Josh Klinghoffer Talks Dot Hacker’s "Inhibition", Red Hot Chili Peppers, Books, and More
Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Clint Walsh [guitars, synthesizers, programming], Eric Gardner [drums], and Jonathan Hischke [bass] conjure shimmering melodies in the midst of cascading dissonance and dreamy distortion. Assuming vocal duties in addition to guitar and piano, Klinghoffer deftly drives ten tracks that will envelope the listener in the best way possible. There’s an elegant tension to the songs, and that push-and-pull proves utterly captivating. It’s one of the year’s best debuts and a rewarding trip.
Klinghoffer puts it best, “People can relate to it, but it’s not comprised of the most common sounds.”
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Josh Klinghoffer dives deep into Dot Hacker’s “Inhibition”. In addition, he talks what he’s looking forward to for the next Chili Peppers album, books, movies, and more.
How did you approach Inhibition?
With the nature of the recording process and people being in town and out of town, we started with a bunch of songs that we tracked live. There were probably seven or eight, and the last couple of songs were created later. I didn’t really know how the record was going to flow from start to finish or stand as a full piece. “Inhibition” was actually one of the last songs recorded. The idea was always to have this band with these people making this album and as many albums as they can.
Do you approach music with a visual or cinematic perspective?
Yeah, a lot of the time, it all blends together for me visually and sonically. If I’m coming up with a chord progression or hear a melody, I can very easily picture where I would like to be hearing that melody. Then, I go for songs which would match that vision.
What’s the story behind “Order/Disorder”?
That was a song born out of a rocking practice when we were writing. It wrote itself pretty easily. It’s a really fun song to play. Jonathan spent a lot of time making these really incredible syncopated bass parts in the chorus, and he hits one of his pedals and gets that backwards bass sound. There’s all of this subtlety going on in what seems like a rock anthem. I was thinking of Television when I wrote that riff at practice. We wrote it in on the spot. Lyrically, I always like playing with words. I like wordplay, dichotomies, and dualities. It’s a bit new for me to be the lyricist and singer in a band. A lot of the lyrics are about things seemingly orderly but really being a mess.
Your playing also shows that juxtaposition.
With everything in life, that’s what I like to highlight. When it comes to writing lyrics, playing any form of music, conversation, films I like, or paintings I like, I like things that highlight chaos and something different happening in the same piece or at the same time.
Where did “Quotes” come from?
That’s a chord progression I’ve had for a long time. I started playing it one day when we were first getting together and writing. That bell-sounding middle piece is the kind of thing that justifies me when we’re finishing arrangements and songs. I would’ve never come up with that. The other guys were like, “We need a break!” That’s what I love about arranging with other people. They can take it to a different place. Lyrically, that song is about the poor words never getting a chance to exist outside of people putting them in quotes. They don’t get their fair share.
What about “Puncture”?
To me, it seemed like a nice anthemic closer. There was originally a song called “Rewire” that we put at the end of our original 12 song version of the album. We made it a ten song record, which I like better. “Puncture” seemed like even if it wasn’t the closer, it could be the penultimate song. It could go on for 20 minutes, and it has at rehearsal [Laughs].
What fosters your visual aesthetic?
I try to read as much as possible. Sometimes, I’ll put a book down and not come back to it for a while. I usually have too many books on the go at once [Laughs]. I watch a lot of films. It can be anything that gets your mind going—even watching people on the street.
What authors or books do you come back to?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this book called The Elementary Particles that I read a while ago. It’s written by a French author named Michel Houellebecq. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction, political books about the ’60s. Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America is on my bookshelf now. I like Fernando Pessoa. He’s a Portuguese writer who would write a lot of free thoughts. He’d come up with different characters he’d write from. He’d get halfway done with a book and switch characters. I’ve been reading this book called The Book of Disquiet, which is full of really interesting thoughts and word pictures.
Are composing lyrics and writing guitar parts similar?
It depends. I’ve been writing a lot on piano lately. Over the last several years, I’ve been trying to go back and forth between the guitar and the piano for the same idea. Whatever instrument I’m playing on or drumbeat I’m playing to informs the phrasing. The hardest thing for me is taking all of the words I’ve written and the stack of notebooks I have and making them fit somewhat coherently to the sound I sing along over a chord progression. It really takes work.
It seems like the Dot Hacker music was recorded as you were tapping into an emotion or a moment.
Absolutely! It makes me happy to hear it comes across like that because it definitely. Certain songs were lyrically constructed later after the band had done the basic tracks. All it takes for me is living with the music for a little while, and then it all makes sense. I hope it comes across, and they sound like they’re one.
How different is composing for Dot Hacker from writing with Red Hot Chili Peppers? Is it two different mindsets?
I can’t say it’s two totally different mindsets because I usually sort of start going with no end result in mind. In the little experience I have making records with Red Hot Chili Peppers—which is one at this point—it comes down to what I would want to sing and what I feel someone else could do a better job singing. Anthony Kiedis is one of the best I’ve ever seen. If he feels it, he can come up with something really fast. His first instinct is usually really right on. If it’s something I’ve been working on or playing at home, singing is a good start, but I don’t necessarily feel it’s important I chase the vocal aspect of it. If it’s something I feel would suit my voice or melodic sense, I usually put it in my side. It’s good because Anthony and I have two totally different vocal styles.
“Monarchy of Roses” really stands out on I’m With You. What’s the story behind that one?
Flea and I were taking a hike one day and said, “It’d be amazing to have a mixture of basically Black Sabbath and some disco track!” That’s the only time we’ve ever really conceptualized a song like that. The first time I got together with Flea at his house, when we concocted the idea of me joining the band, we did something like that because of the hike. When we wrote that song, I reached back into my memory and picked out that riff.
I’m With You shows that kind of diversity across the board.
Even though it was my first record with them, I think we covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. We made a connected and great record for just jumping in. I’m really looking forward to the next one because, having done a year or more of touring, the guitar will be more of a focus for me. When we were writing, there was a lot of piano and effects on the guitar. I’m looking forward to making more of a guitar Chili Peppers record.
Have you been playing a lot of piano?
I’m loving piano lately. I don’t know why. My ability on the piano isn’t super advanced. I’m limited. I can hit whacky chords and, if I hear a note, I have to find it. I don’t have any rules I follow. On guitar, I’m a little more comfortable so I might do this style.
If Inhibition were a movie, what would it be?
Well, I saw the new Terrence Malick movie The Tree of Life in the theater, and I loved it. I’ve been trying to compare everything to it. I’m not sure I could equate the album to that movie specifically. However, the look, the pacing, and openness of that movie—how much it lets the viewer do a lot of work and take it anyway they want to—I would hope is how someone would take Inhibition or anything I do. The Tree of Life has been on a lot lately, so I’ve been watching it every time it comes on.
Have you already begun writing for the next Dot Hacker record?
I always have a ton of things on the go. I’ll leave them at a place where I still get excited about the demo recordings when I hear them. I don’t finish them until the rest of the guys around. I’ve got tons in the pot.
Which artists really shaped you?
Neil Young is someone I’ve always liked. When I was younger, I liked Nirvana and bands like that. I just saw Pulp, and they’re still a band I would listen to. I spent a lot of time going back and listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Guns N’ Roses is a band I listened to as a kid that I still love.
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