Chad Smith - Well ... Red Pepper
By Team HC |
Chad Smith - Well ... Red Pepper
The Getaway and beyond ...
by Elizabeth Lang
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ spicy blend of Funk-drenched Rock, high-voltage live shows, and their obvious joy for music-making have enthralled fans worldwide for over three decades. With hit songs like “Under the Bridge” and “Californication,” the band has become virtually synonymous with southern California. However, drummer, and Detroit native, Chad Smith, is still grounded by the same midwestern grit and work ethic that propelled him from Motor City bar bands to The City of Angels, landing him one of the biggest gigs in Rock. At the time that Edge’s Elizabeth Lang interviewed the outspoken Pepper, the band had already embarked on their sold-out The Getaway world tour in support of their 11th studio release. As a recent member of the DW family, we wanted to welcome him and get his take on the latest Chili Peppers album, his new kit, and inspiring the next generation of drummers.
Elizabeth Lang: You’ve been out on the road for a while now and you haven’t even begun the North American leg of your tour. How’s it going so far?
Chad Smith: It’s going good! We started with festivals in June and we began doing our own shows in September, and we’ve mostly we’ve been in Europe since then. We’re wrapping up in December and then we’ll be all over the US and Canada starting in January. Everyone is in good spirits, the people seem to like our songs, and they’re coming out to see us. We have a really cool kind of fancy production and light show. We also have really good drums!
EL: This is a huge tour for you guys. You’ve been selling out multiple nights and you’ve had some really out-of-the-box choices in opening acts.
CS: Yeah! We’ve had Babymetal on this leg, which has been awesome! We played the Fuji Rock Fest with them in July and to see them perform in Japan, people were just going crazy and it was so entertaining. We just fell in love with them and asked them to come and play with us. They’re doing another leg with us in the states which, I believe, is in April. We have one more show in London and I’m actually going to play with them. They do a Judas Priest medley of “Painkiller” and “Breaking the Law”. I saw a clip on YouTube where they were joined by Rob Halford and I just decided I had to get up there with them. Coming up, Trombone Shorty will be opening for three legs of the American tour. They’re just a great band and they have a really well-put-together live show. They play for forty-five minutes straight and the crowd loves them. I love to go out and watch them. They’re incredible!
EL: Your last six studio albums were produced by Rick Rubin, but for The Getaway you worked with Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton who is probably best known for his work with Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz. In the studio, he had you lay down drum tracks first and then had the rest of the band play over them. Is that different from how you guys normally record?
CS: On some of the songs, that’s right. That was the biggest change for us. We usually write all of our songs and the producer comes in and he works with us on arrangements and we go in the studio and try to get a good performance. We had some songs that were like that. We brought Brian in and he liked a bunch of them and we worked with him a little bit on those. Then, as it turned out, Flea broke his arm in a snowboarding accident three weeks before we were supposed to start recording. So, during the interim of him healing, Brian said, “Hey Chad, if you want to use me to my fullest capacity and take advantage of how I work and what I do…why don’t you come into my studio and play some drums?” So, I went in and played drums by myself. I was like, “Yeah!” It was really different and we ended up using the studio as a writing tool. It’s a different, challenging, creative way to write music. At first we were a little reticent, but it actually worked out great.
EL: How did laying down drum tracks first change the recording process for you personally? Was it more stressful? More creative?
CS: Maybe a little of both? Actually, I don’t know that it was stressful, but it was different. It was a blank canvas. Brian and I would listen to some music together; he has a very eclectic taste in music, so we’d listen to some grooves or some weird psychedelic stuff. Then, I’d go in and do my interpretation of the inspiration and those were kind of the seeds. The stuff we recorded that spoke to Flea, or Josh, or Brian, or Anthony, depending on where they were in the process, were the ones that got worked on and ended up turning into songs. Some did and some didn’t, but that’s kind of how it goes in the songwriting process anyway. The songs that everybody’s feeling are the ones that see the light of day. I totally surrendered to the process. I used his drum set, which was a small, vintage kit he had in the studio. I’m usually all about a big, modern Rock drum sound, but I just kind of had to let that go and play what was right for the songs and the music.
Another thing he had me do was play more quietly. Usually, I’m a pretty hard hitter and he said he could really manipulate the sound better with the placement of the mics in the studio if I played quieter. It was a little bit of a challenge to still have the intensity while playing quietly, which made me focus on it. It was really great, actually, because it’s something that I wouldn’t normally do. You have to go in with an open mind, trust the producer, and make sure his musical ideas are in line with what you’re thinking. So we did and we just kind of let go. It was like, “Ok! Let’s do it!” Almost as an experiment, you know? We know we can do it this other way; we’ve done it the other way forever. We didn’t want to lose that thing we do, playing together in the studio, which I don’t think a lot of bands do today. With Pro Tools everybody goes in and they don’t really play together, and we’re pretty good at that.
EL: Did playing more quietly in the studio carry over to how you play live?
CS: Not really, no. The record is one thing and playing live is another. To me, records are documents and you really want it to be something special. I do think about how the recorded grooves feel, and it’s probably still somewhere in the back of my mind when we perform. But live, I’m still beating the crap out of the drums.
EL: Elton John guested on piano on the track “Sick Love” on the new album. Are there still any ‘bucket list’ artists you’d like to play with?
CS: Live, it would be Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin; he’s definitely on the list. I’ve been so fortunate that people want me to play with them on their records, I really love it. My passion for music and drumming has not dimmed in the least. If anything, it’s probably grown as I play more. I always want to learn more because I’m such a student of music and drumming, and I’m so fortunate that I found this passion at such a young age. It’s so rare for a Rock band to be together for 32 years, and people are still interested in what we do. I don’t want to sound corny or cliché, but I’m honestly pinching myself.
EL: The Getaway sounds incredibly fresh yet very familiar, as Chili Peppers albums go. How do you keep going at this level after 32 years together?
CS: I can speak for us as a band; we’re always trying to get better. We’re trying to be better people, better musicians, better friends, better dads, and better at whatever we’re trying to do. This is life and we’re very conscious about everything. I think that comes out in our music because we’re open and honest with what we do, and I think people connect with that. Some people like what we do and some people don’t. You can’t really help that. If you’re true to yourself and where you are at that time, you’re being a true artist.
EL: Speaking of getting better, do you still have time to practice?
CS: I don’t have a real strict routine on the road for warming up like some of the other guys do. I like to warm up and get everything moving, but, no, I don’t practice specifically. When I’m home, I have a wife and three small children and my priorities change. I can’t go practice three hours a day even if I want to. But honestly, I prefer to play with other people; that’s music to me. I get the practicing part because it’s important for development and to keep going as a player, but I view my instrument as a real collaborative instrument. It’s not a melodic instrument the way I play the drums. I need other people to make noise.
EL: If you had the time to practice, is there any skill you’d like to work on?
CS: When it comes to odd time signatures, I can do them, but I’m not real comfortable with them.
EL: As busy as you are with RHCP and your other musical projects, you still manage to lend quite a bit of your time to supporting music education in schools.
CS: Math, Science, and English, all those things are incredibly important, but we shouldn’t diminish the importance of art and music education in schools. That’s where kids can be exposed to it and it’s an important part of our culture and an important part of youth culture. I just hate to see it go away because of bureaucracy and things like that. I’m very passionate about it. That’s why I keep going to schools, like the show I just did at the Academy of Contemporary Music here in London. They were a very engaged bunch of students. They asked great questions and they’re very interested in music. I played a big arena the night before and the next day I’m playing the drums for eighty kids. If that had happened to me when I was a kid, I would have been blown away. It’s really important to me to give back.
EL: When you think of drumming, what’s the first mental image you get?
CS: I’d have to say it’s a mental image of the beauty of a drum set, not actually the drumming part of it. When I was a kid, I really liked stuff. When I played sports, I always wanted to be the goalie in hockey because he had the most equipment. Or in baseball, I wanted to be the catcher because he had all the cool stuff. I guess that’s just part of my personality. I like stuff. I’d look at Neil Peart’s drum set and think, “Wow!” Or Alex Van Halen’s kit, and I’d just think, “That’s the coolest freaking thing ever!” When you look at sports and positions like the goalie or the catcher, they’re kind of like the drummer in the band.
EL: The goalie, the catcher, and the drummer are also the ones that don’t really move around.
CS: (Laughs). That’s true! I guess I like everything to come to me.
EL: This is the first tour and the first album with you as part of the DW family. How does it feel?
CS: It feels good! I have to say, I was with Pearl for many years and they were great to me. That said, I think that the DW kit I have on this tour provides the most fun I’ve had playing a drum set. I really look forward to sitting down to play them. They’re super consistent and loud and bright, but still warm and musical. Everybody loves them. Not only aesthetically, but also the sound. Everyone from our sound man to all the guys in the band think this is the coolest drum set I’ve ever had. To be part of an American company just feels right. Everyone at DW is just so passionate about it. I’m incredibly fond of Don Lombardi, and John Good is such an amazing guy. Everybody at DW is doing it because they love it and I’m attracted to that.
EL: Since the beginning, DW’s motto has been, “Solving Problems for Drummers” and this year marks the 45th Anniversary, so the company is focused on that, even after four-and-a-half decades.
CS: That’s what I really like about DW. If you think about a modern drum set, it hasn’t been around that long, in terms of musical years, and there haven’t been many new major design advancements outside of the introduction of plastic drum heads. I’m friends with Jim Keltner and he was always telling me that he would come up with ideas and take them to Don and John and no matter how wacky, or whatever, they were always really helpful and open to new things. That’s the way it should be. That’s how you find new things. Sometimes you swing and miss, but without experimenting and taking risks new things don’t happen musically, or in life, and especially in art. DW is always interested in finding new ways to inspire drummers. That’s what a musical instrument is supposed to do. It’s supposed to inspire you to create. -HC-
- reprinted with expressed written permission DW's Edge Magazine -
photo credits: David Phillips
Elizabeth Lang is the publicity & Promotions manager at Drum Workshop. She's had a long career of independent music marketing, public relations, social media and consulting firm with a focus on business development and crowd funding campaigns. Specialties also include, event coordination and project management including high-profile music camps and educational music seminars. Producer of the Big Drum Bonanza, The Thomas Lang Drum Camps, Stanton Moore's "Spirit of New Orleans" music camp among others.