NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
The lobby at the Omni Berkshire hotel is a swank, Uptown Manhattan kind of place. Guys in Armani suits cut billion-dollar deals while French tourists sip tea and chat about Fifth Avenue jewelry shops. Arik Marshall, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new guitarist, looks distinctly out of place in this mirrored salon. He sits upright on a plush sofa, self-possessed, but also a little self-conscious. • Maybe that’s only natural, since Arik’s still becoming accustomed to his new role as a Chili Pepper. He joined on very short notice after John Frusciante, the Peppers’ excitable axeman, abruptly vacated the position. One day Arik was playing bars around his native Los Angeles, and the next, he was in America’s number-one alternative pack group. Just prior to Arik’s coming aboard, the Peppers’ Blood-Sugar SexMagik had reached the top of the charts, and their buck-naked, muscular selves had graced the cover of Rolling Stone.
“My first show with the Peppers was in front of 60,000 people in Belgium,” says Arik. “It was at a huge festival with Bryan Adams, Lou Reed and Smashing Pumpkins. I think it went well. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous. I think it would have been a lot stranger if the Chili Peppers weren’t so cool and down-to-earth and easy to work with. They really helped me feel comfortable.”
Physically, Arik Marshall seems an unlikely candidate for Pepperdom. He’s tall and gangly—not a pumped-up pectoral in sight. And although he’s just in his early 20’s, his black hair is thinning on top. Searching eyes look out from deep sockets. There’s something both familiar and exotic about his angular facial features.
“I’m Blewish,” he laughs in explanation. “Half-black and half-Jewish. Like Slash. And Lenny Kravitz.” Personality-wise, Arik Marshall can hardly be less like his predecessor. Where John Frusciante came on like a psychotic pre-schooler, Arik is calm, quiet and deferential to a fault.
“He is just very, very polite,” says bassist Flea of his new axe buddy. “Arik is very considerate of other people at all times. He’s not the type of person who wears his emotions on his sleeve.”
So what’s he doing in the Red Hot Chili Peppers? It’s hard to imagine Arik vomiting in mid-sentence on an interviewer’s shoes—or asking a female reporter if her nipples get hard during intercourse. It looks like Anthony Kiedis, Flea and Chad Smith will have to cover for the new guy when it comes to the Peppers’ trademark outrageous behavior.
But not when it comes to music. The new kid ripped it up on the Peppers’ headlining Lollapalooza shows. “People say it swings a little more than it did with John,” acknowledges Arik. He adds self-effacing-ly: “I’m not sure what that means, exactly. But I think it’s good.”
Before joining the Chili Peppers, Arik played in three L.A. bands: Marshall Law, Trulio Disgracias and Afejirk. All three were heavy on the funk. But the most notorious, at least locally, was Trulio Disgra-cias—an on-again/off-again camp funk outfit whose ranks have at times included members of Fishbone, the Chili Peppers and Funkadelic. Flea and Arik actually played together in the highly informal Trulio (although Flea was on trumpet—his first instrument), and crossed each other’s paths even before that: ”
We’d always see one another around different clubs,” says Arik, “and something of a friendship developed over the years. It was like a mutual admiration thing. Flea and Anthony would come and see my bands and I’d go see theirs. And, basically, when they needed a guitar player when John quit, they thought of me.”
GUITAR WORLD: So, you go back to the early/mid-Eighties Hollywood scene?
ARIK MARSHALL: Around ’83, ’84, yeah. My brother, Lonnie Marshall, pretty much introduced me to it when we started Marshall Law. We played around Hollywood for about three years. You gotta hear Lonnie’s stuff, by the way. He’s got his own group now, called Weapon Of Choice. Awesome. GW: What was happening in Hollywood when you were coming up? It was definitely the post-punk era, definitely after the mod/ska scene….
MARSHALL: It was the Richard Blade era. [Blade is a ubiquitous L.A. disk jockey who in the early-Eighties hosted an MTV-style show broadcast locally.] It was bands like Berlin, Flock of Seagulls and Oingo Boingo.
GW: A lot of haircut bands back then—did you want to rebel against that?
MARSHALL: No, I was into it! A lot of those bands, like Bow Wow, were cool. I was into the Stray Cats, who were really hot at that time. Brian Setzer was my first main guitar influence—the Stray Cats are what made me want to become a guitar player. And Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix, of course. And all of the P-Funk guitar players–Michael Hampton, Eddie Hazal, Gary Shider and Glen Collins— were just absolutely incredible; they still haven’t gotten their just deserts.
GW: So you come from a rockabilly/rock and roll thing, as well as a funk thing.
MARSHALL: Yeah. I’ve never heard of any-one doing that combination before—going from rockabilly to funk. I’m sure it has something to do with my style. Funkabilly? The first guitar I had was a Gibson Les Paul, but then I got a Gretsch hollow-body. like Brian Setzer. The weird thing about that was I was just starting to get into the funk at that time. So I was trying to play funk on a hollow-body Gretsch ’til some-one came along and told me, “Ummmm…. try a Strat.” That’s what I’ve used ever since. I love Strats.
GW: During the time you were coming up, the metal scene also became huge in L.A. Are you into metal?
MARSHALL: The only time I got into any type of metal scene was when Guns N’ Roses first came out. I was really into them, especially Appetite for Destruction. But apart from like Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen and Aerosmith, so much of that heavy metal stuff to me is just garbage.
GW: Even during the height of L.A.’s metal scene, guys who had been involved in the punk scene managed to maintain a separate identity—like Flea, who was in Fear way back when.
MARSHALL: That’s true. I know Flea was into punk, but his taste is so extensive. The variety of the music he listens to is amazing, and it’s all integral to what he does. So it’s not surprising to me that he’s as great as he is.
GW: What’s it like playing with him? What kind of groove have you hit?
MARSHALL: It’s great—just a natural flow. Neither one of us had to compromise our styles very much. He doesn’t have to play around me. I can just be myself and we can make it mesh.
UP IN FLEA’S hotel room, the vibe is a few shades hipper than down in the lobby. Multi-colored scarves are draped over the lamps, and Charlie Parker’s sax lines waft from a boom box. Flea’s personal effects are strewn all over the place—half-unpacked luggage, an acoustic bass case, a leather jacket with leopard-skin lining. The bassist isn’t feeling so well—a combination of upper respiratory congestion and rock-tour fatigue has taken its toll. But he’s just returned from an acupuncturist and seems to be in a pretty mellow mood. At one point in our conversation, he rises nonchalantly and expectorates into a tea cup. Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t do our interview down in the lobby.
His clogged sinuses not withstanding, Flea brightens at the mention of the Red Hot Chili Peppers newest member: “The first time I heard Arik play was in some little club somewhere. I said, ‘Okay, that guy’s funky’—like he was good, but I wasn’t that impressed. Next time I heard him play was in Trulio Disgracias, when I was on trumpet. And I said, ‘Whoa!’ Then I saw him play with his brother in Marshall Law, and it was phenomenal. Amazing. Incredible. Like this psychedelic, liquid, funky trip. I thought, ‘This guy is the greatest fucking guitar player!’ So when John quit and we needed a guitar player, we auditioned three people that we knew. Arik was one of them.
GW: Who else was in the running?
FLEA: One of the guys was a friend of ours…. I’m not sure how much I want to get into this. Because all the players we auditioned were good. None were better than any of the others. It’s just that Arik was the best for the Chili Peppers. We also tried out a guy called Zander Schloss, who is a really good musician. He used to play with Joe Strummer, and he’s done a lot of sound-track work. And who else did we play with? Oh yeah, we played with Buckethead.
GW: How does it feel with Arik? Is it a different kind of groove than you had with John?
FLEA: Yeah, it’s definitely different. Very different. Around the time when John left there was a lot of onstage tension. Some-times it was great—tension makes for great art a lot of times. But sometimes it was just difficult. Now, with Arik, it’s a lot more easygoing.
GW: What really happened with John? Why did he leave?
FLEA: Part of it was the pressure of constant touring. Given all that goes on with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it’s easy to let the rest of your life fall apart, you know? And I think John needed to take care of his life, his sanity and his peace of mind. ‘Cause it was driving him batty. He needed his space. And I totally respect that, ’cause I love John. And I know he’s feeling a lot happier now than he was. GW: So you keep in touch with him.
GW: What’s the situation with Arik? Is he just filling in? Is he a permanent member of the group? FLEA: He’s the guitar player in the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
GW: For good?
FLEA: That’s the way it is.
GW: And John? FLEA: John quit the band.
ARIK MARSHALL IS actually the third guitarist to play with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Before John Frusciante there was Hillel Slovak, Flea’s old high school friend, who co-founded the Peppers with him around 1983, and who died in ’88. So even though the Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t really very old, Arik is stepping into a position that is weighted with emotional resonance. But Arik seems to be taking R.H.C.P. history, tragic and otherwise, in characteristically calm and level-headed stride.
GW: What’s your approach to covering John’s guitar parts onstage? Are you reproducing them note-for-note?
MARSHALL: Not so much note-for-note. But there are some things that I wouldn’t do any other way than how John did it—like the introduction to “Give It Away.” Because I think that’s an important piece of his, one which people quickly identify with. But in other areas—like solos and fills and things—I just interject my own stuff. So it ends up being 50/50: I try to do his stuff exactly as he did it, and I try to do my own thing.
GW: Some of his lead lines were really wild.
MARSHALL: Yeah. I wouldn’t even try to recapture those.
GW: How much time did you spend preparing for your first show with the band?
MARSHALL: Before we went to Belgium, I think we had three-and-a-half weeks of-five-days-a-week, four- or five-hour-rehearsals. Just cramming everything in.
GW: Did you have to prove yourself worthy of being a Chili Pepper? John used to say they made him show them his penis. Did you go through a similar trial?
MARSHALL: No. I guess the only thing so far would be the fire hats [i.e. the flame-throwing headgear worn by the Chili Peppers as part of their live show]. I had to muster up some courage to put on one of those hats, which spit fire in the air. But apart from that, no other absurd zaniness has been demanded of me.
GW: So how’s Lollapalooza going?
MARSHALL: It’s weird at times, but overall it’s been a lot of fun.
GW: Which act attracts the most interesting groupie action?
MARSHALL: Interesting groupie action? [He ponders for a moment.] The Jim Rose Freak Show.
GW: A skillfully evasive answer. But I guess it’s true.
MARSHALL: It is true!
GW: Are they an act on the second stage?
GW: Have you had any opportunity to talk guitars or swap riffs with any other players on the bill? MARSHALL: No, not really. A bit with Kim [Thayil] from Soundgarden, who’s really cool. We jammed once; I played bass while he played guitar. So it wasn’t a guitar-to-guitar type of jamming thing.
GW: Has there been any talk of a new Chili Peppers’s album yet?
MARSHALL: Not so much actual dates or even any new material, but definite references to how we want to make it as funky as possible.
GW: What do you think you’re going to bring to the Chili Peppers?
MARSHALL: I guess a certain degree of fire.
GW: Apart from what’s coming out of your hat, I take it.
MARSHALL: Yeah. I mean they’ve always had it. But just my own brand of flames.
BACK UP IN Flea’s room, the bassist has a little Lollapalooza tidbit of his own to impart: “Yesterday, I think one of the guys from the Da Lench Mob [rapper Ice Cube’s posse] punched out one of the guys in the Jesus and Mary Chain—because he spilled beer on him or something.” Flea’s rubbery face dissolves in a schoolboy titter. “I heard something about that. I don’t really know, though.”
GW: Oh no! Which guy in the Jesus and Mary Chain?
FLEA: I don’t know—one of those pasty little English guys. It’s just a rumor I heard; I didn’t see it happen or anything. For the most part, everybody’s just having fun on the tour. I’ve been going out with the Da Lench Mob, dancing and stuff. Ice Cube’s come out with us, along with Boo-Yaa-T.R.I.B.E. and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. Mostly it’s just a good time. I wouldn’t say it’s the best tour I’ve ever been on, because I’ve been on so many. But it’s definitely the best one I’ve been on in a long time.
GW: Have you had a chance to jam with any of the other musicians on the tour?
FLEA: Yeah, it was the last time Boo-Yaa-T.R.I.B.E. played a club in the town where we were in, and a bunch of people on tour went down and jammed. It was me and Stone [Gossard] from Pearl Jam, Bronxstyle Bob was on the mike, Al Jourgenson [Ministry] played guitar, and the Boo-Yaa’s drummer was there. We were just throwing down some stuff. It was real cool.
GW: Sounds like a real mix of talents!
FLEA: Yeah, I love that kind of thing. I wish there was more of it around. Unfortunately, every time the Chili Peppers make a move these days, it’s such a big deal. Like to play a show, it’s not just us going to play a gig, but a 10-man crew, a truck and big effects. Plus, all the agents gotta get involved and everyone’s gotta get hired to make the big move, you know? It just makes it harder to get together somewhere and jam.
GW: The Stones used to try to combat that by playing secret little gigs at clubs.
FLEA: Yeah, but I’m not talking about playing a gig, like getting up there to play Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. I’m talking about getting up there with whoever and playing whatever—just being loose. It could be shitty noise or it could be the most genius music of all time. But it’s gotta be spontaneous, and never been played before. I just wish there would be more of that in music today.
I have this notion—it’s probably just this romantic idea in my head—that in the Sixties it seemed like, from what I’ve read and stuff, that all the musicians would just play together, you know. You often hear that Jimi Hendrix would just jam with every-body. And on a big tour like this, the possibilities are limitless. All that shit could happen if everyone would just completely let down all their egos and all their preconceptions of what their music is supposed to be and just get together for humanity and play shit. In the spirit of music and freedom, you know. I don’t know how I could make that happen, but I wish I could. There’s a lot of walls you have to break down. If this tour went on for about two years or some-thing, it would probably get like that. It
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would be just a total free-for-all, with people not isolating themselves at all.
I read in the paper that Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth is always playing with different people and things. That always sounds great to me—like, God, I wanna get in on one of these crazy jams. I guess I get to jam with people, anyway, you know. Like I ran up on stage and played with the Rollins Band. And it was cool! That type of thing to me is just the greatest thing in the world.
GW: So you dig Sonic Youth?
FLEA: Yeah, I get a really good feeling from Sonic Youth. I was just listening to their newest record [Dirty, DGC] today. I hear emotions in their playing that I hear in [jazz saxophonist] Eric Dolphy or Coltrane. You know, just that type of freedom, openness and willingness to take chances. And then, like I say, I read about that guy jamming with different people too. So I get the feeling that something’s going on over there.
GW: I interviewed Thurston recently and he said something interesting about you guys. FLEA: What did he say?
GW: He pointed out that Sonic Youth doesn’t get covered by big mainstream media, like Entertainment Tonight, but the Chili Peppers and Ministry do. Then he said, “I think those bands are easier to deal with than Sonic Youth.”
FLEA: Maybe it’s easier for people to understand what we’re about than it is for them to understand what Sonic Youth is about. I love Sonic Youth. I just think they’re an incredible band.
GW: The Chili Peppers have become such a major group in the past year or so.
FLEA: [With stagey nonchalance] Yeah, we’re huge.
GW: Cover of Rolling Stone….
FLEA: We’re huge.
GW: What’s that like?
FLEA: It’s cool. I mean it’s all relative, as far as what actually is good about it. Still, the only goodness comes from the magic we can create by playing—when we come together on stage and make it happen. That still feels the same, but just on a grander scale. We’re staying in nicer hotels and playing in bigger places, rather than travelling in a Chevy van and playing to a few people in a punk rock club. It’s not like success is some big surprise or anything. It has been a long, slow climb for us. Granted, this is our first hit record. I mean double-platinum, big hit, smash deal. But I don’t think there’s really much of a difference, outside of the fact that people really want our autographs now. It’s more lonely for me at shows, because it used to be that we’d play, and I could go meet people. Making friends around the world was one of the cool things about touring. And now the opportunity to do that has diminished, because the majority of people that I deal with at a show or in a working circum-
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RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS continued from page 100
stance don’t treat me like a normal person. They want my autograph or they want to say something so I’ll remember them, or just want to be complete gawking fans. It’s difficult to relate to someone under those circumstances—where they’re not relaxed and treating you like a regular guy.
GW: BloodSugarSexMagik marks the first time you’ve stepped beyond the so-called altemative market.
FLEA: Yeah, which in one way is great: it’s great to make money. And it’s great to communicate musically with such a large number of people without having to change our music in any way. But the weird thing for me is being embraced by a populace and a media that I’ve always rebelled against. Like being on the cover of Rolling Stone and the MTV Awards and all that stuff. It’s cool because we haven’t compromised to get there. But at the same time, these are the same people who embrace a band like Def Leppard—which is a disgusting, spineless, terrible, corporate, whore, all-about-money, time-wasting, unhealthy-for-anyone’s-creativity-or-art thing.
GW: And there you are alongside of them—like Coke and Pepsi.
FLEA: Exactly. So that’s kind of weird. Like Rolling Stone gave me the “best bass player” award. And that’s cool, but I think they could just as easily have voted for the guy in Leppard, or some other guy who played one note into a Fairlight and let the producer do the rest. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that I’m not flattered. I am. My mom’s real proud of me and all that shit. But I’m not sure about the authenticity of the compliment.
GW: Are you writing any music amid all this hysteria?
FLEA: I play this acoustic bass [gestures to the instrument case on the floor]. But I’m just letting ideas run through; I’m not trying to hold onto anything right now. To me, It’s just as healthy, musically to find ideas and riffs and then forget about them. Because, for me, it’s all emotional. On. I’ve gotten into an emotional state that enables me to produce a certain sound or a certain type of riff, I can always get back to that state. I hope that doesn’t sound vague or look ridiculous in print. But right now, I’m just moving around, trying to find new places to be at, musically—though not by grabbing at it every time I find something good, not by recording it or trying to make a song out of it.
GW: Which, I guess, takes a certain amount of discipline in itself. Because a lot of players fall into that trap. Every riff they come up with, they wonder: “Is this the great, million-dollar riff of all time?”
FLEA: Well, I never worry about that. ‘Cause if I come across a riff that is that great, I’ll know it. Or someone else in the band will. Like the simple little bass riff to “Give It Away” [he sings the song’s sliding bass signature], which was just a riff that came up at a rehearsal.) I thought it was just a throwaway groove to jam to. But everyone else said, “No, no, no; it’s really great.” I wasn’t crazy about it at the time, but now I look at it and see it’s a good song.
GW: Do you think that pressure’s going to be there for the next record—to make another billion seller?
FLEA: Fuck that I just want to make a good record. Whether it will be a commercial success or not, I couldn’t care one way or the other. If I like our next record and it sells, like, 20,000 copies, I’ll be happy because I’ll know I made a good record. But of course I would like to sell 50 billion.
GW: So success hasn’t changed your lifestyle. You haven’t bought a house in Bel Air?
FLEA: No. See, we already got a lot of money when we signed with Warner Bros. We got a lot of money up front—an advance. We thought it would take forever to pay back, but now it’s paid back. So we already bought nice houses and all that. •