From Guitar School July 1992.
Every year thousands of young Americans
make the pilgrimage to the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool
to see a tiny bronze statue entitled "Four Young Men Who
Shook The World". And not far away, four young men are
shaking. Accustomed to the warm glow of the Southern Californian
sun, the world's favourite punk/funk group is freezing
in a dark, dank, Liverpool waterside flat. At times like
this, it's ironic they call themselves the Red Hot Chili
Peppers. For the past month, the Peppers have been touring
Europe to sold-out crowds, but like a California cactus,
they wither when removed from the smog and heat of their
native San Fernando valley. "You know, today's my 22nd
birthday" says guitarist John Frusciante, his voice quavering.
Young Frusciante is taking it hard. Unflappable Flea,
bassist and countercultural icon, is suffering in stride.
"Germany is the worst, the country is gray and so are
the people," he moans. "Belfast, on the other hand, was
pretty intense - there's all these military checkpoints
to protect against IRA suicide bombers. It was the best
crowd I've ever played for, because the audience was so
hungry. When I really want to go home, I tell myself that
I'm helping people. In Belfast you really feel wanted."
The road is traditionally where the Peppers cook, but
after cutting 90 minutes of their best music with mega-producer
Rick Rubin last year, they are eager to get back home
and do it again. Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the product
of a five week, 20 hour a day recording session in a reportedly
haunted mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
The foursome were always a tight group of guys, but the
BSSM sessions have changed the way the band thinks and
makes music. As always, the tattooed forces behind the
Peppers' much imitated sound are Flea and frontman Anthony
Kiedis. But four years after replacing founding guitarist
Hillel Slovak, who died of a heroin overdose in 1988,
John Frusciante has emerged as a rhythm maker formidable
enough to drop Steve Cropper to his arthritic knees. Frusciante
cleans up his out0of-phase tone on BSSM, and lays down
nearly 90 minutes of uninterrupted funk groove - simple
and strong. Without sounding derivative, his leads conjure
an all-star cast of living guitar ghosts: Neil Young,
Mahavishnu John, Robbie Robertson, Jimmy Page and Adrian
Belew. Conversely, Flea has toned down his mofo, grab
'em by the throat bass lines, giving Frusciante enough
space to call his own shots. The result is four and six
string collaboration that blurs the line between the musicians
and their instruments. Talk to Flea and Frusciante about
their gear, and they'll tell you that their instruments
are mere extensions of their sock-draped body parts. Ask
about the band, and they'll say it's a funnel, into which
they pour the thousands of albums they've ever heard,
their love for each other and, of course, their collective
sex drive. Call it a lesson in Zen and the Art of Rhythm
GUITAR SCHOOL: Happy Birthday John.
JOHN FRUSCIANTE: Thanks.
GS: How does it feel being on the road?
JF: I don't feel so good right now; we had a bad
day yesterday, travelling in from Milan. Right now, all
I want is to go home, hang out with my girlfriend and
JF: I don't play guitar unless I'm on stage. I
play clarinet now. I'm much more serious about it than
the guitar, to be honest. Right now I'm trying to figure
out how to put the notes together, and how to make them
wide and deep. I try not to make conscious decisions on
either instrument - I just play. Every time I pick up
an instrument, I don't know what's going to happen.
FLEA: I started playingtrumpet when I was 11 years
GS: How good are you?
F: I'll show you. Wait a second, let me get it.
[Pause. Some banging around] This is by Ted Cameron -
it's called "If You Could See Me Now" [Plays a very smooth
melodic trumpet line for about a minute]
GS: That's nice. Do you and John ever play together?
F: No, not yet; maybe when we get back home. He
like to do it by himself right now; it's a private thing
for him. But I've heard him play, and I think he's really
good. Very free, very open.
GS: Have you ever tried playing the trumpet on stage?
F: I've never played trumpet with the Chili Peppers.
I did play a little with a band called Thelonious Monster.
It was always my dream to be a great jazz trumpet player.
It still is.
GS: Are there any similarites between the trumpet and
F: Yes. They are both musical instruments. GS:
What other musical instruments did you take to Europe?
JF: Three Strats. Some people think they need all
these racks and stuff, but I don't have any. I play on
Marshall heads, so they sound different every night. Idon't
actually change any of the knobs myself, so I don't know
exactly how they're set. I just play until I get a certain
feel. Sometimes there's a wah-wah or fuzz tone, but mostly
I play straight through a MArshall.
F: I'm using a MusicMan with a Galien Krueger head
and Mesa/Boogie cabinets. They're loud. GS: The new
album seems less cluttered then your previous efforts
- you can really hear each individual instrument doing
its own thing.
F: Actually I haven't heard that record in about
a year, but I remember trying to play very simply. In
the past, I've played some things just to be a bitchin'
player, but that wasn't the overall attitude this time
JF: I played with a much cleaner guitar sound on
this record; I don't have that many reasons to play dirty
anymore. When you want to play heavy, you got to play
dirty, but the clean sound is the natural sound. Personally,
my favourite guitar sound is straight into a four track
- straight into the board. Does that sound right? I'm
not feeling very smart today.
GS: Compared to touring, making the record must've
felt like being in the womb. I heard you locked yourselves
in a haunted mansion and jammed all day and all night.
That kind of reminded me of Dylan and the BAn'd The BAsement
F: It was a very peaceful time.
JF: "Womb" is a very good word. We didn't ever
leave the place - you just woke up, relaxed, took a few
deep breaths, put a grape in your ear and srated making
music. Very easy. Very beautiful. Concentrating on doing
nothing. I don't really care about my own creativity.
I didn't even pay attention to my own playing. I just
care about my life. I wasn't even listening to the guitar
or how I was making it sound during the recording sessions.
I just enjoy playing music with people I love. You don't
pay attention to what you're playing, you just look into
the other guy's eyes, or at his hands, or his knee, or
F: Jamming well has a lot to do with your understanding
of humanity. It also takes hard work and dedication. I
think we had been stagnating; getting together in that
kind of environment loosened things up. Touring saps me
physically, but not musically. You don't usually realise
when it's happening, but the road makes you a better musician,
and much more accustomed to playing all the time and thinking
on your feet. Last night, I found myself playing these
simple, elegant bass lines. It was surprising. I just
built a rehearsal studio in my house. I can't wait to
get back and just jam when I want to - it's been a dream
GS: Who do you want to play with?
F: Everybody. I play with Steven Perkins, the drummer
from Jane's Addiction. I just finished working on Roger
Water's new record. I even got a call from Jeff BEck's
people. They asked me if I wanted to work on his new album.
I was really into it, but then I found out that he's going
into the studio the day we go back on the road. I had
to say no.
GS: Were you disappointed?
F: Yeah. I really think I could light a fire under
his ass. It's not that he's an old fart or anything, I
just think I could really shake things up.
GS: WHo shakes you up?
F: A lot of people. Hillel really did. He got me
to play the bass when we were in high school together.
We had some incredible jams - we were the only two people
in the world who could share that. It will never happen
GS: When people close to me die, I can remember conversations
I had with them word for word. Can you recall. note for
note, musical conversations you had with Hillel?
F: Absolutely. I remember the tone and texture
of those conversations and they play sometimes still inhabit
me when I play. That's when I let things be natural.
GS: To John, was joining the band after Hillel died
the fulfillment of a life long dream?
JF: No. The only dream or goal I have is to have
a family, that sort of thing.
GS: So what does being a Chili Pepper mean to you?
JF: Making music with people I love, and making
records. I've always believed that music is something
that can't be expressed using words. I remeber being at
a baseball game when I was a kid. I was trying to play,
and failing miserably, as usual. I was very angry and
frustrated, so I just stood in the outfield and wrote
a song in my head. Then I went home and filled a whole
side of a tape with songs I made up. I was very angry
back then. I don't need to express thopse kinds of emotions
now, but I'm still a firm believer that music isn't something
you can express with words.
GS: It's pretty obvious you guys listento just about
everything. You both must have an enormous number of albums.
F: We have like six tapes we've been listening
to on this tour: Miles Davis' "Porgy And Bess", a Muddy
Waters compilation, a Velvet Underground, Black Flag's
"Damaged", an Echo and The Bunnymen, and one I can't remember.
Miles Davis is just unbelievable. You listen to 'Kind
Of Blue', and you hear all you'll ever have to. That was
one of the first records I ever bought. I wore it out
and replaced it.
JF: I have the biggest CD collection of anybody
I know - probably a couple of thousand or more. Listening
to my collection is all I ever really want to do. That
and read. I just got through listening to Charles Mingus'
"Oh Yeah"; it's the one where he plays piano and just
screams his ass off.
GS: Is Mingus an influence?
JF: He must be, considering he was probably the
only man ever to have sex with 23 women in one night.
[Laughs] I just read that in his biography.
GS: By the way, do you get naked on the tour?
JF: Whenever the mood strikes. It's nothing you
plan, or predict, or anything like that. It just sort
of happens. You have to be free. That's what getting naked
is about - opening your mind and playing with people you
(This interview was contributed to this site by Melody
Girl - Thank You Melody!)
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