In their more than 30-year career, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have run through so many guitarists, it can be hard to keep track.
The original lineup consisted of singer Anthony Kiedis, bass player Flea (Michael Balzary), drummer Jack Irons and guitarist Hillel Slovak. The lineup was rejigged a few times in the mid-80s, sparked by the death of Slovak in 1988 of a heroin overdose.
That year, the trio of Kiedis, Flea and Chad Smith on drums — still in place today — was cemented. The role of guitarist, however, has been filled by multiple bodies since that time.
John Frusciante is likely the name most would associate with the Chili Peppers — he recorded five albums with the band and spent the better part of 20 years creating licks that are known the world over. Frusciante stepped aside the first time in 1992, in the middle of the Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour, having become overwhelmed by the Chili Peppers’ sudden commercial success.
In the interim, the band cycled through two temporary guitarists until Dave Navarro joined more permanently in 1993. Navarro played on the Chili Peppers’ next album, One Hot Minute, but was fired in 1998.
Frusciante rejoined and recorded three more records — Californication, By The Way and Stadium Arcadium — before amicably leaving again in 2009 to focus on his solo career.
And so, the torch was passed to current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who had worked with the Chili Peppers as a touring musician for some time and was a natural choice to fill Frusciante’s very large shoes.
The decision was not without some controversy, with many die-hard Chili Peppers fans proclaiming the band should not continue without Frusciante and snubbing Klinghoffer’s obvious chops (he previously toured and acted as a session musician with acts such as Beck and PJ Harvey). Klinghoffer soldiers on, though — and carves out his own place within the iconic band one album at a time, including their most recent (and eleventh) studio record, The Getaway, which debuted at No.1 in ten countries including the U.S. and Canada.
Klinghoffer took some time before the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed Friday night at MTS Centre to chat with the Free Press about tour fatigue, being a bit of an outsider and the death of Chris Cornell.
Free Press: You guys have been touring for months and months and months...
Josh Klinghoffer: And months and months... it’s pretty much been one year.
FP: Any fatigue starting to set in yet? You expend so much energy on stage I can’t believe it wouldn’t impact you.
JK: Yes (laughs). From what I can see the fatigue really is mostly off stage. Sure, there are probably moments where we’re all a bit fatigued on stage but I feel like, especially those guys have been doing this for so long, they spend a lot of energy conserving their energy. They know what they have to do to make sure they have everything they need for the show.
The fatigue, for me, is that I’m sick of packing my suitcase every day, I’m sick of making sure I didn’t forget anything in hotel rooms... the fatigue is only the mundane stuff like that.
But I looked at the setlist Anthony just made and I’m excited as can be about playing tonight.
FP: So you guys do a different setlist every night? I feel like that’s pretty uncommon for a large touring show.
JK: Yeah... oddly. I think it’s somewhat uncommon to do what we’re doing, period. With the exception of our auxiliary bonus musicians we have... it’s just four people playing instruments live. Not many people do that these days, it’s becoming rarer and rarer.
FP: Why do you think that is?
JK: Because culture has just changed. Just getting into a room and writing songs isn’t so interesting anymore.
I don’t think kids are compelled to do what they were compelled to do when the Chili Peppers were kids. I’m quite a bit younger than them; I feel like people of my generation are kind of the last... when these guys started the band, they were still coming up with music that was fairly new and exciting and I’m just not quite sure what there’s left to uncover.
I mean there always will be room for new music and new writing, but less and less. It’s becoming harder and harder.
FP: I feel you probably have a unique perspective in that you are the only one in the band who has had a significant amount of experience outside of the Red Hot Chili Peppers...
JK: You should remind them when we make another album (laughs).
FP: So do you consider that experience a pro then? Was it useful to them to have fresh ears in the group?
JK: I agree with you, I’ve said that to many people. I’ve still been a fan of the band longer than I’ve been in the band and I’ve been their friend for a long time.
I’ve gone on tour with them outside of the band — my band the Bicycle Thief opened for them in ’99 and 2000 — so I’ve been around and see how it works for them for a long time.
I know what it’s like to be an outsider, which as you said, they don’t. I think it is very unique and it is a pro. But like I joked, I don’t think they necessarily think about that.
FP: Do you find it’s hard to assert yourself, then?
JK: No, I don’t find it hard to assert myself. I think you’re in a group of four very strong-willed people and no matter what, you’re coming up against 30+ years of band history and not knowing where it’s all going, it’s hard to let anyone drive... but they’ve been nothing but generous and welcoming and open to every idea, everything I’ve contributed.
When I joined the band, apart from maybe doing a gig with someone else or Flea and I played together with John Frusciante on one of his solo albums but I was doing drums, Flea and I hadn’t played that much together, we basically were still forming this musical relationship and I think that’s also kind of a rare thing.
I joined the band without having done much playing with them. I think when ideas are thrown out, there’s not a history, so maybe that is what goes against what we were just talking about. The whole thing is strange, but, having said all that, I think it’s working and it’s still growing and the most important thing is the three of them are three of the greatest people I could ever consider friends.
FP: I hate to end things on kind of a downer, but there were a couple of tragic music events that happened in the last few weeks and one was the death of Chris Cornell. I saw you did a really beautiful tribute the day after he died (singing Seasons on stage in Indianapolis) — was he a huge influence on you? Did you ever meet him?
JK: Huge. I actually don’t think I ever met him in person. I rode in an elevator with him one time because he lived directly next door to a friend of mine many, many years ago... and I remember one time he just got in the elevator and I didn’t say anything (laughs).
But he was an enormous influence — in 1991, I was 11, so all that music of that time was huge for me.
And then to play that song that I played that night, I was thinking about that song and thinking about how 25 years ago, I used to lay on my bedroom floor and listen to that song over and over and over again. I feel like I could talk more about him... it’s just really heartbreaking.
He was fantastic and he meant a lot to me, that’s all I can say.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length.