/ FACES Magazine May/June 2017
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers once again return to Ottawa June 23rd on tour with their new album The Get- away. The album is something old- but-new from the Chilis—a sound made different by the works of a new producer. One thing about the Chili’s that you already knew—they have not changed. We spoke with the band on overcoming the fear of rejection, not vomiting on stage, and proving that after 34 years, they’re all still spicy.
A quick look at the numbers shows you that the Chili Peppers are one of the biggest bands in music history—they’ve sold over 80 million copies of the 11 studio albums they’ve released and have won no less than 6 Grammy Awards.
But what is most impressive about the American funk rock group is that they have seemingly figured out something that almost every other band their age could not; they’ve managed to stay relevant. Through decades and generations of music fans, they’re massive music catalogue is still a source of common knowledge for the average concert-goer; an ice breaker for the first date exhibitionist; a safe bet when handed the aux cord.
How, why and when did the Chili Peppers become certified timeless on the North American funk rock stage?
Lead singer Anthony Kiedis feels it’s the bond between fans that has kept them on center stage:
“I know that we have a connection with humans, whether they are 10 years old or 70 years old, whatever we are doing gets through to these human beings. I know when we go on tour, a lot of the people in the crowd will be 15 years old and I adore that. It is an honour to share these moments with young people, old people or whatever age people. It’s been this way since the beginning for us.
Yes, we’ve been around forever but at our very first shows, even before we had a record, when you looked at our audience, it was as mixed bag as you’d ever see. I think that is because we weren’t one thing—we were punk rockers, we had jazz influences, we had funk influences, we could be silly, we could be serious, we were stupid, we were smart—I think we were a bit of everything and people can tap into that. Overall, it is an honour and it really does not go unnoticed that the world’s youth shows up and cares about what we do. It is amazing to me and it is a blessing to be able to go out and have these experiences with them”.
Their timeless relevance can also be attributed to their ability to adapt musically. A dangerous feat for any artist or band, a new sound is always a risk. But the Chili Pepper’s aimed to combine the old with the new in their latest album The Getaway, released in June 2016, which made headlines for being the band’s first album to not be produced by Rick Rubin since 1989’s Mother’s Milk.
The Getaway was produced by a new producer, Danger Mouse, who rose to fame with his release of The Grey Album in 2004, which combined vocal performances from Jay-Z’s The Black Album with instrumentals from The Beatles The Beatles—also known as The White Album. (Confused yet? Neither are we). Danger Mouse is also part of the soul duo, Gnarls Barkley.
While Danger Mouse has an impressive resume in his own right, the idea of a new producer walking in to disrupt the flow of a band with 30 years of experience was daring, to say the least.
But Danger Mouse earned the respect of the band, and of Keidis quickly:
“I like that guy, the longer you hang out with him the more you like him. It made me feel confident that he wasn’t afraid to tell us things he liked and things he didn’t like and wasn’t sugar coating things when he felt it could be better. It has to be hard for a producer to come in and talk to a band that has been playing for 30 years and tell us “no” sometimes. He is good at that. It wasn’t coming out of arrogance or poor taste. He just knows what he loves and that’s what he cared about, making it the best record it possibly could be.
An example would be that I would keep writing material and I would come in to perform it for him. You have to keep in mind that it is difficult and its vulnerable to come in and sing something for the very first time that you haven’t had time to practice. He would have absolutely no trouble telling me “go home and try again, this is not happening”. Yes, sometimes that would be painful and sometimes it would be frustrating.
He pushed me and wasn’t afraid to push me in a good way. For the song “Go Robot” there was a chorus that I loved and thought was great. When he heard it he said, “That chorus isn’t good, its just not that great, we have to write a new one”. So we sat there in the studio and literally wrote a new chorus with him sitting there playing the chords and making me sing out ideas on the spot… and you know what, it worked…he was right, in the end he was right. When I think back, I see how much care he took. He was incredibly professional. He cared and that is all you can ask for in a producer. He came in early, stayed late and worked exceptionally hard. He cared.”
The Getaway was the first release album for the Chili Peppers since their 2011 album I’m With You. And like every album says Flea, the Chili Pepper’s charismatic bass player, creating it involved a lengthy process with challenges of its own:
“It’s just kind of a thing where you make a record and you tour for a couple of years after and then you spend a year writing and recording a new record, so that’s 3 years right there. I mean, I also broke my arm really bad snowboarding in Montana and I couldn’t play for 6 months as well, I was worried I would never get to play bass again so I’m really happy to be laughing about it today.”
Kiedis on the title of the album:
“Well first, the name became the title of a song which didn’t have a title and you know, things need to have titles. ‘The Getaway’ is inspired by the classic Steve McQueen film, I think it is a very succinct and beautiful short title. At the very last minute before the release of the album last year, I was pushing for the song to be one of our singles we would release. It wasn’t received as such, so I asked if it could at least be the title of the record—and that’s how it happened and became the title of the album”.
Instead, the first single from the album was the song Dark Necessities. Guitarist Josh Klinghoffer credits Danger Mouse for the shrewd decision:
“Actually another song had been chosen to be the first single, but at the last minute Brian (Danger Mouse) had sent out a very sage like email that requested for everyone to re-think what song should be released. He felt that the other song might be too much of a jump for our first song. Brian had a feeling that Dark Necessities would show off maybe some of the new characteristics of our collaboration with him while maintaining the bands familiar sounds. I think it was a good choice to do that”
In our opinion, one of the best songs on the album is the funk rocker Go Robot with Flea’s amazing bass lines leaping. Drummer Chad Smith agreed that the song was unique:
“Well, that one was originally called ‘Robot Man’ for the longest time, but when we got to the studio with Brian (Danger Mouse), he really wanted to strip it down. There were parts of the song he really liked and parts he felt could be better. We did strip it down and we changed the chorus, but it always was and still is a really hard funk song. I remember how when we were in the studio we really wanted the bass and the drums to have a really clean, low dirty punch to it. I remember referencing the song “Controversy” by Prince—and we all wanted it to come out like a song in a similar vein. I don’t know if we accomplished it or not, but we did our best.”
One thing that is really wild to me about that song is that it may be the only Chili Peppers song that there are two bass tracks. So, thankfully Flea has grown another two arms after the operation from his accident, he hides it well but he can now play both bass parts live (laughs)”.
The Chili Peppers continue their current tour until October this year—and have a stop here in the Nation’s Capital on June 23rd. Have you every wondered what goes on before a Chili Pepper’s show? Anthony Kiedis chalks it up to preparation:
“The physicality of our shows are such that there is no way you are going to make it happen without preparation. I sing loud for 2 hours during a show, so I have to spend a lot of the time on concert day getting my voice ready with the right food and the right warmups. Then I have to run, do push-ups, wrestle Flea or do something to get my blood flowing. You just can’t go from 0 to 100 miles per hour without preparation. I have to eat 3 hours before the show, so I can get protein in my bloodstream but I won’t vomit all over the microphone (laughs)… if I eat before I play, I’m not keeping it down it’s too intense. It is like playing an entire basketball game while you’re singing and playing instruments.”
All of us have to get into a certain headspace, so we all gravitate towards one room about 15 minutes before we go on stage. We get together and just listen to music, it could be anything really, could be Patti Smith, could be Funkadelic, could be anything. It’s just all about getting together and getting into the same headspace.
Josh and Flea sit there and incessantly warm up, while Chad comes in his jumpsuit and starts tapping the sticks. Everyone has to have their bones and their tissues and their thoughts together for us to hit the stage and get off on the right foot.
Overall, it literally takes us hours to get ready—but sometimes, you’re more ready than others, sometimes there are nerves or maybe something bad happens before you go on… you have to always be ready to deal with it… you could be sick, hurt, you could be in a fight with your girlfriend, maybe you couldn’t sleep last night—whatever it is, you have to pull it together and get ready for that moment when you take the stage”.
Guitarist Josh Klinghoffer’s warm-up is mostly vocal:
“For me, I don’t really have that much of a ritual. I like to warm up my voice because I’ve seen the difference when I don’t, so I always make sure to warm up my voice. I just try to play as much guitar as I can throughout the day… but I definitely try to keep away from guests prior to the show, as they don’t always understand all of the things I need to do. Overall, the people that are in this band and on the crew, they are all so positive and great to be around—so much so that it is really hard to not just feel joy before going on stage”.
When the band returns to the city in June, Chili Peppers fans will be treated to many of the bands massive hits, and to songs from what Kiedis feels is probably their best album for performing live:
“There is not a song on ‘The Getaway’ that I don’t look forward to playing live and that is a very rare thing to say about a record. Usually there is, on a good record, half of the songs that look like good live material. On this record, 99.9% of “The Getaway” screams to be played live and that makes me as happy as anything. We needed that and we need songs to choose from that are new for our set”.
34 years and three generations after their debut, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are still as passionate and particular as they were in the 80’s. I sat for a while after our interview trying to figure out the answer—how does a band transcend the forays of generational tastes to become timeless?
It goes beyond their music—the band is so honest and relatable and you feel that they truly care about what they do. They see their fans as their lifeline, they look to the new generations to keep them young, energized and putting out excellent material that are taking this California crew on a journey to music history. After three decades, says Flea, their acumen as performers and their work ethic as creators is unrelenting;
“I really care about putting on a good show… if people go out and buy a ticket to our concert, they deserve for me to sweat blood for them. It’s not a joke to me, it is very serious to me and I really care about it. I don’t see any reason to step on the stage unless you’re going to out there with every fibre of your being—if not, you’d just be a scam. I want to earn my keep. I care about the people. People spend a lot of their money to buy a ticket and they give up their time to come and watch our concerts. I want to give them everything I’ve got”.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers arrive in Ottawa on Friday, June 23rd for their concert at the Canadian Tire Centre.