By Mary Williams
Daily Bruin (U. California-Los Angeles)
(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES — Anthony Kiedis sits in the front of the classroom, looking at the faces of each of the 15 eager University of California-Los Angeles students who are about to interview him. He must be aware that the eyes he looks into as he scans the room are taking him in carefully — those students jotting down notes describing the red pants he is wearing, the way his black hair falls across his forehead, and the tanned muscles peeking out beneath his T-shirt. He seems undaunted by this.
After all, the Kiedis-fronted Red Hot Chili Peppers have been around for nearly 20 years, and have survived drug addictions, a seemingly endless string of lineup changes and other forms of high-profile controversy. The group was reunited with guitarist John Frusciante in 1998, and its 1999 album “Californication” was a multiplatinum hit; expectations for its next release, as yet untitled, are high.
Coming to UCLA for this interview is somewhat a return to the past for Kiedis. He attended the university for one year, before deciding it wasn’t for him and quitting.
“Coming back here gave me some creepy feelings,” he said.
“I hated it here. I really did. My personal experience at that time didn’t meld with any kind of conformity or structured environment. But I also remembered the positive things. I love certain ideas about school. I love what it does to your head to be forced to read and write. I had a couple of cool teachers, but the rest just terrified me.”
Earlier that day, Kiedis was recording vocals for the new album, to be released in June. The band’s sound continues to evolve, with Kiedis’ lyrics starting to delve into relationships and Frusciante starting to play keyboards. When describing a few songs off the album, Kiedis used words like “sparse” — a revolution considering the band’s roots in punk and funk.
In another change in sound, Kiedis is incorporating more harmonies into his vocals on this album than on the last, describing the effect as something like “the Bee Gees meets the Beach Boys.” He says he is also incorporating his feelings about his ongoing breakup with his girlfriend of three years into his lyrics.
“I’ve never felt comfortable writing ‘love songs’ or ‘relationship songs,’ but it’s sneaking in there and certainly not in a typical way,” Kiedis said. “When I read through my lyrics I can see where she’s kind of the initial point of inspiration.”
One song that Kiedis is particularly proud of off the new album is “Don’t Forget Me,” which he describes as a “painfully simple song.”
“It’s a cornerstone of our record, because no one’s ever heard us play anything like this,” he said. “This song is my ideal of what God is, and what life is, and what this whole picture’s all about, and how it’s just everything and everywhere, and the good and bad and the in between, and the experiences of a lifetime. … I think it will be our opening song for the next three years or so because it puts us in such a good mood.”
As excited as Kiedis is about this album, he said he is still nervous about it. The band has written 30 songs, from which they plan to choose 15. The sheer number of tracks they are recording makes him feel that he’s lost perspective.
“I can’t even tell if it’s good anymore,” Kiedis said. “I mean, there are days I feel like this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done, and there are days that I’m like, ‘This is just going to die in the water.'”
The fact that the band is still recording after 20 tumultuous years is somewhat amazing. The Chili Peppers have made it through a total of 14 lineup changes, as well as drug addictions that killed the original guitarist, Hillel Slovak, and sent Kiedis to rehab twice. Having spent more than half his life on drugs, Kiedis, at age 39, is now clean, although he declined to say for how long.
His drug use began at age 11, when his father gave him marijuana. By 18 he was injecting heroin. His father encouraged Kiedis to use drugs, at the same time introducing him to art, literature and sex, all at an early age.
This drug addiction, having taken root at an early age, was not shaken by Slovak’s death, although the loss of a best friend was a terrible blow to Kiedis and the band as a whole.
“People that aren’t alcoholics by nature or drug addicts by nature, would think, ‘Hey, your best friend died doing drugs, why don’t you just stop?’ It’s really not a rational illness. It’s completely irrational,” he said.
Drugs were not the only taboo subject that was tied to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One other source of controversy was the group’s focus on sex. From the famous image of the band members covering themselves only in tube socks, to Kiedis’ often explicit lyrics, the group has sometimes gotten more attention for being shocking than for being musicians.
Kiedis said he never saw anything wrong with addressing human sexuality, and that performing live is a feeling comparable to sexual energy.
“Performing, especially songs that were inspired by sexual energy, is definitely earthy,” he said. “You feel really connected to Earth and that paganistic sensation of flesh and touch and inside and wet. It’s great to be all intellectual. It’s great to be ethereal, but let’s not underestimate the beautiful feelings of our physical existence. I’m not saying I get an erection while I’m playing, but I definitely feel the spirit of sexual energy.”
Throughout all of the ups and downs, the band has clung to its individuality.
Kiedis said he doesn’t listen to much modern music for the fear that it might influence him and change his sound.
“I’ll listen to stuff that has nothing to do with what I’m doing, like electronic music or hard-core hip-hop,” he said. “I don’t want to have contemporary influences, and I don’t really want to have obvious musical influences.”
Also, he hesitates to train his voice too much, even though he has been criticized for having a lack of range. He takes voice lessons only to protect his throat from permanent damage caused by performing.
“I don’t want to learn and study so much that I start sounding like somebody else. I don’t want to become a classically trained-sounding guy because it really does affect your tone,” Kiedis said.
There is a bit of a contradiction in Kiedis’ insistence on individuality and his band’s participation in mainstream music culture. He is happy to be played on radio stations that he accuses of being too homogenized and won’t listen to. He doesn’t watch MTV and called an interview on its hit show TRL “robotic,” but said he doesn’t mind appearing on the show himself in support of a new album.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I just can’t relate to MTV. I’m still going to make a video and hope they play it. I don’t think that’s a reason to not participate.”
Kiedis explained that as long as he puts out the best work he can, he will be proud of it. It doesn’t matter where it’s played as long as people hear it.
“I like throwing a little something different in the mix for these kids that are used to getting soulless pap dribble on their plate every day,” he said. “I like to play something new — the best I have to offer them. I believe in what we do and I’m all for shoving it down the throats of the young kids out there.”
Sorry no scans. Thanks to Anton for a heads up for this text.