From the Archive: Red Hot Chili Peppers Discuss their New Energy and 'Californication'
Here's an interview with the Red Hot Chili Peppers from the July 1999 issue of Guitar World. To see the cover, and all the GW covers from 1999, click here.
Over the years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been accused of a lot of things (even convicted of a few). But one charge that has never been leveled at the band, in any of its incarnations, is that the Chili Peppers are shy or retiring.
Whether onstage or in the studio, the quartet has always been in-your-face aggressive. From their early days as sock-wearing funk punks in L.A. to the well-tooled chaos that accompanied their 1991-92 BloodSugarSexMagik tour -- a marathon which included a headlining stint on the '92 Lollapalooza Festival -- the Chili Peppers have come on like a full-time frat party, all sweat, noise and hormonal exertion.
For a time, it looked as if the party would never end. With "Under the Bridge" giving the band a bona fide pop hit, the Chili Peppers seemed unstoppable, chugging along even after guitarist John Frusciante bailed a few months before Lollapalooza. Nor did things slow down with One Hot Minute, cut in '95 with former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. Hell, these guys were so animated they even did a video with Beavis and Butt-head, remaking the Ohio Players' oldie, "Love Rollercoaster."
But then... nothing.
For the last three years, all has been quiet on the RHCP front. Although there were individual sightings here and there -- bassist Flea joined Navarro for a Jane's Addiction reunion tour; drummer Chad Smith jammed with Stephen Perkins' band, Banyan -- the band as a whole has been so quiet that industry gossips began whispering that the Chili Peppers had split.
"Right," scoffs singer Anthony Kiedis. "I once heard a rumor that I was a flamboyantly gay man who was dying of AIDS." Needless to say, and far from breaking up, the Chili Peppers just completed their hottest album in a decade, the gloriously funky Californication.
"There was a time when things were, you know, kind of in a weird space, and we weren't getting a lot of work done," admits Flea. But rumors of the band's demise were greatly exaggerated. "It's not like we ever said 'we quit' or anything," he insists. "We just weren't doing anything."
Nothing at all?
"Louis?" says Kiedis, turning to manager Louis "Make It So" Mathieu. "What the hell did we do?"
"Played golf," comes the answer.
"Louis went golfing," says Kiedis, laughing. "There wasn't too much activity to describe. Flea and Dave went out and did a Jane's Addiction tour, the reunion tour, and when they came back, it just seemed like the time was right to have a change. And John was back in the picture."
Just how Frusciante wound up reclaiming his spot from Navarro is, like the details of what Kiedis was up to, left vague. All Flea will say is merely that, "Things got weird, and we parted ways with Dave. Which was a sad thing. He didn't quit, and we didn't fire him; it just kind of went that way.
And because of that, we ended up getting back with John. We got in my garage and started playing, and it felt really natural. Really good, un-forced and uncontrived, and fun."
"Fun," apparently, had been in short supply before the break. "For me, the band had started to become like a job," admits Flea. "It became less about 'Let's get together and play because this is a blast, and really fun and creatively exciting,' and more about 'Well, let's do what we have to do to keep this juggernaut going.'"
Flea stops short of suggesting that this sense of careerist obligation was what led to the band taking its break, but he does think the down time was ultimately a good thing for the Chili Peppers. "I think that we needed to get to that spot in order to get to the spot where we are now," he says. "Which is a place of vibrant creativity."
Flea's assessment is borne out by the new album. From the randy overdrive of "Get On Top" to the thrashing, muscular funk of ''Around the World" to the amiable amble of "Road Trippin'," the album plays to all of the Chili Peppers' strengths. Californication delivers everything we expect of the band, yet somehow makes it all sound fresh in the bargain. Any doubts we might have had about the band's vitality are quashed with a single listen.
But from the band's perspective, the best thing about Californication isn't that it sounds like a hit -- it's that the four of them had so much fun making the album and playing together.
"We wrote a good record, and everything is really, really good for us," says Flea. "It's a happy time. I would say this is one of the best chapters in the band's history."