How the Red Hot Chili Peppers Rediscovered Their Best Version

LOS ANGELES — Dressed in the iconic colors of the basketball team he loves — even loves when the team hurts him like it has for the past few months — Flea roars into the parking lot of the space of Van Nuys rehearsal of the Red Hot Chili Peppers astride a glittering Harley-Davidson matching his purple sweatpants and gold sneakers.

“It’s the best way to get around this city,” he says of the bike the bassist’s wife, streetwear designer Melody Ehsani, recently painted in Los Angeles Lakers style for her 59th birthday. .

On April 1, the day after the band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Chili Peppers released “Unlimited Love,” their 12th studio album in a career that hasn’t been without turmoil. Nearly four decades after forming in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, the band is still going strong.

Filled with springtime punk-funk jams and lightly psychedelic ballads, the new 17-track LP is the Chili Peppers’ first since 2006’s Grammy-winning “Stadium Arcadium,” featuring guitarist John Frusciante, whose playing on Hits like “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge” helped propel the band to alt-rock stardom in the early ’90s before the rigors of stardom and a debilitating drug addiction drove them to quit.

More impressive than the album, the Chili Peppers – Flea (born Michael Peter Balzary), Frusciante, vocalist Anthony Kiedis, 59, and drummer Chad Smith, 60 – are set to tour this summer as one of the very rare Gen X rock bands capable of filling stadiums at a time when hip-hop dominates pop music.

“In the ’90s, you couldn’t shake a stick without hitting a long-haired, shirtless singer and a slapping bassist,” Smith said. “But now? I’m not sure I can name a new band and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I hear us in this. “”

Rather, it’s the vibe of the Chili Peppers – a kind of smart, bro-y, attuned to fun but always looking for a higher level of fulfillment – that seems to resonate in the age of wellness centers and micro-dosing.

“It’s nice not to feel like the world has passed you by,” says Kiedis, whose ’70s-style mustache bespeaks some confidence in his status. “I love it when my son’s friends put on their playlists and we’re there with Kid Cudi or someone else.”

Although Frusciante wasn’t a founding member of the band – he joined aged 18 in 1988 following original guitarist Hillel Slovak’s fatal heroin overdose – everyone in the band agrees to say that the Chili Peppers are at their Chili-est with the spacey but soulful Frusciante on guitar. For this story, the guitarist, a gentle but more aloof presence than his bandmates, spoke only via email and refused to answer the question directly.

On rejoining his former friends, he wrote: “It was mainly because I love them and I felt we had unfinished business on a soul level. There are aspects of our love and respect for them. for each other that can only be communicated by playing together.”

Frusciante’s return, of course, meant a forced exit for his former replacement, Josh Klinghoffer, who played on 2011’s “I’m With You” and 2016’s “The Getaway.” Letting the guitarist go was uncomfortable, admits Kiedis .

“‘Awkward’ is probably an understatement. But when the history you have with someone goes back to the 1980s and they use you,” he adds of Frusciante, “you don’t have really no choice.”

Klinghoffer is now touring as a member of Pearl Jam, which Smith says was the guitarist’s favorite band growing up.

“Seems like that’s the way things were supposed to be,” Smith said.

The Chili Peppers started writing songs in 2019 and soon had dozens of choices; Flea, Frusciante and Smith followed their parts in LA, Kiedis and producer Rick Rubin then traveled to Kauai to work on vocals. At one point, a huge landslide blocked one of the main roads on the island.

“I had to take a boat to cross this river every day with my backpack full of papers, lyrics and pencils,” the singer recalls. “Then I would walk down a beach and up a small mountain in the jungle where there was a Jeep waiting to take me to Rick’s studio garage. I loved that.”

Long one of rock’s most distinctive stylists, Kiedis uses his full battery of growls, bellows and fun vocals on “Unlimited Love.” In “Black Summer”, which he hears as a cross between old Nirvana and Welsh folk music, he even adopts an accent which he says is his homage to Welsh indie-rock singer Cate Le Bon.

Yet Kiedis also expresses his feelings amid Frusciante’s shimmering guitar lines in songs like the tender “Not the One” and “White Braids & Pillow Chair,” a beautiful California travelogue in which he gazes into the “deep sky of Ventura” and reflects on the gloom of “Santa Cruz in June”. It’s a reminder that another reason the Chili Peppers have endured, beyond the prescience of their mix-and-match approach, is the frontman’s unabashed emotionality. Kiedis’ father, Blackie Dammett, was a Hollywood actor and stage who raised Kiedis in an intoxicating atmosphere of sex and drugs; Dammett died last year after a long battle with what the singer described as “Alzheimer’s-type dementia.”

Given the nature of this illness, “I didn’t feel a wave of loss and sadness when he passed away,” Kiedis said. “I had actually felt waves of loss and sadness in the last few years of his lifetime, because he wasn’t able to communicate verbally or really in any way, other than maybe through telepathy. So the moment he was ready to die, I was ready for him to go wherever he went. He had finished his job here on Earth.

Kiedis says her co-parenting with her 14-year-old son Everly — his mother is model Heather Christie, who never-married Kiedis was romantically involved with in the mid-2000s — is “the greatest thing I’ve ever had. on.” He laughs. “And it’s hard to coexist with teenagers, especially when you’re trying to have a say in their casting and shaping. It’s like trying to sculpt clay on a potter’s wheel that goes 8 million miles an hour.”

The comfort of Kiedis’ story reflects the stability he enjoys in middle age — just another dad who “kind of understands” cryptocurrency and NFTs.

“I can see the value in wanting to create a currency independent of government,” he said. “That ideological notion resonates with me. But the metaverse? It feels like another platform, and reality is a stranger and deeper platform than any other.”

About Rachelle Roosevelt

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