Californian alt-rock heroes Red Hot Chili Peppers have released 11 studio albums — the most recent of which, The Getaway, dropped Friday — but the most famous record by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees could be 1991’s seminal Blood Sugar Sex Magik, a sprawling 17-track opus that includes their highest-charting hit (“Under the Bridge” peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100) and radio staples like “Give It Away” and “Breaking the Girl.”
“That was probably the most wonderful recording session that we’ve ever had to date,” Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis recently told EW, before recounting the now-legendary session that went into the album. “The nature of it was so special: living in this ramshackle, old 1920s mansion in the Hollywood Hills that hadn’t been lived in for years. It was this big, ghostly abandoned structure that we readily moved into and built a makeshift studio [in].”
But the changes the band experienced as they embarked on recording Blood Sugar Sex Magik went beyond a change of scenery. After toiling away since the early ’80s with little commercial success to point to, the Peppers had rebooted on 1989’s Mother’s Milk. Guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988, prompting drummer Jack Irons to leave the group. Kiedis and the group’s bassist Flea replaced Slovak and Irons with guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, who subsequently formed the band’s most famed lineup. (Frusciante amicably left the group in 2009.)
The Peppers didn’t stop there. Hotshot producer Rick Rubin built his reputation in the ’80s through his work on seminal records with the likes of Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., and Slayer, and the Peppers tapped him to produce their new album, igniting a quarter-century professional relationship. “It was our first record with Rick, our first record with [musician and producer] Brendan O’Brien, our second record with John and Chad,” Kiedis says. “We had come into ourselves and we knew what we were and what we wanted to do.”
The combination of self-confidence and fresh creative energy defined the sessions for the album, which turns 25 in September. “We recorded every day and it was laid back and there was no pressure and we were willing to try anything,” Kiedis recalls. “We brought in things from the junkyard to bang on.”
That try-anything vibe crops up when Kiedis shares his favorite story from the Blood Sugar Sex Magik sessions. “At the very end, we were going to do a little cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘They’re Red Hot,'” he says of what became the album’s closing track. “We went up a hill literally in the dark of night and set up this tiny little drum space and guitar thing with cords running down the hill, into the house, into this living room where we had the recording console. We recorded that song outside during the dark of night as cars full of people were driving through a Laurel Canyon pass way down below. If you listen carefully you can hear people singing in a car as they go by.”
Video footage of the bizarre, nighttime session exists — check it out below.