How Red Hot Chili Peppers Conquered The World With By The Way

In July 2002, the Red Hot Chili Peppers scored their first ever UK number one album with their eighth studio album By The Way. In this archive interview, conducted late in 2002, the band members looked back upon one of the most successful years of their storied career.

January 2002: The year begins with the Chili Peppers in Cello Studios in Hollywood with producer Rick Rubin, two months into the recording of their eighth studio album.

Flea: “The real work on By The Way started in February 2001, when we first got together in a rehearsal room to write. We spent six months straight writing and arranging every day, so that by the time we get to the studio we’re just laying the songs down. Cello is a great place to record, but sometimes recording can be exciting and beautiful, sometimes it’s just another humdrum day at work. Writing is fun, it’s boring, it’s happy, it’s miserable, it’s always different. But we’re disciplined and focused enough to go into the studio every day and work. It’s not some champagne and caviar rock star party for us.”

John Frusciante: “I started recording most of my parts for By The Way in February. I actually probably enjoy being in the studio more than being onstage, just because you can take one moment and capture it for infinity just by pressing the ‘Record’ button. That’s a wonderful powerful feeling for me. In the past, particularly when we were writing BloodSugarSexMagik, I’d be writing to fit into the style of what the Chili Peppers – the band that Anthony and Jack (Irons, former RHCP drummer) and Hillel (Slovak, former RHCP guitarist) and Flea created - were like, but now I don’t feel the need to make our music sound like the Chili Peppers, I don’t feel the need to fit within the blueprint laid down by the early albums. More often that not now songs come from jams, and then Flea and I have what we call a ‘face off’ where we each try to write a part that’ll be right for that song. One of us goes into the alley by the studio to write and the other stays inside and then we compare the two, and we did that on pretty much every song on the record. I’d come up with a basic framework for songs like Cabron and Venice Queen but everyone writes their own parts so there are always alterations to be made.”

Flea: “There are always differences in the studio with ideas and egos and being at different places in our lives, but our ability to connect with each other gets deeper over time. We know more about ourselves, more about each other, more about music and more about accessing the spiritual content of the songs.”

Anthony Kiedis: “When we finish the completed basic tracks, we’ll sit back in the studio and listen to them and smile at one another, knowing that all the hard work was worthwhile.”

February/March: Anthony Kiedis moves into the Chateau Marmont on LA’s Sunset Boulevard to record vocals for the album. John Frusciante is already resident in the famous hotel.

Anthony: “The Chateau Marmont is probably the most beautiful soulful building in all of Hollywood. There’s a good spirit in that building and they treat us nice there. I had lived at the Chateau in the past, and John was living there at that time, and as he was doing a lot of harmony vocals we thought ‘Why hang out in an enormous recording studio that costs a ton of money when we could just check into a room, set up some microphones and do the vocals there’. So we rented a room on the seventh floor and moved in the Pro Tools computer gear and made it our own. It’s always nice when you’re doing vocals to find a space that you can call your own and decorate in your own way. I had a load of vintage film posters from the ‘30s and ‘40s all around my microphone, which helped me get into the vibe.”

“I thought I had written a lot of lyrics, I had lyrics for about twenty different songs, but the problem is that my band had written about a thousand songs and they wanted to record about thirty of those, so each and every morning I’d spend the first few hours writing before I went in to sing. I probably finished about 30 per cent of the lyrics in the Chateau. Sometimes I just have to listen to the music and start writing and the lyrics will be there, but other times it’s painful and methodical, like figuring out your next move in a chess game. It’s always like that.”

April: Acclaimed artist and film-maker Julian Schnabel, father of John Frusciante’s girlfriend Stella Schnabel, turns his ideas for album artwork over to the band.

John: “My girlfriend’s father offered to do the album art and so we sent him rough mixes of eight songs and he just got the vibe of the album from that. We said that he wouldn’t be offended if we didn’t like it, but we loved what he did. He’s also given us great covers for all the singles. He’s a true artist.”

May 17-20. The video for By The Way is filmed in LA by award-winning video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who have previously helmed the band’s Otherside and Roadtrippin’ videos. Influenced by a car chase in the Mexican film Amores Perros, the video sees Anthony Kiedis kidnapped and taken for a ride by a lunatic taxi driver played by comedian David Sheridan.

Anthony: “That video was funny man. We got to do our own stunts and hang out with comic genius David Sheridan. He never broke character for the four days that we were shooting, and he never ran out of dialogue that wasn’t side-splitting. I actually wanted Jim Carrey to be in the video, but Valerie our director said ‘I know someone who’s better’. I was like ‘Better than Jim Carrey? Are you sure?’ But he ended up being the best choice we could have made.”

John: “The guy was really funny. I have an hour long video tape of the improvised stuff he’d be doing between takes or during our lunch breaks and it’s just brilliant. Most of the times with videos you spend your time sitting around in the RV waiting to be called, but he actually made that one quite fun.”

May 31: The Chili Peppers play a low key club show at The Garage in London. It’s the band’s first indoor UK date since December 1999.

John: “That show was a lot of fun. I love playing huge shows but playing little clubs is great, it’s fun for me to be able to see people’s faces close up and feel like we’re all one together.”

Flea: “Bands always say they prefer little shows because they like the contact with the people, and I like that too but I also like the feeling of things moving and changing. We’ve played a billion little clubs and I think that it makes sense for this band to be playing big places right now. But I was kinda in a bad mood that night, I was having a little tantrum, so for me personally that show was a little weird.”

Anthony: “You’re kidding! I guess there’s no accounting for a bad mood but personally I was in heaven that day, that was just about as much fun as you can have playing a show.”

June 26: The Chili Peppers play London’s Dockland Arena to a sell-out 12,000 capacity crowd, which includes actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Anthony: “I loved that show. It felt like 150 degrees on that stage, but I had a bunch of friends there and I had a great night. I was really happy with it, it was exciting and fun.”

Flea: “That was one of my favourite shows of the year. Not because we had celebrity friends there, just because it was a cool show.”

July 1: By The Way is released as a single in the UK. It enters the charts at number two.

John: “It wasn’t really our decision to put that song out first, but our managers thought it was an exciting song and their enthusiasm convinced us. I guess they thought that it combined the wild part of our sound with the melodic part of our sound.”

Anthony: “I thought that single was an uber-bombastic assault of non-commercialism. For it to be so well received over there was shocking to me, but thrilling at the same time. It’s a good feeling when that island of yours embraces our band.”

July 8. By The Way is released to rave reviews in the UK. Selling 134,000 copies in its first week on sales, the album debuts in the UK charts at Number One, the first Chili Peppers album to do so. The album also tops the charts in 15 other countries worldwide in its first week.

Anthony: “For us the true experience of an album is the days and weeks and months we spend throwing music around in the studio, so when the album is due for release, we’re kinda like the world can do with this what it will’. When the mix is finished, we all get to drive around with copies in our cars and we do swell up with a little bit of satisfaction, but after that we’re kinda detached but hoping for the best. Of course we get elated when we get a positive response to what we do. We feel like we’re making a contribution to the positive energy of the world.”

John: “It made me feel really good to read the reviews of this album and to see it doing so well in England. I’m more proud of this album than anything I’ve ever done.”

Flea: “In England you can be a great genius one minute and three minutes later you’re the biggest asshole that ever lived, but I’m not going to complain now that we’re popular. I think people connect with the honesty and craftsmanship in our music. It’s not like we’ve had some overnight surge of popularity, but as time has gone by I think people have connected in a deeper way. I’m happy with the way the public relate to what we do.”

July 9. The Peppers play a 90 minute show on Ellis Island in New York City for competition winners, family members of September 11 victims, and lower Manhattan businesses. The Ellis Island Immigration Station was the entry point to the United States for more than 12 million immigrants from 1892 to 1954.

Flea: “That was a trippy gig. It was raining and raining and we were out on this little island where the immigrants used to get totally fucked by the government so the gig had this really bizarre energy. You could feel the history of what happened there.”

John: “My girlfriend’s mom and brother were in the audience which was fun but it was kinda a rough show for me. Every time I stepped on my distortion pedal the volume would drop to half so I couldn’t hear my guitar solos. It was one of our first shows and so we were stilling ironing out the kinks.”

Mid- September: The band team up with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris once more to shoot the video for The Zephyr Song in Los Angeles. The video finds the band performing against a backdrop of psychedelic images.

Anthony: “The performing part of the video wasn’t that exciting for us, but being there for the go-go girl dancing shooting was fun. We had this girl called Amy Christie dancing, and she was really beautiful and sexy and she danced very well and had that Russ Meyer’s enthusiasm to her female form. And then we had the talented and lovely Tobey Torres dancing too. She’s the girl whose crotch you actually stare into in the video. She’s awesome, she’s a great girl.”

Flea: “Tobey’s my girl so it was fun for me.”

**September 27: The Chili Peppers kick off a ten date South American tour at the Plaza de Toros in Guadalajara, Mexico. **

John: “The people in South America were wild, they really respond to the music. We had a lot of great shows in South America. I think we definitely went up a notch in improvising on stage and because the audience were so into it.”

Flea: “South America was a fucking trip. The gigs were outstanding, because those crowds are incredible, the best crowds in the world, they go apeshit for every show and just explode. But at the same we were imprisoned in our hotel room the whole time we were there, because if you go out you just get mobbed. I lost it when we flew into Santiago, Chile actually. I snapped at the airport and I was just screaming and swinging at people. I’m not proud of it. People invade your privacy and at first you understand it and tolerate it but it gets to the point where you’re like ‘Get the fuck away from me’. I wasn’t really looking and all of a sudden there were 50 people all over me, pulling at my clothes and I just freaked.”

Anthony: “I got quite homesick on that tour. Sometimes even when the shows are going great, you just miss your home life. And in South America the fans have a frightening habit of laying siege to the hotel and that can get painful and isolating, it makes it hard to just exist. But we managed to escape a couple of times, we found a beautiful empty surf break in Costa Rica and came back from there feeling rejuvenated and the same thing happened in Brazil. Basically this is the best job in the world and I can never complain about it.”

October 31. The Chili Peppers fly to Japan for a seven date tour, to be followed by shows in Australia, New Zealand. Singapore and Thailand. They will end 2002 in Paradise, literally, with a New Year’s Eve show at the Hard Rock Hotel in Paradise, Nevada. By November 2003, when the By The Way tour finally wraps at the Hollywood Palladium, the album will be nudging towards 2 million sales in both the US and UK.

John: “Our shows are just getting better, we’re definitely sharing some ESP moments on stage now, learning how to think inside each other’s brains. The freedom to be able to make music and get pleasure out of it is a wonderful feeling that I don’t want to ever stop. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been now, both in the band and in my own life, and I just hope that next year I have the time to do everything I want to do. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”

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Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.