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Interview:
Changes, drama bring out the best in Red Hot Chili Peppers
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

As he nears his 25th anniversary with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad Smith has an increasingly clearer perspective on how the band operates.

"The relationship has a lot of levels," says the Bloomfield Hills-raised drummer, who joined the Chili Peppers in 1988. "When you get very strong personalities and very strong creative people who have ideas about how they think things should go, there's gonna be drama.

"But we're a very democratic band. The tide kind of changes -- sometimes it's this guy (dominating), sometimes it's that guy, sometimes it's me. It's just part of being in a band, in a working, creative situation.

"But the results, to me, are always great."

That's certainly been the case for the Chili Peppers. During the 29 years since its first release, the group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide and won seven Grammy Awards. The quartet's rash of Mainstream and Alternative Rock radio hits includes anthems such as "Under the Bridge," "Give It Away," "Scar Tissue," "Otherside," "Californication," "By the Way," "Dani California" and more, and its stew of funk, punk, hip-hop and melodic rock has provided an open-ended creative template for at least a couple of generations of bands that have followed.

And the Chili Peppers -- which these days also includes co-founders Anthony Kiedis and Flea (ne Michael Balzary) and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer -- is hardly resting on its laurels. The group is on the road promoting their 10th studio album, "I'm With You," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in August and topped charts in the U.K. and across Europe, launching the singles "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" and "Look Around."

"I'm With You" came with its own attendant drama, however. After touring to promote 2006's two-disc "Stadium Arcadium," guitarist John Frusciante decided to leave the Chili Peppers for a second time (the first was in 1992, on the verge of the group's headlining run on that summer's Lollapalooza tour). But finding his replacement wasn't particular difficult; Klinghoffer, according to Smith, was "already in the Chili Peppers orbit," having played on some of Frusciante's solo albums and also touring with the group as an auxiliary musician during points of the "Stadium Arcadium" tour. "So when it came to when we were thinking, 'Hey, who are we gonna get to play guitars?' it was 'How about this guy? We've already dated, y'know? So now let's get married,' " Smith, 50, says with a laugh.

And Klinghoffer's addition made the recording of "I'm With You" among the smoothest the Chili Peppers have had.

"There was less (disagreement) this time," Smith says. "It felt new and fresh, the obvious reason having a new guy in the band. (Klinghoffer) just came in with a lot of great ideas, and there was no, "It's gotta be this way' or 'I think it should be that way.' It reminds me a bit of when (Frusciante) and I joined the group for 'Mother's Milk,' that kind of energy.

"And we were also excited to be back and playing again after two years off -- that was part of it, too. We all had renewed excitement and energy."

The "I'm With You" campaign, which included a sold-out run through Europe last year, did hit one snag, however. Kiedis underwent foot surgery to repair some long-lingering injuries, which forced the group to push back the start of its current North American tour. The silver lining of that, however, is that the rest of the band used the time off to start work on new material.

Smith says he went out to Los Angeles during the break to do some jamming with Flea and Klinghoffer while Kiedis was "on the mend." "We just rehearsed and came up with some ideas and new song ideas and stuff and played together for two weeks, and it was really fun," reports the drummer, who's also part of the band Chickenfoot and leads his own group, Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats, with a session resume that includes the Dixie Chicks, Kid Rock and others. "It came out great -- flowing and really natural and like we've been playing together a lot, which we have.

"We sent (Kiedis) CDs and he's like, 'I love this stuff! It sounds great. I love the new jams.' "

And that, he hopes, means the next Chili Peppers album will appear in less than the five years between "I'm With You" and 2006's "Stadium Arcadium," or the four years between that and 2002's "By The Way?"

"I think so -- I hope so, at least," Smith says. "Normally in Chili Peppers world we never really had this much of a kind of break in a tour. Before, if we had a month off, we would never get together and write song ideas; we always wrote songs when it was time for an album cycle.

"But this time everyone just wanted to play. It was great; I came to town, 'Hey guys, I'm gonna be here for two weeks. You want to get together and play?' and everyone was like, 'Yeah! Let's play!' That's just good for everything; it's good for morale, it's good for the future. The future is bright."

The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Little Dragon perform at 8 p.m. Friday, June 1, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $62.50. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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