Bram van Splunteren is a Dutch film maker who filmed RHCP through their early career. Here’s Shalhevet’s interview with the film maker:
Bram van Splunteren is a Dutch film maker who documented a lot of great artists and musicians along his career. One of them was a young rock band named the red hot chili peppers. He filmed them during the years 1988-1994. he filmed every moment on their career: from small gigs on clubs to their major success that came with blood sugar sex magik. A few weeks ago I got the chance to chat with him and ask him some questions about the doc. I must say that without Mr. Splunteren’s approval this interview wouldn’t came out.
Me: tell me about the doc.
Bram: well the doc was just a coincidence in a way. It was 1987 and I was looking for a young unknown band to make a documentary about. A band on tour. About the life on the road. A road movie.
I was given the opportunity to do a couple of rock documentaries, one was on hip hop in NY (with RUNDMC and LL Cool J), one on Iggy Pop, one on Nick Cave, So I was checking out lots of albums in my favorite record store, and asked the guy behind the counter if he had any suggestions. He showed my some bands and one of them was the Freaky Styley album by the Peppers. I liked that they were very visual, and I liked that they were trying something new, combining punk music and funk and rap. I was a big rap fan in those days.
So I contacted them through the record company and things were arranged very smoothly. They were coming to Europe for their first official European tour and they wanted to do it.
Me: what was your first impression on the band?
Bram: In the beginning I thought interviewing them would be very difficult because they were constantly making jokes about everything, and I mean everything. But the breakthrough came on the second day in Switzerland when I showed them clips of some of their favorite musicians. You know that scene in the hotel room? It’s great, they are so real there and so honest and so into the music. After that the ice was broken and I became a friend instead of another jerky journalist.
We travelled with them for a week and we became sort of friends. After that every time they came to Holland I filmed them and I also went to LA a couple of times to shoot with them. I was good friends with Flea especially.
This went on until they became really big and were on MTV all the time. Just phoning them to do some filming became more and more difficult because they were very busy and everything had to be organized through the record company.
Me: Did you ever think they will become so successful?
Bram: No not at all. Their music was not commercial at all in the beginning. There were no pop songs, no melodies to hum along to. But John brought the melodic songwriting into the band, and with “under the bridge” everything changed.
Me: What is the strongest memory you have from Hillel?
Bram: the strongest memories I have from Hillel are in the documentary I made in 1987, “Europe By Storm” it’s called. There’s a couple of scenes with him in that film that really typify him. He’s definitely a guy with a secret, I felt. When I interviewed him then I didn’t know he was on drugs. But at the same time he’s a supersweet guy, kinda mysterious.
Me: How did you got to film john? I was so shocked to see him like that.
Bram: when the peppers became more popular after ‘under the bridge’ it became increasingly more difficult for me to make appointments with them to film. Once I got offered a 20 minutes interview in a hotelroom in Germany, and I was so arrogant as to refuse that.
so I decided to stop trying to film them whenever I could. but then one day I was wondering what happened to John after he split the band. I had filmed him several times also on a documentary about Jimi Hendrix and we always had a good relationship. I knew a friend in L.A. who knew John and I asked my friend, Dick Rude, to ask John if it was ok to come and film him. not long after that we heard that John was cool with that, so we made arrangements to look him up. I had heard some drugs stories but didn’t know then that he was heavily on heroin, so when he opened the door for us I was shocked to see the condition he was in. We probably spent something like two hours in his house -his girlfriend was there too- and we filmed as much as we could. during one of the breaks john went into another room and shot up some more heroin. I thought that was rather shocking. but on the other hand at times I thought he was very lucid and had interesting things to say about the peppers, about life, himself and about music making.
when we stepped out of his house two hours later we were kind of in shock ourselves about the shape john was in.
the blood on his shirt, his teeth that were very bad, the scars on his arms… it was a very emotional experience to find him in that state.
much later I found out that we were the only filmcrew that ever filmed him during that difficult period in his life.
Me: what do you think of the change that john has been through over the years?
Bram: Hmm, I don’t know what to say. He has just overcome his addictions it seems and has become a more mature and responsible person. In the early days he was a very crazy and manic person, a good musician too, but also a bit too intense maybe.
Me: did john played to you songs that didn’t get into his album niandra during the 94 interview?
Bram: I think so yes, he did some songs from when he was 14 or so? Did not he say that? did you ever see the whole 40 minute piece about me visiting him when he was a junkie? Everything he played was in there. There are no outtakes.
Me: do you think you will be able to film rhcp again in the future?
Bram: Maybe John. I already requested that but for the moment he doesn’t want do it. Without John the band is not that interesting anymore for me. Maybe at some point I can film when they are down and out, burned out rock stars, that could be interesting. I know you don’t think so haha!
Me: what is your favorite album/song of rhcp?
Bram: There are a couple. My live favourite would be “Me and my friends” (the version from my own film), and I like that song on the last album “wet sand”, and sometimes I like “Turn it again” because John finally totally rocks out on that one (he should have done that a lot more I think. That album sounds like a very conscious effort to make some sort of perfect Beatle-esque pop album. I like things a little more rougher and scruffy. my favourite band is not the RHCP but the Black Crowes.
Bram van Splunteren’s documentary:
Many thanks to Shalhevet for sharing her exclusive interview with us!