Former Chili Peppers’ Guitarist, John Frusciante

I’m sitting on this old, two-piece shocking velvet couch in John Frusciante’s living room waiting for Frusciante to come down stairs. I got this cat looking at me strange like I’ve come to steal something. (Ed. Note: Artie’s paranoid) I’m doing everything I can to appear comfortable. Actually, maybe I am comfortable. I’ve got a view of the city from where I’m sitting and from the looks of things, I should be in for a free Evian, possibly even one of those expensive fruit smoothie drinks. I turn my head and catch a skinny guy coming down the stairs. Bleached hair pulled back and some pale skin. A good shirt, blue I think. With a collar and a filterless Camel burning. John Frusciante, last of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: now, setting out on a solo career. He sits down and we jump right into the lowdown on the new album.

I ask about the drums, or rather, the lack thereof.
To me, it [his solo album, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just A T-Shirt, American Recordings] has the vibe of when I was recording. It has the same kind of vibe as Jane’s Addiction or Da Vinci or whatever, without drums. But it seemed just as heavy…

Yeah, I like some of that backwards guitar I heard in it, I say, not feeling a need to question John’s Da Vinci reference.
Thanks…Some people require like a macho thugs presence [with the drums] but as long as the feeling of macho stud is there…

When I listened to Niandra I realize just how much impact you had on the Chili Peppers with BloodSugar.
Yeah…I wrote like 60 percent of the music and Flea wrote 40…

You gave them a really nice added dimension…helped them transcend the strictly party, funk thing and broaden the sound.
Yeah…well I had a good time ‘cause I was always looking at Flea and my amp…

Now the Evian comes out, and John lights another Camel. There’s a landscaper somewhere in the neighborhood cursing at a weedwacker. Have you jammed with other people since then?
Me and Flea and Steven Perkins [of Porno For Pyros] have a band…we’re called the Three Ameobas…We have like 10 or 15 hours of stuff on tape…and it’s great. They’re never any dull moments at all…fuckin’ flows perfectly and we’re never jacking off…It doesn’t have any of the things that makes instrumental rock laughable a few years down the line. They’re the main people I’m interested in jamming with, you know…me and Flea jam now and then, Steven’s really busy with Porno right now…I don’t really know any other musicians…Me and River Phoenix used to have a good…we played together…a sort of communication that was intense…on just two guitars…but…can’t do that anymore…

The album’s got a heavy Syd Barret (Early Pink Floyd) vibe.
…Yeah, the main stuff that like she [girlfriend, Toni] is pretty insightful into what I’m doing ‘cause I always avoid realizing that I’m even in this dimension, you know, she said to me that she thought that the three main influences on the album are Syd Barret and Robert Johnson…And what was the other one. Toni…[Yells upstairs]…Oh yeah, Captain Beefheart…

You cut the whole album in this house?
…Right there.

He points to a pile of instruments. Guitars, a bass, a clarinet-looking thing, a Moog-type apparatus, a four track. I figure it’s as good a time as any to stick my toe into the ‘why did you leave the Peppers’ water. He says, ‘No Problem’…so I ask.
You left the Chili Peppers when you were touring in Japan?

Is there an ashtray?

John leaves the room and comes back with tray in hand, takes a drag, looks past me and begins.
…While I was still living in the house…and I would like say to myself, ‘Ok. I know you don’t have any reason to but you’ve gotta quit the band’, you know…and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it…because I knew that they wouldn’t let me. I had a feeling that the road was really gonna fuck with me. But I mean…Flea…the road had been fucking with him for so many years. It’d be spoiled of me to have quit then, but I was definitely sure I should do it and was uncomfortable but with what? I didn’t know…It just had to do with my sub-conscious and my development as a person, and a spirit, you know…and I just felt like a guy with like 400 ghosts telling him what to do all the time. I just wanted to lay back on the couch and think about nothing and that’s what I did up until the time we went on tour. I [had] told Flea a year before I quit the band that the unity hadn’t been so good…Anthony and I hadn’t really talked for a couple of tours…and we didn’t really look at each other much on stage. And so Flea took me to the park and said, ‘Is there anything you like about being in the band?’ And I said, ‘No…I’m just in the band ‘cause I love you…I love playing with you, and I don’t want to just leave you but there’s nothing I like about being in the band…’ and he was just like, ‘Well I guess you shouldn’t do it just for me.’ And he understood and everything but never the less like…he didn’t think about it for the next year so like when I quit the band, it was still a shock…because I, you know, it all had to do with things that were taking place inside me, you know…to them it just seemed like it was getting better at the time. I just didn’t wanna do it anymore…I was really happy…I mean like my own version of happy, like in outer space every time I would look at Flea’s eyes, or my amp, or Chad’s foot [on the drums] but you know other than that, the popularity thing really bummed me out…When I quit the band I didn’t even want to play guitar anymore…I just wanted to quit…

So now you’ve got your own album? It’s time to forget about the past and get into the future of Frusciante.
Yeah, but I didn’t do it as an album…because a lot of it was recorded at the same time as were writing and recording Blood Sugar…so it was more a way to balance out what, what I wasn’t doing in the band…you know…’cause that was just a small part of me…And so with this I just…even though there was nothing preconceived about what we did that was because we all knew what the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s is…where as with this [Niandra LaDes]…there was no limitations at all…and since I’m not like a egomaniac show off…it was all right to just do whatever I wanted and do as much as I wanted to do…

So the album is more like a collected works than an album?
Usually Just A T-Shirt…I think I was being one piece. That’s the second half of it…and it just went together…To me it’s a story…Abreally cosmically-oriented story that maybe…you know…maybe I couldn’t really even explain…But it definitely went in the order it did for a reason…parallels were created with it in my life…My favorite bass player, Robert Hayes, who played upright bass…before I was in the Peppers, he was my bass player, and once we stopped playing together he got really into Mingus…before that he was really into Jimi Hendrix…like that was the main stuff we were into…and he…I thought of him when I recorded the last song on ‘Usually Just A T-Shirt’ as being music that I would want to play with him if I quit the band and started doing something with Robert…And a week later he died in a van wreck on a highway…when I’m screaming on the song…it just sounded so much like I was with him when it [the wreck] was happening or something…I would think like 15 thoughts at once when I was recording parts for the album…like my head was in a really cool place…I was definitely a number of places at once…not just trying to execute something on the tape…

A meditation, not verse chorus verse?
Yeah, none of it really follows that…totally…My whole object as a musician no matter who I’m playing with, is to get as far away from myself as possible. The further away from the situation I am, the better the music is…A lot of the time I feel like I’m just letting the air play me and the air makes the music and I’m just an outline within that…but that’s the real me, what surrounds me…the air that surrounds me is the actual walking person and this bit of flesh in between is just a blob. [He laughs.]

Not much ego here, just creation. Everything in front of us, the books, the paintings, the instruments, tools for Frusciante to use. Or rather, tools that use Frusciante. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, heart to the hand, I tell him.
Did you ever just try to disappear, actually be in another universe, when you shut your eyes?

He looks over to make sure I’m with him. I can’t lie. I’m one who’s hopelessly trapped in this universe. That’s pretty much what I always shoot for, I say…Runs through me real quick and I catch it.
But there’s fun places you can be in the midst of all that too…like you don’t have to totally turn off your brain…like ah…I used to do things…on stage like things to trick myself…contradict myself…like I’ll tell myself I’m gonna start this solo on this fret on this note…and then right when it gets to the last second…I’m not allowed to go to that fret…and I have to start somewhere else…or I’ll tell the audience that this song’s dedicated to the baby born right now…right when I say it…but then when it gets to the solo…I think about the first baby born right when it gets to that solo…so the audience thinks they’re thinking about the same baby as me but we’re really thinking about two different babies…That kinda thing…What magazine are you from?

Oh, I thought you were from Guitar Player…I was going, ‘Why isn’t this guy asking me guitar questions? [Another laugh.]

Should we stop? I say, figuring why push a good thing?
No. Now I’m much more comfortable…One time a guy from a “Guitar magazine” came over here and I was in my robe naked, just spreading my legs to him on the couch with my dick barely covered up and then I go, ‘Hold on a second’, and I go into the kitchen and threw up all over the place and came back out with puke all over me and went like, ‘Don’t worry about it…Flea pukes all the time’….I think I really came off weird…influenced by other than my own psychedelic producers…

Do you like Nine Inch Nails?
…No…Didn’t have enough femininity to it…like the main things about music that’ve attracted me since I was a little kid…when I really started having life affirming and death-oriented feelings like when I was in fourth grade and Darby Crash became my hero, the singer in The Germs…The two things that most made me feel like I actually had a place in the world were drugs and the feelings you get from them, and bisexuality…And that describes the feeling I get out of music…The music that they make now is either too wimpy or too macho and there’s no real skillful combinations you know…nobody knows how to be soft and hard at the same time…

So you’re a Bowie fan?
He’s my favorite.

Bowie seems to have summoned a lot of forces from within himself?
I know the lyrics are just too intense…It’s crazy that he was that insightful, that deeply aware, it just seems deeper than anything…The lyrics to some of that stuff…I just watched the Ziggy Stardust last concert this morning…it’s amazing you should see it…They really got heavy…I have this CD of one of their first shows when he was like Ziggy…and like, you can sense all this discomfort…and like he even says like this song is written by Ziggy Stardust like he’s sort of making fun of it…and then when you see this movie you can see he’s totally become that and it’s just too intense. Convince yourself that you’re really looking at a person…

Now the bare facts.
The album release is November 4, 1994 …NIANDRA LADES AND USUALLY JUST A T-SHIRT…He’d like to play dates…maybe some cities: LA, NYC, Paris, Holland, maybe Spain, certain places in Europe. The album is based on some character Marcel Duchamp plays in some movie Rose C’est La Vie. The album’s dedicated to Clara (Flea’s daughter), his favorite person. And if he plays gigs, it’ll probably be alone or maybe with a percussionist.

Could there be gigs with other bands?
…Perry [Farrell] hired me one night and then we never talked about it again…They never fired me, we just never talked about it again…”

It’s hard to sum this up, but I guess John’s review of the movie, Mad Dog and Glory, kind of captures the essence of our tete a tete.
What is is not equals 20 other things until I come right back to what is is not, that’s my review.

— Arty Nelson

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