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From the Archive: Red Hot Chili Peppers Discuss their New Energy and 'Californication'

From the Archive: Red Hot Chili Peppers Discuss their New Energy and 'Californication'

Fela's hectoring, politicized lyrics and driving, hypnotic groove made the singer and saxophonist a legendary figure in the Seventies and Eighties, when his music was considered such a threat to the Nigerian government that, in 1977, troops attacked and destroyed his Kalakuta compound, outside Lagos. Over the years, Fela's music has been imitated or praised by everyone from Talking Heads (who drew heavily from his Afrobeat sound for Remain in Light) to Paul McCartney.

"I have a greatest-hits record that I really like, which has 'Gentleman,' 'Lady' and 'Kalakuta Show' on it," says Flea. ''And I'm listening to Zombie [1976], He Miss Road [1975], Coffin for Head of State [1981] and Expensive Shit [1975], which is an incredible fucking record."

Frusciante is also a rabid Fela fan. "I play along with these records," he says. "I do it every day. If I'm going to be playing guitar all day, I start with that, because just playing one groove over and over -- the songs are usually between 10 and 15 minutes long each -- that's the best kind of practice you can do.

"When I was a teenager, I used to figure out the saxophone solos and stuff," he adds. "But that's not as valuable to me any more as just playing the four- or five-note patterns that he picks for one of the guitar players, and just playing those notes over and over and over. By the end of practice, I'm more in the groove, and it's good to get into a groove where you feel like you could be playing with them, you know?"

Frusciante also likes to listen closely to the other instruments while remaining locked into that four- or five-note vamp. "While the horn solo's playing, I'll often picture what the notes are in my head," he says. "Even though I'm playing the rhythm guitar part, I'm following the solo and imagining where those notes would be on guitar."

Listening to others while holding up your end of the groove is an essential part of playing funk music, and the fact that Frusciante falls into that habit even when practicing helps explain why the Chili Peppers write and play the way they do.

"It's a really communal thing," says Flea. ''A lot of bands have leaders, •one guy who's the main creative force. With us, it's a real four-way effort. Basically, we get together and start making noise, and when it feels good, we call it a song. You know?"

Because the interplay between the four is so intuitive and emotional, it's often impossible to reduce a Chili Pepper jam to a simple process of cause and effect. "It's not like listening to another guy and hearing what he's playing, and saying, 'Oh, that's bitchin'. That's gonna make me do this,' "says Flea. "When it's at its best, there's no thought involved. It's just like energy in the air."

Inevitably, the band will go back to the best bits of a particular jam and try to develop them into a song. "We all kind of know when it feels good. So if it feels good, then we'll record it,'' says Smith. "We'll make little tapes, then Anthony will go and listen to them in the car. He'll come up with an idea, and he'll come back to us. It kinda goes around like that."

"The reason this record came out so good for me is because the music sort of told me what to sing," says Kiedis. "I didn't have to think too much about it. The music definitely implied what the vocals should be. All I had to do was close my eyes and I could hear what my parts were.

"Which is a huge difference from how it had beep for a while, where either my head had been closed off or I wasn't as inspired by what I was hearing. But when John came back, things just flowed."


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