Author: Andrea Lai
Translation for i-m.net: Andrea Maselli
Original article: John Frusciante va al club
Date: November 11th, 2020.
Los Angeles 1987. The Red Hot Chili Peppers play the soundtrack of the present perched on skateboard ramps. Around them white, brave and reckless boys lay the foundations of the street culture that from the top of those ramps landslide until today, up to the Balenciaga sneakers.
London 1994. The black kids of the inner city rummage through mom and dad’s records to find the sounds with which to create the music of the future. They choose telluric bass and misunderstood funk. Some of them go from drug dealers to DJs and invent jungle music, which will become the music of a community: bass music, whose global popularity will be thanks, in more recent years, to a white boy, new Elvis, called Skrillex.
Two distant cultural moments, but which share the urgency of a soundtrack for the energies that are unleashed while facing the advanced border of the present. Moments that John Frusciante combines in Maya, his new album produced during one of the breaks at Red Hot Chili Peppers. Vertical music on a genre, the UK jungle, in a surprisingly authentic way. Not a dance record and not a retro record, full of amen breaks, but intelligent, mental, electronic music that has the authentic flavor of the love of English club culture of the mid-nineties.
John Frusciante Maya – Interview Los Angeles and London, sun and rain, white music and black music, ascents and falls. The continuous bounce of music between the United States and England not only influences the macro of genres, but also the artists you least expect.
“I’ve always been very connected,” explains Frusciante, “with English music since I was a child. I’ve always loved our cloudy, rainy days, just as the English appreciate their sunny days, which we in LA take for granted. When I was a child I wore my coat on the beach.”
Maya is a jungle record, a genre record, with a sound so believable that it can stand organically next to Shut Up And Dance or Warp records. Why a jungle record?
I like Squarepusher and Venetian Snares and listening to the jungle helps me to go back to the source of their sounds and see if there is something I can change from the beginning. It would make no sense to try to be more complex than Venetian, just as it would make no sense to try to improve Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.
I went back to the first jungle and looked for another approach to that way of working the sound”
So I went back to the first blues, in this case the first jungle and I looked for another approach to that way of working the sound.
Listening the album seems to be produced by an English DJ, a lover of the first jungle scene (even if the album sounds very 2020), inspired by a reverse attack. Was it like that?
I actually listened to jungle for twelve years, even while I produced Maya. I think in a way the music started again with the rave of the nineties. At the time post-punk had run its course and the music started again from a new point thanks to The Orb, Future Sound Of London, The Prodigy and all that hardcore English jungle that was the sound of a whole new world. Artists like DJ Hype, Remarc and Dillinja were my inspiration.
It is surprising to find you on the Venetian Snares label. How was the musical journey from LA skateboard ramps to the Timesig? How did you go from guitarist to electronic music producer (and vice versa)?
“When I first met Venetian Snares we were resting, just like we did at Chili Peppers concerts in the mid-eighties. When I was a little nine-year-old skateboarder in 1979, I liked punk because it was the fastest, weirdest, rawest music I knew. I found these characteristics in IDM and breakcore in the early 2000s. Aaron [Venetian Snares] and I grew up listening to the same music. He first heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer when he was in the womb and I discovered that stuff in my father’s collection when I was very young. The odd time mark is in both their blood.
On Bandcamp, about Maya, someone commented: the album is so unexpected and yet so much Frusciante. How do you transpose the JF sound into such different musical styles?
I think some people are born with a certain sense of melody. I have an idea of what mine was since I was fourteen years old. But then there’s the question: what to do with it? It’s like the man who, after deciding he was going to be a writer, memorized the entire dictionary and then said: “Well, I know all the words. Now all I have to do is put them in the right order”. I had an idea of what kind of feelings I was going to express, but shaping them was a constant struggle.
“When I was a teenager I wondered what I should say as a musician. On the one hand I wanted to express what I felt and at the same time I saw that artists were expressing themselves within rather narrow boundaries. At first I thought it was paradoxical, but I came to discover that working within boundaries is the thing that most encourages originality. So I set limits for myself, in different ways for different situations.
On Maya I go as far as I can within those limits. In the last twelve years I have learned to apply my sense of melody to the drums and to use melodic instruments to support the drums. This is the opposite of melody and rhythm roles in pop / rock. I have also learned to think in terms of spatial sound relationships rather than just notes and rhythms. It is the notes that serve the sound, rather than the sound that serves the notes.
Music is about the soul, but it is also about finding new ways to use your mind and we have the history of recorded music to help us do that. I always find new ways to look at music and new lines to think about. We are lucky to live during this phase of recorded music. There are more possibilities now than ever before, it’s really about understanding how to limit yourself and then channel as much energy as possible into those boundaries.