Πέμπτη, 8 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011


The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ still rocking and rebelling after 30 hell-raising years. Anthony Kiedis tells Andrew Perry about their new album, I’m With You.
The recording industry is quaking in fear at the prospect of a recessionary double-dip, compounding its problems with internet piracy. Rock music is in even deeper crisis, having barely scratched the surface of the UK charts these past 18 months.
In that climate, it’s reassuring to find one of the world’s biggest rock acts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, crashing in at Number One with their 10th album, I’m With You, and ensconced, on a whistlestop, week-of-release London visit, in business-as-usual opulence at Claridge’s.
The cavalry have arrived at last, and two of their number are draped at either end of a banquette in one of the Mayfair hotel’s rambling suites. To the left perches Anthony Kiedis, the singer; to the right is Chad Smith, the grizzly drummer.
The Chili Peppers were born out of the frenetic early-1980s post-punk scene in Los Angeles. Their ground-breaking sound fused heavy rock with funk, and the emerging beats and vocal style of rap.
“We were rebelling against the musical status quo of the 1980s,” says Kiedis, “as a real backlash to the ‘hair metal’ of that era. There were all these bands taking themselves so seriously, coiffed and posing, and trying to look as handsome as possible. Our reaction was to try and be comical, and not quite so coiffed.”
A riot of tattoos, muscles and Californian suntans, the band’s outer façade was benign, even jokey — for one record cover, they recreated the Beatles’ sleeve photo on Abbey Road, walking across the famous zebra crossing naked, but for a sock each, covering their private parts.
However, their early years were full of trauma. In 1988, they lost founding member Hillel Slovak to a heroin overdose — the first of eight guitarists to pass through their ranks. As Kiedis revealed in his best-selling 2004 autobiography, Scar Tissue, he was also in thrall to the drug, only finally cleaning up his act shortly before writing the book.
Yet the Chili Peppers offered a danceable, less ethically troubled alternative to the mainstream, than Nirvana’s angsty grunge, and became hugely influential, inspiring groups as diverse as Jane’s Addiction, the Prodigy and Bloc Party.
“We fell deeply in love with the groove,” says Kiedis, “and embraced the fact that we could have a punk rock aesthetic, but still play funk, and listen to jazz and experimental music, and do our own thing.”
The band’s line-up crystallised when Kiedis and bassist Flea were joined by Smith on drums, and a young, intense guitarist of extravagant virtuosity, called John Frusciante. Together, they took their formula into the mainstream, after hooking up with Rick Rubin, then a rising LA producer, steeped in early hip hop and thrash-metal. (Later, he was to become famous for revitalising the careers of Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.) Kiedis reveals that their working relationship didn’t click immediately.
“In 1985-86, Rick came to visit us in our basement with a couple of the Beastie Boys. He watched us rehearse for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and I was pretty strung out on smack. We were very dysfunctional — fighting and playing at the same time — and he kind of slipped away without us noticing.
“A few years later, once we’d worked out those behavioural kinks, he was re-drawn to us, and thank God he was. He caught us on an upswing, and he furthered that by doing what hadn’t really happened prior to that — he just let us be ourselves.” The first fruit of their union was 1991’s BloodSugarSexMagik, a sprawling, 73-minute jazz-funk-rap-rock-blues odyssey, which yielded the unusually melancholy crossover hit Under the Bridge. It also set the template for an as yet unbroken sequence of collaborative albums, which have turned the Chili Peppers into American rock heavyweights, rivalled only by Metallica.
With a stable line-up, and a winning formula, it was increasingly hard to see what could derail the band. Kiedis talks of their leisurely five-year operating cycle, which consists of two years’ writing and recording, one year’s touring, then two years of “cleansing the palate”. However, following 2006’s double-CD splurge, Stadium Arcadium, the ever-volatile Frusciante quit to go solo. How would they cope without him? In fact, the Chili Peppers have used the change to move on.
Frusciante had, in fact, been mentoring his own replacement, in the shape of their touring second guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer — at 31, substantially younger than his late-fortysomething bandmates. His more abstract, ethereal textures and occasional Mick Ronson-esque glam-rock solos have given the resultant I’m With You an air of pastures new. Additional details, such as Flea’s freshly learnt ivory-tinkling, and another splash of radio-friendly tunes, make for another winning collection.
“I felt like we were all on an even playing field in the studio,” says Kiedis, “including enthusiasm and a youthful state of mind. I don’t know if you’ve seen Flea go about his business lately, but he can’t be more than 13 or 14.”
Equally, Kiedis, in his lyrics, continues to defy the onset of middle age. However, he has new responsibilities in the form of a son, Everly, by the model Heather Christie, from whom he soon parted. Fatherhood has changed him, he claims. “That energy of, ‘I’d die for you in a second if that would help’, creeps into the song Ethiopia,” he says. But then he adds that it’s actually “about three or four things, creating a quadruple helix of ideas forming one lyrical notion” — a clarification that hardly allays the nagging sense that Kiedis, and the band as a whole, lack emotional depth.
So will they ever grow up? “I don’t know what came first, the band or the youth, but they seem to perpetuate one another. I don’t know what age we feel like,” Kiedis says, adding with an oddly grim determination, “but it doesn’t really matter, we’re still rocking.”

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