Josh Klinghoffer: “I’ve never lost this sense that I’m a beginner, and I think that gives me a more primal approach to the guitar”

Multi-instrumentalist Josh Klinghoffer of Pluralone performs live on stage at Viejas Arena at San Diego State University on May 03, 2022 in San Diego, California.
(Image credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

In December 2019, Josh Klinghoffer’s world was upended when he was given the stunning and abrupt news that, after 10 years of membership in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, his services were no longer required and that the band’s longtime guitarist, John Frusciante, was rejoining. He didn’t see it coming, and for a period he felt numb, but given time and space he’s been able to process his dismissal and put things in perspective. 

“Obviously, it’s sad when something is taken from you,” Klinghoffer says. “I did a perfect 10 years with them, but for as much as I love those guys and loved playing with them, it was also enormously stifling creatively. They’re an established band with an established sound, and I learned over time how little deviating from that was possible.”

Asked to elaborate, he says, “When I first joined, I wouldn’t use certain chords when I was writing if they sounded like something John would play. Or if it sounded like a choice they would have made on their last album, I purposely went the other way.” 

He reveals that his efforts in trying to push the band toward new areas of expression proved frustrating at times, saying, “I thought I was doing a good job of writing music with them, but it wound up not kind of becoming part of my story, or if it is part of my story with them, it’s a small part. As much as I thought they were up for experimentation, they generally stayed in their own lane.”

Klinghoffer is quick to deem his tenure with the Chili Peppers “a blessing and a beautiful experience,” but he’s now able to view his departure from the band “the best thing that could have happened to me. I’m free to explore other musical avenues and perhaps find my own sound more than I was able to with them.”

It didn’t take him long to land on his feet. Shortly after he was cut from the Chili Peppers, he was asked to join Pearl Jam as a multi-purpose touring member, an association that soon led to him writing and recording with Eddie Vedder for the singer’s latest solo album, Earthling

Interestingly enough, that project – and a short tour coinciding with the record’s release – also included Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. “It was great to play with Chad again right away,” Klinghoffer says. “It felt so comfortable and familiar.” 

Since 2019, Klinghoffer has released solo albums under the pseudonym Pluralone. First there was To Be One with You, and a year later came I Don’t Feel Well. His latest album under the Pluralone moniker, This Is the Show, is a dreamy, largely synth-driven set produced by the guitarist’s onetime Dot Hacker bandmate Clint Walsh. 

“I was always planning to do my own music even when I was in the Chili Peppers,” Klinghoffer says. “There probably wouldn’t have been so many albums in such a short period of time because I would have had to work around their schedule. Now it’s going to be much easier.”

Most guitarists dream of getting in one big band. You were a Chili Pepper, and now you play with Pearl Jam. What is it about you that all these bands want?

I was always planning to do my own music even when I was in the Chili Peppers

“[Laughs] That’s a good question! I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. Some of it’s pure luck and timing, but I also think it might have something to do with my thirst for musical knowledge. I love other people’s music, but I don’t try to emulate anybody’s playing. I’ve never lost this sense that I’m a beginner, and I think that gives me a more primal approach to the guitar, and perhaps that makes my playing sound individualistic.

“Also, I never really lost the fan side of me. Whether it’s the Chili Peppers or Pearl Jam, I come at them with the same adoration of any fan who was affected deeply by their music, but I’m also somebody who is now in this position of playing alongside them. I try to be loving and supportive. I think that’s part of what carries me through.”

How did the invitation to play with Pearl Jam come about?

“Originally, it was like, ‘Come join us for this next tour,’ because at the time the record they were about to release [2020’s Gigaton] had a lot of backing vocals and other sounds – keyboards, extra guitars and all these miscellaneous things. 

“They were batting around the idea of having somebody else with them, but they didn’t want to turn it into this huge band. But when I suddenly became available, they thought, ‘Oh, this is perfect. We like him, and he can play anything we need.’ I mean, obviously, no one’s going to be in Pearl Jam except those five guys. They’ve had Boom Gaspar playing keyboards as a touring member for a while. But it’s great. I’m honored to say that these guys are my friends.”

In the case of Pearl Jam, I know their catalog from record one to five like the back of my hand

You hooked up with the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam when they already had deep catalogs. In each case, did you have to learn 100 songs in a week?

“I was already in the Chili Peppers’ orbit before joining them. I was good friends with John, and I toured with the band in 2007 as a second guitar player. I generally knew what they did and didn’t play, so I knew what to work on. Some songs from Stadium Arcadium I wasn’t familiar with on the guitar, but I knew Blood Sugar backward and forward. In the case of Pearl Jam, I know their catalog from record one to five like the back of my hand. Albums from 2000 onward, I don’t know as well.” 

Josh Klinghoffer

(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

You were the sole guitarist in the Chili Peppers. With Pearl Jam, however, you’re one of three, sometimes four, guitarists. What kind of adjustment was that?

“It’s certainly nice to not have to solo and to have this kind of musical bed beneath you. When I play guitar with Pearl Jam, it’s very background and supportive. They’ve got their bases pretty much covered. If they need a background vocal or a little guitar or keyboard part, I can focus on that. 

“It’s a different thing entirely, but I enjoyed doing both. Soloing with the Chili Peppers, even though I didn’t grow up soloing and I didn’t so much care about it, it was always fun. It was always a new experience every time.”

Trying to come up with a unique way of saying generally the same thing, and doing it in a way that fits rhythmically with the chords you’ve written, that’s the real work for me

You’ve put out three Pluralone albums in as many years, and you co-wrote tunes with Eddie for Earthling. Writing doesn’t seem to be a problem for you.

“No, not so much. The thing that’s laborious for me is lyrics, but the more I do it, the easier it gets. Actually, the hard part for me is coming up with what to write about. There’s so much going on in the world, and there’s tons going on in one’s inner world, and there’s also been so much that has been said before. 

“Trying to come up with a unique way of saying generally the same thing, and doing it in a way that fits rhythmically with the chords you’ve written, that’s the real work for me.”

You got to play a lot of rocking guitar on Earthling.

“Absolutely. It was great to play a lot of guitar on the record. I love my playing on Brother the Cloud, which they released as a single. But Andrew Watt does a lot of guitar, too. A lot of the guitar on the record is him.”

On the other hand, there’s not a lot of guitar on This Is the Show. It’s more of a textural element.

“The record was born out of 2020 Covid times, trying to do an album remotely with my old band Dot Hacker. I’d write a song and send it to Clint Walsh, and he would communicate with the rhythm section. But it was hard to get four people to agree, and the Dot Hacker thing kind of fell apart. There were things that Clint and I really enjoyed working together on, so we just decided, ‘Hey, why don’t we just make this?’

“As for guitars, I think we were both in the kind of headspace of wanting to make an album that was more about songs. We didn’t consciously set out not to use the guitar, but it just kind of took shape that way. But having said all that, I feel as if the next album I do will be a return to guitar, because it’s been a while now.”

When you tour with Pearl Jam this year, will you be playing any new guitars?

“I found a really nice Custom Shop Tele that I used on the Earthling tour. It’s a beautiful, very faded Olympic White Custom Shop Tele, and I’m going to put a B- and G-bender in it. That’ll come out with me. And the other day I got a beautiful 1928 koa Martin. I’m a big fan of those little Martins, and I’ve never owned a koa wood acoustic, so that was enough for me to want to get it.”

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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.