“I am not a slave to people’s expectations”

Author: Adriano Mazzeo
Thanks to: Jesus Gutierrez, for translation
Original article: “No soy un esclavo de las expectativas de la gente”

John Frusciante has been proving for years that he is much more than the (on and off) guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. For years now, above all, he’s been a eclectic artist, something overwhelmingly clear in Maya, his first electronic album under the name John Frusciante.

Frusciante always represented the mysterious rockstar some people like to admire. His role at such a young age writing RHCP classics, the distinct feeling of his guitar, his tumultuous personal life, his omnipresent sensibility, and his constant search for more that he felt needed to follow – like both times he left RHCP at the height of their popularity- made him unique. But without question, and even if it seems obvious, what elevated him to his status of uniqueness was his musicality beyond what he had achieved with his bandmate Flea, as he proved with his catalogue of solo albums and collaborations with a wide range of musicians.

After leaving RHCP for the second time, after Stadium Arcadium’s tour cycle, Frusciante started to find inspiration in electronic music. Now, 4 albums into that genre later under the name Trickfinger, he’s ready to release his first electronic album under his own name.

“Maya” represents a key moment in Frusciante’s relationship with electronic music. a chapter where he firmly establishes himself as a cult composer as opposed to a guitarist, something of a paradox now that he’s back with his former band. In this chat, Frusciante reveals some aspects of his artistic personality, the influences that define ‘Maya’, why he considers himself a fully-fledged electronic artist and more, a especially revealing conversation considering how he likes to keep to himself and doesn’t give interviews all that often.

“I see my music standing firmly in the present. I love modern music and I try to keep up with what’s going on”

Q- ‘Maya’ was the name of your cat, who passed away recently. Was she your company during the recording sessions and she serve as an inspiration?

A- I compose music at home, so she was always listening. She loved to listen to records with me, cuddling in my arms, rubbing my belly while I was practising or programming machines. She was very considerate too. In 15 years she never stepped on my recording equipment despite it being a warm surface or messed with my setup. Sometimes she did accidentally make music when she slept on my Elektron machine and/or waked over my DX7, which was amazing, but she never ruined anything. She was magical, love itself. And magic and love are the essence that drive my musical inspiration.

Q- Electronic music has always been a synonym for forward thinking, the music for the future, but in your case you’re paying tribute to genres that flourished 30 years ago. How do you feel about nostalgia?

A- I see my music standing firmly in the present. I love modern music and I try to keep up with what’s going on. But I’ve always been inspired by older music, mainly because retroactively I can track how those styles evolved (or didn’t). It allows me to create things related to what came before but expanding it and twisting it in ways no one has ever done. There are big music companies that focus on revisiting things like Hardcore and Jungle but my music doesn’t fit there. Those artists make new music within those genres, but they do it in the same basic way which is different to my approach. I’m probably more IDM. I’d love to be someone like Loefah or Mala who are at the top creating new styles, but it seems my space in music is to bring new life to old ideas.

Q- When did you discover the breakbeat and jungle scene and why did you find them special and meaningful?

A- When I was little, I would listen to the drums of of Jimi Hendrix’s Fire and I found that there were so many possibilities within that drumbeat. There are certain sections in that song are just pure jungle. I had a friend in school when I was 10 years old that could play the rhythm on his desk with his fingers. Particularly the broken rhythm called Amen: that really impressed me. I worked really hard on it to the point where I could also “tap” the beat with my fingers on my desk, even trying to play it as fast as I could. So when I eventually heard Experience by The Prodigy and later on jungle and drum n’ bass, they were already ideas that spoke to me and familiar in a way. I had a band that played Funk really fast before jungle came around, so I was excited but not surprised by jungle when I first heard it. That music had deep roots in ideas that were already a part of me.

Q- You used a DX7 synthesizer for melodies in “Maya”. It requires a good amount of time to set up and really get to know it. Did electronic music force you to become a geek?

A- I’ve always felt the key is to be half cool, half geek (laughs). I think we all agree Jimi Hendrix was cool, but his biggest contribution to music was his way of manipulating electronic sounds. What he did with mixing boards was simply to break the rules, like the way he controlled excessive distortion and feedback. He infused engineering and sound with his own personality. He wasn’t worried about separating his cool and geek self, and neither am I. The DX7 and synthesizers in general can create really cool sounds. That’s all I care about. I talk with some of my musician friends about numbers and electric voltages. That’s cool for me. But if you think that’s a geeky thing, then I guess I am undoubtedly one, because when I’m making music my head is swimming in numbers. But there are powerful feelings in my soul guiding those equations.

Q- How did your personality influence you in your venture into electronic music? What did you learn?

A- I learnt to think about music as what it really is: sounds organised by the mind and the human spirit. I love playing guitar, but traditional instruments often encourage people to use their hands to define musical quality, and that’s a mistake. Music is feeling within sound, and the more electronic music I do, the more I understand that principle. Now I’m able to create music by pressing buttons to control the electricity. When I play guitar I do the same thing. It’s all about electricity, whether it’s the charge in our bodies and minds or the equipment I use.

Q- Did the electronic music scene become a refuge for you? A place to connect with music from another perspective, like punk did in your younger teenage years?

A- Raves are fun but I never got into that world of partying and using it as a refuge. But to listen and study music outside of rock was always a refuge for me. Ever since writing ‘Californication’ the music that fascinated me the most was electronic,whether it was synth pop, industrial, hip hop, rave, whatever. It’s healthy to be absorbed by the mysterious ways of music, and it’s good for the mind to get out of the comfort zone. When I was a kid I had no idea how guitar players were able to make those sounds, and that led me to learning. It also happened when I started listening to people who could express themselves by through beats and samples. One of the main strengths of punk is it’s unrelenting electric power, and the best electronic music is an extension of that. To be a good guitar player is not enough for me. I want to understand music as a living organism, and I use every medium I can to get there.

“Somehow technology has made people lazier, which can be a good thing in some cases”

Q- Beyond celebrating the genres of the 90s, nowadays you can use equipment that allows you to make sounds and patterns that would have been impossible back then. How do you think technology is evolving in regards to writing music?

A- Technology made things a lot easier for people to create something of high quality and finish it without any assistance. Beyond that, I think the evolution of music will depend more on ideas and spirit than on technology. Somehow technology has made people lazier, which can be a good thing in some cases, but I believe in the idea of putting “pressure” on old machines to make them do new things, be an analog synthesizer or a Stratocaster. The human spirit is more powerful than any technological tool. That said though, I do like the way samplers and CPUs have evolved.

Q- About making music without thinking if the audience will respond to it or not, do you feel more fulfilled as an artist after making this decision?

A- I’ve always disagreed with the idea of having a specific audience. I love making people happy, but also know music is a force inside me, and at times it has been difficult to balance both. I’m not a slave to people’s expectations and that kept me evolving, growing as a musician. At the same time, people’s connection to my music made that evolution possible. It’s a balance. Music is a form of communication, but it’s also a link between the soul and the artist’s intelligence. You have to be faithful to that connection because if you don’t you will have nothing to offer humanity.

Q- You recently said that you are, in a way, a cold person. But that’s not what your music make people feel. Could you elaborate on what you meant?

A- My personality has many sides. I can be a kind and warm friend but also indifferent and distant. I think that’s the reality for most people. We are human by definition, and therefore, imperfect. When my mind is focused on music I feel more like a machine than a person. In the past it has been difficult for me to be in that mental space and then suddenly having to be careful about not hurting someone’s feelings. It requires a lot of effort to put all of your energy into music, and moving from that state of mind to human interaction can be challenging. But now I’m better at analysing situations from the point of view of other people. I tried really hard to be a team player in regards to human relationships, and I’m still making progress. But yes, I can be cold and still make emotional music.

“Some musicians establish a character for themselves when they’re in their 20s and stay that way throughout their entire careers. I admire that consistency and integrity”

Q- How is your relationship with rock now that you’re back with Red Hot Chili Peppers?

A- I love rock music as much as I ever have. That love never changed. My ability to decipher and play with precision other people’s albums is probably my greatest skill. During the years I was away from the band, I kept playing guitar over other artist’s songs. I love learning how other musicians think. Their creative minds are ingrained in those records, if you take the time to dive deep. But at this point the mysteries of rock are metaphysical and ontological. Notes and rhythms and how to play them is something I know, as well as the studio production techniques. I know how to play every type of rock music I love. Not just the guitars, but all the parts too.

Electronic music on the other hand fascinates me because I know a lot less about how it was done. I’ve progressed a lot in the last 12 years but when I look at what someone like Aaron Funk (Venetian Snares) does with a synthesizer for example, I find myself in the same place of admiration I found myself when I was 7 years old and I saw some teenagers playing Kiss on the guitar. When I listen to Autechre, I generally don’t understand how they accomplished what I’m listening to, but I have enough knowledge to ask the right questions and get to the bottom of the soul of their music, and at the same time feed my curiosity. And even with simpler electronic music not as complex as what those artists do, that’s also appealing to me, because I get to try and decipher how they think. Maybe I can understand what people like Drexciya are doing on a programming level, but how and why they got to use those sounds is an enigma.

In rock I have a good understanding of the why, for example why George Harrison chooses certain notes on a solo. I look at the chords and the bass line and I can see the logic between those decisions. There’s music theory involved that I can understand. Those same rules don’t always apply to electronic music. When I heard “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen at 5 years old, it was a shock. The sound of those drums! I probably didn’t even know that thing was called drums. And Dillinja’s drum kicks still sound as powerful as they did back then. So in rock I will always wonder how a voice like Kurt Cobain’s could have possibly come from this planet or how The Beatles were destined to have such perfect chemistry, but I don’t ask myself how their music was made because the mechanics and theory are very familiar to me. I’m blown away by the fact that they existed and that they did what they did, but that goes for every electronic artist I like too. When I listen to them my mind goes to a place that is just different from rock. When I left the band for the second time my interest in making rock faded and I wanted to pursue electronic music, so I did. But my love for rock didn’t disappear.

Today I’m very excited by the possibilities in rock as a form of art and I feel eager to rehearse with my band, both musically and socially. And I also plan to keep making electronic records, I have time and space for both. I don’t do much else with my life beyond practising and making music, so I have time to do everything that interests me.

Q- What did you miss about being a touring musician in a rock band?

A- What I eventually missed was interacting and making music with these 3 guys. I think God puts people in your life as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you avoid people, you’ll end up with similar lessons in the end, but from a much harder and painful experience. The 4 of us are growing as a result of trying to be better bandmates everyday. Each and every one of us is more open than we’ve ever been. I didn’t miss anything from the lifestyle of a rock musician, I felt the 4 of us still had something special to offer while we’re still here.

Q- Why do you never tour with your solo albums?

A- I did a few acoustic shows in the early 2000s. It was fun, but I always saw myself as a creator and not a performer. If I had to choose between making music and playing shows, I would always choose to make music. The band toured a lot during the time I released my first solo records, so I only had time to make the songs, not perform them. For me playing live is something that I do with Anthony, Chad and Flea. I just never felt the urge to try to have that same chemistry with other people. I felt a magical force bind us together when I was 18 and I’m convinced that only happens once in a lifetime. I have a great relationship with Aaron Funk in Speed Dealer Moms, but the love we share to create new things hasn’t allowed us to have the necessary discipline to take our music to a stage.

Q- What would be the common denominator that ties all the different sides of John Frusciante?

A- Honestly I feel like I didn’t do all of it. I remember most phases of my career as if I was remembering someone else’s life, or like a dream. For someone who never had the ability to create characters, I felt I’ve been many different people. Maybe that inconsistency or instability is my common denominator. Some musicians establish a character for themselves when they’re in their 20s and stay that way throughout their entire careers. I admire that consistency and integrity. I, on the other hand, feel like I’ve been possessed by many different spirits and I try to keep up. But, I do feel there is a special feeling in my music that goes beyond that. I had that feeling when I was 14 years old and it always comes back no matter what type of music I do. I can hear the same spirit in “A3tlip” and “I Could Have Lied”.