Ultimate Guitar are running a lengthy interview with Michael Beinhorn about his career as a music producer and obviously RHCP are mentioned. Here are the extracts from the interview concerning the Chili Peppers:
In 1987, you went in the studio with the Red Hot Chili Peppers to do the “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan” album. Was that your first significant production?
I’d done a couple on my own after I left Material but they weren’t really any major things to speak of. I feel like they were more my fledgling attempt to strike out on my own as a producer.
What was that like being in there with the Chili Peppers? Certainly you knew their background and the music they’d made previously?
I didn’t really, hahaha. I remember hearing them one time on the radio and going, “Oh, this is kind of interesting.” But then I later realized I had been listening to the wrong song. I thought I had been listening to a Chili Peppers song when it was actually a Jim Foetus song, hahaha. I had no idea what the Chili Peppers sounded like until sometime played the demo.
What did you think when you finally heard the band?
At that point I was kind of like, “OK. It’s messy but it could be worthwhile.”
Anthony Kiedis was going through a heavy heroin addiction at the time so that must have made those sessions pretty hard, right?
It was interesting because it was really what I needed more than anything at that point in time. It was a true baptism by fire. I went from being someone with very, very little experience as a record producer [into a project like this]. I remember going around to people and trying to get them to hire me. One guy said, “To hire you on a record right now, Michael, would be a crapshoot.” I was like, “What?” but in hindsight the guy was not wrong. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
What were those sessions like?
Here I am with this band that basically their record label can’t stand. On top of that, the minute I land to go to work with these guys – I can’t remember who it was who picked me up and I think actually Jack Irons picked me up at the airport – someone along the way casually mentioned, “By the way, two of the guys have got little drug problems.”
That must have freaked you out?
I was kinda like, “Oh.” I was a naive, innocent young man and I’m not sure what this means. I figured, “Well, maybe they’re smoking a little too much pot or they’re doing a little too much coke.” It turns out I’m smack dab in the middle of dealing with a semi-functional and a completely non-functional heroin addict, hahahaha.
There were two guys on heroin?
One of the guys was Hillel [Slovak] who was shooting dope. I think he did it to the extent where he was able to kind of go to work and at least show up and do stuff. But Anthony was absolutely AWOL. He wouldn’t show up for weeks at a time.
Yeah, it was bad. When he did, he would come into the studio and his face would be green. He was all pockmarked from scratching and stuff. He’d have a bag of candy with him and be there for like 20 minutes and go into the bathroom and get sick and leave.
How did you get through that?
It was really tough. It was really tough and it really kind of put me in a high, high stress environment very, very fast. I don’t really recommend that to most people but to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, “No man winds up in situations he can’t handle.
At the end of the day, “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan” album would become the band’s first record to break into the Top 200 and would represent an important step in their career.
Thank you. Again, I wasn’t expecting miracles out of the thing. I was like, “If we can just get through this and everyone is alive at the end of it.” I was like, “I have to make it as good as possible.” I wanted to get them as far away from being too self-indulgent.
What do you mean?
I felt that was one of the things that had plagued them in the past. That they really were not focused on account they used all their influences in a very diffuse kind of way. There wasn’t a focused band sound to them. I thought it was really important to try and find ways to distill what they were doing.
You did push them into different areas to try different musical ideas?
Just in some ways simplify it more and focus it as much as possible.
They must have liked what you did because they bring you back two years later to do the “Mother’s Milk” album.
All of a sudden the band dynamic had changed considerably. You’ve eliminated two key people in the band [Slovak died of a heroin overdose and close friend Jack Irons left because he couldn’t deal with his friend’s death] who are part of this network of friends and some of whom have known each other since before high school. I’m pretty sure most of them went to high school together [Fairfax High School]. They all knew each other from the time they were pretty young so that creates a really, really profound dynamic amongst people. Sometimes it’s a dynamic that keeps people in a really good place and sometimes you might be able to do better.
When John Frusciante and Chad Smith came in on the “Mother’s Milk” album, that really changed the dynamic in the band?
Chad was very experienced as a drummer and he was extremely good. It’s so funny because I had to twist those guy’s arms to hire him too.
Is that right?
They wouldn’t do it, hahahah. They were just hemming and hawing because he was too rock ‘n’ roll for them. I was like, “You’ve gotta be joking. This is the absolute best drummer that’s been into audition and probably the best you’ve played with in the last two years. You’re crazy if you don’t hire this person. Someone is gonna snatch him up in a heartbeat.”
That’s amazing the band didn’t recognize Chad Smith’s talents from the beginning.
He looked all silly and he had a headband on. After a week, they were like, “OK.”
What was it like working with John Frusciante?
John is a different story. He was like this little kid. He was like 17-years old when he joined the Chili Peppers and he spent a lot of his time in his room at home with his mom. I’m pretty sure he’d taken lessons but he apparently sat around transcribing Steve Vai guitar solos for hours. He was a real muso.
Was Anthony Kiedis still doing heroin?
A lot of things had changed. Anthony had straightened out and there was a lot of animosity between him and Flea.
It didn’t help things at all. Yeah, it was really bad actually. They never dealt with it at all. They never went to one another and sat down and were like, “Look, dude. We’ve known each other too long for this to affect what we’re doing.” I really kind of had to keep the show going especially since the two principals, the two original guys in the band and one of whom was the singer, didn’t come to the studio ever.
Anthony and Flea wouldn’t come to the studio?
Hahaha. It was an interesting thing but it was funny because all of a sudden they were the cause célèbre at the record company. All of a sudden the president of the record company is going down to visit us at Ocean Way Studios and it’s like, “Oh, sh-t. He only does this for the really big artists. I guess he’s got a lot riding on these guys all of a sudden.” Through EMI Manhattan and they were expecting great things from them.