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By the Way - The Chilis Are Back: Interview with Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, by Gabriella

  Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing at
Ellis Island, New York, July 9, 2002.
Photo by Glyn Emmerson © 2002 NY Rock.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been around for 20 years and in as much time, managed to live the rock-star lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to the max. We're not the only ones to wonder what pricked their skin more – the needle of a tattoo artist or a syringe of heroin. For a while, the Chilis seemed to have their own shuttle service to the Betty Ford Clinic. But in 1999, the band reappeared on the scene with Californication, and showed the world that they're still a force to be reckoned with in the music business. The disc went on to sell over 13 million copies. Now, in 2002, with the release of By the Way, the Chili Peppers prove they plan to keep it up....


Nice to see you're alive and well. It wasn't always like that....


I think we did grow up in a way, not completely; that would be terrible, but in a way we have grown up. It doesn't mean that we've become softies or anything, but I think we did wise up a bit, listen to reason more. We're glad to be alive and we want to stay alive.


For a while, you guys seemed to flirt with danger....


  Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot
Chili Peppers performing at
Ellis Island, New York, July 9, 2002.
Photo by Glyn Emmerson.
Photo © 2002 NY Rock.

True, we were often off our heads. You know, for a while you never knew what was going to happen. Whenever the phone rang you always wondered what it was, if some band member had died or was just in a hospital with an OD. It was almost impossible to work like that. There was still the memory of Hillel Slovak [band member who died of heroin overdose in 1988] in our minds, but we managed to block it out, numb it with more drugs and it just got worse. I grew up with drugs, but it wasn't until recently, that I grew out of them.


I guess when guitarist Dave Navarro joined the Chilis for a few years [1993 - 1998], it didn't help matters much.


I guess so. I hardly remember anything from the time when Dave was part of the band. Everything seems hazy. In a way, I was physically present but mentally and spiritually absent, kind of lost in a fog. Sometimes I've got to read old articles to reconstruct what has happened way back when, but to be honest, most of the time I really don't want to know.


Californication reminded me of Blood Sugar Sex Magik [1991], and you continue that style on By the Way. Although you sound less funky and less sexually driven, you are far more passionate, emotional and vulnerable....


It's true. I put less sexual aggression into the songs and try to give them more soul. I don't feel like I have to hide behind an image anymore. I am who I am. I'm not a sex machine. I'm human, a spiritual being and there is nothing wrong with showing emotions. Things change and people change. Now, I see being able to be emotional not as a weakness. I see it as strength. Even my lyrics are far more personal and, of course, due to that, more emotional.


Guitarist John Frusciante was also hit hard by his association with the Chilis. [John joined in 1989, left in 1993 because of drug problems, and returned in 1998, having kicked his addiction.] How is he keeping up?


  Red Hot Chili Peppers
L to R: John Frusciante (guitar), Flea (bass),
Chad Smith (drums), Anthony Kiedis (vocals).

Very well, he went through a lot of shit, even sold his guitars. He went through living hell for long years until he got his act together again. Now he is coping with things in his own way. He is living music 24 hours a day. He is crazy, absolutely possessed. We're for like 14 hours in the studio. Then he goes home and practices for four more hours. And then probably listens to music until he falls asleep. In a way, he filled the hole that drugs left with music. Drugs do leave a hole in your life, but at the same time they can have a positive effect on you, if you're lucky enough to survive. God bless drugs and alcohol!


A weird comment from someone who had a narrow escape....


Not really, because without the shit I went through, without the drugs, I wouldn't be where I am now. So I think they did do something. Without drugs, my life might have been completely different. Everything might have been different. It might be good or it might be bad. I don't know, but it definitely wouldn't be the same.


What did you get out of drugs?


It's a great feeling when you discover drugs for the first time. It's like you're opening a door that leads you into a different world. You discover a brand new universe and for a while you're able to live with it quite well, but then things start to change. It gets ugly. That's the last resort. That's when you should stop, get out of it and forget all about drugs, but it usually doesn't work and then you're caught up in it and your whole life starts to change. Drugs are not the door to another world, another universe anymore, they become your whole world and start to possess you.


I imagine it's quite tough to get out of the circle and become clean....


It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. But at the same time, when I finally became clean it was the best feeling I ever had. Even better than discovering drugs. The new sobriety is better than the kick you get from drugs. It's a different high you get from it and it lasts much longer.


You know, I love the new album, but I can hear countless fans crying out, "But where's the funk?"


Oh, the funk is still there. It's still around, but he's a mean motherfucker. He's not in your face anymore shouting, "Here I am!" He approaches you quietly, lurks around and attacks you when you least expect it. Funk will always be our inspiration.

August 2002

More Red Hot Chili Peppers: 1999 Interview

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