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.
"Well, at this point, I definitely have favorite lyrics,'' says Frusciante. "But I didn't really focus on the lyrics, so much as the sound of the lyrics, until we were actually recording it.'' Frusciante's favorite is the song "Other Side,'' which addresses the struggle between one's conscious self and the "other" side. It's not a moral song in the usual sense --"Separate my side, I don't/I don't believe it's bad,” goes one part of the chorus -- but neither does it suggest that the listener merely give in.
"It's the kind of lyrics that I really love,” says the guitarist. "Just the sound of them, and also, I suppose, the vibe of the lyrics. They were inspired by [20th century mystic] Aleister Crowley, and his books have a vibe that appeals to me a great deal. It's just very emotional to me. When I listen to that song, the main thing I focus on is the lyrics, and I get chills every time certain parts come up.
"I used to get a chill during the intro, but now I get a chill at the bridge.''
"The funny thing for me is,'' says Kiedis, "some of the biggest chills I get when I listen to this record are actually from musical breakdowns, in the sections where there are no lyrics at all. Which may be because I stop listening to myself and just listen to the overall vibe of what's happening. But it often happens to me that I get the biggest chill during bridges and guitar solos and musical outros, and things like that.”
Kiedis adds that, as originally written, the songs on Californication had more in the way of instrumental interludes than they do on the finished version of the album. The bridge to "Other Side" is a case in point. "Anthony didn't want to write lyrics for that section,'' says Frusciante, "but Rick made him."
"Rick," of course, is producer Rick Rubin, who also oversaw the making of BloodSugarSexMagik and One Hot Minute. "Rick and I got into a pretty funny argument in the studio," says Kiedis. "Because Rick thinks that a section doesn't have that much meaning until it has lyrics on it."
Kiedis, by contrast, is a big fan of the band bits. "I like very much the guitar solo in the middle of 'Californication,' "he says, "because it seems like just the perfect amount of notes to tell a story during that song. When I listen to that guitar solo, it speaks to me in kind of a non-verbal language.
"I also like the intro to 'Around the World,' because it's just pure, unconfined, Flea-style energy, and when John comes in, it's a push-everything-to-the-limit sonic overload. It just comes flying out of the top of your head."
"In that particular case, John came in one day with that funky guitar part,'' says Flea, "and that was just what I started playing on it."
That's not false modesty on Flea's part, either. "As I learn more about music, I become less and less interested in doing anything fancy," he explains. "Sometimes the simplest, boring little thing will make the song sound the best. I've become more about just serving the song, and less about 'Hey, I can play some really amazing, trippy bass lines that will blow your mind.'"
Of course, his simple, song-serving bass lines can be pretty mind-blowing as well. "Flea's bass playing on this record sounds to me like it's James Jamerson of the New Millennium," blurts Smith, and Flea starts laughing. "I'm serious!" insists the drummer.
As much as Californication benefits from the raw energy and uncluttered thump of the band's guitar-bass-and-drums lineup, there are a number of points at which the arrangements are sweetened by synths and other keyboards. Much of it is fairly subtle, but there are a few moments when the keyboards come to the fore, as when "Road Trippin'" trots out its retro-psychedelic Chamberlin solo.
"That was Rick's doing," says Frusciante of the Chamberlin part. "None of us were there for that. But it was good. I liked it." Greg Kurstin of Geggy Tah plays keyboards on several tracks, and Frusciante himself added some synth to the title track. "I put a little thing on that with this synthesizer I have at my house," he says. "I tried to get the sound I hear on some Cure records.”
"Who played that thing on the chorus of 'Around the World'?" asks Kiedis.
"Me and Flea," Frusciante answers. "We played an Omnichord on the chorus of 'Around the World.' It took a team of us to play that part: me and Flea and Jim Scott, the engineer. It's a simple piece of machinery -- you just press one button and you hear a chord -- but it took three of us to do it."
Kiedis cracks up. ''All they had to do was call me up, and I could have hashed that out for 'em, but ... "
Frusciante laughs and explains that the reason it took three people was the Omnichord doesn't allow for chromatics. (Not very "omni," is it?) "So we had to slow down the tape for one chord, and then speed it back up for the other three chords. That's why it took three of us. Flea was the brains behind the operation -- he figured it out. Jim Scott was doing the technical part of it, and I was pushing the buttons for three of the chords."
Flea may have masterminded the Omnichord interlude, but nobody really dominated the band's decision-making process, as each member had veto-power over the album's mixes and running order. "For this record, we cut, I think, 28 songs," says Flea. ''And not all of them got completely finished. How many did we finish, Chad, in the studio ... 23? 24?"
"Something like that," answers Smith.
"Yeah, like 24 songs were actually finished in the studio, and we're going to put 14 of them on the record. It was hard for us to agree which ones we think are the best. We all think differently about it. So we just kind of made a list of the ones that we all agreed on, and those are the ones we put on the record.
"But I can't say for sure that those are better than the ones we left off.”
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