Electronic Musician, 01st January 2005
John Frusciante is a man of extremes. At the tender age of 33, he's already experienced the best and worst that life has to offer. The former refers to his continuing fame and success as the guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The latter involves the depths of depravity to which he descended during a long spell as a drug addict in the mid-'90s. When he resurfaced after rehab, his body was so ravished that he needed a new set of teeth and skin grafts to repair the needle scars on parts of his skin.
Frusciante's two tours of duty with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (1988-92 and 1998 — present) predate and post-date his lengthy descent into depravity. During both stints he's been a driving creative force in the band, adding a strong melodic and rhythmic identity with his distinct guitar playing and songwriting.
Frusciante has more creative capacity than he can channel through the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also has a solo career that began ten years ago when he released his first album, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt (American Recordings, 1994). It was recorded at home on a cassette 4-track and a hi-fi stereo system. The follow-up, Smile From the Streets You Hold (Birdman, 1997), was made with the same low-tech gear as its predecessor. Frusciante notoriously claimed that he put the latter album out purely for drug money.
Solo album number three, To Record Only Water for Ten Days (Warner Brothers, 2001), was recorded at Frusciante's home on a digital 8-track. He made elaborate use of MIDI and sequencers on that album, and in terms of sonic, arrangement, and production qualities, it was a big step forward. In early 2004, Frusciante released Shadows Collide with People (Warner Brothers, 2004), his first big-production solo record. It was engineered in part by Red Hot Chili Peppers' engineer Jim Scott and recorded mainly at the prestigious Cello Studios in Los Angeles. The release dates of those four solo works would lead one to expect solo album number five to be released sometime in 2007 or 2008. Instead, Frusciante is scheduled to have released six additional albums by the end of January 2005.
Frusciante recently finished an amazingly ambitious production schedule. He recorded one album per month in a period of extreme creativity from late 2003 through 2004. The results are now being released at an almost-monthly rate on the Record Collection label.
The first release (in June 2004) is titled The Will to Death, a collection of songs played in the studio by Frusciante and his current musical partner, 22-year old drummer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Klinghoffer. The next release, in August 2004, is an album under the band name Ataxia called Automatic Writing and features Frusciante, Klinghoffer, and bassist Joe Lally of Fugazi (see Fig. 1). Automatic Writing is full of circular bass riffs and Frusciante wailing on his guitar. That album was followed in September 2004 by a short solo album titled DC EP (see Fig. 2), which was recorded in Washington, DC, and features drummer Jerry Busher.
Frusciante's fourth release, Inside of Emptiness, was released in October 2004, followed a month later by A Sphere in the Heart of Silence, on which Klinghoffer is an equal collaborator. Frusciante will release Curtains, which he refers to as his “acoustic album,” in late January 2005. In addition to those six releases, Frusciante also wrote the film score to the Vincent Gallo movie The Brown Bunny.
Six CDs in seven months sounds extreme, and some might worry that Frusciante has descended into another episode in which the emphasis is on the “mad” part of his oft-applied “mad-genius” moniker. But during the long conversation from which this article was culled, the guitarist came across as the embodiment of calm and composure.
When asked “what's driving you?” Frusciante laughed: “Well, at the moment, nothing. I'm in a completely different phase, having a break, and getting ready to record the next Chili Peppers record. These six records were recorded in a period of six months after coming home from touring with the Chili Peppers for one-and-a-half years. I made a list of all the songs I had and they totaled about 70. My objective was to record as many songs as I could during the break that I had. In the midst of doing that, I was writing some of my best songs, so some of these albums have as many new songs as old songs. It was definitely the most productive time of my life.”
The speed at which Frusciante committed the songs to (analog) tape is astonishing. But his career has always been one of extremes. His first two solo albums were recorded in a haphazard and chaotic fashion. When the spirit took him, he committed material to 4-track cassette tape without any demoing or preproduction — largely without production of any kind.
Then, as he worked on To Record Only Water for Ten Days and especially on Shadows Collide with People (as well as on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication), he was bitten by the perfection bug. He explains on his Web site, “I was sick and tired of people dismissing my records as being f----d up and unprofessional.” And so Shadows Collide with People was recorded at Cello, a top-of-the-line studio, with Scott, a top-of-the-line engineer.
But Frusciante now calls the Shadows Collide with People recording experience “frustrating.” Although he doesn't disown the album, he speaks with more affection about the demos he made for it with Klinghoffer on a Tascam 488 mkII 8-track cassette recorder. (The demos are downloadable from Frusciante's Web site, http://www.johnfrusciante.com.)
On his Web site, the guitarist writes that after recording Shadows Collide with People, he began “noticing that albums I had loved my whole life had tons of things I would [at the time of recording Shadows Collide with People] have insisted on redoing. Slightly off-pitch vocals, instruments going slightly out of time with one another, as well as straight-up mistakes — all of these things prevail triumphantly on Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Rolling Stones, Van Der Graaf Generator, Butthole Surfers, and countless other records — even The Beatles — that I have always loved. I realized that I had sharpened my sense of perfection to the point where, were they under my supervision, those records would have been cleaned up to the point of being inferior.”
Having come to his realization, Frusciante decided to radically change the way he was recording, mostly by working fast and leaving many of the mistakes. “This record is a celebration of flaws,” Frusciante enthuses on his Web site about The Will to Death.