The Red Hot Chili Peppers release their brand new album Unlimited Love on April 1 – and it marks the return of guitarist John Frusciante, back for this third stint in the band after more than a decade away.
The iconic Californian band appear on the cover of the brand new issue of Classic Rock magazine (opens in new tab). We talked to all Chili Peppers about the new album, their rollercoaster history and the return of their prodigal-son guitarist. Here are 10 things we learned.
The seeds of the reunion happed at bassist Flea’s house – and it got emotional
Bassist Flea and Frusciante had stayed in touch sporadically during the latter’s absence, and one night in 2019 the pair were hanging out at Flea’s house. “We’d never really talked about it [the split] much. At one point my wife and his girlfriend were in the other room and we were sitting alone, and I said, ‘John, sometimes I miss playing with you so much.’ And I started crying when I said it. And he looked at me and I saw the tears in his eyes,” he continues. “And he said, ‘I miss it too.’ There was just this moment, but in that moment I remember thinking, ‘Man, you know…’”
When John Frusciante left for the second time at the end of the ’00s, Kiedis and Flea didn’t try to stop him
The rest of the Red Hot Chili Peppers weren’t surprised when Frusciante informed them that he wanted to leave for a second time. “John was very absolute about not wanting to do this anymore,” says singer Anthony Kiedis. “So when he told Flea and I, there wasn't even that moment where we were, like, ‘Come on, we can work it out.’ We were, like, ‘We understand, it's obvious it's not where you want to be.’ I would say relief was probably the most descriptive word for everybody, including John.”
Frusciante left because he was “imbalanced and burnt out” – and dabbling in the occult
The guitarist says a combination of pressure from people around him and the pressure he put on himself was a big factor in leaving the band: “I became quite off balance mentally those last couple of years we toured." A burgeoning interest in the occult didn’t help his frame of mind. “As the tour went on, I got deep into the occult, which became a way of escaping the mindset of tour life. The occult tends to magnify whatever you are, and I was an imbalanced mess.”
Everybody loved Josh Klinghoffer, but it wasn’t working out
“Look, he's an amazing musician, he's a kind and thoughtful person,” says Flea of the guitarist who replaced John Frusciante in 2009 and played on 2012’s I’m With You and 2016’s The Getaway. “I could go to him when I was hurting and crying on the road when I was in my own miserable neuroses and depression. But we had a language with John that we developed when we were all much younger. We can do things without really speaking about it, we have this connection. That was harder with Josh, and for Josh too.”
Flea was so freaked at having to fire Klinghoffer that he crashed his car into his garage
Frusciante’s return meant a difficult conversation with the man who had replaced him a decade earlier. Flea invited Klinghoffer to his house for a band meeting to break it to him that he was no longer in the band. “I crashed my car into the garage, I was so freaked out about it,” says the bassist of the meeting. “You go into the garage and the doors coming down and your mind's so gone you just go into the door. It was really hard.”
When they got back into a room together, the Chilis covered old blues songs… and the Bee Gees
“I didn't think it would be very good after not playing together for 10 years to go straight into writing cold,” says Frusciante now of the band’s initial jam sessions. Instead, the guitarist suggested that they get reacquainted musically by jamming old old blues numbers and 60s pop songs. “We didn't even start playing Chili Peppers songs for a while, we played a Freddie King song, John Mayall, Kinks covers, Beach Boys, the Bee Gees,” says Flea. “It felt right, it felt organic, it felt flowing. We were born to fucking play together.”
Anthony Kiedis admits he’s been an asshole in the past
Looking back on the mega-success of the early 1990s, the singer admits he wasn’t at his best. “I was confused by it,” he says. “Then you have to go through a period of being an asshole. Anyone who has the impression that the world revolves around them is going to be an idiot for a while, and that happened to us all. And that really is no way to live.”
The late 90s were humbling for the Chili Peppers
1995’s One Hot Minute, their one-and-done album with Frusciante’s replacement Dave Navarro, is no one’s favourite Chili Peppers album. “We’d had a lesson of being drastically humbled,” says Kiedis of the rocky mid-90s, “and with career-restoring follow-up] Californication we weren’t coming at it from an arrogant place or a successful place. John had nothing, he’d burnt through everything. We were starting over from scratch.”
John Frusciante has been listening to a lot of psychedelia
Frusciante took a decade-long break from the guitar during his decade away from the Chili Peppers. “My ego had become too big a part of what I expressed as a guitar player,” he said. But since coming back he’s immersed himself in late 60s and early pyschedelia, as reflected in songs such as Black Summer and Bastards Of Light. “I’ve been listening to a lot of The Move,” he says, referencing Roy Wood’s late 60 psych-pop band. “And Syd Barrett.”
Flea finally acknowledges the greatness of Guns N’ Roses
Back in the 80s, when the Chili Peppers were the funk metal brat-princes of Hollywood, the battle lines were drawn in the sand – with the glam metal crowd on the wrong side of it.
“We were definitely against the hair metal scene,” says Flea. “We were, like, ‘Fuck them – we’re the underground, art rock, get-weird east side guys, those guys are just rehashing Aerosmith and Kiss.’ In retrospect it was all petty bullshit. A lot of those bands were fucking great. Guns N’ Roses was a great band.”(opens in new tab)