Ahead of an overdue return to these parts, one of the world’s biggest bands chat about their comeback to David Dunn
IT has to be said that when Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to bow out of the spotlight for a while even some of us fans were relieved.
For more than a decade it seemed there was barely a festival they hadn’t played.
They were almost omnipresent headliners at Leeds and when the sprawling Stadium Arcadium double album took them to Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium they were looking like a band stretching ideas too far.
Gone was much of the fun and potential for chaos that had drawn so many of us to the enigmatic Anthony Kiedis and bass-frying Flea.
Yet while the album that has them back in our lives – I’m With You – maintains the musical worthiness of the previous record, there’s a return of the playful, experimental spirit that made them exciting in the first place.
Kiedis compares the process of tapping into creativity with surfing. “When there are no waves you have to get out there and paddle and be strong and ready when the big waves come,” he says.
“Sometimes you don’t feel the cosmic thing, but you have to keep your chops good so you’re ready to ride. Take it like a job. That’s why it’s hard for bands to maintain and stay relevant over many years because sometimes it’s not fun, especially if you’re successful.”
While RHCP have long been a stadium act, some of their tune-making has often leaned towards a smaller, more intense environment. And none more so than some of the contents of I’m With You, an album vibrant with sounds and ideas new to the Chili’s toolbox.
It lends itself to the relatively intimate surrounds of the Motorpoint Arena, where they play on November 17, over, say, a West Yorkshire field.
“I want to see people taking a risk, like it all might go wrong and that’s what we have to do,” says Flea, first introduced to improvisation by his jazz bass-playing stepdad.
“Being good and playing the songs is not enough. Youth culture music, or rock music, has the potential for something crazy to happen, it can blow up at any moment. Entertaining isn’t enough.
“Our music has a lot of subtleties and a lot of different elements. After repeated listens you’ll get new things all the time and that makes me happy.
“Things that are beautiful don’t have one reason for existing, they have lots of reasons.
“I can remember the first time I ever thought of playing music. I was maybe six or seven, walking down the street. There was an alley and these older kids with trash can lids and brooms and they were pretending they had a band while they mimed to this hidden radio. I thought they were doing it and it seemed like the most amazing magic. And I still feel like that. It’s amazing to me now.”
Hence, for Flea at least, embarking on a fresh chapter with a band who in an early years review were described as delivering “surprising tightness in the face of chaos” was something of a no brainer, even if summoning the creative juices isn’t always easy.
“It depends where you are in your life. It waxes and wanes. It’s a difficult lesson for artists – especially young artists – but there are times when you don’t necessarily feel inspired.
“On this record I felt incredibly inspired the entire time. The thing is, are you willing to get in and work and roll up your sleeves. Igor Stravinsky sat at his piano every day. Some days it was boring and rubbish and his wife was chewing his ear off – it was mundane. And that’s what I do.
“You have to get in and do it. There are great moments of creativity that are like falling in love, they’re erotic and free falling, but sometimes it’s not fun. It’s work.”
A major factor in how that panned out came in the form of Josh Klinghoffer. Although recruited as an additional guitarist on the Stadium Arcadium tour, he joined full-time two years ago after John Frusciante quit and contributed vocals, keyboards and writing to I’m With You.
His colleagues are swift to acknowledge the effect he has had on the fresh batch of Peppers sauce. Describing it as beginning “like a simple romance,” Kiedis says: “He influenced the hell out of everything on this record; he influences my vocals too.
“He has tipped the chemistry. He’s changed all of us, but, at the same time, there’s an obvious thread from who we have been and who I have been. He’s challenged my brain. He’s made me grow a bit.”
Flea concurs: “Chemistry is so important for us. We had nearly a year uninterrupted to get to know Josh and we wrote a load of new music and him being in the band has had a huge effect on us all. John was a phenomenal musician, and Josh is great in his own right in a very different way. He’s subtle and sublime and looks at things in fresh way.
“We improvise and jam a lot. When you’re jamming with someone you’re listening and learning and you use your body and your mind – it’s spiritual. It’s nice to have someone making you react differently.”
And that is arguably why a band that 40 years ago played its first gig as a supposed one-off is still able to devise something new, relevant and exciting – albeit a slow burn in places – and ultimately still thrill the masses in the process.
“In 1985 the music we were doing was very intense,” concludes Flea. “It was coming from the end of the LA punk scene – and that was full-on and violent and aggressive and wild and intense. But we took the tightness in our groove and musicality very seriously.
“We worked very hard to make it a cohesive thing that could blow your face off.
“We took the rhythmic concept seriously – we were never slapdash
“When you’re making music you can’t think what anyone else is thinking. You have to make your organs dance in your body – the speed of the cosmos is the divine energy that flows through us as we create.
“We’ve always adhered to our code of finding that magic and honouring it.
“More than anything else, that’s the true guiding force for our band.”