the most anticipated rock records of 2002, but - as John Frusciante
reveals - the Chili Peppers’ By The Way was inspired by
a lost generation of 80s guitar heroes...
20 years since Anthony Kiedis and Flea first formed the Red Hot
Chili Peppers, things are looking rosier than ever for the Californian
funk rockers. 1999’s Californication was their biggest-selling
album to date and something of a relief to fans who thought the
band had gone off the boil with its predecessor, 1995’s
One Hot Minute.
the new album? Well, if you haven’t heard it yet, rest assured
you won’t be disappointed; By The Way will do little to
dent the band’s reputation as a serious creative force and
everything to enhance it. From the hot funk-rock stylings of the
title track to the mellower, more spiritual moments captured on
Don’t Forget Me or Venice Queen, By The Way looks like another
triumph. Who knows, it may even catapult the Peppers into that
‘elder statesmen of rock’ territory, thanks to its
maturity and depth. Yes, they might still play stripped down to
the waist, tattoos and trackmarks displayed for all the world
to see, but since the Chilis swapped drugs for the natural high
that comes with making good music, there’s no stopping them.
And they can’t help but translate all this positive energy
onto their new record. From the sounds of it, the Chili Peppers
is a good place to be at the moment...
Californiation, writing By The Way has been one of the happiest
times in my life", begins a relaxed John Frusciante.
Once again long haired and bearded , he looks slightly out of
place sitting on a plump sofa in the plush surroundings of the
Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge. "It’s
been a chance to just keep on writing better songs and improving
my guitar playing."
John re-joined the band for Califonication, th rest of the group
have greatly benefited from his dedication to - not to mention
enthusiasm for - making music. As singer Anthony Kiedis says,
"John is always deeply disciplined and committed to living
and breathing his music at all hours of the day and night. That’s
pretty infectious." But typically, he’s anxious
not to single himself out. And on By The Way the Chili Peppers
remain dedicated to their one-for-all-and-all-for-one jamming
ideal, he claims. "I know what Anthony and Chad and Flea
have said but I think of it more as a band effort. I do put a
lot of energy into everything, sure, but I don’t underestimate
that the real energy comes from the four of us. That’s umber
one over any of our individual efforts."
partly to the group-driven work ethic, the Chilis continue to
be a prolific band. As with Californication, they just came up
with too much material for this album. "We recorded 28 songs
in the end, some of which will be B-sides [14 made the final cut].
There was definitely a lot of good stuff, but we didn’t
have time to work on everything we wrote."
years since the return of Frusciante, the Chili Peppers seem closer
and stronger than ever. Is it something that’s getting easier,
being in this band?
"Yeah... but I guess the difference between now and 10
years ago is that we’re all in the same headspace. Around
the time of BloodSugar..., Flea and I were smoking a lot of pot,
especially me, Anthony wasn’t and it disconnected. I thought
it was having a good effect on my music, which in a way it was.
But it’s the energy f the four of us that makes the music,
not smoking pot of any other drug."
overestimated its influences. Writing has always come really naturally
to me but my recommendation to musicians is you all smoke pot
or none of you do: it’s good for a band to be together,
be on the same plane. That’s why for Californication and
By The Way I had a lot of a happier experience than when I’d
worked on Mother’ Milk or BloodSugar... There’s a
lot less bad energies around now we’re all coming from the
how he approached the writing of By The Way, John instantly namechecks
a handful of different guitarists... but not the usual suspects.
His heroes aren’t Clapton or ENH, but guys who pushed the
instrument in obscure and challenging ways. Like Chili alumni
Dave Navarro, Frusciante looks back to the 80s and what is effectively
a lost generation of guitar players.
did have a few guitarists who I was intent of emulating and who
were big influences on my sound on By The Way," he says.
"Like Vini Reilly from the Durutti Column."
Signed to Factory records, the Durutti Column created atmospheric,
texture-laden songs. Reilly is also known for his flamenco guitar
work, which, John says, partly inspired his Spanish-sounding guitar
on the song Cabron. "The main thing about his guitar
playing is that it’s really textural. There’s lots
of really interesting chords and shapes and you can’t really
tell what’s going on. It’s a combination of his Les
Paul plus some echo, flanger, chorus and phaser and not using
distortion. You can’t tell what you’re hearing,"
he puzzles. "I have to really sit down and listen carefully
to find out what’s going on. He’s just a great guitar
player, full stop. I wanted to listen to these people who weren’t
just about technique but more about textures. People like Johnny
Marr, John McGeoch [Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees] and Andy
Partridge [XTC]. People who used good chords," he concludes.
players were a big part of how he approached Californication too.
"But I also noticed that the people I was really focusing
on Califonication had a bigger effect on my playing on this album.
Matthew Ashman from Bow Wow Wow and Bernard Sumner from Joy Division
and New Order: I noticed their influence on me this time too.
Again, it’s a matter of texture over technique, and their
influences are evident on tracks like Dosed and Midnight."
Frusciante is far from just a fan of 80s guitar bands - last time
TG spoke to him, he was practising guitar by learning the synth
parts to Depeche Mode’s Music For The Masses. At the moment
it’s the Human League. "Yeah, I’ve been playing
along with their first two albums [1979’s Reproduction and
1980’s Travelogue; detached, austere affairs in the vein
of Tangerine Dream]". Still, as far as John’s
concerned, it’s good backing track material. "That’s
how I practise. Melodically, I’m far more influenced by
Kraftwerk records than by guitarists’ solos. I’m really
trying to get away from playing flashy stuff, and concentrating
on not playing solos at all. There’s something about soloing
that makes me feel like it’s almost irresponsible. I remember
when I hadn’t played guitar in five years, I could pick
up a guitar anytime any play that kind of flashy stuff, and I
hadn’t been practising at all. But there was no feeling
anyway, didn’t he once say that Eric Clapton in Cream took
the solo to its utmost peak and that there’s no point even
heading in that direction anymore? "Did I say that?",
he laughs. "Right. Well, I love that music, y’know?
But yeah, I just don’t feel like that’s the way for
guitar playing to continue. For me, that playing came to an end
in the late 70’s. Then in the late 70s and early 80s. you
had all these great guitar players who never get mentioned now.
Like Keith Levine from Public Image. It was a really good time
for guitar playing and a really underestimated time."
like Levine tried to play out of the blues box, to stretch the
guitars to its limits. For John, it’s become almost a mission
to take up where they left off. "In the 80s, when I was
a kid, everybody was impressed with your speed on the guitar,"
he says. "Everyone had forgotten about all those players
that emerged in the late 70s and early 80s. I feel like the direction
those people were headed in never really got a chance to develop
the way in the way that Jimi Hendrix did. That’s why I want
to include their approach and their style in my playing - and
I think there’s a lot more to be done."
players who John loves so much have turned him on to lots of other,
older music too. "Someone like Matthew Ashman [Bow Wow
Wow], when I hear his guitar playing, I hear a lot of The Shadows
and surf music, Gene Vincent, James Burton and Ricky Nelson. There
was a lot of different styles he incorporated, and his playing
turned me on to all those bands."
back in the late 80s when John was a teenager he was hell-bent
on mimicking the-Chili Peppers guitarist Hillel Slovak - the guy
that created the Chili Peppers’ famous funk-rock sound.
But for those who are just picking up the guitar now, John offers
a source of inspiration a world away. "I’d recommend
listening to The Shadows,' he says. 'I love that stuff, it really
gets your head into the fact that playing guitar is just about
one note after the other. That’s it. Even for an advanced
player, it’s something to think about because you can see
the way that the note is leading the chord. I can’t express
enough how important it is for a guitar player to think about
what you’re doing instead of just playing automatically.
Playing scales, y’know?..." he trails off disapprovingly.
fair to say that Frusciante couldn’t sound happier with
his guitar playing’s at right now. "I’m having
a lot of fun at the moment. It’s good knowing that you’re
looking at the guitar in ways that it’s not been looked
at before,' he says. "I really try to think in terms
of what would be an interesting way for my playing to get better.
And how to get my playing in a style rather than directly copying
of playing, John has frequently said that his playing on Californication
is the favourite he’s ever done. "I like my playing
on my first solo record, too, just because I felt so free back
then, being all over the place then eventually playing with just
a minimum amount of notes. It’s a perfect place when you
get to that point," he says. "That’s
why I like Califonication, because I feel like it’s the
result of all that searching. When I hear it, I hear someone trying
to best they can at that time, whereas on BloodSugar... I was
capable of playing much more than I did."
that I think it’s bad guitar playing," he quickly
adds. "But I was so concerned with doing everything in
one take, I didn’t really take any chances in the studio.
With a couple of exceptions, I knew exactly what I was going to
do. I think at that time I’m just completely improvising,
and every solo has a real spontaneous, even haphazard feel to
it. I’m not putting down my guitar playing, I just feel
like I was capable of a whole lot of things instead of just cramming
in every bit of technique that I possibly could. When I did Californication,
I didn’t have any technique, but I was focused and trying
my hardest. I’d rather hear someone play the best they’re
capable of with the minimum amount of technique that someone with
a lot of technique who plays without feeling."
more important than technique to John now is creating soundscapes
like the players he admires so much. "I was using a lot
of effects. We wanted to create a real sense of atmosphere. I
used a few Line 6 echo pedals, an Electro-Harmonix flanger and
the Big Muff a lot."
the Ibanez WH10 wah-wah he’s mentioned in previous guitar
interviews. "I’m still using it, yeah. It’s
on the song Don’t Forget Me, but there’s not as much
wah on By The Way as previous albums. I just turned it on and
kept it in a trebly position. I only really needed a little bit
of wah for that song."
for amps, "I was using this big Fender spring reverb
from the 60’s" he continues. "I used
it with a modulation synthesizer - that’s the sound you
hear on the Throw Away Your Television chorus. As you’d
expect by the name, it has ‘great reverb’ but also
a really thick sound and a great tone. I listen to a lot of surf
compilations and there’s a lot of really cool surf music
that came out of the early 60s that was made by 15 year old kids
and that’s how they sounded." Singling out another
fine guitar moment, John reveals, "For Don’t Forget
Me, I used and envelope filter and I was using the volume pedal
a lot on that song too - and that Line 6 pedal in one of the analogue
delay settings to where it’s constantly feeding back. Just
as it was about to feed back, I’d just turn the knob as
I’m playing to prevent it from going into full-on feedback.
It gives it that spooky kind of feeling."
been seen playing lots of different guitars - notably, Gretsches,
SGs and a Jazzmaster in Under The Bridge video - but it’s
with the Strat he’s most readily associated. Though he used
a ’58 on Califonication, for By The Way, he opted for a
’62. "That ’58 has a bit of a cleaner sound
and it always seemed to sound better for what I wanted on Califonication,
but for this album, the ’62 just sounded right straight
away - the sustain’s better - so I stuck with that pretty
much all the way, apart from and SG on a couple of songs."
Chilis album number four in the bag, it’s time for solo
album number four, loosely scheduled for and October/November
release and a collaborative effort with one of Frusciante’s
guitar-playing buddies. If By The Way and his previous solo efforts
are anything to go by, we can expect more moments of understated,
off-the-wall, brilliant from this leftfield maestro.
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