys, he was like, ‘That’s pretty good, but you can write something better. I really love the verse, but the chorus isn’t that strong. Give me something else.’ That could be frustrating and disheartening when you’re trying to do your best and come up with something. But once there was music on top of it, I often went in and rerecorded what I did, and maybe changed it a little to fit the music.”

To illustrate specifically how this works, Smith picks out a couple of songs from The Getaway, beginning with its first single, “Dark Necessities.” “Brian is an encyclopedia of all different kinds of music. So he pulled a few things out for us to listen to. One was by some soul/psychedelic band from the ’60s I’d never heard of. It had a busy bass drum beat. I think the snare played just on the 4. I didn’t want to emulate that, but it did inspire me to come up with my own version of that feel — more snare, less hi-hat, different kick drum patterns. Then we picked out parts of that and put them together in a groove, often in a four-bar pattern. We looped it for the guys and they would play over it.”

The same approach produced different results on what Smith calls “the dirge song.” “On We Turn Red’ the drums have a live, roomy sound. I don’t remember if it was inspired by some music or if I just went out and played, but Brian really liked it. The hi-hat is kind of disco, on the off-beat. First I was playing more eighth-notes and Brian was like, ‘Okay, now do half of that with the hi-hat.’ On the spot, on the fly, he was trying to come up with something. For me, it was like patting my head and rubbing my belly; it’s not a thing I would normally do. But that’s what’s cool about working with someone who doesn’t normally think like you.

“Then in the chorus, we decided to do the opposite,” Smith adds. “Usually choruses are louder and more uplifting. But we decided to do a quiet, more melancholy chorus, so I went to sixteenth-notes on the hi-hat and the cross-stick, just trying to mix it up. The other guys really liked it. Flea took those sixteenth-notes to come up with his intro. And Josh came in with this guitar lick that kind of mimics the drum pattern.”


This approach to writing and recording actually applied to only about half of the songs on The Getaway. For the ones they’d written beforehand, the band tracked traditionally. Ultimately, it didn’t matter to Smith how each song on The Getaway was put together. “The process is not as important as the outcome,” he explains. “I’m not interested in how music gets recorded; I’m interested in how that music makes me feel. The performance and the song are what make the human connection.”

Besides, Smith insists, it’s not always apparent which method they followed on any particular cuts. Sometimes, though, it’s no mystery. If, for example, most of the song is in 10/8, like “Dreams Of A Samurai,” odds are it didn’t start with Smith laying it down on his own.

“That’s one of my favorite songs on the record,” he says. “We’ve had that song for a while. It started with Flea’s bass line and I just followed it. We basically jammed out over it. I get to play a little bit more on that one. It’s kind of fun to stretch out in a busy Pink Floyd kind of way. Flea is really kind of the drummer on that song. He stays real solid on his part while Josh and I get to go off a little bit.”

But these songs, too, bear the mark of Modest Mouse. ‘Brian loved it, but he was like, ‘It needs a chorus part with a change that the listener can grab onto.’ So we wrote the chorus in the studio in 4/4 and then went out and played it maybe twice. That second time is the take you hear on the album. Everybody was playing live on the floor. It’s a real performance. We didn’t have an ending so we just winged it. That’s very Chili Peppers; that’s what we do.”


Building songs on solo drum tracks isn’t the only new twist in Smith’s life. Just a few months ago, he decided to end his long relationship with Pearl and switch his affiliation to DW. “Pearl was my first real professional drum set,” Smith notes. “I had Pearl when I was a kid in Detroit back in the ’80s. They’ve been great to me. There really was no reason for me to leave other than I felt I needed to change and come up with something different to inspire me. You’ve got to grow and change. To me, that’s the most important thing as an artist, especially when you’ve been in a band for a long time. But it’s not easy. It was like breaking up with a girlfriend you’ve been going out with for a long time and going, ‘It’s not you! It’s me!’ It was really difficult for me to call Mike Farriss, who was my guy at Pearl for more than 20 years. I felt really bad. But they were totally great to me and always have been. I have nothing but good things to say about them.”

Sharp-eyed observers may have noticed Smith playing other brands recently, too. On the last Chili Peppers tour, he decided to play an RCI acrylic kit. “I’d played acrylics before, but never live, and certainly not with our band,” he says. “I got it mainly because we had lighting coming up under the drums. So obviously the look was involved, but it was also really fun to play those drums. Everybody loved them — the band, the sound guy. I loved it! RCI’s shells are a little thicker than the ones I used in the past. They have the sonic quality I like, bright and loud, but also a little more depth and low end. It makes such a difference when you can sit down, kick the bass drum and go, ‘Oh, man, that sounds good!’ It makes you play better! They’re my favorite drums to play live.”

And what is Smith playing in the Chili Peppers’ video for “Dark Necessities”? “That’s an old Trixon drum set,” he answers. “They’re a really funny shape. The bass drum looks like a flat tire. Actually, they’re Josh’s drums. He’s got tons and tons of all kinds of instruments. Olivia [Wilde, video director] saw pictures of them and decided they were perfect for the place we were shooting: this craftsman’s house built in the 1940s that looked very ’70s, with shag carpeting, smoked mirrors, and that kind of stuff.”


New album, new drums, new approaches to recording: Smith agrees that he’s feeling the itch to explore at this point in his career. He only wishes that more of his colleagues felt a similar urge.

“I often talk about my influences and go back to the guys I listened to when I was nine years old,” he muses. “Those drummers — Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Ian Paice — were basically playing the blues in a more experimental way. Music was stretching out; it wasn’t just two-minutes-and-twenty-seconds songs anymore.

“Then the whole thing changed,” he continues. “Sure, there’s been great stuff since then. There are lots of incredible drummers out there. When I hear guys like Stewart Copeland or Neil Pratt or Joey Jordison play, I know it’s them. They have individual styles. But back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, rock music was in its infancy. It was barely ten years old. The bands that played then were encouraged to have their own personalities. It was free. Everything was new.

“Those were uncharted waters, man. They were just playing what they wanted to play. And it was pure! That’s what comes through. That’s why it stands the test of time. It’s rare when that happens in any type of music. When it does, it’s like — wow. I hope something new will come around in my lifetime and people will go, ‘Holy sh**t, what is this?’ But I guess it’s hard to come up with something that’s refreshing and new because it’s kind of been done.

“By the way,” he adds, “I’m not listening to Jimi Hendrix all day long. But while it’s always important to have your own voice, it’s also important to be inspired. And for me, that initial blast from those four or five years, that’s still where it all comes from.”




















Mean Green Kit

DRUMS DW Collectors Series (Green Acrylic Shells)

  1. 24″ x 16″ Bass Drum
  2. 14″ x 6.5″ Steel Snare
  3. 14″ x 5.5′ Auxiliary Snare
  4. 10″ Remo Roto Torn
  5. 6″ Octobans (various lengths)
  6. 12′ x8′ Toni
  7. 14″ x 14″ Floor Tom
  8. 16″ x 16″ Floor Tom
  9. Adams 29′ Timpani

CYMBALS Sabian (Brilliant Finish)

A 15* AAX Xcelerator Hi-hats

B 10″ AAX Splash

C 19″ AA Rock Crash

D 21″ AA Rock Ride

E 20* AA Rock Crash

F 21” Chad Smith Holy China

Percussion LP

G Chad Smith Signature Cowbell

H Jamblock Low Pitch Red

DW built two other acrylic kits for Smith in Clear and Moon Dust Sparkle With Full Dress Diamonds finishes. Smith also uses Vater Chad Smith Funk Blasters sticks, DW pedals and hardware, Butt Kicker Concert Model low-frequency audio transducers, and Remo heads (Bass drum: Clear Powerstroke 4 batter/Logo head resonant; Toms: Clear Controlled Sound batter/Clear Ambassador resonant; Primary snare: Controlled Sound X batter/ Ambassador snare side; Auxiliary snare: Clear Controlled Sound batter/Ambassador snare side; Octobans and Roto Tom: Clear Controlled Sound batter).




As a former drummer, Josh Klinghoffer brought some definite ideas about Chad Smith’s sound with him when the Chili Peppers signed him up as the new guitarist.

“When I did my first record with them,” he says, referring to I’m With You in 2011, “I had been unimpressed with how the drums sounded on the previous couple of albums. They sounded too tight and small, not like they were being played by a guy who was 6’3″ and playing as hard as Chad played.”

His impressions changed while recording The Getaway. “For the first time since joining the band, I was able to see Brian [Butler, producer] get Chad to lay back a little bit. And suddenly they sounded just as big as I thought they should. I walked away impressed with what they got.”

That’s not the only surprise to emerge from the Modest Mouse tracks. “Unlike any other Chili Peppers album, Chad could go back and replace any fill he didn’t feel good about. It was done in a very modern, Pro-Tools way, which I don’t even like to admit,” he says. “For the band and especially for Chad, it was challenging to feel okay with that. But once we did, we realized we could do things we hadn’t done in the past in terms of editing. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my feelings toward this album; I think I’m just coming around to accepting it.”

The fact that the band can take off from those layered tracks onstage has helped Klinghoffer adjust. “All the songs are fun to play live, so in the end it was a success,” he notes. “Chad is a big reason for that. He has a deep and inherent understanding of songs and arrangements. That allows him to play in a beautiful way within the context of what we’d written. Being a drummer, I can’t help but turn around and smile when he does a new fill or something totally different, which he does in every performance. But he always plays the song perfectly. He always sticks to a tight, perfect display of the groove within the song. Whether we play it fast or with tempo fluctuations, he always sounds natural. I know that if I ever want to play against the rhythm or play something that’s not what’s on the album, I can do it, no problem, because Chad will be there, perfectly, behind me.” —Bob Doerschuk



“We’re a couple of grumpy old rock dudes that have been around each other for a very long time,” says Chris Warren who, much like the man he takes care of on stage, is a pretty laid-back guy. His easygoing nature seems in almost direct opposition to the extreme care and focus needed to support one of rock’s hardest hitters, but that attitude is probably what makes him such a perfect foil for Chad Smith.

Taking care of the smiling skinsman on the road is a demanding job, but prepping for each tour is fairly simple after so many years on the job. “I started with Chad in ’99,” Warren says. “We have the preparation down to a rhythm. I can get him up and running to his comfort level with minimal conversation.” Even Smith’s recent switch to DW drums came without complication. “Other than developing new relationships with new people, it couldn’t have been any smoother,” he says. “Plus, the fact that I live in Los Angeles and can drive down to the factory to see where they make Chad’s drums is a real first. I love that.”

But when the wheels go up, Smith requires a bit more attention. “I generally have a little spot behind the guitar amp where I can keep an eagle eye on him,” he says. “It’s tight, but we joke around a lot between songs to keep things cool.” Because Smith is such a hard hitter, Warren normally swaps in fresh heads on the bass drum and toms before every show. But main snare drums are a different animal. “Chad likes them cranked, and he loves the sound of a new head. Because of that, I’ll go through about three snares a night. I’ll throw up a new one every five or six songs.”

As if there weren’t enough on his plate already, Warren actually sits in on keys for a few Peppers songs each night as well. When asked who’s keeping an eye on Smith while he’s performing, Warren laughs and responds with an upbeat, “Absolutely no one.” But, he’s quick to add that he knows where his priorities are: “There have been times when I have to decide whether to keep sustaining the chord or get over to Chad. Usually, he wins. I’m always going to take care of my guy.” —AJ Donahue