From the Archive: Red Hot Chili Peppers Discuss their New Energy and 'Californication'
From 1999: Dark days behind them, the Red Hot Chili Peppers learn to put the fun into funk.
Ironically, even though things were rockin' when the four played together in Flea's garage, life outside rehearsals was just plain rocky. Kiedis and Frusciante were in the process of getting sober after dealing with long-term drug problems, while Flea and Smith were going through romantic difficulties, with Flea suffering through a painful breakup and Smith dealing with divorce.
The Chili Peppers don't subscribe to the "you gotta suffer" school of music-making -- "We don't have to be tortured to make good music," Smith says flatly -- but neither do they deny that there was some exceptional emotional energy at play in the making of this album. "I listened to it the other day, and I thought, Wow, it really is a pretty relaxed record," says Flea. “And considering what we've been through, I would have thought it would be more edgy or something. I know for myself, a lot of times when we were recording the record I was feeling so much emotional pain -- hot and cold flashes and stuff. But it really is relaxed."
For a moment, Flea is at a loss to explain how the album could feel so comfortable when he and his bandmates were in torment. Eventually, he suggests that what we're ultimately hearing in the album is honesty -- the sound of four guys who aren't afraid to be open to one another. "Being true to yourself is about being relaxed," he says. "So I guess, even though you don't even realize it at the time, when you're like in romantic pain or some kind of pain like that, by feeling that pain and not running away from it, you're being honest... I guess you're relaxed when you're really being yourself. Even though you might not feel it at the time."
For his part, Kiedis was feeling awash in affection while the band was making music. That's reflected to a certain degree in the album's lyrics, which are far more romantic than the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am attitude found in early Chili Peppers songs like "Party on Your Pussy." It's one thing for Kiedis to come off all warm and fuzzy on ballad fare like "Porcelain" and "This Velvet Glove," but there's even a sensitive, romantic side to uptempo funk-rockers like “Around the World."
"There were a lot of romantic feelings," says Kiedis. "That was definitely swimming through my heart, because there's what seems to be sexual descriptives, in different, metaphorical ways, in the songs, but really, it's more about the romance of it than the physical feelings of sex. It's more the emotional feelings of life and love, intertwined with sexual rhythms and melodies.''
Life and love intertwined with sexual rhythms and melodies -- that's the Chili Peppers in a nutshell.
Still, it'd be a mistake to read too much into the band's lyrics. Kiedis admits that he's more interested in conveying content through sound than he is concerned with the specifics of word choice. "It's kind of like the ancient language of Sanskrit, which was designed to have a sonic effect on your nerves and your emotions,'' he says. "Even if you don't know what the word means in the dictionary, it still affects you with the feeling, just the sound of that word. So even if you don't read the lyrics and follow them in a linear fashion, they do have an effect on you, just the sound of them.
"That's something that John is very sensitive to.”
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