Flea: “Basslines take on a different type of melody with a pick”

Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers performs at Nissan Stadium on August 12, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
(Image credit: Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

In the history of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the terms “funky Flea bass” and “guitar pick” have rarely been used in the same sentence. In fact, put a bass in Flea’s hands, and more likely than not, he’ll whip out some trademark slapped octaves or a funky fingerstyle groove. His slap-heavy style first got him noticed when the Chili Peppers lit up the L.A. music scene in the 80s, and it’s a technique that has set him apart ever since.

“Flea was my first influence on the instrument,” says Vulfpeck’s Joe Dart. "His commitment to playing every note as if it were his last, to truly dedicating his whole body and soul to the groove, and to holding it down in what is essentially a three-piece band – he inspired me as a kid and still does today.”

Flea toned things down for 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which included the landmark bassline on Give It Away. Of all his skills, however, it’s his mastery of the pick that has escaped the most attention. "I always want to play melodically, but basslines take on a different type of melody with a pick," he says. "I'm more likely to strum chords or play with double stops when I play with a pick."

In this demo video, which showcases Flea’s own brand of bass guitar, Flea substitutes his usual Dunlop Tortex .60mm for a quarter.

Having immersed himself in a Joy Division cover band following the Chili Pepper’s 1999 album Californication, as well as studio sessions with the likes of Alanis Morissette and Tricky, Flea continued to push his bass playing boundaries. 

“Me and John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer had a Joy Division cover band for a while, so I was really trying to learn how to play with a pick," he told Joel McIver in his interview for BP.

"I love the way Peter Hook plays. It was such a melodic, hypnotic way of playing bass. Jah Wobble too - all that Public Image stuff, from the Metal Box period, really blew me away. Me and John always used to play Poptones from that record. I got really into that post-punk sound out of England. I love that music.”

Flea first sat in with Janes Addiction during a 1997 reunion tour, after original bassist Eric Avery opted out of performing. 

“I had to really get my pick chops together with Janes Addiction because those songs call for it,” he says. "Eventually I tried one with the Chili Peppers on Parallel Universe, and when John brought in By The Way it made sense to try a more melodic pick approach.” 

Red Hot Chili Peppers will continue their world tour in 2023. Visit the band’s website for a for a full list of dates. Parallel Universe appears on Californication.  

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.