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Interview:
Chili Peppers On A Red Hot Streak
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

The Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t start writing songs last year with the intention of making a two-CD set.

“We just got on a roll,” Chad Smith, the group’s Detroit-raised drummer, says of “Stadium Arcadium,” the 28-song opus that became the Chili Peppers’ first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart when it was released in May.

“It was coming out in good quality and good quantity. People were bringing in stuff from home, and the jams were really good. We were, like, ‘Hey, let’s make all this music,’ and then, ‘Oh well, we should put it all out at once!’ I couldn’t have told you that would happen.”

“Stadium Arcadium,” which has sold more than 5.3 million copies worldwide, is part of the most successful roll — creatively and commercially — in the band’s 23-year history. Since guitarist John Frusciante returned to the band in 1998 after a nearly seven-year split, the group has logged two other Top 5 albums (1999’s “Californication” and 2002’s “By the Way”) and has enjoyed a solid run of singles that includes “Scar Tissue,” “Otherside” and “Can’t Stop,” as well as two “Stadium Arcadium” singles — “Dani California” and “Tell Me Baby” — that have topped Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.

And while the Chili Peppers’ history includes plenty of dark spots — including debilitating drug addictions and the overdose death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak in 1988 — Smith says “Stadium Arcadium” is the product of some happy times both in and outside of the band.

“Really, in the last year and a half or so, everyone was really happy with their home life,” notes Smith, 44, who, along with Frusciante, joined Chili Peppers founders Anthony Kiedis and Flea (real name Michael Balzary) in 1989. “I’d just been married and had a baby the fi rst weekend of the record. Flea is newly in love. Anthony has a steady girlfriend, John has a steady girlfriend ...

“Even (producer) Rick Rubin, who I’ve never known to have a steady girlfriend, he was in love. So we were all kind of in this really good place, and you just want to go and bring that into your work.

“See, I don’t subscribe to the tortured artist to make good art thing. I think our music’s very positive; it doesn’t have to be dark stuff to be able to write. If you’re feeling good and there’s love all around, that’s what you write about and that’s how you play.”

Like most of the Chili Peppers’ work, Smith says, the songs for “Stadium Arcadium” were products of group jams, after which frontman Kiedis would work on melodies and lyrics. But the drummer also noticed some differences coming out of the process this time, a kind of synthesis of all the elements the Chili Peppers have employed on their previous outings.

“When I fi rst joined the band, it was kind of raps with jams, and Anthony wasn’t singing very much,” Smith says. “And then on the past two records, we went in a more melodic direction ... and the funk kind of went on the back burner.

“For this record we melded the melodic thing and the funk thing, even in the same song. Something like ‘Tell Me Baby,’ you’ve got the slapping bass and then the chorus comes in and it opens up to this real pretty, melodic thing — kind of the best of both worlds. I think that’s new for us.”

Smith and company did find themselves in a small snit of short-lived controversy, however, when some disc jockeys and critics accused them of plagiarizing

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ 1993 hit “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” — which also was produced by Rubin — on “Dani California.”

Petty himself was charitable, telling Rolling Stone magazine that “I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock ’n’ roll songs sound alike.”

Smith, meanwhile, says that Frusciante had actually been listening to the rap group Wu-Tang Clan prior to bringing the song — which also includes a quick homage to the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Purple Haze” — into the studio.

“There’s no plagiarism going on,” the drummer says. “It’s really weird how things happen; you can be listening to a Wu-Tang Clan record, and all of a sudden you’re stealing Tom Petty songs. But, no, we’re not into stealing other people’s songs.”

That’s especially true when the group proved prolific enough to fi ll “Stadium Arcadium’s” two discs with tracks to spare. The Chili Peppers’ “roll” has been a good one, and Smith says he sees every reason for it to continue in the future.

“Everybody’s kind of growing up,” he says, “and hopefully becoming a better writer, a better musician and a better band. We take a lot of pride in changing and becoming better, (making) what we think is hopefully a better sound, and something different.

“You don’t always achieve it, but you’ve got to put your (self) out there sometimes and see what happens. On this record, I think we’ve been successful at it.”





The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Mars Volta perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday (November 3rd) at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $54. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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