The Spirits That I’ve Summoned

After the immense success of “Californication”, the Red Hot Chili Peppers went on a hiatus. Ex- and now-again-guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE spent this break with the recordings for his third solo record “To Record Only Water For Ten Days”- an individual pop album by a man, whose excessive past has left clear tracks, but who finally loves nothing more than music.

It had been one of the most bizarre concerts of the still young year, which took place in Hamburg on January 30th in the “Prinzenbar”, a small club next to the Reeperbahn. Journalists of all kind wanted to see the notorious guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The man, who had left the band on the height of their career due to a drug problem, and who joined the band again after a both protracted and hard rehab, to record “Californication” with the Chili Peppers – the album that should top surprisingly all the success of the past. What they got were songs that lacked of any concept, performed by a man, who seemed to kill his own demons with his shrieking voice.

On the next day he’s sitting in his suite in the “Park Hyatt Hotel” and orders muesli for breakfast, just as I’ve entered the room. Frusciante’s a vegetarian and a non-smoker. During the interview he’s drinking two litre of water with hurried sips. The physical scars of his heroin addiction can’t be ignored, as can’t be the psychical ones. He answers committed, but escalated, repeats and contradicts himself often. Nevertheless, and that should remain the main impression, here sits a man who has discovered his love for life anew recently.

Was it fun yesterday evening?
I thought it was odd. At the beginning I didn’t feel that well because the reactions weren’t that euphoric. After some time I realized that that was probably the mentality of the people in Germany. I just did my best and in the end it was fun.

Even though this was only your third solo concert, the reserved atmosphere didn’t seem to make you insecure.
That’s because I have enough experience in playing my songs while my friends are around, and a gig with an unknown audience doesn’t differ much from that, in my opinion. Besides that, friends are honest and they tell you when you’re bad. If I manage to entertain them, then I’m also able to do that with strangers. I played really every song, which I wrote in the past three years, to one of my friends first.

You’ve covered David Bowie, Radiohead and R.E.M. on stage.
Yeah, Radiohead, above all, is one of my favourite bands. I love their new album and I think it’s cool, when people minimize the guitar in a rock band, when they also bring out something else than the common elements. ‘Kid A’ is futuristic because it’s a kind of different, almost electronic music.

You are also a musical minimalist. A trait of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is that you don’t play more than necessary.
The space, I’m moving in, when I play the guitar, isn’t built up by any basics or influences. I haven’t got any rock’n’roll – or blues- background. I rather proceed like a programmer. I want to put every note in its place and I try to prevent things that are unnecessary because they steal the space for the atmosphere. That wouldn’t be good for the whole picture.

Many people surely came yesterday because you play in the Chili Peppers. Does this annoy you?
No. I’m a proud person.

When you’ve left the band, it had been due to reasons which become present again: The band’s totally successful, everyone wants to talk to you and right after this interview there’ll be a photo session again.
Everyone describes it as if I would be the anti-star, but that’s not true. I quit at that time because I had to fix things with myself. Just as we started to tour for ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, my creativity was on its height so far. I had made music for ten years then and I felt that I was able to create wonderful things. The voices in my head had told me that I could stop and be happy nevertheless, right after we had finished the album. My creativity would have flown on forever. But the decision to go on tour blocked this creativity. Life on the road is dull and at the same time extroverted. In the end, after six months, happened what was bound to happen: I’ve had enough. I realized that the voices had told me the truth. I had to stop immediately. Before we toured I had felt like the best guitarist of all time, but half a year later like an amateur. I hated my playing. Everything I needed was to be with myself instead of making stupid faces for the photo sessions, giving superficial interviews and jumping around on stage. There are surely some bands out there which stop those things, when they don’t want to do them. But I was surrounded by people who were all angry with me because I didn’t want to do the things, they wanted to do. I made my whole surroundings feel unhappy and they all hated me. It was a hopeless situation which did nothing else than destroy me. Mostly because I knew that I actually wanted to do something else. Something, that wasn’t respected by the society or by the media, but something, that was important for me. And it did work. Today I’ve got a deeper understanding of things than many people will ever have. I let myself fall out of this pattern without being afraid of being a bit in emptiness. It ended with the fact that I’ve experienced a lot of extras in life.

You can’t be serious in saying that everything had been okay during the break from the band? There were some extreme lows.
Yeah, sure. The life style, I’ve been leading, destroys a person normally. My life was partly a vicious circle, which didn’t lead anywhere. I was frozen and creatively dead, but I was still me. It took some time until I again gained the determination to change my life into that what my music expresses. Then I went back to the Chili Peppers and I played the guitar every day again. Before that, there had been months where I hadn’t even touched it. My technique was at its absolute low, when I first met Anthony, Flea and Chad. I’ve worked hard since then. My lifestyle had surely destroyed me in every aspect that is relevant for people, but with myself happened something that cared for the fact that after the low I’m feeling better than I did ever before. I started completely anew. I see everything clearer and I live a healthier life. Drugs aren’t good for the creativity. But they gave me the possibility to leave the world and to concentrate on art. I saw many supernatural things during this time.

Was that really worth it?
Yeah, definitely. I’m a person who regrets. I’m so proud of my new album as well as of the last Chili Peppers record. They both are better than anything I’ve ever hoped to make. How should I ever regret something? What counts in the end is that I’m happy. I constantly meet people who are dissatisfied. I, on the contrary, wake up every morning and with my head I lay on the pillow and think, ‘Oh boy, I love this life so much!’ Nevertheless I can advise anybody not to take drugs. If you want to loose everything that’s important to you, then become a junkie, but if you want to see this world as the person you are and love it, then don’t do it. If you take drugs then you’ll become nothing else than a chemical. I’ve got friends who take drugs. Not one of them has an advantage through that. I’m definitely an exception and that’s because those voices told me that I should take drugs. Most people slip in there by mistake – but not me. I was told, ‘Become a junkie!’ And so I did it because I saw the reason inside of me. It was the same, when I decided to quit again. But now let us talk about something else. There are so many things I rather want to talk.

About what do you want to talk then?
About my record, for instance.

It’s much more structured than the previous one. I had my problems with “Smile From The Streets You Hold”…
Me too. So I decided to take it off the market.

Your lyrics are more positive than in the past.
Of course, because I’m a happier person now. At the beginning of the recordings to my debut it was okay, but it got gradually worse. On the second album it was worst. Today, on “To Record…”, I’m a different person. Somebody, who wants to create something beautiful in every second of his life. On the first two records I partially didn’t compose something, but I took fragments and improvised vocally over them. Only now I became more careful. Meanwhile I can read my lyrics just like that, without music. I’m still the same person, but the music comes not even from the same place than in the past. I’m a person who has died and came to life again. Everything I did in the last three years feels fresh and new. I feel as if I was only born three years ago.

Where and how did you record that album?
Alone in my house with my sampler.

Where do you live?
During the recordings I lived in a village named Silverlake, near Hollywood, in a guest house. It was a good place. It had the perfect size for me at that time. I had my records, my sampler and my recorder, a small kitchen and a TV set, where I watched Andy Warhol movies. It was a simple existence which suited that time.

Is Los Angeles your home?
Yeah. I’ve got like six good friends there.

Strange city, or not?
There are a lot of places that are more beautiful than L.A., but when you grew up there, it’s difficult to live somewhere else. I’m a person who spends much time with himself. I play the guitar or go to a museum or to a record store. I don’t have to be in the middle of it all. If I want to go somewhere, then I’ll go to some beautiful places: Woods, beaches and so on. But most of the time I’m home alone.

Now you also look like you wanted to do many things rather than giving an interview.
You know, today’s not really my best day. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t say anything the whole morning. There are days, when I like to talk to someone else. Once a guy gave me some headwords the whole evening and I philosophized about them. That wouldn’t work now. I feel like I’d been flung around in a washing machine for an hour.

If I had to tell someone right now, what the Chili Peppers and your solo work is about, I would tell them: Wherever you have played, whatever has happened around you- there had always been a moment when you and Flea came together on stage and looked into each others eyes and jammed.
Yeah, exactly that’s what it is about. Did you see the show where we ended with ‘Search and Destroy’ and Flea and I stayed on stage? That was cool! Chad and Anthony stopped it, I turned off the distortion, and we played five to six minutes alone. We let the energy of air flow through us. Everything we played, seemed to be perfect.

—Jochen Schliemann

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