Zimbio Exclusive Interview: Josh Klinghoffer
Dot Hacker frontman Josh Klinghoffer wasn’t really sure how he’d celebrate the release of his band’s debut album, Inhibition: “Um, I probably won’t, really. It’ll be a quiet celebration. Maybe… where will I be on May 1?”
For the past three years, Klinghoffer’s been the lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a career-defining gig that’s taken him to stadiums around the globe and, just last April, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It has also made it difficult for him to promote Dot Hacker, his independent project with Jonathan Hischke, Clint Walsh, and Eric Gardner, all Los Angeles-based “session musician types” who spend much of their lives on the roads as well. It’s no wonder that the album, an architectural-yet-intimate collection of songs recorded in 2009, is just now being released through ORG Music.
Klinghoffer phoned in from a RHCP tour stop in Toronto to talk the band’s genesis, his fears as a front man, and injuries sustained in the name of rock.
Zimbio: Dot Hacker is a group of really talented musicians best known for working with extremely famous people. How did you find each other?
Josh Klinghoffer: I met Clint, the other guitar player, when we were touring together with Gnarls Barkley in ’06, and we sort of quickly became really good friends and talked about always wanting a band—he has a band, but I never really did, so we talked about trying to pull it together, if we could. I met Eric through him, and I introduced him to Jonathan, who I had met when he was touring with the band Hella, coming out of California, I had known those guys for a long time. We just kind of threw it together and it worked instantly.
This album has been finished since 2009, but it’s just now being released. Why the delay? Did you ever consider a self-release?
JK: So initially, people started going out of town, doing their tours here and there to support themselves, and then I got asked to join the Chili Peppers, so that kind of took me out of the equation. So then it kind of sat there, and we were always hoping to keep it alive, and looking for someone to put it out, I guess we weren’t too proactive about it… It’s kind of hard to sell someone on putting out a record by a band that’s unavailable to tour or promote it or anything like that.
I was kind of resigned to maybe coming back at some point, but that it was just going to lay dormant for the time being. Then my good friend Steve McDonald, who plays in Red Cross and OFF!, he was sort of working at Warner Brothers, and right before the Chili Peppers album came out, seeing as how it was the last chance to sneak this band out before the Chili Peppers came out, he just played it for Jeff Bauer who works at Warner Brothers but also has ORG, his own label. He liked it a lot. Obviously, he works at Warner Brothers so he was familiar with my obligation with the Chili Peppers, and he was cool with just kind of sneaking it out there and giving the band an existence. Not really expecting the band to do much this time around, but hopefully in the future when schedules permit the band will now have a record already, so people know it’s there, rather than later on down the line, putting out a second album. I’m really thankful to Jeff for putting it out.
Then there were periods of delays. We tried to get it out before the Chili Peppers, then something or the other didn’t happen… We thought it was probably better for it to come sometime after the Chili Peppers rather than putting it out right on top of it.
Zimbio: Do you have any plans for touring now? Is there any time and space for that?
JK: There is. There’s nothing planned at the moment, but the Chili Peppers’ touring schedule is pretty solid. I’m pretty certain where I’ll be for the next year or so, because everyone in the band has families. Our schedule’s pretty solid, two weeks on, two weeks off, so I can potentially book shows with Dot Hacker any break. I’m sure we will at some point. I’m sure this summer we’ll do stuff. Really any time we can I’d love to.
Zimbio: I’ve spoken to a few multi-instrumentalists best known for their work for other bands who have said that perfectionism played a big role in keeping them from exploring their “own” work. Did that apply to you?
I guess so, in a way. I think of myself as really imperfect when it comes to how I am as a musician. I’m not so much a perfectionist, I just try to be in the moment and let it go, but I suppose playing with people that you respect and admire and also seeing… It’s as if I had my own band but it wasn’t mine, I was playing large venues with the people I was touring with, so I guess there was a slight fear of expectation that I put on myself. Like, for someone skipping over the first stages of starting a band.
I feel like I probably compared it to things I was doing, and people I was playing with and thought, ugh, you know, ‘Is it as great as this?” That’s kind of a fear of mine, being compared to the some of the great people I’ve played with. At the end of the day, it’s ridiculous, you can’t do that.
Also, singing and being the front person of a band is something I hadn’t done before, so if I wasn’t prepared to take the chance out there, it would never happen.
Zimbio: Inhibition was my first exposure to you as a vocalist. Have you always felt comfortable in front of the mic?
Yeah, I love singing, and my voice, the way it sounds, I’ve always hated hearing it back, but I do love singing and I love making sounds with my voice. It’s always sort of been a struggle…
It’s something that I haven’t spent tons of time working on, I just kind of do it. I haven’t really focused a lot of energy in the past, and now just being embarrassed about communicating ideas—I mean I love doing it, I just have to work on it and keep doing it and get confident in it. I don’t know how much of it is voice, and how much of it is lyric-writing, or being the front person of a band, I guess it’s all kind of the same.
But my confidence has just jumped in the last two years since finishing the record and now going on tour with the Chili Peppers, affecting my voice and everything.
Zimbio: You dropped out of high school to pursue music. Did you ever consider going back to school for formal training?
JK: No, not really. I love education and I love learning, and there’s a part of me that really wishes I had carried on in school and gone to college, but public schools in Los Angeles were not happening and I just didn’t feel there was any chance in me getting anything out of it because it was so oppressive to me. As far as formal music training, I’ve never had any of it, really, I mean took some drum lessons when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. I love the idea of it, but it seems like such a daunting mountain to climb, for me. I do love the idea of it. Perhaps one day I will. I’ve gotten into synthesizers and playing around with construction and learning how to manipulate electronic sounds and stuff like that, and that seems a bit intellectual to me. So I’ve been learning theory of music and exercising my brain that way.
Flea went back to music school in the past couple years and he had a great time studying piano and stuff like that. And I would love to do that, but it doesn’t seem like I have the time right now or the brain space.
Zimbio: I read that your parents weren’t on board with your decision to leave school. Have they ever been like, “I’m sorry, you were right?”
I don’t know if they could bring themselves to actually say those words, but you know I understand their fear. You know, at the time, school seemed to be the easiest way to instill some sort of stability into a child’s life, I guess, but my point at the time with leaving school was it simply it wasn’t for me, and I really didn’t feel like it was helping me, and if my parents had put more time and energy into getting to know me they would have understood that more and possibly helped me come up with a better way of exploring education, but they didn’t. So, probably the self-belief and wanting to be right at the time just stuck, what I was going to do, and they didn’t like it.
At the time I sort of made decisions, I had to succeed or whatever, I had to carry on, no matter the cost was. So them being against me leaving school could have driven me to make sure I landed on my feet somewhere. And they’re certainly proud of me now. They’ve always been proud of me to a degree.
I saw that you played with Slash and a bunch of famous people at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month. What was the vibe in there like, especially after all that weird press about Axl Rose?
The vibe in the room at that ceremony was weird. It went on so long, we didn’t get onstage until quarter to one in the morning, so I think everyone was a little tired and felt like they’d been to two weddings and a funeral. By the time we got into that jam of “Higher Ground” with Slash I think everyone was ready to let loose and have fun. I didn’t really talk to Slash much, although he was one of my favorite guitarists when I was younger. It was a lot of fun.
Zimbio: Okay, general fun questions: What was the first album you ever bought?
JK: I don’t know ’cause my dad always had a lot of records around. It might even be like Appetite for Destruction. Maybe The Beatles’ Help! That’s probably the first one I went to the store and made them get me.
Zimbio: First concert?
JK: Metallica at the LA Colosseum. That was the first one my friends and I got our parents to take us to. I did see the Beach Boys at Yankee Stadium in the mid-’80s.
Zimbio: Have you suffered injuries in the name of rock?
JK: Oh God, all the time. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me play, but it’s pretty athletic. I keep reminding myself I have to be careful, if I do one stupid thing it can greatly affect the next show, and the next show, and that it’s something that a lot of people depend on. But yeah, I’ve done ridiculous jumps and put my knee out. I wear knee braces onstage under my pants. I’m always bleeding and always banged up. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped off the stage, ’cause usually in the situations I play, it’s not me people come to see, so if I jumped off the stage people would just go, ‘What are you doing?’