anscript: Many thanks to Sally Sturman for typing this out 🙂
FLEA & ME
by Robb Phillips
When I first heard Jane’s Addiction was going to play in my local burgh of Sacramento, California, I suffered some trepidation. It’s not that I don’t dig “Jane’s…” or anything but, Flea was playing bass and I’m a traditionalist. I like things the way they were, so to speak. I’m just sentimental like that.
As I was trying to imagine what kind of funky mix Flea and Perry Farrell would make, the idea popped into my head for this interview. Flea after all is a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and has been one of the most influential bassists in the past decade, and I do like to cover the TOP rock stuff that comes through my area.
Soon after calling an inside connection, the interview was set – an interview face to face with Flea!
Now, you never quite now what to expect from an interview like this. After all, his tour manager told me, “He has a short attention span, so try to make it quick.” I’m not the least bit afraid to tell you that I was a little nervous going into it. What do I ask a guy whom I assume has been asked everything?
Myself and a good friend, Tony Conley (both of us covering the story for separate publications), arrived at the venue right at the beginning of the sound check. The band was standing centre stage except for guitarist, Dave Navarro. After a little probing someone told me that he was still on his way from L.A.
A discussion began to mount over who was going to play guitar for the sound check. Perry Farrell (lead singer/band’s founder) then points to a reluctant guitar tech and says, “You’re up man!”
As the band tore into “Mountain Song” off Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing Shocking record, I noticed the intensity of the band – even without their guitarist.
Flea, who I had been told was a little under the weather, was bouncing all over the stage, locking into a heavy groove with drummer, Stephen Perkins. (I think my ole’ traditionalism went right out of the window at that point! It was the summer of ‘91 all over again!!)
During the jam, the band’s road manager tells us that the interview will take place while Flea eats his dinner. (That’s cool… I think… I get to watch Flea eat…)
After sound check we made our introductions and headed for a quiet spot to do the interview. We went underneath the stage in very Spinal Tap-ish manner, (Hello Cleveland!) and finally made it into one of many small dressing rooms at the venue.
Breaking the ice – so to speak – Flea and I start to discuss the N.B.A., specifically the L.A. Lakers. I said, “Yeah, I’m really excited about the new season. The Lakers are doing well. But I had a dream last night that Eddie Jones was traded, and I was crying in my dream.” Flea’s quick reply was, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” Needless to say this man is a serious Lakers fan.
On a more bass-related topic, Flea was happy to tell us about the new Modulus Flea Bass. Flea says, “It was a combination of my bass tech looking around to find someone to build me a Flea bass and Modulus being into it.”
“Then it was up to fucking around with the pickup, and trying to find the right one,” says Flea. What they ended up with is a Music Man-style Lane Poor pickup.
Holding up to a Flea-beating, night after night would be the primary functional objective of the new Flea Bass. Flea says, “It’s really a tough bass, which is what a guy like me needs, because I abuse them.”
“It’s the most even-sounding, dynamic bass. It has a variety of tone ranges. It’s great!”
“See I like playing something really pretty, and I like to play really ugly, so this bass works well for all my styles.”
As for bass gear, Flea uses a Gallien-Krueger 2000RB. Flea says, “Yeah, I got me those new ones, those louder ones!”
Though it sounds a little strange coming from a “larger than life” Rock Star who sells millions of records, but Flea proudly states, “I really don’t know anything about equipment at all. To tell you the truth I’m a spoiled Rock Star. My main concern is that it sounds loud and good.”
“I’m just joking. You know I’m joking right?”
Sure Flea, whatever you say.
After the obligatory equipment rundown, it was about this time we got the scoop on those other guys Flea plays with, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea’s sincere response to that was, “I have no idea what is going to happen with that. We recorded a few songs before we left for this tour, but it’s unpredictable.”
This is the first time in a long while Flea has played with a drummer other than Chad Smith, so I wondered how that must feel. “It’s great; he (Perkins) is an amazing, great, incredible drummer. Chad is much more meat and potatoes, while Stephen is into all the tripped-out drum beats, instead of the beer drinking meat eating beats.”
About the overall vibe of the new Jane’s Addiction line-up, Flea says, “I love this band. I love the music. I love the tour.”
As we continued our discussion on the musical differences between the two bands, I asked Flea about passion and his playing.
“I think without passion it’s ridiculous to play. For me if you don’t play with your heart, you have nothing to say, and if you have nothing to say you should shut up.”
“To me, gear is pretty insignificant. I think it’s in your fingers and in your soul. You could play some hundred dollar copy bass and some piece of shit amp, and if the soul is there – the soul is there.”
“I just want to stay creative and be a creative entity, as a bass player, and as a musician in general – in whichever means I have to express myself in the situation that I’m in.”
“I try to keep myself emotionally and spiritually in a place where I’m a creative person. I just want to be able to give creatively to life. I want to take pride in what I do. To do it with dignity that is all I ever wanted to do – to do it my way, not anyone else’s way, to be myself.”
“It doesn’t matter to me as much the context in which I do it or even if I’m playing the bass. It’s about me being spiritually connected as a person and me doing my song and dance – you know, I just do my thing.
“As a bass player, you know I’d like to get better. I’d like to learn more – become a more complete musician.”
With that statement, I asked Flea, do you seek out information to achieve that goal? He said, “Well, I’m always listening and I’m always open minded. I’m always looking for something beautiful, whether it’s music or otherwise.”
“I’m as influenced now by like doing nothing as anything. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not. I’m not saying that doing nothing affects my playing more than say transcribing a Jaco solo, not that transcribing a Jaco solo is a bad thing. I’m just saying that one’s not more important than the other. I’m not saying that one way is better than the other. Music is the sum of your existence – the sum of your thoughts, you know, unless you’re just a robot.”
“If you’re playing from your feelings then the way you play is an expression of the way you live. Someone like Jaco for instance was just so amazing, cause he obviously lived a very intense life and it came out through his playing.”
On the topic of intense lives, the discussion shifted to former RHCP guitarist John Frusciante and the use of drugs.
“I’m not into them. (Short pause) I don’t judge anyone for doing what they want to do. Everyone makes their own choices.”
When asked about the impact of rumours on Flea’s life he says, “To tell you the truth, I don’t pay any attention to the rumours. I leave that to my daughter.”
When asked how hard is it to be a rock-n-roll father, Flea responded, “My daughter (Clara) loves what I do. Like, for instance on this tour I wouldn’t bring her out. Some of the time I would, but this tour is unpredictable. I actually miss her terribly right now. Being a rock-n-roll dad is cool, she’s into it.”
At that moment Flea notices my friend Tony’s t-shirt. “Isn’t that the bass player for Thin Lizzy?” asked Flea. Tony nods and says, “Yes, Phil Lynott.” Flea snaps back, “Henry Rollins is always going on about that guy. He says that he’s the most amazing rocker. I’ve never heard him.”
About the rumours of a project with Henry Rollins, Flea said, “We have talked about it. I love that guy. He’s a fuckin’ sweetheart. We discussed it. He was talking about stretching out. He’s always really been nice to me.”
“I’ll play with just about anyone who’ll ask. I’m real lucky to get to play with different people and learn different feelings from playing with these guys, Jane’s…, Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Ice Cube, you know all different feelings.”
“I always wanted to get to play with everyone.” I asked Flea about the possibilities of a Flea solo record in the future? “Well I keep starting it and something else comes along,” says Flea. “I know I have to keep working on it, ‘cause I have songs recorded. Not much bass though – mostly guitar and singing. I’m definitely gonna make one unless things keep coming up like this.”
At this point we wrapped up the interview because Flea was off for a well needed nap before the show. The show by the way was a few hours away, so Tony and I walked by Flea’s onstage rig. We looked at a rack case with five GK 2000RBs (the ones that go louder) a Mesa Boogie 2 x 10 cab, and a Mesa Boogie 2 x 15 cab. The basses of course were the Modulus Flea basses – five of them to be exact.
The show later that night was fantastic. Tony and I got to hang out right off stage all night long. Tony said this has to be one of the most exciting places to be in the country tonight, and I had to agree with him.