Scans by anthonykiedis.net
TRYING to keep up with Flea as he talks nineteen to the dozen and leaps around the room is no easy task.
The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s enthusiastic bassist, dressed head-to-toe in turquoise — and by that I mean a turquoise jogging suit and his hair dyed the exact same colour — is telling SFTW for about the 22nd time how “beautiful life is” and “how grateful he was for John Frusciante”.
Without taking a breath and speaking at Olympic sprint pace, he says: “He is a phenomenal musician, one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s unbelievable.
“He gave us soooooo much as a musician, as a songwriter as a friend and a bandmate. He’s the greatest. He’s irreplaceable. No one could ever be John. He’s a one of a kind, incredible, classic, historically important musician. And he didn’t want to do it any more and now he’s doing what he wants to be doing.”
SFTW are in Santa Monica’s Casa Del Mar hotel with the Red Hot Chili Peppers for their first day of press for new and tenth studio album I’m With You.
Journalists from all over the world have flown in to chat to the global superstars who have two suites between them.
Singer Anthony Kiedis and new guitarist — and John’s replacement — Josh Klinghoffer are in one room, while Flea and drummer Chad Smith are next door.
John, the genius guitarist of the band, quit in December 2009. He was responsible for their great riffs and shaped their sound since breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) through to their biggest hits such as Dani California, Scar Tissue and Californication.
Flea says: “In the end, it was obvious to everyone that John didn’t want to be there.
“That makes it really hard, when you’re not a unit, to live inside it and enjoy it.”
Flea had tempted John back when he had quit before.
John, who joined the band as an 18-year-old superfan for the band’s 1989 album Mother’s Milk, had walked out on tour in Tokyo in 1992. He was depressed and had a heroin problem.
But Flea was lost without him and the album they recorded with Dave Navarro on guitar (1995’s One Hot Minute) was a commercial flop.
A clean Frusciante rejoined the band in 1998. This time there was no pleading or begging from Flea. He says: “It was different this time. We’d made those three records with him back and we’d had a lot of success and John’s creative input and writing was such a big part of it.
“I thought we’d never do it without John — it would be stupid to try. But then when he left, I was presented with this new reality of what it was and it made me realise we had to go on and could go on.”
Anthony agrees: “The time John revealed his plans to move on was something that everyone had sensed and was emotionally prepared for.
“You can’t carry someone who doesn’t want to be there — not that he was kicking and screaming. He played his ass off till the last note so his departure was a relief but a positive relief.
“Then 18 months ago Josh joined us and we went back to work. We only took two years off really even though we’ve not made a record in five years.” New boy Josh sits nervously on the sofa. A former session player for PJ Harvey, Beck and Gnarls Barkley, he first played live with the band in 2007 on the final legs of their Stadium Arcadium tour.
At 31, he is 17 years younger than Anthony and Flea and while he has been playing with the band live and in the studio for the last year and a half, he says talking to journalists is an altogether new thing.
Anthony jokes: “Be kind to him… and I want you to ask him as many questions as you ask me.”
Josh scurries off to the kitchen area to grab a biscuit before returning to plonk himself down on the sofa, hugging his knees and peeking through as he answers.
He says: “I’ve known them for so long that it’s just been like hanging out. We recorded 14 songs but we wrote much more music than that.”
Anthony adds: “There was an absurd wealth of musical ideas and if we lived in a different time and place we could have put out a double or triple record.
“Writing songs wasn’t an issue. It was getting rid of them that was difficult.”
While John was seen as the musical force on previous albums, in particular 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, Flea has taken the reins on I’m With You.
Gentle giant Chad, 49, explains: “I’m very proud of Flea on this album. He’s given it his all.
“He’s been away and bettered himself as a musician at university. And it shows.”
Flea not only taught himself piano prior to the making of this album but enrolled in music classes at the University of Southern California in the autumn of 2008, studying music theory, composition and jazz trumpet.
Flea says: “I wrote music on piano which is a different approach for us.
“I didn’t play piano much before but on this record I composed on the piano and so did Josh.
“When you write on the piano, you write rhythm, bass and harmony and reinterpret it with a rock band.
“We’d never done anything like that before — it had always come from a guitar and bass and drums.”
As well as his extra-band studies, Flea toured with Thom Yorke in supergroup Atoms For Peace as well as with Damon Albarn and Patti Smith.
He says: “It influenced me being around Thom. He’s an unbelievably great musician and a beautiful man. He’s so pure as an artist. It’s less that I would try to copy him and more that just being around someone who channels really powerful energy is beneficial.
“It’s a relationship I will always hope to nurture.
“But the Chili Peppers are a different entity. It was inspirational to play with Thom, Damon and Patti but being in a band with Chad, Anthony and Josh is my home. It’s a beautiful thing.
“During my time off I felt like I was trying to come into myself as an artist and now I’m starting to grow and learn in ways I’ve always wanted to.”
Recorded at Cello Studios, Los Angeles — the same studio in which the band recorded Californication — East West Studios, LA, and Shangri La Studio, Malibu, with longtime producer Rick Rubin, I’m With You shows the band haven’t lost any of their melody or funk with John’s departure.
High points are the jazzy love song Meet Me At The Corner, the pogo anthem Factory Of Faith, the piano-led Happiness Loves Company and acoustic tribute to late friend Brendan Mullen on Brendan’s Death Song. The funk jam track Ethiopia came following a life-changing trip Flea and Josh took to the African country.
Josh says: “It was like a musical field trip. We had outings every day.
“It was like summer camp… and then Flea got lost and when he was lost, he went through a lot of emotions which is reflected on the album. It’s the point where we were starting to really come together.”
Flea recalls: “I got lost in a city called Harar. It was a really amazing experience that really changed everything.
“Damon Albarn had started African Express, basically a bunch of musicians go to a different country in Africa to jam with Africans, listen to African music and trip around. It was f***ing amazing. So we decided we’d go to Ethiopia.
“One day we got the bus and I got off the bus, walked down this little street, turned around and the bus was gone! I was lost.
“I walked around this little town for about an hour. No one speaks English and it’s kind of crazy.
“I started getting scared. People were coming up to me and speaking to me but I didn’t understand.
“Then one guy came up to me and he started speaking in broken English. He found my friends and helped me.
“So when I came home, I told that story to Anthony and he wrote that song. It’s very special to me.”
At the centre of the band has always been Anthony and Flea’s friendship. They are the two original band members who met when they were students at Fairfax High School, forming the band in 1983.
And having a break at the end of the Stadium Arcadium tour “was really nice” says Flea, “because we’ve only ever had six months off before”.
Anthony adds: “We’d had enough of each other then.
“We’d not had any time apart and we weren’t enjoying each other’s company. We needed the time off.”mpu
Flea continues: “My friendship with Anthony was in trouble when we decided to take a break.
“Even with our history and the length of our friendship, we just had to have our own space and do our own thing. Anthony became a father and that’s why we’re enjoying it all again.
“We’ve been through so much together but this is a rebirth, it really is.
“Life in the Red Hot Chili Peppers is… well, it’s just beautiful.”
I’m With You is released on August 30.