May 2005, Total Guitar (UK)
thanks to Caroline for typing it out
click the thumbnail to see the scans
NOTE: Half of the article is identical to this one, but not all of it!
Playing guitar in the Chilis might look like fun, but for John Frusciante those huge world tour are a source of frustration. Your favourite Chili Pepper explains why he had to release six solo albums in six months...
There are an infinite number of great songs out there," says John Frusciante. "I don't think we'll ever exhaust the possibilities of a few simple guitar chords". As if to prove his point, the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist recently recorded and released a series of six solo albums over the latter part of 2004/early 2005. Embracing styles from indie rock and electronica to "unplugged," the recordings are a testament to the fertility of Frusciante's imagination and the variety of his musical tastes.
Curtains, the final album in the serie, is full of primarily acoustic guitar driven songs that combine poignant melodicism with an adventurous sense of structure and lyrics that are abstract and philosophical yet filled with emotional resonance. Frusciante has made extensive use of acoustic guitar on past solo albums like 2003's Shadows Collide with People. But Curtains is his most fully realised acoustic work to date. The guitarist skillfully adorns his crisp acoustic chording and expressive vocals with overdubs on synthesizers and electric guitar. There is tastefully minimal backing from standup bassist Ken Wild, Autolux drummer Carla Azar and Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez who chips in on electric guitar. But mostly we hear Frusciante sitting on the floor of his living room, where Curtains was recorded, strumming and singing songs that reflect his unique insights into the nature of time, death and dimensions beyond our own. "I try to make words say what they weren't naturally designed to say," he laughs.
Like all the albums in the six-album solo series, Curtains was recorded quickly be today's standards and on vintage analog gear - an Ampex eight-track tape machine in this case. Frusciante was out to capture the warm sound of the pre-digital era and also the inspired spontaneity of recordings from the 1950s and 1960s when artists would typically have just a day to record a song and a few weeks to do a whole album. But these working methods also enabled Frusciante to commit a huge body of work to tape in a short space of time.
"I write a lot of songs," he shrugs. "But being the guitar player in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I don't have a chance to record my own stuff as much as I'd like because the Chili Peppers have such a busy schedule. The songs I write mean a great deal to me and represent my growth in a lot of ways. But I don't really get a chance to record them until the Chili Peppers come to the period of down time, like we came to after we finished touring for our last album By the Way. We had a six-month break. So during those six months I recorded all the music that's been coming out. It's basically maerial from the last three years, but each album also contains new material. For instance, half the songs on Curtains were written during that six-month break. So it's not just material from a long time ago..."
Does Curtains provide a snapshot of how all your songs sound early in their development? Do they all begin on acoustic guitar?
"Pretty much. Sometimes I write songs on an unamplified electric guitar. I have a few old Martins at my house that date from the 1940s: two small bodied 0-15s and an 0-18, which is also small bodied with a blond top. One of those is what I usually write songs on. And I always bring a couple of acoustic guitars on the road with me that I use for songwriting. Writing songs on an unamplified electric sometimes ends up being problematic. The guitar is so quiet that I often end up singing in a high falsetto voice that doesn't really work with the final recording. I need to sing in a full voice, but it's out of my range. So i've learned to write on the acoustic and actually sing in the style that I want the final recording sung in."
The performances on Curtains have a very intimate quality, which is probably a result of your recording them in your living room.
"Yeah. It was just me sitting on a pillow on my living room floor with my back leaning against the couch. There were mic [a KM-54] on my guitar and another mic [a Telefunken 250] for vocals. I would just go back and forth between my living room and the library, which is now the control room, and listen to what I'd done. Sometimes [enginner] Ryan Hewitt and I would make an edit between two different takes."