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The Californication Of John Frusciante

In 1989, the 19-year-old Red Hot Chili Pepper fan John Frusciante was asked by the band to replace guitarist Hillel Slovak, who had tragically died of an overdose in 1988. Frusciante’s brilliant guitar work went on to help give the Peppers wide recognition with the album Mother’s Milk. And still further success in 1991, with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, an album which ultimately defined the funk rock sound of the band and is still touted as a staple for any true rock lovers record collection. Unfortunately, following the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, it seemed Frusciante had flown too high too fast, picking up the habits of his predecessor, and soon dropped out of the band. Former Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro stepped in, but the “magik” was never quite the same. 1999 finds Frusciante back in the saddle, with a clean bill of health to boot. The band’s recent release Californication gives us the RHCP sound we know and love – perhaps with even a touch more polish and sensitivity (I guess it comes with age) – along with the hope that the Chilis are back – for good.

NYROCK: In a way John made and broke the Red Hot Chili Peppers, his guitar work influenced your sound in a major way and was partial reason for the band’s success. When he dropped out, the spirit of the Peppers seemed to fade…

FLEA: It seemed like a good idea at the time. When Hillel died, I asked John to join us. We had had a couple of jam sessions together. I knew he liked us and I knew he was a great guitarist. I still think that he was the missing link, only with him were we able to create an album like Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

CHAD: But we should have seen it coming, you know. John was 18 or 19 at the time. He had no experience what it’s like to play in a band, let alone a band like RHCP. I’m a huge Zeppelin fan, and I think I would have freaked as well if I would have been asked to join Led Zeppelin as a drummer. It was pretty obvious that it couldn’t work out. We just didn’t see it at the time.

JOHN: It was too high, too far, too soon. Everything happened or better everything seemed to be happening at once and I just couldn’t cope with it.

NYROCK: John, it seems strange. I read that before you joined the Chilis you rarely drank, didn’t smoke pot because you were afraid it would interfere with 15-hours-a-day routine practicing guitar riffs. Then all of a sudden you became an addict. It seems a major jump from one extreme to the next.

JOHN: I really don’t know how it all happened. There wasn’t a single incident where I could put my finger on it and say, “This was it.” It was just hard for me to cope with it all. You’ve got to remember that I was an absolute RHCP fan. Their music meant everything to me, and all of a sudden I was a part of them. They called me “Greenie” because I was the youngest, but that didn’t do it. I don’t know what did it. I probably tried to fit in, make experiences the others made in a long time in a short time.

FLEA: We were never a band that promoted a clean and healthy lifestyle (laughs). I had drug problems. Anthony was a junkie. We were all battling with our addictions. It is easy to get sucked into this lifestyle, and I guess that’s what happened to John. He was too young and inexperienced to deal with it all. We were older and knew the game and had a hard time dealing with it. But drugs weren’t just a part of the band, somehow we grew up in Hollywood and drugs were part of the whole rock culture. They just suck you in.

NYROCK: Is this a second chance for the Chilis…

JOHN: t is a second chance for all of us. There is a weird chemistry between us. The way I play guitar, it only works when Flea is the bassist, and Flea can only write songs the way he does when Anthony sings. In a way we’re all co-dependent and we know it, but we also trust each other.

FLEA: It’s pretty simple. The old magic is back. Everything is possible and that’s a great feeling. We’ve grown as people and musicians. So, the music is different. It’s a different time, but it’s still great, even better than it was.

NYROCK: What is the secret of RHCP? The magic you mentioned? Apart from the fact that you work well together, how does it all gel?

FLEA: We’re jamming and that works really well. We don’t talk much about songs or how songs should be constructed. We just start to play and see what happens, how they develop. We improvise a lot. We find a groove. We experiment and somehow it turns into music. With Dave (Navarro), it wasn’t possible to work like this. With him it was more like a long thought process, endless discussions and it took a long time. We talked about what riff should be played and all that. With John it’s completely different. We just play. I don’t mean to dis Dave in any way. He is a great person and he’s a great guitarist, but the way we work is just different. You never know why it happens with some people and not with others. It’s pointless. It’s like asking why you fall in love. There is no real reason, nothing that can be explained or that would make sense.

CHAD: We also found out that we work a lot better if we know what we want before we enter the studio. It took us only three weeks to record the album.

NYROCK: What’s in the future for RHCP?

FLEA: It might sound funny, but I think we’ve got a very solid foundation, maybe the most solid foundation we ever had. Even Anthony seems to be far more relaxed and confident.

JOHN: Everything seems possible. It’s a great feeling.

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