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The AU interview: Josh Klinghoffer

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Interview by Emmylou Macdonald – www.theaureview.com

Josh Klinghoffer is best known as the newest face of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but this ultra-talented multi-instrumentalist has been hard at work with his more obscure but no less exciting band, Dot Hacker. They’ve just released the first instalment of their second album, How’s Your Process? (Work), which is downright addictive and signals a newfound sense of cohesion for the band. Josh delves into the past, present and future to explain the stories behind Dot Hacker, from inception to now.

Hey Josh, are you up to much today?
Yes, I’m up to very much today – a lot. I’m up to both bands that I play in; I’m in between. I started the day with one band and I will be going to play with another after.

Well that’s pretty exciting! Guess I should get to the questions pretty quick then!

(laughs)

Dot Hacker just released How’s Your Process? (Work) and it includes a pretty vast range of sounds, instruments and distortion which is a bit of a signature for the band’s experimental nature. How do you feel the album represents Dot Hacker’s style as a whole?
Very well I think. It’s six songs, this first release, a little over 30 minutes of music and for six songs I feel like it goes a lot of different places sonically, vocally, dynamically – it’s very ‘this’ band. It shows all the different things we like and the different directions we can go.

Dot Hacker’s first album Inhibition offered a slightly more varied compilation of sounds compared to How’s Your Process? (Work) which has a similar feel throughout. Were you guys aiming to produce something more cohesive this time around?
I think we always want to make a cohesive record and I think it was a little unknown where we were going with the first album. Some of the songs came through at the last minute and only featured two of us and then maybe another guy came on. It was a little more disparate when it was being done initially, whereas with this new one, we were all part of it from the get-go and we all did it together. But stylistically I think, from song to song, it takes a bit of a journey. I’m glad it sounds like more of a cohesive thing [laughs].

When you hear the second release though, How’s your process? (Play), all twelve tracks seem different from song to song but they all seem like this one album. So yeah, we were always going for something like that I think, just the fact that Dot Hacker has been a band for longer than we were when we did that first album – that’s probably what you’re talking about and that’s what you can hear. People are more familiar with their roles. When we did that first album, we were still just kind of new to each other. Our goal was more to sound like ourselves, more like a band and it sounds like we did that [laughs].

Your band’s new release has a few moments that are reminiscent of a Radiohead/John Frusciante lovechild. Are they pretty close in terms of the band’s influences?
Well I’m a big fan of both of those artists. I made records with John for a long time and we have a lot of similar tastes. Radiohead too, they’re a huge influence on me, and the other guys as well, just in their willingness to explore different sounds and styles of music within the context of their band. They use different instruments, different recording techniques but it’s mostly their willingness to explore while doing it under the band umbrella that we’re influenced by. John was a close friend and collaborator of mine for a long time. Listening back on some of the records I did with him, just the fact that it’s me playing is why Dot Hacker sounds similar. I was thinking ‘is that a good thing or a bad thing’ or ‘why is that’ but that’s easy because it’s me [laughs]!

‘Elevator’ off the new album has a large presence of keyboard, electric guitar mixed with rich acoustics and your haunting vocals. I read that it was initially considered obnoxious by your band-mates and left off the first release. Why did it make the cut this time?
Well it wasn’t necessarily left off the first release… There was a period where I showed them the bare bones of the song back when we were first getting to know each other and first getting to be a band. That’s a great way of looking at how the band’s progressed. When I first showed them the song, I don’t think people could hear where I was trying to go with it because they weren’t as familiar with me as a writer or a singer yet. When it came time to write songs for this new record, Jonathan Hischke the bass player was very partial to that song and he kept saying ‘what about that old one Elevator’.

I had done an instrumental demo of it back in 2001 at John Frusciante’s house when he was out of town so that song has been around for a long time, I just never finished the lyrics to it because I never had the situation or the band to play it with. It was always something that I just kept around so I think when it came time to make this new album, Dot Hacker had more of a language with each other and everyone was able to find what needed to be done with it quicker.

The first time around everyone was like ‘I don’t know what to do with this’ and people weren’t sure originally if they had to take something I already had and put their own spin on it but now I think everyone’s a bit more comfortable with their role in the band and what to do when they hear a song. It’s been a fun thing to watch the journey.

Another track that stood out is ‘Whatever You Want’. It has that grungy, hard-hitting intro followed by a fair bit of soft vocal work by you. Is that balance of light and dark something you enjoy putting into a track?
Yeah, the balance of light and dark or any sort of massive juxtaposition is something I really like putting into everything I do. As much as you can illustrate the fact that there’s many different things at play or at work at one time or there’s always light AND dark, I like to do.

I have to ask about the album cover of How’s Your Process? (Work)… What’s the deal with the jewel-encrusted snail?
Well… I can explain the idea behind it. When we were looking for how to present this record, I had an idea for the cover that not everybody agreed with. We took to the books, magazines, everything and Eric Gardner (drums) and I came across this old Esquire magazine. We were kind of running out of time at this point, we both liked it, so we ran it back to everyone else and they all liked it too. We contacted the photographer and he was willing to sell it to us and it just sort of became. The original photograph I liked for the cover illustrated the music and the band without much thought – it just hit me – and I thought this photograph did the same thing. It was simple, it was unique, it was evocative and it just asked a lot of questions and it gave a lot of answers at the same time. But I have no specific story behind how those jewels got on that snail. I’m guessing they were put there, maybe by the photographer, I don’t know [laughs].

The photographer has an amazing story himself actually. He’s a Holocaust survivor and he’s an 80 year old guy but he wrote right back to us and was into letting us use it and he suggested another one of his photos which is pretty similar to the one we wanted to use. That was right after we decided to put out two albums, so the next one has a similar but slightly different version of the first one so you’ll have to wait to see that one.

Yourself and your band-mates have worked with the likes of Gnarles Barkley, Tom Morello and of course, Red Hot Chili Peppers. The experimental path is obviously quite different, so what made you decide to pursue it? Were you always into that style?
Well I don’t look at Dot Hacker as that experimental. Most of the time I think of us as a pretty normal band, we just have such a vast array of interests that it sounds experimental. I think the fact I get to play in the Chili Peppers and have a ‘normal’ pop outlet allows me to not have to necessarily make things that your parents would want to hear [laughs]. I can be a little more experimental and not have to play by the rules all the time and I think we all like that.

I think all the members of Dot Hacker have played in enough situations and been in this long enough to be able to produce music for our own reasons. We don’t have to impress anyone but ourselves really and if we like what we do, we either don’t care if other people do or we think ‘how can we go wrong’. Whether you like it or not, it’s kind of interesting anyway but I feel like we could be more experimental and I’d love to do more stuff.

There’s so much music out there and so many people in bands that you don’t need to see another fool jumping around. If you can do something that even remotely sounds like something you haven’t seen before then that’s what I’m interested in doing.

Dot Hacker pretty much formed in 2007 but didn’t release an album until 2012. Were you just too busy jamming or was it a case of discovering the right sound?
Well I think we officially got off the ground in early 2008 but we started plotting in ’07. So we started working in 2008, recorded in 2009 then I joined the Chili Peppers which is what really held up the release of the first album. I just left town and we just didn’t know what to do with it. Who would put out an album by a band that wasn’t around to tour or promote it? But then exactly that happened.

A friend of mine Steve McDonald who was in a band called Redd Kross and now plays in Off! was working at Warner Brothers at the time and he played it for a guy down the hall who had his own little label on the side. Chili Peppers are with Warner Brothers so he was well aware of my schedule, my availability; he liked the album a lot and wanted to put it out, so he gave us that opportunity.

We figured that the longer it takes for Dot Hacker to put this record out, the more it’ll seem like a Chili Peppers side project. So he figured ‘let’s get this out as soon as we can’ that way it’ll give the band an existence. But it took a while for that to happen because we kind of all forgot about the record and we thought it’d just live in our own iPods. But Jeff and Andrew at ORG Music gave us the chance to put it out and we are eternally grateful.

Yourself and the rest of Dot Hacker seem to come as friends first and band-mates second – what’s it like producing music in this kind of setup in comparison to bigger productions like Gnarles Barkley?
Well Gnarles Barkley was more of a two-man studio thing that they put together live, driven by the fact that there’s a tour. It’s not so much a collaborative thing, it’s like ‘here’s this music, we have to go play it, you guys play it’.

Dot Hacker is a band that’s with friends and we all make music together and we all have equal input and we all have our own wants and desires. It’s easy to do and for me, I want my friends to make the music they want to and I feel like Dot Hacker is four guys who always wanted their own band but never found the right situation to do it. So I love the fact that we all have that now.

I think it’s easy to be supportive of everybody and we’re all just really happy to have the situation that we have to make our own music. However, sometimes if I don’t get my own way, there’s a problem, but that’s another story [laughs]. But I think the more and more we grow as friends, the more respectful we are and the more we know we’re doing it because we care about it and have a vision of what we want to sound like, it’s never a personal thing. At the beginning of the band’s existence when people didn’t know each other as well, there was petty personal garbage but that’s mostly gone away and everyone just enjoys the fact that we’re all friends.

What do you see happening in the future for you? Solo ventures? Continued focus on your multiple bands? Further work with the Chili Peppers?
I have no idea what will happen, I just know that I want to play and do and write as much music as possible and explore as much as I can in terms of writing and playing different sounds and different kinds of songs. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of creating that situation. Being in the Chili Peppers helps me be able to have a space to play for people who will listen. I love playing with them and I’ll be doing that as long as they want to be playing. I see more records by Dot Hacker, I see other projects with me singing and maybe people on it, I see other bands and I just see me doing tonnes of music.

The real enemy and the real thing to get over is time – I just have to have the time to do all this. I look at people who work tirelessly and are doing new project after new project and that’s what I hope to do, to be always making something that I like.

Well that sounds like an incredible plan that I’m sure many people will be happy with. Thank you so much for your time and enjoy your day!
Thanks for calling! Hope to meet you when we make it down there. Bye!

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