Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith Discusses John Frusciante’s Exit, Crotch Socks and Anthony Kiedis’ Mustache in new interview with Spinner.For over 20 years, Chad Smith has manned the drums for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, delivering a metronome of funky beats, rock rhythms and a good dose of humility. During the past two years, the California mainstays have gone through many changes, from the exit of legendary guitarist John Frusciante to becoming dads, and continue to soldier on as one of music’s most consistent acts.
Smith took some time to tell Spinner about the band’s new member, Josh Klinghoffer, their latest album, ‘I’m With You,’ what it means to be a father, his relationship with bassist Flea and his thoughts on Anthony Kiedis’ new mustache.
‘I’m With You’ is your fifth album with Rick Rubin producing. Does he feel like another member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers now?
We’ve been working with Rick for 20 years now and you know, he’s definitely our man. We often bandy about other names or other people but once it gets to writing our songs, Rick is the guy that’s going to make the songs the best they can be and he always does. He continues to grow and change and get better at what he does, and hopefully we do as well. And we trust him and he’s just our guy. We love him. He’s a wonderful musical sounding board for us.
And he’s not emotionally attached to the songs like we are. He just comes in after we’ve been working on them for forever and he’s like, “No, try that. How about that? Cut that,” and we’re like, “What?!” We need that after a certain point and he does it really well.
This is your first album without guitarist John Frusciante in a long time. What feels different and what feels better?
Oh, it’s all different, obviously. Let me just say that we love John Frusciante and we’re so grateful to what he has given us in this band. He’s written some of the best parts of our biggest songs and he’s just a great, great musician. Probably one of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. We’re all very grateful for what he gave to the band.
But, you know, he just wanted to move on. He wanted to do his own thing. And there’s no animosity. It’s all good. So having Josh come in, someone that we knew that was already in the family so to speak — which is such an important part of being in our group because this really is like a family — to give his heart and open himself up to us, and us being able to embrace him … He’s such a great musician. He’s so well rounded. He plays many instruments and writes great. We’re just so lucky to find someone right in our backyard.
It has to be different. And that’s something that helped us grow and change, having the voice that he brings with his musicality to our group. He changed our sound a lot. But also, everybody else changed, too. And that’s just keeping things fresh. That’s a real positive thing for us because as artists we always want to change and grow and Josh really helped us do that.
The band took some time off after ‘Stadium Arcadium.’ How did you spend your time?
We all did different things on our hiatus. It was two years. It was a planned thing: We’re going to take this time off, not be a Chili Pepper and do whatever you want to do. And everybody did different things with their time.
Anthony, Flea and I all have small children. That was a big part of it. Being able to spend quality time is so important when your children are young like that. I think that had a profound effect [on us]. Especially for Anthony, being a first-time parent. And Flea went to school — he went to USC. I played with other musicians, made other records. Playing with other people is very helpful because every musical situation that you’re in is always different. We’re used to our situation and how we work so when you work with other people, it’s rewarding because you can bring that experience and that knowledge that you had with others [back] to the group.
You and Flea make up such a legendary rhythm section. What is your connection on and off stage?
Flea and I have played many, many notes together onstage. Probably even more than Anthony — he’s been in the band longer, but we get in more notes [laughs]. We have an unspoken musical telepathy that I think can only happen when you play with someone for over 20 years.
Offstage, you know, we both kind of do our own thing. We’re not 25 years old any more. Back then we were always hanging out. Flea and I used to room together on the road and spend a lot of personal time together. But now we both have families and your priorities shift and change and I think that’s only normal. With the band we spend so much time together writing, recording, on the road. And when you’re not with the band, you want to take a break and do other things.
Family time is really important to me. I have two small children and I’m married, so we don’t see each other as much socially. But I do love him dearly and I hope he feels the same way [laughs]. You know, we’re like brothers. You get along great sometimes and other times you don’t. But that’s normal. Right now, everything seems as it should be. And we’re really excited to be together and get ready to take this out on the road and play our new music and our old music with Josh and Anthony. We’re just really lucky to be able to do what we love to do.
Looking back at your early days with the band, what do you think of the socks and light bulbs you wore on stage?
We’re entertainers! We’re from Hollywood, man. It’s just how we express ourselves. We did things to shock people. Some things were really great and other things were not. But I think that’s just part of growing up. I look back fondly on those times. That was who we were as people at the time and we’re different people now and we’re a different band now and that’s the way it should be.
People come up to me all the time and say “How come you don’t write more songs like ‘Mother’s Milk’ or ‘Blood Sugar?’” And I know I kind of represent a certain time for them. I have that as well. Like with certain bands, I like a certain era of their music more than their current stuff. It connects me to a time and place which is kind of sentimental, which is fine and I understand that from people. But if you like those songs, go listen to them. We still play a lot of those songs. But with our new music, we want to change and do different things. Our life experiences have really helped us, because we’re honest and open about our music and what we write. That comes through us. That comes through our instruments. And hopefully that is something that people will dig now.
I know we’re very fortunate, to be a band that’s been together as long as we have, to still be relevant and have people interested in our new music. We don’t repeat ourselves and we’re trying to change and grow and do new things. It’s not always great, but we’re honest about it. We do the best that we can do. We come from a place of positive energy and love and I hope people can pick up on that.
What’s the driving influence behind ‘I’m With You?’
I think really just the love of the family of our band, and wanting to continue to say and do new things. Hopefully we’re getting better [laughs]. I’m a musician. It’s what I do! I wouldn’t be too good at anything else.
Taking that time off really helped us realize we really love this band and we want to keep doing it. It’s all about the love.
Do you feel pressure to be the big band of your generation?
No, we don’t have any pressure because that, for me, would fall under the fear category. You know, we’re just doing what we do. We don’t sit there and worry about “Gee, how about the chorus of that song, do you think it’s any good? — Hold on, lemme check with 5 million people and see what they think.” And you can’t think about that kind of stuff. It sounds selfish but we do what gets us off. I think that’s the most important thing.
Of course, you want to be validated and have people like what you do. We have egos just like everybody else. But you can’t spend your time worrying about it.
What do you think of Anthony’s amazing new mustache
It is pretty amazing. I think that maybe he was inspired by Burt Reynolds from ‘Cannonball Run’ [laughs]. He looks more like his dad now. His dad had quite a stache back in the day, and his dad’s a cool guy, so it’s all good.
What are your upcoming touring plans?
We’re touring everywhere. We’ve been to Asia, we go to South America in September, we’re going to Europe for the rest of the year and we start in North America in the first of the year. We’re going to go probably for 18 months. And as I sit here talking to you, it sounds a little daunting but we’ve been off for quite some time and having Josh in the band, the energy around him feels really new and refreshed. I think that we’re gonna have a great time playing. We don’t kill ourselves; we don’t go for like two months straight. We do three weeks on, take 10 days off. It’s all very manageable. But I’m looking forward to be playing our music for people and hopefully they’ll show up.
Your band has cataloged the popular history of California through your many albums. How does the state continue to inspire you?
We’re a product of our surroundings. This is where we live. I’ve been here for over 20 years and Anthony and Josh have lived almost all their teenage and adult lives here. California is a diverse, beautiful state. I know people think of us as a California band, but we’re just being honest.
Going up north with the Redwoods and driving along the coast, it’s got everything, man. It’s got the desert, the mountains, and the ocean. It’s beautiful. And we try to reflect that in our music. I’m very happy to be here rather than Michigan where it’s 20 below [laughs]. I love California and I’m proud to call it our home state.