March 2008 Joe Lally interview transcript

This is the interview JKDN [a former Josh Klinghoffer fansite] did with Joe Lally in March 2008 and it was later transcribed. It is, of course, relevant to this website as Joe was asked many questions about John and Ataxia.

It must seem really strange that Ataxia was a band for 2 weeks, 4 years ago… are you surprised that people still ask about it?

Well… if John Frusciante was not involved, I guess I’d be surprised that people were still talking about it. I suppose the amazing thing is that he released so much stuff at that time and.. the thing that we did was of interest to people. I don’t know… who knows what people listen to these days! It’s always nice that people to listen to what you’re doing… In a way, I wish we’d been able to spend more time on it, or approach it in a way that… we had more time to think about it, but at the same time, maybe it’s better not to have thought about it too much and just do it….

We had a lot of comments about the recordings… people love it because it sounds so organic and so raw…. was this the intention behind it all?

It was what it was… it was that raw because… I was originally asked to play a show with them live. I was asked to play on a recording of one of their solo records, Josh wrote a bass line that made him think of me and said “Joe should play this on the record”, but they recorded really quickly and I was out of town when they did it. Then they said “why don’t you play a show with us? we’ll play a set of our solo stuff because we’ve never done it”… but I really couldn’t learn 9 of their songs that quickly, because I don’t do that.

It seems weird – I’ve been playing music for a long time, but I don’t sit down and learn other people’s music.

You can develop in both ways as a musician, and I just never developed listening to a record and figuring out how something is played. I’ve messed around a little bit with a few things but…. people develop an ear for it – Dylan could listen to a record once and play you the song back… I couldn’t do that in a million years!

How did you all meet?

John just showed up at Fugazi shows – not sure what years…. we were doing some California dates, and he showed up at five of them or something. The first one was… San Diego…

We stayed with Flea, Flea was a fan of Minor Threat. Before Fugazi started, Flea was in touch with Ian – they wrote each other, spoke on the phone or whatever… they had a relationship… and John was not in RHCP when I saw them… I saw RHCP with Ian, they played a show in the DC area before John was in the band… and then the next time I saw them was in the period when he was out of the band….

Before I saw John play with RHCP, he showed up at our shows, so really he was a fan of ours before I thought of him as a player in the Chili Peppers, which doesn’t really make any sense because of how popular they were at the time. But I wasn’t that acquainted with their music. As much as I love Flea as a person, because we spent the most time with him, I didn’t really see the other guys so much. It was just John showing up and he’s pretty intense when it comes to talking about music, and so after those shows I guess he came to Las Vegas and LA and San Diego and San Francisco, I felt that I wanted to talk to him more. I was sad because I couldn’t spend as much time talking about music with him as I would have liked to. And then… it goes on. I saw the Chili Peppers play, and he came to some more shows, with Josh – I think in… Texas, and Arizona…

But then I moved to LA, because my wife had Italian friends there, and we wanted to leave DC, so naturally, I would just call John because it’s so easy to talk to him about music, and it’s so much fun and so inspiring. It coincided with the time that RHCP were taking some time off. And that’s how I met Josh – he was just someone hanging out with John. The first time I met him was at our shows – I got to talk to Josh very little – before shows, between soundcheck and the show.

When you recorded with Ataxia, which parts came first? Did you have a fixed idea of what is was going to sound like?

We spent the first day practicing, and John recorded the first 10 minutes of practice, without me knowing. It was just me writing a bass line and then playing to it – we just jammed. That became the song Dust. They were coming down to mu level and meeting me and taking the music from there! It was the best way to do the music.

The first day of practice, we did not have a keyboard player to fill out those parts of John’s songs but, he said “It seems like a waste of time that we’re playing this other music with you, when I’d much rather be writing with you”.

John could certainly have got someone else in to play his music much more quickly, and better…. because I didn’t figure out the songs that well, and I always think of him as being very sweet for saying that and just turning into something else rather than saying “Gee… This isn’t working…. get out! See ya later!”

But they were also genuinely interested in my theory and if you were gonna leave me alone to play music, my goal was to play one bass line in a song. I wouldn’t necessarily choose to play them for 10 minutes… but that is just a project of what we were trying to do – trying to write music to play a show and trying to fill up an hours worth of playing!

The songs would be initiated by me settling into a bass line… while the bass line was forming Josh would be playing and John would start to do something…. with a few minutes with a beat, I’d just keep going. There were no thoughts to it being the end product, a recording, but it led to that. The goal was just to see how quickly we could work music into place – I think it was a really interesting exercise for them.

How was is decided who would write lyrics to the tracks?

I’m not sure how… John would take home the recordings of the day’s playing and looking at those recordings as finished songs… he could choose which guitar parts he wanted to use, which he liked best, and at the same time start putting words into the places, and so by the next practice, he’d be singing to what we recorded in the previous practice. It was extremely fast….

Josh wrote the lyrics to two tracks, you wrote the lyrics to Montreal…

Originally, it looked like it was going to be just John singing, I’m not sure what led to Josh and I writing lyrics… Josh was supposed to sing on a song, and once he was singing on a song they said I should sing on one too, and that was that…. Somehow those songs fell into place, and we wrote our own lyrics?

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