Bass Guitar Magazine May 2009

I lost the eBay auction for this and the seller very kindly photocopied the relevant pages and sent it to me free of charge! Random acts of kindness are such a nice thing today so thank you so much to the person who did this!

Interview Flea

Since exploding onto the LA club scene in the late `80s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have become something of an institution. In an exclusive interview, Flea recalls the realization of the Chili Peppers and unveils his brand-new signature bass.

As a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea’s unique brand of psychedelic punk-funk remains at the core of the Chili’s signature sound. Following the success of their ninth studio album, Stadium Arcadium, 2009 finds the band enjoying a well-earned break. Drummer, Chad Smith, has been hard at work with Chickenfoot – a new super group consisting of Smith, guitarist Joe Satriani and ex-Van Halen members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. Guitarist John Frusciante is busy promoting his solo album, The Empyrean, while front man Anthony Kiedis is gearing up for a new television series based on his upbringing in Los Angeles. Flea, on the other hand, has enrolled at the University of Southern California where he is studying Music Theory, Composition and Jazz Trumpet, and with the launch of his very own bass company, Flea Bass Inc, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s star bassist is showing no signs of taking it easy.

The Flea Bass

Initial plans for the Flea Bass surfaced back in 2001 with the launch of the Silver Lake Conservatory; a fully-fledged music school founded by Flea that currently boasts close to 700 students. It was during his time spent teaching at Silver Lake that Flea became concerned with the standard of instruments that his students were bringing to lessons, “I noticed that kids would have these basses that were like toys’,’ Flea tells us, “The action was bad, the neck would be warped and they would get them like that straight from the store! So I started thinking to myself, why is it so hard to make a bass and just take a little more time and care with it? It doesn’t need to be really expensive, you can just take the time and do it right and that’s what we’re doing’”

To help fine-tune his ideas Flea enlisted the help of the Chili Peppers long-serving guitar tech, Dave Lee, and after two years of research finally arrived at the design for the Flea Bass. “We kicked around a bunch of different ideas, but the classic design that Leo Fender came up with has never really been beaten so I didn’t really want to stray too far from that in terms of the shape of the bass. I have this wonderful old Fender bass that I love and I got the neck really close to that’: The Flea Bass features an alder body and a single passive pickup with only tone and volume controls. The bass will be available in 30- and 34-inch scale lengths as well as four very different colour combinations: the green-on-pink Punk bass, the blue-on-orange Water bass, the orange-on-yellow Sunny bass and the black-on-white Wild One. “They are just colours that I like,” explains Flea, “it’s my idea of what I want a bass to look like. When I have a bass I want to feel like it’s a really cool thing. I’ve had deals with other companies who make great basses, but with the Flea Bass I just liked the idea of doing it on my own.”

With production set to take place in China, Flea is keen to point out that each and every Flea Bass will be set up and given a final check back in the US before being shipped. “No bass will ever go from the factory straight to the store’,’ says Flea, “We are going to personally check and setup every single one. With a strong emphasis on quality control the future certainly looks bright for Flea’s new venture, but it’s the desire for his students to have an instrument that they can fall in love with, as he once did, that remains the driving force behind the Flea Bass, “I remember when I discovered music for the first time and how it made me feel and what an exciting thing that was. And it was the same with the bass itself. I was just in love with my bass! I would just sit and stare at it! I am really romantic about what an instrument is. An instrument is like a magic wand to a magician! And I just want to continue that romance with the Flea Bass.

Flea Fly

Flea’s groove-fuelled melodies together with his aggressive slap style helped define a funk rock movement that would inspire a generation, but as a child it was the sound of Louis Armstrong that would spark Flea’s own musical aspirations. “I started playing the trumpet when I was 11 and I was all about Louis Armstrong. It would be Louis Armstrong and the Hot 5, the Hot 7, I loved all of those recordings and I listened to them all of the time. And then I got into players like Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, who I consider to be the greatest trumpet player of all time.” With an early grounding in jazz, Flea was later introduced to rock music via a chance meeting with local guitarist, Hillel Slovak. “When I was seventeen I made a friend named Hillel Slovak and he played in a rock band, but he didn’t like his bass player so he was like `you should learn to play bass!’ He played me some Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin records and I started really getting into rock music, so I took up the bass and joined his band’: Flea’s musical influences continued to evolve as he merged his love of jazz with his new found appreciation for classic rock. “In the beginning I was really into prog rock like the Bill Bruford solo records and One of a Kind, Weather Report, Gong, Allan Holdsworth, Lenny White’s solo albums, the Stanley Clarke George Duke project, Mahavishnu, Tony Williams Lifetime. Coming from Jazz as a kid I could really relate to the virtuosity of that music.” The final phase that preceded the Red Hot Chili Peppers came with the arrival of punk rock, as Flea remembers, “I’d always been into funk, but punk rock was a huge awakening for me and almost like a spiritual awakening musically. It just dawned on me one day that one chord played over and over again with the right intent was as emotionally powerful and valid as the greatest John Coltrane solo. And that was a huge awakening for me within the concept of music and at that time the concept of the Chili Peppers was born.”

Red Hot

With over 50 million albums sold worldwide The Red Hot Chili Peppers have become one of the most influential acts in rock history, but for a host of new bands looking to follow in the Chili Pepper’s footsteps landing that first big break is an altogether tougher proposition. “In terms of the way that we did it where you start a band and start playing around town, you get popular and the next thing you know a record company signs you up gives you tour support and you go on tour, that model is stopping to exist now. The big record company days are over.” While Flea readily admits that the industry has gone through some significant changes since the Chili Peppers rose to fame in the late ’80s, he remains optimistic about the future. “I feel like the last ten or fifteen years hasn’t been the healthiest time for the music industry with the way MTV blew up, the internet being so far reaching and the radio stations just playing the same hits, it’s like everyone was hearing the same thing and it was inhibiting pockets of original creativity popping up. What I notice in young people that I meet today is they are starting to think more for themselves and starting to find music that they like on the Internet and in their community. They might find a link on YouTube, or whatever, which leads to something else and before long they could be listening to Captain Beefheart or Eric Dolphy! It’s like they are plumbing music history and finding things that they really love as opposed to just getting the latest corporate thing rammed down their throat. There is a bigger sense of community and camaraderie and that fosters a lot of creativity among kids so I feel pretty hopeful and excited about the potential for great things to happen in this next period of time.” With the Chili Peppers currently on a hiatus, Flea too has been re-evaluating his approach to music. “Things have been changing a lot for me lately. I’m going to university right now and studying theory and composition, counterpoint and all this stuff. I was never academically schooled in music so I am getting really cerebral about it now. I have been dissecting and studying Bach and Mozart and it’s really exciting for me. I feel like it’s opening up a part of me that I didn’t have before’: But Flea remains adamant that his fundamental approach to making music will never change, “For me, it’s always been about what feels good. So in the past music has always been about how my body reacts and what it makes my heart do, reaching for that thing that feels beautiful and that will always be a huge part of it, but to engage myself in an intellectual way is opening up something new for me and I’m just devoting myself to being the best musician that I can.”

Interview by Nick Wells

 

The Flea Bass

The Flea Bass features a solid alder body and maple neck, a rosewood fingerboard and a passive pickup wired to single volume and tone controls. The Fleabass logo can be found on the headstock written it Flea’s own handwriting, alongside Flea’s gap-toothed grin and “Dios Mid’ (my god) drawings, which he affixes to all his autographs. The Flea Bass is available in two sizes and four different colour combinations: the green-on-pink Punk bass, the blue-on-orange Water bass, the orange-on-yellow. Sunny bass and the black-on-white Wild One. The Full Scale Series has a 34-inch scale length and is expected to retail at f4.99. The Junior Series (£449) features a 30-inch scale

Flea’s Playlist

“The first thing that I really loved was the Beatles. The White album was the first thing that I connected with as a kid, but if I could only listen to five albums for the rest of my life? They would be …

The Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet Recordings

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

GI by the Germs

The Beatles White Album

Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

Flea’s Dream Line Up

“I would have Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Billie Holliday on vocals, me on bass and Tony Allan on drums. I would want to play trumpet too, so I can’t pick Clifford Brown or he would hog the stage!”

Damien Hirst

Flea recently received a 1964 Fender Jazz bass decorated with real butterfly wings under laminate as a gift from British artist Damien Hirst, whose next project will be to design a Flea Bass. “Damien is going to control the aesthetics for a bass”, Flea tells us, “It’s going to be a Hirst Flea Bass! He is such a great artist and I’m just really excited to work with people who I really like and admire”.

 

 

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