Anthony Kiedis & Josh Klinghoffer talk to Ultimate Guitar about the new Red Hot Chili Peppers era. New interview, published September 2nd, 2011.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: ‘Our Next Effort Will Be Pretty Beautiful’Five years have passed since the Red Hot Chili Peppers released Stadium Arcadium, the band’s ninth album and one that contained multiple hit singles including “Desecration Smile,” “Dani California,” “Hump de Bump,” “Tell Me Baby” and “Snow (Hey Oh).” The album debuted at number one in the Billboard 200 charts and it would go on to win five Grammy Awards in the 2007 ceremonies. It was a monster album by anyone’s definition so when John Frusciante announced he was leaving during the group’s two-year hiatus, the newly pared-down trio began a rebuilding program.
They brought in longtime friend, Josh Klinghoffer, a guitarist who had played with Frusciante in a band called Ataxia. He first played with the band in 2007 when he joined as auxiliary guitarist for the final dates of the Stadium Arcadium tour.
In 2009, the revised quartet entered the studios with longtime producer Rick Rubin and began working on what would become I’m With You. Ranging from piano-driven songs like “Happiness Loves Company” to the African grooves of “Ethiopia,” the record is full of Klinghoffer’s guitars—both electric and acoustic—and the trademark funk rhythms laid down by Flea and Chad Smith.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers convened at a hotel on Santa Monica beach for a day of press. Anthony Kiedis and Josh Klinghoffer were pulled aside specially for Ultimate-Guitar and though the time constraints were pretty rigid, the following conversation reveals a lot about the singer and guitarist.
Stadium Arcadium was a big record for the band and then John Frusciante kind of left in its wake. What were you thinking?
Anthony Kiedis: Well, for one thing it wasn’t a “kind of” leaves—it was a very definitive leave. I guess it depends on who you ask as to what the next step would be. For me it seemed like an appropriate change—like that was really the only thing that could have happened. I don’t think that we could’ve continued with John just because it was done. And I think we all kind of knew that in our heart of hearts and I kind of applaud him for making that move. It never crossed my mind to do anything other than continue on but I think Flea and Chad probably had their own thoughts and emotions about it.
The hiatus was a positive move?
Kiedis: I love that we took the two years off to do nothing but be people away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and then when we came back and aligned ourselves with Josh, it was so time to go forward and it felt so right and reenergized. I could not have written a better script. I can all day long but I don’t.
You have a very long history with the band but what were there any nerves coming into the band? Did you feel you had to hold high the banner of the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Josh Klinghoffer: Without trying to sound trite, it was just friends playing music together. If I think about what other people think and the banner that you mentioned? Then sure I could think about it and all that stuff is what other people think and I shouldn’t think about that.
Kiedis: Where is that banner by the way?
Klinghoffer: I don’t know.
Kiedis: In the back of a Ryder truck somewhere.
Klinghoffer: I think it was a new situation for all of us.
What were the initial sessions like for the I’m With You album?
Klinghoffer: Well, Flea pointed out when we were recording and on the studio floor that I’d been in the band almost a year and we hadn’t touched a single Chili Pepper song. From the get-go, we started jamming. It was just that: turn on the gear and start playing.
We spoke back during the Californication album and John Frusciante described your approach to writing as dealing with colors. Did that still hold true on the I’m With You record?
Kiedis: Yeah, I think he was probably just finding a way to explain that I kind go more from intuition and feeling than from a specific musical education or knowledge of how music works on a mathematical level or something like this. More just by ear and waves of color and inspiration from god knows where.
All your melodies come internally? Do you play any instruments?
Kiedis: No, I really. I think I play three pretty good chords on the guitar. Yeah, they come—I don’t know if it’s internal or external—but just from listening to the air. And obviously being inspired by the textures and the chords and the interplay between Josh, Flea and Chad. There’s always a suggestion of melody in the air based on these chords and sometimes they come in an a cappela sense. I know when they’re right for the song because they feel special in my heart. When I hear melody and it makes me move emotionally, I’m like, “OK, that’s the melody for this song.” The same with words; they come flying in wherever they come from and sometimes it’s easier than others. But, yeah, I’m definitely the uneducated musician in the band.
Klinghoffer: It’s a real privilege to watch what Anthony does—just watching the melody come, to watching the lyric come; it’s incredible. I’ve never worked with someone who’s a dedicated singer and lyricist; it’s amazing to watch the entire process happen. I’m someone who does all those things in my own way and to watch it happen in such a thoughtful and meticulous way is amazing. It inspires me.
In a song like “Annie Wants a Baby,” you play off of Anthony’s vocals with this cool little guitar counterpoint line. You were inspired by Anthony’s melodies and the way he was writing the song?
Klinghoffer: Yeah, I mean I think we all inform each other. For a lot of the songs, they were borne out of either jams or pre-existing chord structures. There was just tons of things that could be done whether it was a jam or a pre-existing chord structure. Finding a place to put all those little things around a melody and the vocals. It was a challenge-slash-privilege.
There’s a lot of room for you as a guitar player to bring out your ideas and experiment?
Klinghoffer: The comparison between John and I that I’ve read is like me being more textural than him. To me, with Flea and Chad holding down so much weight, I don’t see how you couldn’t play like I play and I don’t see how you couldn’t play like John plays. There is so much room for one to be themselves, which I think is what this band is about. For Anthony and all of us—everyone does what they do personally and thoughtfully.
“Brendan’s Death Song” was one of the first songs written for the album. When you wrote that song did it provide a jumping off point for the other songs?
Kiedis: No. One of the benefits of being in the Red Hot Chili Peppers is there really are no rules to what you can play. We’ll play anything from blues to punk rock to something jazz-inspired or African-inspired or just anything; anything under the sun. It’s like, “Oh, that doesn’t fit—it all fits.” Anything we play belongs in the band so just because the harmonic nature of “Brendan’s Death Song” came early it wasn’t like, “Oh, that’s our direction.” That’s just going to be one of many, many, many flavors that we find over the next year. We were happy with that one—it felt really truthful and we kept it and we filed that away as like, “Must return to this little piece and finish it someday.” But yeah, the next thing that we played could’ve been completely electronic sounding or in some weird time signature.
Red Hot Chili Pepper fans are very loyal and will follow you anywhere stylistically. That’s a hard commodity to cultivate for a lot of bands.
Kiedis: That could be part of why we’ve had success over a long period of time is we’re not trying to repeat ourselves or really be married to anything that we’ve done in the past or what we think we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be whatever the moment brings.
Klinghoffer: And as someone who grew up with this band and not to sound negative about bands but you can be a fan of these people and music aside. Anthony, Flea, Chad, John and Hillel [Slovak, early guitar player], anyone in this band you could be a fan of them as a person as much as you know them or think you know them. I think that as a new member being in the band, that’s why I think people will go there. I mean they like these people and it’s not necessarily about hits. You can trust what they’ll do to you or to your life.
Certainly a lot of bands losing a guitar player could not survive that change.
Kiedis: Everybody contributes equally mentality so when we lose somebody as important as John—who’s such a creative force in the universe—it wasn’t a killer because there’s still three other people that are creative forces that have been contributing equally from day one and from note one. So it’s not like any single individual is responsible for writing or carrying the weight of the band. We share it.
“Happiness Loves Company” was one of the piano-based songs, which is an element that’s pretty unique for the band.
Kiedis: I think it was composed on piano.
Kiedis: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was borne from Flea’s Renaissance period at USC; he checked into school to improve his piano playing and his knowledge of music theory and some of the classic musicians from hundreds of years ago who figured out some pretty good ways of writing songs. Yeah, so that is borne from piano.
And your vocals take on these different characteristics where they don’t even sound like Anthony Kiedis.
Kiedis: There’s a lot of different vocal tones in that song—it has three or four very distinctive vocal flavors but they all feel like me to me. I like that Frank Zappa gets a shout out in the lyrics.
Is that right?
Kiedis: Well, “the mothers of invention are the best.” John was deep into Frank Zappa.
Klinghoffer: Oh, really?
Kiedis: It’s weird, right?
Klinghoffer: I wouldn’t have thought.
Kiedis: Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought.
We only have a couple minutes left—can you talk about your guitars and amps?
Klinghoffer: I used this Radial box that sends a signal out to seven different amplifiers at once, which were: Gibson Falcon; Fender Super Six; Fender Super Reverb; and the amp for the tracking guitar was always a Marshall Major with a 4×12 Celestion cabinet. We used an Orange cabinet and an Ampeg head; there was always seven amplifiers being recorded at once and we would blend but the tracking guitar was always a Marshall Major.
Klinghoffer: A ’67 Fender Custom Telly and Chad Smith’s 1962 Strat for 90 per cent of the stuff.
At the end of the day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have a new guitar player and a new album. How does it all hold up for you? Is I’m With You the album you were hearing in your head for the last year?
Kiedis: I love the record; I’ve been listening to it for two years. The other day I was on my way to rehearsal at the Forum [home of the Los Angeles Lakers] ‘cause we were doing production rehearsals with the new stage and the lights and I was on my motorcycle, which has a CD player. I was absolutely cranking our record and little did I know that our manager was behind in a car going, “Who is that listening to the new Chili Peppers record?” And when I get to the rehearsal, I was totally busted. But yeah, I’m really proud of it. It definitely surpassed any—and not that I’m a man of expectations but whatever level I hold ourselves to in terms of quality, it passed that. And I feel like our best is yet to come. I feel like our next effort will be pretty beautiful.
Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2011
Thanks to RHCP_ARE_GODS for the update.