Thanks to Kathie Davis for the transcript.
I blame Balearic, myself. We thought we had killed the spectre of stadium rock for good when indie fans embraced the dance floor, but all we’d done was start a shift in the history of the haircut.
Before the acid boom, men with long hair were accepted only if they wore it in a pony tail and worked in the video or advertising industries. Then along came the summers of love, and boys noticed that long curly hair looked good if you tossed it about under a strobe light. Suddenly girls were no longer embarrassed to admit that they liked Jon Bon Jovi, or thought Michael Hutchence was a bit of alright. And next thing you know, a group called Extreme are at the top of the charts, wearing their sandals and long, centre-parted locks with pride while singing some soppy rock ballad. And no one was laughing at them. Four years ago, a long-haired man wearing leather trews and matching waistcoat with perhaps a few love beads dangling on his bare chest would have been turned away from most clubs in Britain. Today, he’s king of the dance floor, and we’ve all got used to driving home from all-nighters in dry track pants while a pair of sweaty leathers sit up of their own accord in the back seat. Meanwhile, as the world danced, rock was watching and learning. Inspired by the acid clubs he began to frequent, Michael Hutchence collaborated with Todd Terry on a dance LP. The Red Hot Chili Peppers worked with George Clinton. Perry Farrell’s innovative Lollapalooza tours in America combined rock, rap and new wave experimentation on one bill.
Primal Scream became one of Britain’s best live groups by combing the energy of rock with the atmosphere of the rave, and were often accompanied live by Andrew Weatherall and Alex “The Orb” Patterson, both DJs who have more than a passing interest in thrashing guitars.
So, as techno becomes a monotonous, predictable ghetto sound – the heavy metal of the Nineties – and we endure a generation of new pop stars with complete charisma bypass, rock’n’roll is back with a vengeance.
Jeremy Healey, darling of the hip house set, is now causing controversy by dropping Nirvana records in the mix. Clubbers who wouldn’t have dreamed of going to a festival before flocked to Glastonbury this year, attracted partly by the all-night parties but also by the live music.
Wayne’s world, a film about two sad teen metalheads which would have come straight out on to video a few years ago, is now big box office, while their time-traveling idiot cousins Bill and Ted are teen heroes. Rapper Ice-T now has his own thrash metal group, Body Count.
Matt Dillon is starring in a film about a grunge rock group, Citizen Dick. And, offensive though Axl Rose’s politics may be, the only person who outshone him at the Freddie Mercury concert was Liza Minnelli. On the following pages, we offer a celebration of the new rock’n’roll, for nouveau Deadheads in America to Guns N’ poses at home. And, dance fans, do not despair – next month, DISCO!
Filmed by Gus Van Sant, photographed by Bruce Weber, produced by Rick Rubin and influenced by the whole multicultural spectrum of American music, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are an idea whose time has come at last. Finally, they’re red hot in America and cool all over.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS text MANDI JAMES
Photography CORINNE DAY
“We’re no goddam MTV geek band, y’know. We’re coming from listening to Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman, James Brown, Black Flag, and the Sex Pistols, Funkadelic – these are the people who tickled our willies over the years and fuelled our earliest fires, the real hardcore. We’ve come from pure jamming, playing a billion hours of shit no one will ever hear, getting cosmic with the lights down low, developing musical telepathy.” Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1992
“We want our music to give you an erection.” Anthony Kiedis (left), Red Hot Chili Peppers
Los Angeles is vibrating. This it’s not with post-riot tension or pre-quake jitters, but to the sound of the West Coast underground eruption overground. It’s a musical revolution that looks set to hit the American music industry with the same impact dance music has in Britain. Just as people started to write off rock’n’roll in the face of advancing technology, it kicked back. And how. The most hyperactive scene in America is a radical rock’n’funk, punk’n’roll fusion, with bands such as Faith No More and Living Colour diving into the stagnant pool of the mainstream charts and whipping up a storm. The pioneers of this adrenalin-driven groove are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose funked-up genius has inspired a whole movement and finally propelled the band to number one in the American charts with “Under The Bridge”.
As metal music becomes an increasingly archaic genre, a dumping ground for a multitude of musical sins – at one extreme losing its gutsy R&B roots to bloated, air-brushed egos and dull, dull music; on the other mutating into the gruntily, sweating macho arena of thrash – the Chili Peppers have knocked down barriers. Defying categorization, they’ve cross-pollinated genres and fused together the sexuality of earthy funk and the narcotic energy of puck in a high-voltage ram jam. Their success, along with the Seattle Sub Pop bands such as Nirvana, shows a youth culture finally rousing itself from the slumber of safe pop and MTV mush, discontent with the mainstream and hungry for some substance. LA is vibrating to the sound of the Chili Peppers. Flick through the numerous radio channels, and it’s their sound that leaps out and smacks you in the ear. Wander down the sidewalk circus of Venice beach, and it’s Chili Peppers all the way pumping out of the ghetto blasters.
“To me,” speculates long-time manager Lindy Goetz, “there’s just two kinds of music, and that’s good and bad. The Chili Peppers have never been lumped in with any one genre or category of music because they’ve always created their own groove. People like the band because they know, performance-wise, no one could ever out-perform the Chili Peppers. It’s that simple. They’re the strongest live band there is.
I meet the biggest buzz in town at a suitably appropriate venue, the Hyatt On Sunset Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, commonly known as the Riot On Sunset – a moniker bestowed in its heyday, when it allowed visiting bands such as Led Zeppelin to indulge in such rock’n’roll carry-ons as throwing TVs out the windows and having orgies round the roof-top swimming pool. Said poolside formed the setting for the last scene in Spinal Tap, and, incidentally, for our interview with Flea Balzary, aquamarine eyes and dubbed-up bass, and Anthony Kiedis, lyricist and violently vocal frontman,
Anthony, he of the steely conviction and softly spoken charm, body beautiful, and, like, intense gaze, has cycled a casual 50 kilometers over hill and dale to get here. He arrives snorting and puffing, dripping with sweat, talking enthusiastically about the adrenalin rush of endomorphines coursing through his body. He orders coffee and maple syrup, and we start with general chit-chat until he halts mid-sentence, wrinkles his nose and asks me to sniff the syrup.
“Does that smell like real maple syrup to you, or imitation?”
I shrug my shoulders, confessing I’m not keen on the stuff, and move on to the next question. “My God, you’re not keen on maple syrup!” interrupts Anthony. “Are you anti-cunnilingus as well? Did I make you blush a little bit with that comment? I’m sorry.”
The Chili Peppers are as renowned for their propensity for mischief making and mayhem as they are for their music, and, never ones to miss out on an opportunity to flex their, er, muscle, have turned off as many people as they’ve turned on. For years, despite building up a solid fan base through constant touring, they’ve languished on the borders of success. Dismissed as “bratty kids from Hollywood” and slated for being childish and offensive with songs such as “Party On Your Pussy” and “Sir Psychosexy”, the group only fuelled the fires of disapproval with their penchant for performing naked save for a strategically placed sock in their infamous “socks-on-cocks” routine.
“The first time I saw the Chili Peppers,” recalls Lindy, “was in this strip joint called the Kit Kat club. The band came on, I was just blown away by their energy and just knew there and then I had to get involved. They were about four numbers into their set when these strippers appeared on stage and started performing. These guys seemed real put out by this. I mean, they hadn’t asked for the strippers. So they disappeared and came back on stage butt naked with just socks over their cocks, picked up their instruments and let it rip. The manager of the joint freaked out. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it. That they still do this on rare occasions, years later, to me expresses a sincerity and vulnerability, that they’ll expose everything for their music.”
“People have a difficult time with the public perception of our personalities,” shrugs Anthony. “People get the impression that we’re sexist, or that we did something they choose to read as being sexist. I personally don’t feel consciously sexist, through maybe growing up in this society I can’t help having some inbred attitudes. But I certainly don’t look at women as being any less capable than men. Look, I’m sexually attracted to women, I don’t have a fear of voicing that in the music we make, but I don’t look at them as just sex objects.”
Flea’s analysis of the situation is far more blunt. “I don’t really care about what people think,” he retorts, fixing me with a hard stare. “We still get slammed for ‘Party On Your Pussy’. But, y’know, I have not met a sexually-active heterosexual man who is not attracted to the woman’s vagina and did not worship or respect it. That’s a very common sentiment among men and then we’re called sexist for singing about it. We’re just voicing carnal feelings which everybody experiences. What most people want is a sensitive caring relationship with someone with whom you can share all sorts of beautiful things. But sometimes, don’t you just wanna go out and get crazy and fuck like a wild banshee? People don’t like talking about it but they all have those feelings. Suppressing them only causes sexual frustration, bitterness and unhappiness.”
The moral guardians of right-wing America have unleashed their frustrations directly on to the Chili Peppers and their libidinous songs, slapping “Parental Advisory” stickers on their records, ensuring the band have, up until recently, had only minimal airplay.
“Censorship just scares the hell outta me,” confessed a suddenly pensive Anthony. “That these agencies actually spend the time and energy to censor art, it kills me. That has to be fought against at all cost. They’re trying to pass this new bill called the Erotic Music Act, where you would have to be 18 years old to buy an album that has a lyrical labeling on it. Explicit lyrics stickers never actually bothered me, to tell you the truth, because I should hope our music is explicit: art should never be vague or nebulous. But when you start preventing people from buying stuff because of their age… I mean, who’s going to decide if it’s erotic or not? These people are morons, they’re the kind of people you wouldn’t want on a jury convicting you.”
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS are not just another crusty rock band, they are a full-time commitment, a brethren, an attitude, a way of life. At a time when too many people in the music business are too immersed in shifting units and selling product, to many they represent the dying embrace of a salty old punk ethic of do or die for your music.
“One of our biggest ingredients is punk rock,” enthuses Flea, plucking at holes in his jeans. “If you tried to bake our cake without punk rock in there, it would be flat. We never particularly borrowed from any bands, I’m just talking about that particular type of energy, that attitude and that anarchistic, carefree element within our music.”
It’s an element that comes with a price. Nine years since their inception, five albums, one EP and two label changes later, the band are finally enjoying their first whiff of success having endured countless band member changes, the drugs-related death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak and Anthony’s near self-destruction.
“That drug stage actually gave me an incredible opportunity,” he says. “I fucked up so bad in my mid and early twenties on drugs, I had no choice but to change if I wanted to stay a productive, creative, happy, and alive human being. The band gave me something to want to get better for. They fired me once, which was probably a good thing, because I had become kind of a sloth and I couldn’t do anything, I wasn’t making rehearsals and I wasn’t writing. The guys tried to hire in some other geek and it just didn’t fly, so when I’d kicked heroin, they let me back in.”
The group have finally succeeded because they are born survivors, coming through upheavals and traumas which would have wrecked lesser bands. Anthony describes Hillel’s death as “totally tragic”. We all loved him so much. He was such a huge part of our band and our lives, his death was perfectly devastating because it left such an aching gap. But through it all, we knew that band was worth continuing. We’ve been really unlucky, but then we’ve also been extremely lucky. In a way trauma can bring you together, if things are going too smoothly you can become complacent. When I look at Flea and I think of all that we’ve been through together and the bond that’s there, I know we’re really strong, that we have courage to succeed.”
Flea and Anthony founded the band back in ’83 along with Hillel Slovak and original drummer Jack Irons. The two go way back for Fairfax High School, where goofing around and apprenticeships with various bands finally metamorphosed into a full-time commitment. “Initially Jack, Hillel and myself played in a band called What Is This, and Anthony was just our friend who, up until then, had never entertained any ideas about being involved in music at all. He wanted to be an actor.”
Going to see Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five quashed the acting aspirations, as Anthony clicked into hip hop and discovered the perfect vehicle for articulating his poetry, developing his own particular drawling style: somewhere between rant rap and singing. Meantime downtown LA and its hybrid of cosmopolitan cultures was exerting its downtown LA and its hybrid of cosmopolitan cultures was exerting its own particular influence on their music. “LA is definitely essential to having us end up the way we are,” agrees Flea. “But then so is America in general, because in America, regardless of race and colour, you are exposed to all the different types of music that originated here, like jazz, blues, funk, hip hop and rock’n’roll. We never had a notion of adhering to one particular genre. We have absolutely no rules or regulations when it comes to playing music in this band.”
Despite the fact that their second album, the highly accomplished “Freaky Stylee”, was produced by George Clinton as a homage to the dirty P-Funk that inspired them, mayor success eluded the Chili Peppers until their last album, their first for Warners, “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic”. On it, the band brilliantly reinvented themselves, not by dramatically changing their music, but by calling in Def Jam main man Rick Rubin to draw out their finest features.
“We met Rick years ago when he first worked on the Beastie Boys’ record,” recalls Flea. “We wanted to work with him back then, but things were strained in our band due to drugs and various other things, we didn’t hit it off and it was kind of a weird vibe. I can’t think of anyone better at producing youth culture music. The others weren’t keen on the idea of working with him at first, especially Anthony ‘cause he thought Rich was Satan’s servant, into Slayer and all that death metal stuff. These guys are bests of friends now.”
There’s nothing fancy about “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic” – no high-tech pyrotechnics or slick production, just “microphones, amplifiers, drum sticks and loads of sweaty exertion”. But with Rubin at the controls, the band were able to mature their sound without ironing out the rough spots or compromising their robust energy. Advocating their by now familiar philosophy, in which New Age spirituality and lusty party animal ethic unite, the band displayed the same frenetic energy as always, but showed a talent for delicate melodies and acute personal observations. They also displayed a vulnerability and honesty with songs such as “My Lovely Man” – a prayer to the much-missed Hillel – and the ballad “Under The Bridge’, about a place where Anthony would go to score drugs in his youth, which draws from the “despair and isolation I felt as an addict”. With this huge American hit, they are finally enjoying a taste of the major success that has eluded them for nearly nine years, sticking two fingers up at those who felt that the band would never venture beyond the locker room mentality of boasting about the size of their jock straps.
“Y’know,” states Flea, shuffling impatiently in his seat, “Anthony writes so many lyrics that are obviously straight from the heart, but no one’s bothered to look at them before. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are about a love for everybody; we’re not misogynistic, we’re not homophobic, we’re not racist. We care about humanity.”
THIS SUMMER THE BAND are to confirm their place in the mainstream by topping the bill in this year’s Lollapalooza festival, which also includes Ice Cube, the Jesus And Mary Chain, Ministry, Lush, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. An idea conceived and beautifully executed last year by Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrel, Lollapalooza was one of the most important and exciting bills to hit America for years, the travelling circus of diverse acts that sold out huge stadia across the states. The success of the festival indicates the new status of alternative, maverick music, a fact the Chili Peppers are peachy keen to establish. “Lollapalooza is just a really cool concept,” enthuses Anthony. “The idea of putting together a bill of alternative music makes for a perfect festival that kids can’t help but just wanna come. People are hungry for fun and have just got fed up with mainstream mediocrity. They have a longing and a need and a desire to make a connection with true musical entities.”
Flea, characteristically less ebullient, has a more practical approach to the prospect. “Sure Lollapalooza is a cool gig and we’re gonna go rock it and do our thing,” he sniffs. “But it’s like, we also rocked it eight years ago at some little dive in Pittsburg for 50 people. You can’t be a really great band unless you’re a touring band.”
BEARING THAT FACT in mind, consider this. In May, just before they were due to hit the Lollapalooza road, the band were dropped by the latest bombshell. Guitarist John Frusciante, who joined the group shortly after Slovak’s death, abruptly quit after a gig in Japan, forcing them to abandon an extensive tour and return home, gutted, in search of a new guitarist. Even superstar status can’t detract from disaster and stress – which explains why throughout the interview Flea, peeved at being disturbed during frantic rehearsals, looks like he’d much rather be elsewhere. “It was just perfectly devastating when John quit,” sighs Anthony. “It was like catastrophe all over again. We gain a family member after Hillel dying, which was like your heart getting squashed like a grape under a rhino’s stomp, and then John comes to us like this great blessing from I don’t know where and we all fall in love with him and his creativity. Then my man just snaps and departs.”
Just 18 when he joined the band, another earnest pupil of the punk ethos and staunch Chili Peppers fan, Frusciante rapidly graduated from garage band member to alternative icon. Finding the pressure too hot to handle, he left the band before he lost it. Anthony, though, is fairly philosophical about his departure, reflecting that it was “just another adversity slap in a succession of many”.
“Musicians and artists tend to be these crazy, delicate, fucked-up freaks of nature, which I love, but they’re susceptible to snaps. John was so young when he joined the band, and then we started getting really popular – which is a strange thing, ‘cause the Peppers have always really been an underground commodity. Then the world starts embracing you, and it’s kind of a hard thing to deal with in some ways. All that recognition and attention, that’s not much fun especially if you’re like this timid weirdo like John was.”
Yet in true Chili Peppers style, they have salvaged themselves from near disaster, rescued in the nick of time by an angel in the guise of Arik Marshall, their new guitarist. “It’s been really stressful,” winces Anthony. “Because if you think about the fact that we’ve been a band for nine years, trying to get nine years’ worth of love and magic and creative exploration into a one-month period is kind of a tall order. But we’ve found this character, Arik, who’s a really beautiful person. That’s real important to the band. There’s got to be a brotherhood. I mean, we auditioned guitarists that were just mind-boggling, they could play every note imaginable in about three seconds, y’know, but there’s more to being a Chili Pepper than being able to play your ass off. It’s a belief in what you’re doing, being truthful, honest, having integrity.”
It’s this perceived “integrity” which, above and beyond the music, mayhem and mishaps, has finally won the band not just disenchanted youth, but the bohemian set. Music lovers dig them because they “aurally and visually kick ass, and look way cool”; photographers, directors, models and movie stars dig them because they “look way cool… and kick ass.”
“As far as the image thing and the tattoos and the way we look, we’re just being ourselves y’know,” grimaces Flea at the mention of image. “We hang out and do what we do, y’know. We’ve never been a part of any scene and we were never accepted into anybody’s scene – we just did our own thing. We couldn’t care less about being in vogue, we just play music because music is sacred, take it or leave it. There’s none of that bullshit aspect about us. It’s not that we’ve got so much integrity, it’s just that so many bands have so little.”
The days of the dumb blond rock star, born to be mild, destined to be dominated by mainstream market demands, look numbered. Because, as they so stridently stress, the Chili Peppers care passionately about their art. They’ve worked with top photographers such as Bruce Weber, who transmuted their square jaws and attitude poses into grainy black and white, and cult film-maker Gus Van Sant, who directed the video to “Under The Bridge”. They are namechecked by hip and happening actors River Phoenix (who Anthony hung out with when filming Point Break.) They walk the tightrope of credibility and success, and behind the ornately tattooed brawn are intelligent and articulate. Above all, they realize that there’s more to life than rock’n’roll rigmarole.
“We’ve always liked music for the reasons of human expression which comes from the soul, not for like stupid haircuts and shit like that – that’s what it’s like in England,” accuses Flea. The Chili Peppers are none too fond of their transatlantic cousins. The last time they were over here was for a Top Of The Pops appearance, which was cancelled when the band appeared in full Victorian regalia protesting at the fact they had to lip synch. “So we started goofing around. I was bending over and Chad was spanking me with the guitar and they were, like, ‘You can’t do that, so we were, like, “Bye!”
“The English music scene sucks,” continues Flea. “It’s terrible. Every time I go over there I’m appalled. This whole thing about the acid house trip being free and wild and everyone being just so loving and open. Bullshit! If you go in there wearing the wrong thing people think you’re an asshole. I went to a rave in Britain and this guy comes up to me going. ‘Peas and chips, peas and chips’. I was like, ‘What are you on about, dude?’ and he goes, ‘Peas and chips – Ecstasy and trips,’ When I said no, the guy turned and told me to get the hell out of there. To me that’s what it’s like there, if you don’t fit into the current trend there then you’re out. I think that’s really lame.”
The Chili Peppers have finally arrived. So is this what the world’s been waiting for, as the double platinum album sales in Australia, America and Canada tell us?
“This ain’t no overnight success story, y’know,” stresses their agent Trip Brown. “I’ve been with these guys almost from the beginning and they’ve worked damned hard, paid their dues and are now reaping their rewards. The band have got to where they are through good old-fashioned legwork, not through company hype. They’ve played every dive from here to Shitsville probably twice, and every time they play a gig they put in 200 per cent, whether it’s to a crowd of 50 or 5,000.
Pausing briefly to contemplate success before he cycles off in search of another adrenalin rush, Anthony for once seems stuck for words. Then he concludes: “It’s taken the world a long time to warn up to us. If you compare it to the love-making process, we came out with the first record and we were kissing the world, caressing the neck and the ears. With the second record, we were taking off the shirt and fondling the breasts of the world. The third record, we got down to the panties; by the fourth, things were getting very hot and it was about to happen, things were getting hard and soft and wet. The fifth record, we finally just flipped it in and now with Lollapalooza it’s, it’s…”
“Ha!” grins Anthony, reclining in his chair. “No, it’s kind of like the post-coital smoke”.
“Breaking The Girl”’ the second UK single off the “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic” album, is released on August 3 on Warner Bros