John Frusciante: The Sound is the Truth of Music

Author: Guillaume Gendron
Thanks to: OSMOSE, for arranging this.
Original article: JOHN FRUSCIANTE : «LE SON EST LA VÉRITÉ DE LA MUSIQUE»

The original (as in, before translation to French) version was provided to i-m.net exclusively by the author. Please, be considerate, use excerpts and link to this page AND the page on liberation.fr.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist, who continued his solo career before his next return with the band, released “Maya”, the twelfth album with assumed electronic moulting. Conversation with the 50-year-old Californian artist about his career, his vision of music and his tendency to isolate himself that succeeds him.

Your album feels like a great “time capsule”, almost like a nostalgia project. How (and when) did you get into 90s jungle/breakbeat? Did you used to listen to or go to clubs playing that music at the time of its release, or was it a late discovery?

In the late 90s I started listening to rave music of different types, and in the early 2000s was going out to D&B club nights. In LA, we always had an underground rave party scene as well, but I didn’t clue into that until 2008, at which point I started going to more illegal shows.

At this same time, Aaron Funk gave me a ton of digitized ’91-’96 UK jungle and hardcore tunes. That was the real turning point, because I’d had no idea of how much good, original stuff there was along those lines; fast, raw, and all of it so unique because no one had a preconceived idea of what it was supposed to sound like yet. I love a lot of late 90s-early 2000s D&B, but generally speaking, the better producers got at engineering, the less I like listening to it. ’91-’96 was the sweet spot for me. I like that combination of unpolished engineering and hard punchiness that Hardcore/Jungle has in common with the punk I loved as a child.

I’m trying to apply a new spirit to some old ideas. There are people who are great at recreating old Hardcore and Jungle and I’m not one of them. Jungle is my favorite music to listen to, but I try to chop it up and re-contextualize it in a way that’s fresh. My beats go further into abstract territory than is normal for Jungle, and the things I do with synths are also outside of that box. Some have said that Maya is closer to IDM, and though the intention was to make a modern version of Jungle, I wouldn’t disagree with that.

Listening to the album, and to electronic music in general, there’s this feeling nowadays that what used to be a group experience (the raves, etc.) became kind of the modern bedroom music, the music of intimacy and direct connection from the lone artist to the lone listener. Do you agree?

I definitely like that direct connection to individuals you can have online, but my partner throws raves, and has brought a lot of great artists to town over the years. She also does a rave radio show and always has cool guests. I’ve learned a lot from having friends who are DJs, listening to music with them, talking about musicians and gear, and this has changed the way I approach my craft. There are DJs who were playing the music on Maya out while I was making it, here and in Europe. So I still see what I do as social music, despite that I do tend to isolate. We have a lively underground rave scene here in LA, and my music is inspired by it.

I think electronic music works really well in both contexts, at home or live.

Did you create/compose some part of the album during lockdown? Did it affect your work?

The only thing that’s been released that I made during lockdown was my contribution to the Planet Mu comp Black Minds Matter, a track called Lyng Shake. Covid didn’t really affect my work, because I spend most of my time indoors making or practicing music anyways.

How do you feel in today’s America/California, with the politics, the fires, the demonstrations, etc. Is this very specific genre, very tied to a certain time and place, a kind of escapism?

I’ve used music to escape reality since as far back as I can remember. My music has always been a celebration of unreality, and my ignorance and disconnection from the so-called real world has always been the basis for my artistic perspective.

Today, electro can be a kind of nostalgic music or a forward-looking music – sometimes both at the same time. Do you make electronic music like you would play a blues standard on guitar (meaning, paying homage to a late-form, following rigid rules) or do you feel like pushing boundaries of sound?

Sometimes I’m conscious of leaving places for DJs to mix in or out of my tracks. That’s the only part of any electronic music format that I ever have thought about. I may be thinking I’m making Electro, or Acid, or Jungle, but I don’t see those styles as rigid forms; to me they are lift-off points for expression that could go any number of ways.

To me, all ambitious music is about pushing the boundaries of sound. Sound has always been the true reality of music. Notes and rhythms are only symbols. If you’re going to say something new with music you’re going to say it with sound, so I like working in electronic music where the artist’s expression is what comes out of the speakers, with no one except the ghosts in the machines in between.

To my way of thinking, the feeling of music is more important than whether it can be identified as a new idea or an old one. If music has a strong feeling, it is in the present, which is really what you want, because the present never goes away. To me, The Human League still sounds new and futuristic because the music carries that feeling within it. And quite often, music claimed as “new” or “the future of music” is all based on previous ideas. Those perceptions are all subjective. The important thing is what you want to hear right now!

I guess for me the thread between all your very different solo projects – from Niandra Lades to Maya, is a deep sense of unfiltered intimacy. Would you say in both cases, we hear the same musician/person, or is that totally different personas? And what about the “guitar hero” image? Is the machine a way to destroy it, or at least to temporarily incapacitate it?

Thanks! I’m glad you see intimacy as the thread! I’m a musician first and foremost, and there isn’t much more to me than that, so I guess I haven’t had much choice in the matter! When I was 18-19, I hoped I would be more of a musical entertainer, and that didn’t work out. Some people can be super real being an entertainer, but I was no good at it, so I’ve had to just put myself out there without a filter or persona in place.

My means of expression has kept changing, but I’m really just a person who loves music and wants to be a part of it, and that stays consistent.

As far as the guitar hero image, I guess a lot of people have taken pictures of me while I was playing onstage! Guitar is what I’ve always used to understand music better. I practice so I can strive to comprehend truths about music that I’ll never really understand. That’s what keeps me doing it. Whatever I’ve played onstage or on record has just been a bi-product of that practice. Any attempts I’ve made to cultivate an image as anything, guitar hero included, has been unsuccessful. I’ve put my feelings and thoughts into the instrument, nothing more.

There are certain traps conventional instruments cause musicians to fall into. Those traps are mostly mental errors, like thinking something is good because it’s hard to play. Or that more vibrato means more feeling. Or that faster is better. I’ve always learned electronically generated melodies on my guitar, and focused on learning the styles of anti-hero guitarists, so I think I’ve been pretty clear of those traps since I was a teen. Nevertheless, the guitar has its limitations, and as far as creating sound, I prefer the limitations of a Monomachine or a DX7. Nothing could replace the guitar for me when it comes to having something to play along with CDs on, though.

The press release for Maya suggests that you are today more connected to machines than guitar. Is it something permanent, or do you go through phases? Does the solitary process of making electronic music suits you better than the band set-up?

I love both. Being alone with machines is direct real-time sonic creation. It’s very immediate. In a band there are many factors and considerations besides just making what you’re going to make, but when you have a magic chemistry with a group of people, and you get along well, those things make up for the process being less direct. I’ve also had a great time making electronic music in Speed Dealer Moms. That’s somewhere in between, because we have that personal, interactive part, but we essentially do together what we would normally do alone.

I always played guitar, even when I stopped using it in my music. I used to spend a lot of time writing songs with lyrics, and about ten years ago, making music on machines replaced that. But since rejoining the band I’ve been contributing to the songwriting process in the same way that I always did with them, while continuing to make electronic music as well.

I’m very lucky I’ve been able to make music so many different ways with so many people. I’ve learned that being selfless helps the creative process immensely, and that people who are overly concerned about receiving credit, or what others will think, are their own worst enemies. Making music is fun and exciting when everyone involved submerges their egos and submits to music the living thing. As long as people are doing that, one process is as good as another.

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