Pretend Best Friends
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers reach the end of their world tour, the rumours are coming thick and fast- they hate each other, they’re back on drugs, they’re splitting up ‘It’s all true!’ they tell Paul Brannigan in what could be their last interview…
“It’s not just an ugly rumour, it’s true. The Chili Peppers are a great band and I’m very lucky to have been a part of it, but I think we should go out on a high note and not flog a dead horse.”
Chad Smith, drummer with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, stares impassively as I come to terms with the bombshell he has just dropped. Can he really be serious? Are the Chili peppers really about to evict all revellers from their crazy punk-funk party zone? Let’s see…
If, as White Zombie’s Sean Yseult suggested, the Wildhearts are a soap opera, then their little domestic disputes and kitchen sink dramatics make them the loveable and familiar ‘Coronation Street’ of rock. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers are in an entirely different league entirely; one where ‘Beverly Hills 90120’ meets ‘The Muppets’ meets the ‘Playboy Channel’.
Take a look at their history: one guitarist OD’d on heroin (Hillel Slovak), one almost lost his dainty (john Frusciante), two others (Jesse Tobias, Arik Marshall) simply found being a Chili pepper too hot to handle.
The band hang out with superstars like Madonna and Johnny Depp, they’ve appeared in ‘The Simpsons’, and vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea have grace the silver screen with their, er, unique acting skills in ‘Point Break’ and ‘My Own Private Idaho’ respectively. There have been lightbulbs on heads, socks on cocks, and parties on pussies. All good clean fun, obviously.
But recently, darker stories have been circulating. Rumours of internal friction and cancelled tours. Of band members seeking to relocate from LA, and hard drug abuse raising its ugly head again. In Kerrang! 603, we ran a story suggesting that everyone’s favourite LA loons were to split up after recording one more album together. The quartet were reportedly more than a little annoyed by this.
So we asked for an interview, just to set the record straight. Frankly, we weren’t terribly hopeful; the band have nothing new to promote, they’re on the final dates of a gruelling world tour, and they’re not overly found of interviews in the first place. But word came back from their UK press office that the band were up for it. We’d catch them backstage at their gig at Wembley Arena. We’d begin at 7.30pm and finish at exactly 8.30pm.
Everyone was to be interviewed separately, for 15 minutes each. Now, traditional wisdom has it that bands only want to be interviewed separately if they can’t stand to be in the same room together. Not that we’re jumping to conclusions or anything. But, well, let’s just say this could be interesting…
It’s 7.40PM. I’ve been in the guest list queue outside Wembley Arena for 50 minutes, and the security staff don’t give a flying f**k that our interview was due to commence 10 minutes ago. This is not good.
At 7.50pm, I’m finally ushered into the backstage ‘hospitality’ area where I catch the first glimpse of various Chilis socialising with friends and crew. Here, you can get a glass of water for £1.20, which where I come from is called extortion, not hospitality. Thanks, but no thanks.
We move on through to a quieter room at the back where, alongside the traditional salad, fruit and soft drinks rider, there’s a small drumkit, guitar amp, and a large roadie attending to one of Flea’s broken basses.
No sooner have I sat down on the black leather couch than the imposing figure of Chad Smith strides into the room. Lighting up a cigar as fat as my waist. Chad seems like a nice guy- Chilis guitarist Dave Navarro later describes him as “one of the most beautiful people I know”- but with the clock ticking away we’ve no time dicking around with pleasantries. So Chad, are the rumours true?
“Yeah, we’re splitting after this show,” he says. “It’s kind of a relief that the years of hell are finally over an I can get on with real life, instead of being a spoilt kid living in a bubble in a sea of retarded sexuality.”
Perhaps at this point it would be appropriate to mention that Chad takes the piss a lot. (Sample question: What do you away from the Chilis? Sample answer: “Start riots in Trafalgar Square because I’m a sore loser at football.”) He’ll chat about bands he admires (The Who, Beastie Boys, Neil Young), his love of scuba diving and motorbike riding, and his tentative plans to record soundtrack material with Axl Rose. But ask him anything vaguely serious about life in the Chilis, and he’ll generally make jokes and give random answers.
“I’m the one guy who loves touring and playing though,” he admits in a rare sensible moment. “We used to play 40 dates in 40 days and have a blast, but now were old farts we fly around doing two shows a week and then whinge about how tough it is. It’s bullshit.
“To be honest, some of the fun has gone and it’s more a job now.. . it’s frustrating when everyone’s not in sync, but generally we all have the same goals and…”
At this point, Dave Navarro sticks his head around the door to get a light for his cigarette.
“Dave what’s going to be the happiest day of your life?” asks Chad.
“Tomorrow f**king morning when I go back to LA, get out of this stupid outfit and ask Perry Ferrell (Dave’s one-time partner in legendary Jane’s Addiction) for a job,” the guitarist replies with a smile.
I think we can presume by now that the split rumours are a little shaky. But we won’t receive any more clues from the Chilis likeable drummer. The band’s US press girl, Helena, pops in and says firmly, “Flea’s ready now, and when Flea’s ready he wants to go immediately.”
Point taken, See ya, Chad…
Like all true rock stars Michael Balzary, aka Flea, knows how to make an entrance. Shirtless, he skateboards into the room, attacks the drumkit in a blur of bare flesh and tattoos, leaps across the room in one bound and then, fixing me with his piercing intense gaze, he roars: “So are you gonna write something shit about us?”.
Depends on what you say. Have a seat.
You imagine you know Flea- hyperactive king of the slapped bass and totally manic fool, right? And then he starts talking about politics in Northern Ireland, his love for his daughter, hardcore legends Fugazi, and the Chilis’ involvement in Beastie Boy Adam Yaunch’s recent concert for Tibet in San Francisco (Flea: “Someone called us the least political band in the world, but to me creating beautiful music automatically make you anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-war, etc…”), and you begin to realise there’s a lot more to the man than his public persona.
He may pepper his conversation with LA-speak about “spirituality”, “beauty” and “artistry” but Flea comes across as an intense yet humble and intelligent guy.
Flea’s refusal to do another US tour to promote the ‘One Hot Minute’ album doubtless fuelled the ‘Chilis to split’ rumours. So what’s so bad about touring?
“I hate it,” he says. “It’s unbelievably unhealthy. You play the same shit every night and become a cliché of yourself. I want to play new music, not these songs over and over again. I never want to stop growing as a musician and that’s impossible when you’re on the road all of the time.”
So would you prefer it if the Chili peppers became a purely studio-based project?
“No, we’ll always play concerts, but a bare minimum if I can help it. When we’re having fun and rocking it’s unbeatable, but a lot of the times it’s a drag and this band should never be a drag.”
There are reports that you’re going to leave your beloved LA and move to Australia,
“Well, LA is a pretty disgusting place. I’ve just built a house on a surfing beach in Australia, which would be a much nicer place to bring up my daughter, so it’s quite possible I’ll move.”
Could that make things even more difficult for the band?
“This band isn’t even close on a priority scale,” he laughs. “This is just a rock band-who cares? It’ll come and go. I’m proud of it. But it’s only a f**king rock band. My kid is way more important than this band ever was or will be.”
That sort of comment doesn’t do much to dispel the rumours, does it?
“Who gives a f**k?… I could survive without the band, but I love the Chilis and have no intention of stopping.”
So for the record, you’re not splitting?
Flea grins broadly and leans into the tape recorder microphone “Of course we are.”
“Hey, dirtbag!” And good evening to you, guitar genius bloke. Dave Navarro strolls in with his red dressing gown billowing behind him and stretches out his hand in greeting.
If the Devil played in a rock band, he’d look like Dave Navarro- tanned, lean, dangerously sexy. Dave was the riff monster behind incredible Jane’s Addiction and the guy who turned down millions of dollars to join Guns N Roses. He’s probably the finest guitar player in modern rock, and also a self-confessed moody bastard. I adopt the go-softly approach.
“I saw Porno For Pyros last week Dave, and they were amazing.”
“That’s like me telling you I saw your ex-girlfriend with another guy and she looked beautiful.”
Right. I remove size nine DMs from my mouth, Dave lights up another cigarette.
Guitarists in the Chilis tend to have as much fun as drummers in Spinal Tap, so are you enjoying life at the moment, Dave?
“There are days I wish I wasn’t born and wasn’t in this band,” he says, “and there are other days when I’m thrilled to be here. Sometimes I think it’s worked out better than I expected, and other times I reckon it hasn’t worked out at all.
“There’s always one area of what we’re doing –creatively, commercially, artistically- that I hate. At times, it’s just the money that keeps me going.”
That’s a pretty honest admission.
“I know it’s not cool to talk about money; we’re supposed to be tortured artists, but I’m just as f**king superficial as the next guy. When you’re lying in a hotel room unable to sleep, missing your girlfriend and family, you start thinking, ‘What the f**k am I doing?’. But then you think, ‘Okay, I’m getting ‘X’ amount of dollars’, and that pulls you through.
“We’ve been out touring for 10 months and working on this album for three years. That’s why Flea and I refuse to do another US tour.”
Presumably, you’ve heard the stories about the band splitting?
“Well, Flea and I both want to pursue other creative musical ventures and I think people are assuming that we won’t do the Chilis anymore. But I don’t think that’s true…”
You don’t think it’s true?
“I’m completely open to the idea that this could fall from under me in a minute,” he says, “but I’m also open to the notion that I’ll be doing this for another couple of years.”
You don’t seem terribly optimistic about the future, though.
Dave shrugs and spreads his arms out wide.
“Whatever happens happens. We’ve hit some hard times in the past, but there’s no animosity between any of us. We just don’t need to be in each others’ faces 24-7 when we’re not on tour. We need a break, that’s the bottom line.”
It’s now 8.30pm and Anthony Kiedis has just entered the room. We’re running late band there are still questions to be asked, but Anthony is not Jolly Jim the Joker at the moment. He’s been seeing acupuncturists, osteopaths and massage therapists all week after landing on his back on a monitor in Prague and cracking bones. His opening words are:
“I’ve gone from having the greatest time of my life to wanting to kill myself.”
It’s hardly an appropriate or sensitive moment to pose my next question, but… there have been rumours Anthony, that you’ve been using heroin again in recent weeks.
“In recent weeks? Not true.”
What about recent months?
“Not true,” he says. “It’s well known that I have my ups and downs, but every time I’ve gone back to using, the same horrific detached life was waiting for me. I’ve been there and hated it.
“I’ve completely exhausted my capacity for drug and alcohol abuse, and when I do it now it makes me insane and unhappy, and I don’t want to feel like that anymore.”
The Chili peppers were formed by high school friends Anthony, Flea, the late Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons (now in Pearl Jam). Anthony admits that the band’s early days were more fun, but insists he is still enjoying the Chili experience.
“When I go into Flea’s hotel room and he has a guitar,” he smiles, “we close the door, and the world disappears. That’s the best buzz I have in my life and the only one I need right now.”
But why are you all doing interviews separately now?
“It’s just easier to communicate this way. It’s not like we don’t like one another, it’s just that this way everyone can have their say.”
You’re not enjoying this are you?
Anthony gives a bored shrug.
“I don’t care how I’m perceived by people who read magazines,” he says.
But Chili pepper fans will buy the magazine this week because you’re on the cover. Doesn’t that matter?
“People are tuned into us through our lyrics and live shows, and they understand us as artists without the help of media knuckleheads.”
So why do interviews?
“Because I get asked to do them and I’m too much of a pussy to refuse,” he cracks. “I like having conversations, but most interviewers don’t give a f**k what you’re saying. What’s the point of spewing up the same bullshit in another rigid, anal questionnaire?!
It’s half-an-hour to show-time, so we’ll bring this particular anal questionnaire to a close. Ant…
Things do appear a little more darker and more serious in the Chili Peppers right now. But after months on the road, much of that can be attributed to that frazzled –end-of-tour feeling. Certainly, as you watch them tearing Wembley Arena apart, you don’t get the impression of a band on the verge of imploding.
Chances are, they’ll return next year harder and hornier than ever. But then, on Planet Chili Pepper, anything can happen.