Album Premiere: ‘How’s Your Process? (Play)’ Plus an Interview with Josh
Interview by Chris Steffen – www.allmusic.com
AllMusic: Beyond your role in the Chili Peppers and the other artists you’ve recorded and toured with, what kind of a luxury is it to have a musical outlet that’s something you created as opposed to one that was already established before you came in?
Josh Klinghoffer: It feels amazing, it’s kind of all I’ve ever wanted, musically, since I can remember. As a kid, being in bands with friends, you’re all in it together in the same place, and that’s not to say that the other bands I’ve played with aren’t that, but they’ve been around longer than I was in it, they’ve established themselves and they’re older than me, so they’re in a different place in their lives than I am. In Dot Hacker, we’re all around the same age, and when we formed the band, we were after the same things. It feels great to be able to follow whatever musical instinct you might have. The problem Dot Hacker has is time, that’s the one thing, we’re always up against time. On one hand, it feels great to be musically free and to exercise that, but because you’re limited with your time, sometimes things don’t get to be worked on as much, and that’s a problem, but it’s great to be able to keep it going. The other guys are doing stuff, too, but I’m the main schedule culprit.
AllMusic: Some bands in that situation try to swap MP3s by email and do it remotely.
Klinghoffer: I’ve tried my hardest to send them demos, then we get in a room and I say, “Hey, remember that one…” and they have no idea what I’m talking about, so it doesn’t work that way. For a band of guys in this day and age, for four people to be so computer illiterate when it comes to recording, we could be recording ourselves and swapping files, but we still operate like it’s the past, and we very much like to work on things in a room together, judge people’s facial expressions, come up with the parts live. There’s so many different ways to do it now digitally, and I’ve found it’s easiest to just do it the way we learned how to do it, play it together, write it together, record it together, the Chili Peppers do it like that, any band I’ve ever worked with has done it like that, so it just makes sense.
AllMusic: This morning you were working with the Chili Peppers and now you’re talking about Dot Hacker in the evening. Do you have to mentally change hats to put yourself in a different place for each band?
Klinghoffer: I feel fortunate all the time that I get to play music, period, and I do it for a living and I’m always aware that I’m fortunate for that, and going back and forth between the two bands, I’m really happy to watch myself be able to maneuver through these two very different situations. Something about Dot Hacker, especially when we started, I’ve enjoyed watching myself grow as a singer and a frontperson. I still think I have a lot of growing to do, because we don’t get to play as much as I’d like to, but it’s great to watch the different people that you’re in a room with and see what role you fill, and sometimes it is interesting to look at the differences when you step back, but I’m happy that I’m able to do that, that I’m able to pull it off.
AllMusic: Do you get bossy when you’re in frontman mode or do you try to keep it democratic?
Klinghoffer: We keep it as democratic as we can, I never feel like I get bossy. I’m so used to it, because all throughout my musical history, playing other people’s music, on tour or in the studio or making records with John Frusciante, he wrote the songs a lot of the time, and you’d have an opinion and hopefully you’d respect it enough to weigh in, but if it comes down to a disagreement, I’d always yield, because I knew where the songs came from. In Dot Hacker, it doesn’t really happen like that. If there’s a disagreement, we’re always comfortable to disagree with each other. For a couple of guys in their mid to late thirties, all of us, to a similar degree, went through life never really finding that band that we really felt connected to, personality-wise, in a band you were really good friends with. For all of us, this is something really special.
AllMusic: You split the new record into two parts because you thought it was too long to be one release. Did you particularly enjoy concise albums growing up?
Klinghoffer: Albums were kind of long when I was growing up, but all the Depeche Mode albums from the ’80s were a great length, and Blonde Redhead has an album called Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons from maybe 10 years ago that always felt like such a great length to me, it has 10 songs and some are kind of short instrumental pieces. Smiths albums always seemed a great length, they were always under 45 minutes, and they had 10 songs. I always loved listening to an album and it being over and wanting to start over again. You don’t do that with an 18-song record. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, that’s a record I always think of as being incredibly concise, that album can’t be more than 30-something minutes. There was an unspoken feeling that the consumer was being ripped off if it was a smaller amount of music, and it feels like a crazy thing to make a decision based on, “Oh, you need to put on more tracks.” It feels strange to me.
AllMusic: There’s not much repetition on your new record, it always moves into different places.
Klinghoffer: I get off on seeing if I can pack a lot of information into a pop song format, but seeing if you can do it without sounding turgid. I love it, I think we got away with it. There’s a song called “Somersault” on this album, I can’t believe it actually came together, we’d tried to work on it a few different times, and it has so many chords. It sounds kind of simple but it never really goes back to its beginning, it’s always evolving. There’s a few on there, like “Mission Creep” is a crazy song that I don’t understand, exactly. That one definitely doesn’t repeat too much, it’s always changing.
AllMusic: The closing track, “Anger,” is mostly piano-driven, it’s a big shift from the songs that come before it.
Klinghoffer: I love how that one came together. I have a friend, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, who was on tour with Gnarls Barkley, she plays cello, so Clint and I met her at the same time back in 2006. Her string quartet is on that song, and she wrote the arrangement. It was great to include the string quartet, I loved the way it worked out, and it was my first time to see a string quartet play a piece of music I had written, I was beside myself. That was a great example of Dot Hacker working on all cylinders. Eric [Gardner, Dot Hacker drummer] wanted to suggest that the song didn’t have drums, and he just played a real simple noise sound for the drums, Jonathan [Hischke, Dot Hacker bassist] is playing an upright bass that he borrowed from me, and Clint took the reins on that song and mixed it really well. It was real hard for me to take the string quartet out of the beginning, but it’s a really great example of everyone working together on that song, and I love it.
AllMusic: When I listened to it, I wasn’t always able to discern the lyrics. The melodies are always clear, but in a Michael Stipe sort of way, I couldn’t always hear what you were saying. Was that on purpose, and do lyrics matter to you?
Klinghoffer: I’m all over the place. It’s a thing I have to do at the end, but there are things I want to get across, and I think I have too much respect for lyrics, so I really have to support them, to let them out. It’s a muscle I don’t often get a chance to exercise, it takes me some time to get there, but it’s one of my favorite things to do, to write lyrics, and they’re very important to me.
AllMusic: Would you go out of your way to memorize lyrics as a kid?
Klinghoffer: I always used to find that lyrics were hard for me to discern, so I didn’t really always care about other people’s lyrics, I was more interested in the melody and what it sounded like. There are other songs to this day that are some of my favorite songs that I have no idea what they’re saying, because I felt I didn’t want to put in the effort, or it wasn’t very easy to understand so I’ll just let it go. But when I do find Michael Stipe’s lyrics, for example, or Leonard Cohen, when someone’s very clear with their lyrics and they’re great, it’s nothing better, and it works really well. Someone like Michael Stipe, who I feel like I’m probably closer to, someone who’s kind of obscure in what they say, I love that, too. I wonder what he’s saying, then I find out and say, “Oh, that’s it…” and you enjoy it in a new way. I think the more and more I do it, the more I’m able to exercise that muscle, I think I get better and more confident. It’s something I’m still learning to do, I feel like so many people write songs and so many people write lyrics, it’s really hard to feel like you have a unique voice and a unique say, everything’s been said many times.
AllMusic: I first heard your playing on the records you did with John Frusciante in 2004, when he released several records in a short amount of time. What did you learn from being involved with that burst of productivity?
Klinghoffer: As I often did with him, I was so impressed with someone who was able to and who allows themselves to create a world that allowed you to follow his creative drive wherever it went. To be able to do whatever you want to do, working with him during that period, it was amazing to be able to exercise any idea that either of us had, and I was so impressed with his work ethic. The way he writes songs, he does it in a single burst, he’d always finish a song from start to finish, play it a lot, have it ready to go, whereas I take a long time with certain ones, I have songs kicking around for a long time, and I have to figure out what the lyrical content should be. I used to beat myself up about it, I would watch him finish a song just like that, and then I came to appreciate how I do things more.
AllMusic: It was a lot of music to release in a short time. Do any of those albums particularly stand out for you, 10 years later?
Klinghoffer: The two that were the most fun, and they were all fun, but the ones that were really focused and that we did really fast, it was like a complete idea, were Inside of Emptiness and The Will to Death, those two are really focused and I really remember those fondly. The one we did with both his and my name on the front (A Sphere in the Heart of Silence), that was also really cool, except at the time I was not so confident as a singer and a writer, I hadn’t really done it at all, so when I listen to those songs, the songs that I sing, although musically I really enjoy them, the singing sounds like someone who’s scared.
AllMusic: Finally, our readers are going to want to know why your new album cover is a bedazzled snail crawling on a nipple. I think we owe them an explanation.
Klinghoffer: This is part two, and the cover for the record, part one, doesn’t have a nipple. We found that one in an old Esquire magazine and we contacted the photographer and he let us use it. He said, “There’s another one, if you’re interested,” and we said, “Perfect, we just decided to split the record into two releases, we’ll release the more provocative one in October.” There isn’t a real explanation. With the Chili Peppers’ last album cover, it had the fly on the pill, I got asked all the time what it means, and I don’t know if there’s necessarily a correct meaning. The greatest thing about it is that it’s pretty open to your interpretation.