Thank you to Kathie Davis for the transcript.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
“Playing music like you’ve got a big dick,” is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ basic philosophy. Since they formed in Hollywood in the early 80s their libidinous songs, like Party On Your Pussy, have always ensured minimal airplay and “Parental Advisory” stickers, while their live shows, which include their renowned “rock orchestra”, have scared away as many people as they have attracted. Now, having clichéd a multi-million dollar record deal, the Chili Peppers are releasing their new album this month and will shortly be touring the UK. Tony Fletcher reports.
Anthony Kiedis, singer with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, reclines on a swimming pool deck chair at the Los Angeles home of lifelong friend and Chili Pepper bassist Flea, and offers the barest trace of a smirk. “We don’t intentionally go out of our way to annoy people. People just get annoyed at the fact that we’re having so much fun and getting so much more pussy than they are.” In excusing his band’s ability to wind people up, he has further contributed to it. Sometimes the opportunity is obviously too good to miss.
Never ones for sexual modesty, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were once as famous for playing with only a strategically-placed sock for clothing as they were for their music. Anthony – who once broke his back when he jumped from a roof into an empty swimming pool – was also famous for dating Hollywood actress, lone Skye whom he lived with for two years. That relationship is over now, but given that he was last heard lauding his new love, an 18-year-old model, as “the biggest sexual genius I’ve encountered in the last ten years”, one doesn’t offer much sympathy.
Flea – real name Michael Balzary – is somewhat more restrained. Gone is the green Mohican that accompanied the group’s last tour; today his hair is neatly cropped, and he is the epitome of politeness. Only when he removes his shirt and reveals a torso of tattoos—including the name of his wife, Loesha, above his left nipple (they have a young daughter, Clara) and a wonderful portrait of Jimi Hendrix on his left bicep – does his other side show through.
This lurking dark side has been known to land the group in serious trouble. For years the Red Hot Chili Peppers, confined to cult status, had performed to unrestrained, unabashed audiences. When their last album Mother’s Milk sold over 500,000 in America alone, their newly expanded followers often failed to get the joke. After exhibiting himself to a female fan backstage in Virginia, Anthony was charged with indecent exposure and sexual battery. When they supposedly “spanked” a girl in the audience while performing for an MTV special on the beach in Florida, Flea and drummer Chad Smith were both arrested for battery, with Flea facing additional charges that could have landed him in jail.
All three have now put their legal woes behind them, but although Anthony tries to apologize for allowing the pranks to get out of control, he ends up defending himself.
“As much as we might tell ourselves we’re going to stay out of trouble, the fact is that if we feel like doing something that we don’t think is going to cause anyone any harm, we’ll do it. And hopefully we’ll stay out of jail, even thought there are certain backward areas of the world where people don’t understand the nature of what we’re doing and take it as a criminal act. I happen to know that there are no criminals in this band.”
Anthony and Flea may never have been criminals but they have been on the wrong side of musical regulations and conventional behavior since first playing together, with guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons, in 1979. Part of the flourishing Hollywood hardcore scene, the members went their own ways – Flea serving in renowned punk band Fear – until reuniting as the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1984. By adding a wild funk edge to their hard-core roots, over which Anthony rapped more than he sang, they opened up a whole now area of rock’n’roll.
Their music so defied categorization that their first three albums were confined to the “alternative” market, despite production by their hero George Clinton on 1985’s Freaky Style, a wonderful version of Hendrix’s Fire on 1987’s The Uplift Mojo Party Plan, and a bare rip-off – literally – of the famous Beatles album cover on their 1988 EP Abby Road. While songs like Party On Your Pussy and Catholic School Girls Rule ensured a lack of airplay, their manic live shows scared as many people away as they attracted. Moreover, the group were known to be heavy substance abusers, a tendency that culminated in Slovak dying of a heroin overdose in June 1988.
His death forced Anthony to clean up his own act, but few expected the band to survive and a distraught Irons soon left the fold. Yet Flea and Anthony resolved to continue, recruiting then 19-year-old Chili Peppers fanatic John Frusciante on guitar and, eventually, drummer Chad Smith. With renewed vigour they recorded Mother’s Milk, a confident and ultimately more commercial record than its predecessors and, thanks to radio-friendly tracks like Taste The Pain, Knock Me Down and an inspired cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, enjoyed long overdue mainstream success.
Now the proud recipients of a multi-million dollar deal with Warner Brothers, which is expected to take them further into the mainstream, the group moved en masse into a large house in the Hollywood Hills this spring, and recorded their fifth album Blood Sugar Sex Magik virtually live, with Rick Rubin – responsible in his time for such anomalies as the Beastie Boys, Slayer, Andrew Dice Clay and the Geto Boys – as producer.
Fortunately, although Flea says of Rubin that, “The best thing he does is bring out the lowest common denominator in music”, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is not a crass record; rather, it is a stripped-to-the-bone collection of typically Peppered funk, blues and hard rock. After a seven-week flurry of recording songs ranging from the politics of Power OF Equality to the pure lust of Sir Psycho Sexy, stopping off for covers of Robert Johnson’s They’re Red Hot and The Stooges’ Search And Destroy along the way, the group have been spending the summer stripping the initial 23 tracks back to single album length.
Keen followers of the spiritual world, they are eager to talk of the “vibes” they felt in their temporary studio. It is the former home of Rudolph Valentino and Jimi Hendrix, and, apparently, the first place The Beatles took LSD together. Houdini is rumored to have buried his secrets on the grounds and “incidental Hollywood gangsters” were supposedly murdered there.
“Everyone was telling us the house was haunted,” says Anthony, “and we thought that was really great, to go hang out in that kind of an atmosphere. Not to intrude in their space but just to dwell in it.”
True to form, the group claim many bizarre experiences and believe they may have photographs of ghosts, thanks to film-maker Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy) who stopped by. Some of the spirits would seem to have been perfectly content, judging by Anthony’s other story.
“There had been references that there was a strong sexual energy in the house,” he says, “and John, on a night when there were no girls awake to be having a sexual orgasm of their own, from the room above him heard this moaning and groaning. It was a very sexual thing, he said.”
But then with the Chili Peppers everything is sexual. The group are no more popular with feminists than with the Bible Belt reactionaries, and the crudeness of their lyrics ensures a “Parental Advisory” warning sticker on their every release. Not that they care.
“I would hope it’s obvious that the Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t going to write lyrics that aren’t explicit,” says Anthony, “because then we’d be a bunch of vague bastards. Our point is to get explicit within our lyrics, within our music, within our stage performances. The fact is, we’ll never change what we feel and what we say to suit anybody’s criteria.”
That means the on-stage nakedness is here to stay. While new guitarist John Frusciante was fully aware of the need to strip in the name of art, drummer Chad Smith found out about the occasional lack of stage costumes only after joining. According to Flea, he acquitted himself admirably the first time he was required to join their “cock orchestra”.
It’s when you take a loud microphone in front of thousands of people,” says Flea, thriving on my look of bemusement, “and you pull out your big Hollywood dick and you smack it against the mike in a percussive way, synchronizing with the cock smacking of the other three fellas, to form one big cock orchestra!”
“The cockmanship is secondary to the musicianship,” adds Anthony quickly, hoping to redress the balance. “If the cock has to flow, the cock has to flow. But you can’t spend too much time worrying about that. What we have to say with our music is really what we’re all about. The cock is just an added bonus.
“We try to put all aspects of our happiness, our sadness, our creative bursts of love, our creative bursts of hate, into our music,” he continues. “Being naked, having supreme sexual encounters, it’s all part of our lives and it just all gets funneled into the sound. We don’t have a straining net that catches the nudity and keeps it.”
On-stage, with or without clothes, it’s obvious that the group strive to send themselves and their audience to a spiritual and physical high. When Flea comments that, “the ultimate thing is to totally free myself from what’s happening around me,” Anthony agrees, noting that ‘the only way to get to that place is through playing music’. But he warns of the dark side.
“After you reach the point of becoming one with the music, and with the whole experience of that show, sometimes it’s a drastic let-down afterwards. All of a sudden you feel like you’ve gone from floating through space back down to the gutters of the city you’re it.
“There was a time when after I’d come off-stage more often than not I would attempt to get back to that stage through drugs. What that ends up doing is bringing you lower and lower until by the next day you feel like you can barely function, and that’s really no way to live your life. And you end up paying double, or quadruple for the high that you reach and you end up going four times lower. So you’re basically sucking your soul right out.”
Which is what happened with Slovak. In keeping with their policy of nakedness, Anthony and Flea have never shied away from commenting about his death – Anthony once blamed himself for not recognizing just how bad an addict his friend had become until it was too late – and it is obvious that time fails to heal all wounds.
“I think about him every single day,” says Flea, suddenly serious. “Sometimes it’s a happy thing, sometimes it’s just a reminiscing thing. But it’s always there.”
“He was such a big part of what we are now,” comments Anthony,” that it’s kind of comforting to think that he’s still a profound element of what we’re all about, as people and as musicians. I think that will carry on right up until the day we die.”
In the meantime it is evident that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have had their own profound impact on many lives around them, as proven at their shows by the loyal, crazed following they attract, and in the charts by Chili wannabes Faith No More, whose album, Epic, sold twice as many as the Chili Peppers ever have. (The Peppers are not big fans: “Everyone finds their beautiful pineapple tree to sit under,” says Flea cryptically.)
“We’ve definitely had appositive impact on the musical society,” says Anthony. “Because we offered something at the time that no-one else was offering: a complete alternative to the mainstream formula, moneymaking, non-soulful, unartistic business-oriented music that had enveloped the whole chart scene.
“When people come to our shows it’s this big molten tornado of psychedelic energy that they get caught up in. They get to feel sexy, they get to feel aggressive, they get to feel moved and turned on to something a little higher than the average ride down a freeway in a car. It’s really an injection of power into the lives of these kids for a short period of time, and we’re really good at doing that.”
With another intense period on the road lurking in the distance, it’s time for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to get fit again. Though they are no longer drug fiends or heavy drinkers, time has taken its toll on their bodies, and Flea and Anthony have decided on a regular programme of daily swimming to prepare themselves for those intense two-hour visits to a higher ground.
And so Flea stands up, makes his excuses, and does an impressive double back flip into his unheated swimming pool. Totally naked, of course.