January 2000 Added: February 18, 2008
An interview done by Australian radio host Cousin Creep, around the days of Big Day Out 2000 in Melbourne. Visit CC's site for more of his work with other musicians.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers began in the midst of the LA hardcore punk scene of the early to mid 80's. Does Anthony or Flea ever reveal much insight into being the band they were during that period of that time?
I don’t think they were part of any kind of hardcore scene; the hardcore punk scene in LA had pretty much peaked like 3 years before the RHCP even got started. I didn’t see them that way and don’t think anyone else saw them that way. To me they were a really original band, who had a much different approach towards to music than anybody else that I knew of. They had a good balance of naivety and of conviction. That’s what appealed to me about them. They (Flea and Anthony) have never really been the sorts to brag about themselves, I was much more in tune with what they meant to the LA scene because I was a fan. They were just human beings, to me they were like stars so I had a pretty good perspective on that without anybody telling me.
Well what was that like to move from being a fan of RHCP to then becoming a band member?
It was really something to adjust to, it took me about a year to even start. The first year I was in the band I wasn’t acting like myself, I wasn’t living my life to be John Frusciante. I was living my life to be like what I thought a RHCP should be. You can’t approach being a rock star like that, I don’t think a person should approach it by trying to see what their image is like and to be that. I think you can only be yourself, if that ends up becoming an image to the public then it does. But the main thing you gotta do is be true to yourself and dress like yourself and act like yourself and do the things in life that you feel your good at that your meant to be doing and make yourself as good as you can be at them. Once I started doing that everything was on the best course it could be. The first year that I was in the band I was really kind of confused and I didn’t do that. I just ran around and got drunk, picked up girls, that kind of thing.
That’s just normal band activity...
Yeah 18 year old activity! I was 18 years old but it doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t fit with my personality. My persona is much more at home with one person or playing / practicing my guitar or writing/recording songs or making myself better. Or expanding my understanding of art of different music that’s more the sort of stuff that I’m about.
The RHCP have worked with a wide variety of producers like Andy Gil (Gang of 4), Rick Rubin but what was George Clinton (Parliament / Funkadellic) like to work with?
He sounds like he made it fun for them (Anthony/Flea) and I think he captured a really good vibe on the album ‘Freaky Styley’ that he produced. I have a pretty good idea of what he was like producing. He would dance around and he’d scream into the talkback mic (in the control room), they had a good time, they partied a lot. He was fun to work with in that way but he was doing a few things at once as well, he was working on his own solo record at the time. We’ve found that for us we need a producer to be like pretty much devote a few months to us. That’s what Rick Rubin does when he works with us, if he’s doing something else it stops at least a couple weeks before we go into the studio. We need to feel we’ve got somebody’s undivided attention.
What sort of input does Rick Rubin give to the RHCP? Does he discipline you guys more during the recording process?
He doesn’t do any disciplining but that we do ourselves. I love making music and I love writing music and nobody needs to push me to do that. But Rick has a real mellow type of a vibe that he generates when he listens to our music. We know that that’s the only thing going on in the world for him when it’s happening. He’s not the kind of person that gets distracted or comes to the rehearsal studio with something else on his mind or carrying his personal life into the studio. He’s very focused and not a big party guy, he’s a real focused centred person. And that’s why he’s the perfect person for us because we can trust him that way. No matter how off centre any of us are we know that he’s got a clear head about every thing.
When it comes to covers the RHCP have done a broad range of styles. When you choose a track what criteria do you use?
We didn’t cover anything on ‘Californacation’ we didn’t record any for fun, but live we play ‘tid bits’ of things like we play a little bit of ‘London Calling (CLASH) in our show. Some Funkadellic and a lot of George Clinton music comes up from time to time. We have a medley when we play ‘Yurdle The Turtle’ into ‘Cosmic Slop’ and we used to do ‘If you got Funk You Got Style’. Sometimes ‘Red Hot Momma’, we did that with Snoop Doggy Dogg at some awards show in Las Vegas.
Did Snoop include the “Luscious Bitch. . ” opening rhyme from the original?
No, he just made up his own rap about he was ‘rocking with the RHCP’ and stuff. It meant a lot to me, It was fun. Also used to cover ‘No Head No Backstage Pass’ and ‘Standing On the Verge of Getting it On’.
You have a history of doing covers, then along comes the ‘All Saints’ covering ‘Under the Bridge’. What was your reaction to that?
I haven’t heard it.
They even sampled ‘Under The Bridge’ for it.
I’ve heard about it and I’ve been asked about it a lot of times in interviews but I never heard it. I don’t know what to say. I’ve had one person out of like sixty people tell me that they’ve liked it.
I know you haven’t played Lollapalooza before with the RHCP but how does The Big Day Out compare to it?
I think everybody likes doing the Big Day Out and I haven’t heard anyone make a direct comparison between the two. They’re probably set up a lot differently.
The RHCP have always set a high standard when it comes to making your videos. They almost come across as being very high art in certain instances. Is that a quality that the RHCP try to achieve each time you make one?
With us, none of us are film makers and so it’s not as if anybody in the band is actually making the video. It’s always a director and it’s always the director’s vision. But, we’ve got very strong opinions in the band about what’s good and what’s not good. If we hear about an idea and it’s not good and it’s the kind of idea that would lead to a stupid ridiculous video. So, it’s not usually going to get anywhere with us and we won't accept it. I would say because Anthony, Flea and myself all have strong ideas about what’s good/cool and what’s not good/cool so we end up in the most part having videos that in general are good.
Listening to ‘Californiacation’ seems to link everything that’s occurred to LA music in the last 30 years. Is the album like the fucking together of LA culture and music into one?
It is if that’s what you want it to be. I think what that interpretation of the title you’re definitely following the line of what the word is supposed to do. It’s supposed to marry the two ideas that normally have to fall into separate pockets in your head and put them in one pocket. That’s what the word is supposed to do. The song is very much about Los Angeles, even if it’s a place that sits in one place and the various ways it reaches out to other parts of the world.
In what way did leaving your deal with EMI and going over to Warner Brothers change the RHCP?
Well, we weren’t 100 % confident with EMI at that time we wanted our record to do as well with ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’. We just wanted to make sure that it sold as much as its possible to sell. We didn’t feel that EMI was going to get us across to the public that well. They didn’t have any bands that we felt any kinship with. Warners had Jane’s Addiction and we saw that they did a good job with them, and EMI just had commercial pop music. It just gave us a certain amount of freedom and put us into a warmer atmosphere to feel comfortable about music.
At the time of recording the first work for Warners ‘Blood Sugar…’ did you have any feelings at the time that you were doing something special with these recordings?
Yes. Ever since we started writing it I could feel that something special was going on, I felt that we were in tune in going the same direction and coming from the same places to a large group of spirits that… we wanted to give more life to and more of a place in this dimension . That’s what I felt like my job was and I felt that I was doing a good job of it right from the beginning of the writing process. It got more and more exciting as we wrote and the more we recorded it. When we were recording it just felt that every note was in the exact perfect place it should be. I felt that I was in more than one place at once.
‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ became the first real Alternative genre crossing record of the 90’s. What was it like to know you had crossed the barrier into that newer audience?
John: I had the feeling that the degree of sincerity which we were putting into the music, the amount that we cared about the music and the just how much variety there was in it…. Y'know… My image of growing up just a few years before that, of things that were real popular, the best of it was, that I knew of, was Van Halen. And that was still a very artificial rock star kind of thing. (With) ‘Blood Sugar’ I felt like that we were doing real music that I think of as music that would never be extremely popular and it ended up being extremely popular. It was interesting, now we’re used to it because (Kurt) Cobain was the greatest thing in the world and he was also the most popular thing. When I was a teenager I never pictured it like that. I also thought the most popular things were the kind of lame things and the cool things were not so big.
You finish the album with Robert Johnson’s ‘They’re Red Hot’. Whose idea was it to cover such an old blues track and to get it such an updated feel?
Well, I was listening to a lot of Robert Johnson when we did the album. That was when Flea called me one day and said “I think we should cover this Robert Johnson song ‘They’re Red Hot’. It was just an idea that he threw at me on the phone and I was really into blues at that time. Of that acoustic one man kind of blues like Leadbelly and Robert Johnson and I much prefer that kind of acoustic blues than the electric 4 man blues. It’s exciting and innovating to me.