Red Hot Chili Peppers
Aquatic fun, sex, death and record-breaking drum kits with the Red Hot Chili Peppers
words by JOHN PERRY photos by MARTIN SCHOELLER/CORBIS OUTLINE
DUDE WHERE’S MY CARP?
It’s like being attacked by an octopus. Walking into the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hotel room is like tangling with a sexed-up sea serpent, eightwavy sucker-lined arms pulling you in 12 different directions. And today the Chilis are particularly touchy-feely, bouncing off the walls. And why not? They’ve just finished the best laid-back surf punk album of the century so far, they’re tanned with Italian seaside sun (drummer Chad is gleefully telling a story about his trip to a Napolean massage parlour. The punchline is, not too surprisingly, “Italian panties”), and best of all, no one has died, crashed their Harley, or been hospitalised for vast drug intake in, ooh, months. At the eye of this funk-rock hurricane stands singer Anthony Kiedis, an Inca king proudly surveying his manic kingdom. Sock dangling from his cock.
Well, not quite. Kiedis is fully dressed, if you count 15 yards of tattoo ink. But the chaos is real. This is a band whose unparalleled foot-to-the-floor approach to life has repeatedly spun them off the track— the heroin overdose of guitarist Hillel Slovak, the depressingly similar crack ‘n’ smack burn out of replacement axeman John Frusciante, not to mention numerous crashes, splashes and stubbed toes. But right now, the Chills are back to full strength and riding the wave of their eighth album By The Way, where trademark jungle drum funkiness meets an explosion of Phil Spector horns and Beach Boys harmonies. It rocks like a Scooby Doo rollercoaster, dude.
But for every shaft of sunlight skipping across the carpet of the Chilis’ room, there just has to be a shadow pulling a moon; for every happy story about pliant groupies from Chad, there is a tale of pain and redemption from Zen master Anthony. These two are the Yin and Yang of the Chilis: Kiedis sipping tea and tossing off Californian hippy wisdom –“I’m feeling love for the universe right now”), while Chad flops on the sofa, chain-smoking and chuckling about panties. To get the Chili Pepper balance, we’ve separated the two like a funk-rock Mr And Mrs, flipping between the dark nest-like lair of Anthony and Chad’s brightly-lit smoke-filled boudoir to get to the heart of this funky family. We start in Chad’s room, obviously. He’s got the mini-bar.
“Let me just say, the first Chili Pepper tour, I got laid a hell of a lot. Before Mother’s Milk we did this Florida for spring break, playing to college kids. Man, that tour I really sampled all the fruits of the trees. Two weeks yelling ‘Spring break! Yeah! making devil signs and banging chicks.”
This was Chad’s initiation into the funky monks in 1988 (“All I knew was that they were these crazy guys from California who danced with their socks on their dicks”), and he didn’t let the fact that the rest of the band had gone teetotal get in the way of his own drinking and groupie-wrangling. Ah, the groupies…
“You gotta understand that groupies aren’t quite the same as other women. Groupies just want to fuck you because you’re in a band. Real hardcore groupies will go from band to band, ticking you off as you come into town. If you play an instrument, they just want to suck it.”
But hey, who cares?
“Ha ha! Yeah! It’s kinda like being with a whore… [thinks for a second] well… I’m not going to say groupies are exactly like hookers, but you don’t have to buy them breakfast afterwards, put it that way. They’re just Band-Aids. Which is good, ‘cos [puts on mock weeping voice] it gets so lonely out on the road!”
Back in the batcave, silent in upholstered meditation, Anthony would never admit to any of this hedonism. Without the tattoos he could be mistaken for a well-toned Rasputin.Yet despite all his poise you get the feeling that at any moment Kiedis might plunge into some terrible drug-fuelled sex orgy before you’d have time to restrain him. After all, this is the man who wrote the immortal lines “I fuck ’em/Just to see the look on their face”. “Sex in our music? Sure, why not? It’s such a driving force behind all animals that writing about sex is just intuitive to us. I was having a talk with Bono and he was pontificating elegantly about how the Red Hot Chili Peppers were a ‘celebration of flesh’. He said we were these great pagan priests because we understand how important it is for people to be in touch with their physical selves.”
So it isn’t all just to get off with chicks then?
A ghost of a smile crosses the master’s face. “Isn’t everything? I think a lot of what everyone does is to be loved, whether it’s romantically or sexually. It’s all part of the lust for life.”
A “lust for life” as enthusiastic as the Chili Peppers’, however, comes with a hefty price tag. In seven albums, the Chili Peppers went through seven guitarists and every member of the band, bar Chad, has had a brush with serious drug addiction. Most recently it was John Frusciante who quit the band in 1992 after BloodSugarSexMagik catapulted the Chilis into ‘biggest band on the face of the planet’ status. By 1996, Frusciante was living in a hotel room “spending the whole day shooting heroin, smoking crack, taking Valium”. He had lost most of his teeth, his arms were covered in seeping abscesses and he told the reporter who found him: “I don’t care if I live or I die”.
The Chili Peppers, remarkably, view these dark, deathly periods as positive. “Oh, we didn’t think as kids, ‘Let’s go and get some heroin and see what it’s like to be a drug addict’,” says Kiedis. “You find yourself trapped in the world of addiction with no map. Butthe good news is that if you’re lucky enough to find a way out, the experience catapults you into a whole new level of self-understanding.”
In a recent interview, Frusciante said, “I was so proud to be on drugs, I love everything that I felt on drugs”. Which is quite a long way from the standard kneejerk Hollywood idea of ‘I’ve been to Drug Hell, because my mommy didn’t hug me enough’.
“Oh yeah, and I totally agree with John on that,” says Kiedis. “I had a great love affair with drugs. At a certain point in your life drug addiction is like medicine — it really does make you `well’.”
So you felt indestructible on drugs?
“Yeah, but I still feel indestructible. There’s something chemically freeing about putting yourself at risk, jumping out of an aeroplane or paddling out into a surf that’s just too big, or jumping off cliffs, doing things that are…”
Just plain daft?
“…daft, and fun.”
This is one of the reasons the Chili Peppers have lasted so long: the balance between the spiritual and the spastic. Kiedis relaxes upside down in the lotus position, while Chad is chomping on room service tuna (“You want some man? It’s gooood!”) and wearing a flame-throwing hat. Despite the sensitivity of songs such as ‘UnderThe Bridge’, they still write songs like ‘Purple Stain’ (an ode to shagging while she’s got the painters in) and go onstage at Woodstock dressed as giant light bulbs. Over on the party bus, Chad snorts with laughter.
“Ha! The light bulb thing was hilarious. It was so Spinal Tap. We’re entertainers, man! Stand in one spot? What’s that shit? We jam, we’re spontaneous and anything could happen!”
Such as playing the world’s biggest drum kit? [Coughs modestly]”I am in the Guinness Book Of Records for playing308 drums at once. I did a 20-minute drum solo — it took that long to hit them all.”
Given all the tragedies surrounding the Chili Peppers, it’s remarkable they are so upbeat. The new album fairly crackles with positive energy and the whole band put it down to the return of guitarist John. As Kiedis points out, it’s amazing he’s here at all, let alone making such a big-hearted record.
“By The Way definitely speaks about being happy to be alive. Since John came back, there has been an undaunted sense of optimism in this band.”
I point to the inside cover of1996’s One Hot Minute which features a super-camp family portrait of the Chilis with the caption: “Over the years, the Chili Peppers have roosted in the hen house and wallowed in the sty.” Are they still walking that fine line between spirituality and hedonism?
“Yeah, I always wanted to commune with spirituality and I thought drugs were the way to get there. But finding that kind of high without drugs—through music — is much more interesting.’
Chad wanders in, so I hand over the One Hot Minute cover, pointing out that it’s the gayest thing I have ever seen.
“Ha ha! You’re right — that’s so gay. What am I holding? A little furry rabbit. Or is it a duck? And the blonde hair… oh my God!”
But if you took a snapshot now, it’d be just as smiley and positive.
“Absolutely, that’s exactly where we’re at. I tell you, man, If someone offers you a job in a rock ‘n’ roll band, I can highly recommend it.”
Even the Zen master is smiling now.
“Obviously, this life has a lot of tragedy but that’s just… life. When I think of the whole experience of this band I don’t go [strikes melodramatic pose], ‘Oh what a tragic journey this has been’. I think, `This has been the greatest life imaginable’,” Mr Miyagi grins at Chad, who wholeheartedly agrees:
“Especially when I think about those Italian panties…”
The album, By The Way, is out now. A single `The Zephyr Song’ is out in October, both on Warner Bros.
The chili’s’ mainline timeline
Essential skag, line-up and album fact riffs
Jan 1979 Bassist Flea, guitarist Hillel Slovak, drummer Jack Irons and singer Anthony Kiedis meet at Fairfax High School, Los Angeles.
JAN 1983 Flea turns down an offer to join John Lydon’s PiL and plays first show with Slovak, Irons and Kiedis as Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem. As a joke.
JULY 1983 Decide to take things more seriously, so change their name to Red Hot Chili Peppers and play naked apart from strategically placed gymsocks.
OCT 1983 Sign seven-album deal with EMI. Hillel and Irons leave to be replaced by Jack Sherman and Cliff Martinez.
AUG 1984 Release eponymous first album. Sherman leaves and Hillel rejoins, bringing a big bag of skag with him.
SEPT 1985 George Clinton produces second album Freaky Styley.
SEPT 1987 Uplift Moto Party Plan album released. Sounds like skag.
JAN 1988 Abbey Road EP released.
JUNE1988 Hillel dies of skag overdose, Kiedis runs to Mexico where skag can’t find him and Irons quits, ending up in a mental hospital. Flea appears in Back To The Future 2 as a thug.
JULY 1988 Chilis reform with Clinton guitarist Duana McNight and ex-Dead Kennedys drummer Darren Peligro.
NOVEMBER 1988 McNight leaves and Peligro gets fired. John Frusciante and Chad Smith take over.
AUG 1989 Mother’s Milk released. Flea appears in Back To The Future 3. As a thug. Again.
OCT 1991 BloodSugarSexMagik released. Kiedis appears in Point Break. As a thug.
MARCH 1992 Skag anthem ‘Under The Bridge’ makes the charts.
MAY1992 Frusciante quits. Skag to blame. He’s replaced by Arik Marshall.
JUNE 1992 Marshall fired and replaced by Jesse Tobias.
JULY1992 Tobias leaves.
AUG 1994 Play Woodstock ’94 with light bulbs on their heads. Kiedis and Flea appear in The Chase. As a pair of thugs.
SEPT 1995 Ex-Jane’s Addiction fret fiddler Dave Navarro joins. One Hot Minute released.
APRIL 1998 Navarro leaves and John Frusciante rejoins. All Saints release ‘street’ cover of skag anthem ‘Under The Bridge’.
JUNE 1999 Californication released.
AUG 2001 All Saints split. Skag connection unclear.
JULY 2002 The Chilis release By The Way. No one leaves or dies. Skag conspicuous by its absence. DUNCAN BAIZLEY