2016/09 Rhythm



When Chad found time in his busy schedule to fly to London for an interview with Rhythm, we thought it would be great to have his buddy Steve White pose the questions. Rhythm had actually introduced the pair 17 years ago, and they were soon chatting about staying at the top of their game, the changing face of music, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new album and drums, drums, drums…





One is the king of stadium funk-rock, the other is the Mod master of blue-eyed soul, but Chad Smith and Steve White have been friends – as well as fans of each other’s playing – for years. “We met at a drum show in 1999 when we were both presented with awards by Rhythm, presented by Kenney Jones.” says Steve. “Louise King [then Rhythm editor] had suggested we play together so we had a little run-through and then went and did it. I think Brian May joined us on guitar!” In 2000 the two drummers joined forces for With Attitude, a clinic tour that broke attendance records around the UK. Eight years later, the sequel produced another sold-out run and now they meet again in a posh West London hotel to catch up, swap news about friends and family, and to talk about the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new album. The Getaway is the Peppers’ 11th studio album and their first record since Mother’s Milk in 1989 without producer Rick Rubin. Over breakfast – Steve has a bacon butty and tea, Chad the full English and coffee – they get stuck in, discussing influences, Elton John, and surviving a life in music.

Steve: “I love the new record, I had it pumped up the other day, the kids were dancing about to it. Quite a departure for the 11th studio album. The change of producer from Rick Rubin to Brian Burton, was that something that you realty felt, as a band, needed to happen, or was it circumstance? Because Flea had an accident, didn’t he? Quite a bad break in his arm, which is not good for a bass player.”

Chad: “we love Rick Rubin obviously, he’s an amazing producer and a great friend of ours, we’ve had great success with him but we really felt it was time to switch things. We felt we were in danger of going down the route of making another rock album, everybody on the floor cutting the songs and Rick’s going to do his thing but it was time for a change. We knew Brian Burton, we’d toured with him, he was in Gnarls Barkley among other things. He came down and heard some of our songs. This was before Flea broke his arm. We’d written our songs the normal way, we get in a room, bang out ideas. Flea breaks his arm snowboarding with Lars [Ulrich]. He broke it bad, his hand was numb, it was a really hard, emotional, spiritually challenging time for Flea and it took him six months to properly heal. During that time Brian was like, ‘I like the songs you guys have got but if you really want to get what I do and use my talent or forte, let’s go into my studio and we’ll just start cutting songs from scratch: we’re like, ‘What? What do you mean, start from scratch?’ He’s like. ‘Come in. Chad, you and me will work on some drum beats and we’ll layer stuff. Then Flea will come in and Josh will come in: He’s got a hip-hop background and that’s how that stuff is done, this is just a more organic way, obviously live drumming. We’re like, ‘We don’t know about this. We’re the Chili Peppers! We play live! That’s our thing!’ But because it was time for a change and to do something new, okay, let’s give it a shot. And that’s really what we did. We probably cut nine new things that way and right off the bat it was working. We’d sit down and listen to music and talk about stuff together and listen to old psychedelic, weird music, he’s got quite an interesting taste in music. We’d come up with music that inspired us, then I’m going to go in and play something in that vibe, not try to copy it…”

Steve: “Just take some influence.”

Chad: “Exactly. But I’m in mere playing drums by myself in the studio.”

Steve: “Which is a big departure from the way you record with the band.”

Chad, certainly not with the Chili Peppers. We’d come up with ideas and then we’d go back and forth. ‘Try that, more kick drum, half-time on the hi-hat: I’d play a bunch of beats and rhythmic ideas and then he would cut them up and make them into loops. ‘What do you think of this?’ So we’d work together on that and then Flea would come in and he would play stuff, just out of nowhere, and they would work together coming up with ideas, chord changes, rhythmic ideas. Then Josh would come in, piano, keyboards, guitar, whatever he would play, then we would send them to Anthony and say, ‘we like this, we like that, come up with something melodic or a vocal idea; and that’s how we did eight or nine songs. We ended up with six of them – ‘Dark Necessities’, ‘We Turn Red’, ‘The Getaway are some of the ones that were born out of that new method. The great thing about it is it made us think differently creatively than we ever have before. We would use that as a compositional tool in the studio. Once we had arrangements and Anthony had vocals, then we would play. ‘The Getaway might have a drum loop on it but for the most part that was the new way for us to go. Then we had our other songs and we cut those in our way and he still helped with the arrangements and ideas for them, but for us the new way to write was great and made us change direction and it sounds fresher.”

Steve: “You had templates to work with and change.”

Chad: “Exactly, and we’ve never really done that.”

Steve: “You can really hear the influence of the producer, especially in the drum sounds. For me, it has brought out a lot more of your soulful playing. I can hear elements of James Gadson in there, that influence. It’s got almost a classic funk element to it.”

Chad: “I have to tell you about that. Usually I would get in and I want to have the best drum sound, the bright drums and the ringy snare, that’s sonically pleasing to me. When I went in with Brian it was like. ‘You’re in my studio.’ I just handed it over to him. There were old Ludwig drums with tape on them and tea towels, a little four-piece kit, it looked like Ringo-era to me, and I used his stuff. I didn’t use any of my stuff. I’m playing and I tend to play hard and powerfully and he’d be like. ‘Okay, it sounds good but if you play lighter, I can have more manipulative options sonically. I can get different sounds: I’m playing by myself, we don’t know what’s going to be on top of it. He says. ‘If you play lighter then I can really crank up the compression and use this room mic…’ and on and on. I’m playing ‘Dark Necessities’, doing this 16th-note groove. I’m maybe even playing traditionally with my left hard which very rarely do, but it was a challenge to play quietly with intensity. It’s easy to bash away loud and play fast but to play quietly and still make it groove was challenging for me. I hadn’t really done that before. It still has to groove obviously, so that makes you play different. I’m still going to sound like me but the drums are tighter, warmer.”

Steve: “I think it’s a real departure. I absolutely love the ballad ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Dreams Of A Samurai’. Now to me, I don’t like making comparisons, but the drumming has shades of early Phil Collins, Genesis. It’s in 5/4 isn’t it?”

Chad: “Either 5/4 or 10/8. That was one we had that just came off Flea’s bassline and I didn’t know the time signature. I just played to his bass groove. That’s one where we just played it live on the floor. We had the main riff but that was the only part we had, Brian really liked it, it’s like Pink Floyd but different, but we need another part like a chorus. So we wrote that chorus part in 4/4 and played it twice, and then cut it and maybe the second take is the one you hear on the record. I get to play a little bit more on that.”

Steve: “Has it changed the vibe for live? Now that you’re incorporating these songs into your live set, have you made any adjustments?”

Chad: “No, the only thing instrumentally is we been playing ‘Dark Necessities’ and piano is quite prominent in that, so we need to have somebody do that so we brought a piano player. Besides that, playing-wise, live is a different animal. I think it would be too much to be like, ‘Okay, for ‘Go Robot’ I want it real tight and Punchy, I’m going to change drums.”

Steve: “It’s not impossible to do but it becomes a certain type of show.”

Chad: “It’s two different animals and we just barrel through everything and try our best.”

Steve: “And it works with the new songs?”

Chad: “Yeah. It’s so fun to play new stuff, that’s what we live for. I know people want to hear the old ones but when the new ones come up in the set list…”

Steve: “Two for them, one for you.”

Chad: “People are like, ‘Play ‘Under The Bridge’ already! Do some of those old ones that we like!'”


Steve: “As your career has a few miles under the belt now, what keeps it fresh for you guys?”

Chad: “I think any artist in any band position, you can’t keep doing what you know. It’s easy to do that. You’re right, we’ve been around for a long time, this is our 11th album, 30-whatever years, and it’s important to keep changing and keep doing new things. As musicians, as a band, we’re always searching for new stuff to do, new sounds, new ideas. I’m always learning. I’m a student of the drums and music. I can speak for the other guys too that our passion and fire for music is not dimmed at all, in fact, iy’s become greater. The older you get, the more experiences you have, everyone is playing really well. I love those old records, I love Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication, but we did those. Those were done a long time ago and they’re great records but this is who we are now and it’s honest. This is an honest representation of where we’re at, take it or leave it. You might not like it, you might do, but this is what we’re going to do and this is who we are. You’ve got to keep moving and changing. At the end of the day, it’s just trying to write good songs. It sounds simple – it’s not or everybody would do it. Trying to come up with new ways to create good songs, to challenge us as players, as a band, as musicians and also to have a reason to do it or else go be that band that just plays the hits from 20 years ago and people come to see that and that’s fine.”

Steve: “The pressure is conservatism, isn’t it?”

Chad: “That doesn’t interest us at all. People are like, ‘Why are you playing five of your new songs?’ Well, that’s what we want to do. We’ll play the old ones. I get it, I want to go see bands and hear the ones that I love too, but this is what we want to do and as long as everybody is on the same page and passionate about making new music together, we’ll keep doing it. What else am I going to do? And it’s a great job. As far as jobs go, being the drummer in a band…”

Steve: “It’s not bad. It beats working for a livng.”

Chad: “You don’t work music, you play music.”

Steve: “We toured 15 years ago and that’s incredible, so what are your thoughts about the changes in the music industry?”

Chad: -The music industry has changed for sure. Our record came out last week. In the United States how they base your record sales now is sales plus streaming. We sold 100-whatever-thousand records, CDs, downloads. Drake sold 38.000 records but his streaming made him Number One and we’re Number Two by 6000 streams or something. Eight weeks in a row he’s been at Number One. It’s not a competition about music or anything but that’s obviously very different. Whatever people like is great and as long as they’re exposed to it. I’m all for it, the internet and however people find out about music. But to be in a band, starting out, not to sound like an old fogey, but you’ve got to do it the old fashioned way, hard work, put in the time, put in the effort. I’m not a big fan of these American Idol shows. X Factor and that stuff. You’ve got to get in a garage, figure out how to write good songs and go out and play – if there are places to play. That. I don’t really know about:

Steve: “You’ve got to find your own places to play.”

Chad: and make it happen.”

Steve: “It’s not that thing of, ‘Oh, it was better in my day,’ because every generation has a different set of circumstances that they have to struggle with. The quality of drums you can get now for $500…”

Chad: “You can get a great drumset now! We’re lucky, I feel very grateful to be able to make new music that’s relevant and people care about it and want to buy it and come see us play. I can only control my little world but at the end of the day it’s hard work, there are no shortcuts. You’ve got to put in the work, you’ve got to play a lot and that’s the way to give yourself opportunities to be exposed to good things, other people, other good musicians. Just do it and if you love it, you’re going to want to do it.”

Steve: “You do a lot of stuff outside the band as well, you’ve got two other projects – what’s the status with the Meatbats and Chickenfoot?”

Chad: “Obviously right now my other side projects have taken a backseat. That’s okay, everybody does other things, we play when we can, when everyone’s around. I’ve got my day gig now, which is good. I just love to play.”

Steve: “Do you feel the need to practise?”

Chad: “You know, Steve. I don’t. I’d like to practise more and there are no excuses not to but I saw something where you said that when you’re young and you don’t have any children, and you don’t have those other responsibilities, that’s the time to practise. I don’t have the time now to play like I would like to. I practise with the band and other people, and I prefer playing with other musicians when I do get time to play but I’m not at home. ‘Oh, I’m going to play for three hours.’ I don’t have that time. I really don’t. It’s not an excuse but as you get on, you have your priorities shift. No, I do a lot of playing and rehearsing but I don’t sit down and just play by myself and just woodshed.”

Steve: “You’ve got an amazing career and you’re still very positive which is great to hear, because I think music has become quite a conservative industry in lots of ways, so what would you consider on a personal level is one of your career highlights? Something you feel really proud of and what career ambitions do you still have left?”

Chad: “I’m so grateful and so appreciative and so fortunate – moving to California in 1988 and six months later I’m playing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers who at that time were a band that was in a bit of disarray, the guitar player had just passed away. I didn’t think that the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be a band 30-whatever years later. Just to be a professional musician is all I ever wanted to do. I just want to play the drums and make a living. Still I always stay focussed as much as possible, we all have our ups and downs through many years and do things that influence you for the good and the bad but it’s all part of the journey. I’m still here and I love it.”


Steve: “I know we share very similar musical tastes but have you got any drummers that you constantly go back to for inspiration and a little bit of spark?”

Chad: was with Taylor from the Foo Fighters, we did this thing together, not too long ago and he has this band called Chevy Metal which is like a cover band with his buddies from Laguna Beach. We played this festival after-party and Flea came and we played ‘Jailbreak’ from Thin Lizzy, ‘Miss You’ from the Stones. I played some van Halen and some Queen, Taylor’s musical taste. We were talking on the plane afterwards and Flea goes. ‘You know. I get why you and Taylor love that music.’ because those English bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Ginger Baker, those guys, that music and those drummers in those bands, the mid- to late-60s was the first time that that kind of music happened. Jimi Hendrix, the explosion of that hard blues-rock based thing that the Stones and the Beatles started in England. No one had applied that drumming to that kind of music before, because it was really a new thing at that point. And so, not to say that the Stewart Copelands and everybody else that has come since didn’t have their own thing, but it’s all still based in that, it really is. So that makes sense that I go back to that, because when I was growing up, that’s the stuff that I listened to.”

Steve: “Jon Lord, who I had the privilege to work with, said, ‘We were writing the book, we just didn’t know it.”‘

Chad: -It was uncharted territory. So to have guys like Ginger Baker playing in Cream, he was a jazz guy. Charlie [Watts], total jazz guy. Charlie, who I had the good fortune to interview, he told me Ginger Baker was by far the best jazz drummer in England.”

Steve: “He was, yeah, alongside Phil Seaman who was his tutor. There were some amazing players at that time, Bobby Orr, Ronnie Verrell, Allan Ganley, all those great players, but Ginger could swing. And he’s such a lovely guy. I don’t care what Ginger Baker’s like, I don’t want him to be my best friend, I hope he’s doing great and rocks on forever because he’s brilliant.”

Chad: “He’s Ginger, one of a kind.”

Steve: “You did look a little intimidated when you interviewed him.”

Chad: -Oh my god!”

Steve: “Keeping away from that cane!”

Chad: “He was tough. But yes, those are the guys that I still go back to. There are lots of great drummers and great musicians but that’s special to me and that makes sense to me. That’s why we keep going back to those guys. Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi Hendrix, that’s not ever going to happen again.’

Steve: “And probably something that only could have happened in London as well because a white guy and a black guy in the same band would never have got on the TV in the States at that point.”

Chad: “Probably not. It was a magical time, it was a unique time in rock music and that really resonates with me to this day. Neil Peart too – I heard you went to a Rush concert.”

Steve: “Yeah, I went to see the Professor play! I really enjoyed it. It’s not my kind of thing, but you’ve got to see it. I’ve lost a lot of those stupid prejudices about stuff, it’s either good or it’s bad, that’s all I care about now in music. I wanted to see what he did and I got it. I was totally in awe of how hard he works – or worked because I know he’s retired now. Sometimes it’s good when a musician says, ‘I’ve had enough.’ Bruford has done it and I think that’s cool, but it was a real education to go and see him. Like you say, I agree, you can’t stop growing. When people stop growing, you become very much part of the entertainment business, which is fine, that’s good if you choose to do that, but I think having that little spirit of rock’n’roll is what drives you to keep changing, you want to keep challenging and you want to keep doing new things. That’s what keeps you fresh and keeps me interested.”

Chad: “Yes, exactly. I do want to mention one thing – we were talking about the record and the drum sounds. The important thing is,for me. I’m not as concerned as I maybe once was with. ‘Oh, the drums have to have this certain kind of sound and I play hard and it’s got to be loud, and the snare has got to be bright because that’s the way I like it: I’ve come to realise that the sound of your instrument needs to fit with the song and the sound of the other instruments that are being played. I think on this record I really found a way, with a lot of help from Brian of course, that the sound, which is not my traditional Chad sound whatever that is, fits the songs better and is more musical and it’s the right sonic choices. At the end of the day, the song is the king. Play whatever suits the song best. I dare to say it’s a tiny bit more mature. I have been getting that. ‘It doesn’t sound like your usual thing.’ It’s not Rick Rubin, who has a certain way that he likes to record, which is great, and I think it’s a matter of letting go and being like, okay, the sum of the parts is more important.”


Steve: “We’ve played together many times and I’ve seen what a versatile player you are. You do have that grounding in funk and soul, not just what funk is in terms of the Chili Peppers, but black-influenced, Detroit, Motown and you can hear that in the record. Talking about maturity, I think that’s a really good thing because as we are getting a little further down the road, the sheer physicality of the way you play, you’re going to have to change as you get a little older. You don’t want to be beating the crap out of the drums, it’s nice to be able to do it but it’s nice to have somewhere else to go with it and that’s what I really heard on this record.”

Chad: “It has to be an honest representation. I’m not 25 years old. I still beat the crap out of the drums. Come see us live and we still do our thing, but when it’s appropriate. Play what’s appropriate for the music. That’s being a good musician. I don’t always achieve it but I reach for that.”

Steve: “DO you have any routines on the road for preparing for shows? Are you looking after yourself?”

Chad: “It’s just rest and everything in moderation. I don’t have any rituals. The other guys have to eat at this time, and Flea is playing an hour before the show. As far as playing, I’m fortunate. I have a little drumset in the back and I can warm up on that to get the juices flowing. I’m off the drugs and the booze for eight years now. Anything you have to do to be able to be relaxed when you go out and play, that’s when we play the best. I like to go out and see the crowd. I chat with the other bands. I don’t have a ritual. Whatever it is to be relaxed before you play. I think that’s the best thing to do. Not too many late nights. I did a lot of those.”

Steve: “Going into the hotel now, it’s not ‘Where’s the bar?’ It’s, ‘What’s the Wi-fi code?”

Chad: “I go past the bar now. I did one Chickenfoot album where Andy Johns was our producer/engineer, bless his soul. We would go and record all day and he would have these little red cups everywhere in the control room, in the tracking room. Andy liked to have his cocktails so by six o’clock the session would wind down because Andy was a little loose and then Uncle Andy would tell us about Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones and we’d get our stories out of him. We were staying at this hotel not too far away and I was newly sober at the time. I’d go back to the hotel, wave to the front desk, go past the bar, and Andy would make a left and he’s got a whole tray full of martinis, six of them, and he’d take them back to his room. This was nine, 10 o’clock at night. I was going, wow, man. I’d be like, ‘Okay, good night Andy.’ ‘Join me for a nightcap?’ He wasn’t a young man. Do what you want kids, go crazy or not, but at a certain point it just doesn’t work for me anymore. I had my share of going for it and I don’t have any regrets about it, but at a certain point you have to take a little more control of your life and get more focused and I needed to do that. So that’s what works for me now. Families, kids, there is a list of priorities.”

Steve: “When you come off stage and you’ve played well and you hear that crowd, the day doesn’t get any better than that. If you can’t wind down from that, you’re looking for another high. You’re not going to find it. You might get close but it’s not as good as that

Chad: “You’re chasing it. And I just want to perform really well now, as well as I can, and the whole band does. It’s really important to us to play well. This is my job. It’s a good job, it’s a great job, but I’m not here to party where the gig is getting in the way of all my other social activity. I’m here to play and perform for those people who put their hard earned money down and I want it to go really well and to do the best that I can. That’s all. Everything else revolves around that

Steve: “How did Sir Elton John end up on the record?”

Chad: “He was hanging around the studio, he was there for months running coffee and bagels. Finally, were like, okay, you can play… We had a song called ‘Sick Love’. Anthony’s melody in the verse was a little reminiscent of an Elton John song, we thought it had a Bale bit of ‘Bennie And The Jets’. He was like, ‘No.’ We’re like, ‘yeah, pretty much the same chord changes.’ As it progressed in the studio we thought maybe he’d change it a little bit. No, didn’t really change it. So we called Elton – we didn’t just call Elton, we knew him a little bit and got in contact with him and said. ‘We’ve got a song very inspired by some of your music, we’d like you to hear it and give us your blessing so to speak.’ He’s like, ‘Ah, I’ll come down right away, it’ll be great.’’Okay!’ He was in town doing his big charity event around the time of the Academy Awards. He came down to the studio one night. Anthony wasn’t there but the three of us and Brian were there. It was actually kind of cute, he came in wearing his suit and his rings, he was kind of nervous a little bit. He sat down. We’re like. Soooo, how’s it going?’ He said, ‘Well, let’s hear it.’ So he goes in, we put the track up, he sits down at the piano and it’s a beautiful thing – it’s just who they are. It’s like Stevie Wonder or Stevie Ray Vaughan, as soon as he plunks his chubby little fingers down, it’s him. It’s so cool and he’s looking at the chart doing this honky-tonky Elton John thing. It’s not really how the song goes but he was playing and it was great. And so he figured it out, ‘I’ll run one down: We’re in the control room, he’s playing to the chords, but it was a little much, not exactly what we were looking for, but I’m not going to tell Elton John what to do. So Brian, our producer, that’s what they do, says, ‘It sounds great, maybe just hit the chords during the verse and then play a little bit,’ and he did this arpeggio thing in the bridge, and it was great. He did two runs. Then he was more relaxed and we talked for an hour – politics and art and music. He was fantastic, super cool guy. I’m so happy to have him on our record. He’s like, ‘I can tick this off my bucket list, playing with the Chili Peppers: I’m like, ‘Oh huh!’ But we were honoured to have him play on our record. Before we had Billy Preston play on a couple of things – good guys to have. S**t like that, you can’t believe it sometimes.” R




DRUMS DW Acrylic kit: 24”x18″ bass drum; 12″x8″ tom; 14”x14″ & 16″x16″ floor toms; 14″x61/2″ snare, 10″ Remo Roto Tom

CYMBALS Sabian: 14″ AAX X-Celerator hi-hats; 10″ AA splash, 18″ AA Medium crash, 19″ AA Medium crash, 21″ vault Holy China

PLUS Vater Chad Smith Funk Blaster model, T5 Timpani mallets; Remo heads – Controlled Sound Coated Black Dot on snare with Ambassador Hazy resonant, Controlled Sound clear Black Dot on toms with Emperor Clear resonants, Powerstroke P4 Clear on bass drum; 29″ Adams Professional model timpani, LP Chad Smith model cowbell. LP Medium lam Block; DW hardware – 5000 single pedal, 9700 cymbal stand (x2),9701 cymbal stand, custom Octoban stand, 95000 hi-hat stand, 9991 single torn stand (x2).9300 snare stand, 9303 small basket snare stand. 9101 throne, dwsmMG-5 clamp, dwsma4G-6 cymbal arm



The thrill of playing outside of your comfort zone

At the 2008 Buddy Rich Memorial Concert, Chad tackled ‘Birdland’ from Buddy’s , repertoire. “Don (Lombardi, Drum Channel] sent me the isolated tracks,” says Chad. “He sent me the tracks of the hand with Buddy, minus Buddy, and then Buddy isolated by himself. It was unbelievable. The bass drum alone, all the feathering and the accenting and everything swung so hard. Every limb swung so hard. I can’t do it! There’s no way, nobody can, so I did my own version of it. It’s inspiring to hear that stuff. I want to always try to keep growing and get better. I want to be a better musician, I want to be a better drummer and those experiences help take you out of your comfort zone. Playing with a big band, ooh, but do it, man! You need to walk out in the water and have your toes not feel the ground.”



It’s plastic fantastic time with Chad’s new acrylic kit

After a long relationship with Pearl Drums, earlier this year Chad moved to endorsing DW, choosing an acrylic kit. “They’re so fun to play live,” he says. “The people at Pearl have been nothing but great to me for 30-some years. Before I was in the Chili Peppers I was playing Pearl but it’s good to switch things up a little bit. The West Coast office closed, my guy Mike Farris at Pearl switched to another job, a guy I’ve been talking to for 20 years, and I’ve known Don [Lombardi) at DW forever. He’s literally a half-hour motorcycle ride from my house in Malibu. He’s a great guy, very passionate about drumming, music education, I’ve been involved with the Drum Channel, and it just made sense. But it was a tough call. I had to call Mike, it’s like breaking up with an old girlfriend – it’s not you, it’s me!”