We all know the inclination of John Frusciante to regularly retire from the world so he may come up with a more explicitely personal album (the rapid succes he has seen with the Peppers visibly hasn’t contented one of his most essential needs: the spiritual).
In accordance with this need, John quit the band in 1992. Shortly after releasing his second record with them he slammed the door shut behind him . Preyed on by general remorse, he found a sanctuary in hallucinogenics, & swapped the guitar for the paintbrush to express his soul losing its track.
Seven long years of solitude and suicidal tendencies were followed by the miracle of his return to the Red Hot Chilis. Californication evokes the effect immediately: the band had found its aura again.
But John, ever animated by his philosophical quest, pursued his interior voyages: between 2006 & 2008 he recorded what was to become his 10th and latest album: The Empyrean. Besides his guitar playing (magnificentely expressive, holding all the emotion of a man connected with his depths), this concept album, without implicitely strifing to it, places two entities before us: one is a person creative in search of answers from the world that surrounds him, the other is wed to a superior force which creates and sustains life. Frusciante doesn’t expect to be understood at first glance since it deals with an internal sightseeing of his own psychÃ©. A long route marked by symbols of death & rebirth. With this new album, it seems John wants simply to share his philosophy of life after many an “up” & “down”. At the start of the story we are told that the material aspect of life, stemming from the senses, provokes fear of death, but the return to the self by listening to your own creative potential fills us again with happiness and strength of purpose. The Cartesian philosophers (Spinoza, Liebniz) wouldn’t have disowned a theory that permits the spirit to be connected to a mysterious ‘creating’ force or ‘life’-energy. The notion of becoming one with this force is then a constant battle to stave off obscurity & develop our inspirations, that would be what John is trying to state here.
Complex and uninhibited
Frusciante is the incarnation of the contradiction. He speaks and writes a lot, but still could not be more reserved as far as his beliefs or personal opinions are concerned. Some say he is almost an autistic but when he is fired up with a topic, you can’t keep him. Look, just to explain the concept of the album, which is not quite one (concept-album) but it looks all the same, he wrote a real serial on his official website. According to the description of the guitarist, “The Empyrean” is the highest point of heaven (don’t look for the word has disappeared from the dictionary since the 30’s), the vacation area for the greatest divinity. But in his mind it is more about the state the most suitable to the inspiration for an artist. It also explains at length that, like the Holy Grail, it is in the depths of ourselves that we finally found a truth sought elsewhere. Even if it emphasizes that we should “never forget that there is an endless reservoir of creativity in the universe.”
Except for two songs, the texts are very personal, Frusciante recognizes it is often painful to confide as much, even in music. But from his personal experience, it is a whole philosophy he managed to develop.
John Frusciante:Whatever the motivations are, we all sometimes follow through unreachable goals. But we are human beings and I am convinced that we all have a force deep inside of us that drives us to bring us closer to the source of all creativity. After that, we can express this creativity in every possible way, being a guitarist, teacher, actor, workman … The ultimate goal is never really clearly defined, and it is not intelligible. But this should not stop us in our quest. “The Empyrean” therefore describes my development and my experiences with the creative forces since my childhood until now.
According to you, you felt sometimes the need to find other modes of expression than music like painting…
John Frusciante:It was vital not to get away from my creative energy and keep my relationship with art the purest possible. For a long time, painting was the only mode of expression that suited me. I had lost much of my passion for music after living very painful events. The way popular music uses art became unbearable to me. I think many musicians also lose their passion, but they continue because it has become their way of life and they can not do without all those people who flatter their ego. But these things mean nothing to me. It seemed much more important not to lose sight of the essence of art. So I moved my energy to painting. When I returned to music, for me it was like a rebirth. I realized that my relationship with music remained intact, which would not have been the case if I had not gave up for a certain period.
Guitarist & Bass: In your description of “The Empyrean” you even talk about death and rebirth to describe the prerequisite torments of the creativity, isn’t it a bit excessive, even if it remains in a symbolic way. Can’t we stay in some light or reckless, while being creative?
John Frusciante: I don’t use death in its literal meaning, like a final separation, but in relation to these elements which we must get rid of even if we believe they are part of our being and our personality. I think especially of the ego. So many people live by their ego and that is what drives all their actions. So there are parts of themselves that can be consciously destroyed. To get rid of the influence of his ego is a kind of death. Some may believe that their ego is all they are. The rebirth is what happens when you realize some aspects of your personality were useless to live. The part that died was much less essential to your existence than the one which was reborn.
Compared to its previous albums, “The Empyrean” is neither a work recorded with minimalist means, or a production with a comfortable budget. Frusciante both wanted to make the basis for all the songs alone, without anyone else than himself behind the mixing table, as in the days he recorded only four tracks, but he was looking at going on further the arrangements of his compositions, therefore the need for sophisticated studio equipment he installed in his home.
John Frusciante: In reality it is only on what I created in that moment that I am totally left to my own and I do not need anyone. For the album, there was a kind of transition period between the time I depended on others to record and the time I made my own way. But it was not about for me to rely anymore on an engineer behind the console. This one took increasingly the role of assistant to make sure I was not doing too much rubbish and that I might not put the fire by accident (laughs).
So you don’t have any voices coming from the cabin to tell you that it was wrong and that you need to do a new recording.
John Frusciante: Absolutely. But I must say I haven’t done nonsense for all that. I tried to remain as faithful to what encourage the development of the songs. Afterwards we made numerous experiments with editing and mixing. Everything was cut and sorted so that I can always correct a part without having to change the whole. I had not the slightest fear that the sounds are not always calibrated for a sequence to another, that’s the interest of music.
Isn’t it necessary for a musician, to have his mind free from material constraints and therefore not having to deal with a studio that is a complex tool?
John Frusciante: I like everything of what has to be done in a studio, even the cleaning of equipment, checking all the elements or otherwise. I find it very pleasant. In fact it is far less impressive than what we could see being a single musician on the other side of the glass. The more it goes, the more it becomes a problem of organization and a source of concern. Now, I don’t imagine a second turning back. It’s so wonderful to hear the speakers nearly the same as what we had in mind, which for me is the ultimate goal of recorded music. When you are forced to go through other people it’s as if we put filters on the course.
Guitarist & Bass: On “The Empyrean”, Frusciante called his mate Flea to play a few bass parts (four on the initial version of the album), Josh Klinghoffer, for keyboards or drums but also a renowned string ensemble (Sonus Quartet), or a real choir (The New Dimension Singers). Though, it could not be considered as a band but as what seems to be a pure representation of a solo album.
John Frusciante: My friend Josh has had a lot of ideas of songs, for years, which are on the record. He was my closest partner. There are only two songs on which I am playing every instrument. For all the others, we set up a basis with Josh and Flea on the bass. We finished it all off within four days and during the following months, we added various things, such as the string quartet or the choir.
Guitarist & Bass: Among the concepts Frusciante hates, the first one is the “super band”. This is what prevented him from having too many famous guests on his album. He would leave that to his friend Chad Smith. The Red Hot’s drummer has indeed been setting up an amazing band, called Chickenfoot, starring Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar, and his former partner back to Van Halen time, Michael Anthony.
John Frusciante: I am not interested in being part of a band anymore. Over the last ten years, I have spent more than for years and a half touring with a band. The Chili Peppers had to perform an incredible number of concerts. To me, this represents too long periods of time when you can hardly ever prove creative. I am having a show within two months but it will not be rock. I cannot tell anymore about it today as there are still things to define.
Guitarist & Bass: On this record, there is more than a song that would suit to a small band on stage…
John Frusciante: I know but, if I had to perform, even just a few shows, that would mean forming a band, rehearsing for one or two months to learn the songs and to adapt them to live. Then, there would be one or two months on the road. I cannot figure out giving up everything I am currently doing in studio for four months. I am playing music all day long at home and I am happier than ever this way. I also love playing on stage but I do not appreciate as much long journeys or waiting endlessly before being able to play…
Marr was on tour with Modest Mouse and he couldn’t spend more than one night in the studio for the album.
John Frusciante: For me, it was incredible. I work with abstract symbols to compose the music and the structure. I organise a song based on some precise chord progressions, which I can inverse and embellish. It’s like a plan to me. I learned so much while discovering Johnny’s particular chord combinations and his use of composed intervals, eleventh, ninth or thirteenth…I was really surprised to learn that he wasn’t composing music by following theoretical aspects, but that it was all instinctive for him. And as soon as he plugged in, it was like magic. I was behind the console with Josh and we suddenly looked at each other, thinking, “My god, he really has a unique way of playing!” Even if I replayed the exact same part as him, I would never, in all my life, sound like him. I’m convinced that Johnny and I will work together again in the near future.
Although he didn’t attend Hollywood’s Musician Institute (circa 1987 regularly), Frusciante is far from a failure, especially since we know he had an audition for Frank Zappa. All that, just to back out 5 minutes before his turn. However, the musician was ready to rock the scene. Like Robert Fripp, he loves to explore everything that you can get out of a guitar, even if that means being completely liberal with conventional technique. But he also knows to keep it simple and keep the guitar for musical accompaniment in all his songs.
With 10 studio albums and “From The Sounds Inside,” an album that was offered online, free of charge (with no less than 20 tracks), and some EPs, John Frusciante is a very prolific composer. This probably wouldn’t be the case if he focused too much on his range or the precision of his playing. Additionally, you can’t stop wondering if what would appear to be a mistake or a lack of skill with any other guitarist is completely intentional with him.
John Frusciante: With this album, my main goal was to play the type of music that one can listen to really loud late at night. I was trying to make music that has the same psychedelic effect as the albums I’ve always listened to, with their sounds that captivate me without my being distracted by other things. I concentrated on this goal and I wasn’t trying to imagine what anyone but me would be able to feel. I’ve always told myself that if I love the music that I make there will probably be people who will feel the same emotions, who will feel good in the same sphere as me. I appreciate a wide variety of music, from the cleanest pop, to music that would be considered avant-garde, to jazz, classical, electronica….I wouldn’t deny that after all these years with the Chili Peppers, the group’s music has also become a part of me. This album retraces my life and one can find some familiar elements, even if I didn’t conceive of the music in the same way as I did with the group.
The Music for the People
Despite the quality of such an album, it would be very difficult to imagine Frusciante unanimous, since he’s at the heart of the brotherhood of guitarist. But it’s definitely the only thing keeping this often perturbed musician from nodding off. He is an artist, in the true sense of the word. One has the right not to appreciate his music, just as he doesn’t force it on people. But you cannot deny that he is unique in his genre and that he is deeply engrossed, if not tortured, by his art.
John Frusciante: I remain convinced that the music industry turns around the ego and it’s creativity’s biggest enemy. Being successful has no purpose, but to inflate the ego and I’ve seen it destroy talented musicians one after the other. You need to isolate yourself from that world or it will end up destroying you. For me, music is a living entity. The industry has perverted it so much that it’s become lamentable. I dream of the day, probably soon, where we won’t need record labels. Over the years, they attained too great of a control on music and the only thing they did was try to apply a formula to force people to only listen to what they had chosen and then forced down the throats of the complacent radio.
John Frusciante, not wanting to be associated with those who, without being musicians, are ready to pay a fortune for an instrument that they’ll end up putting in a safe, refuses to consider himself a collector. He finds the price of certain vintage guitars to be extremely excessive, admitting that it is his dream to one day own a Gibson Les Paul from the 50s. It’s hard to believe that the enormous success of the Red Hots hasn’t allowed him to afford even the most expensive Les Paul…
John Frusciante: This is the first time that I’m using the same set-up on one of my solo albums as I did with the Chili Peppers. It’s pretty much the same one I’ve been using since I was 19. Strats and Marshalls are like an extension of my body.
At the moment, he’s attached to his three main Fender Stratocasters. His favourite is a 1962 Sunburst three-tone equipped with Seymour Duncan Vintage Strat pick-ups. The second is a 1955 Sunburst. And the third, a Red 1961.
John Frusciante: I think the only exception was that I used an SG for the solo at the end of “Central”. But we tried so many different combinations during the mixing that I’m not perfectly sure.
Frusciante, therefore, didn’t bring any small treasures out of the cupboard, like a Rickenbacker 365 Delux from the early 60s, a Gibson SG Les Paul Custom Cherry Red 1961, a custom Bartell St. George XK12 (12-chord), a Fender Jaguar 1962 Fiesta Red or a Gretsch White Falcon…
For the ampls, he used two regular Marshalls, a Major and a Jubilee. He also plugged into a Fender Bassman, here and there.
Frusciante doesn’t use effects, preferring to rework the sounds of the guitars using modular synthesizer. For distortion, he chose a Turbo Distorsion Boss, a Mosrite Fuzz Rite, a Maestro Fuzz-Tone or a Muff’n Tube Electro-Harmonix. For the reverb and delay, he used a Holy Grail Electro-Harmonix, a Digital Delay AMS, a EMT 250 or a Lexicon Prime Time. His preferred wah remains an Ibanez WH-10. To split the signal, he used a Chorus Ensemble Boss pedal.
Quote on Page 5
“With this album, my main goal was to play the type of music that one can listen to really loud late at night. I was trying to make music that has the same psychedelic effect as the albums I’ve always listened to, with their sounds that captivate me without my being distracted by other things.”