The frontman talks supporting Bernie Sanders, working with Danger Mouse, and making 'The Getaway'
Last week, Red Hot Chili Peppers released their 11th studio album, The Getaway, and it isn’t the predictable work of a band three decades into their career. The alt-rock quartet continues to adjust to the departure of longtime guitarist John Frusciante — replaced for the second consecutive album by Josh Klinghoffer — and they refreshed their tried-and-true sound by tapping Danger Mouse to produce The Getaway, rather than Rick Rubin, who they had worked with since the first Bush administration.
But while the Peppers have seen numerous lineup changes over the years, their core members have remained the same: Singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea founded the group in 1983 and drummer Chad Smith has been a stalwart since coming aboard in 1989.
When EW connected with Kiedis to discuss The Getaway, he was on tour in Europe and preoccupied with the view from his hotel in Bern, Switzerland. “[I’m] looking down on this river that’s pouring out of the Alps, through this old, 500-year-old town,” he said. “It’s kind of beautiful.”
Below, the iconic singer shares thoughts on collaborating with Danger Mouse, supporting Bernie Sanders, and why he sees Klinghoffer as helping to give the band “that B-12 shot in the ass.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You had a health scare in May that forced you to cancel a gig. How are you feeling now?
ANTHONY KIEDIS: I had a stomach malady that is probably going to take a long time to heal, but the criticalness of it went away after two days. My job is half stuntman, half vocalist, so I’m always playing with some kind of injury. Just keeping your voice together is a pretty huge challenge unto itself — but it’s also the greatest job in the world.
This is the Peppers’ first album in nearly five years. What took so long to get back into the studio?
We had a pretty significant setback with Flea snapping his arm in two on a Montana mountain [in 2015]. We had a hard time figuring out what to do with our producer situation. We have somebody we love in [longtime producer] Rick Rubin, but we also were quite hell-bent on doing something different this time around—trying to evolve our game a little bit and force ourselves into unknown territory.
You ended up choosing Beck’s producer Danger Mouse. What was that experience like?
He was not afraid to tell us when something wasn’t as great as he thought it could be. After being in the band for 30 years, maybe we were in danger of people not wanting to tell us when something wasn’t finished or could be better. He would say, “I’m sure you can do something better. Go back to the drawing board.” It was one of those things where the coach pushes you that extra mile and you finally break your record.
What did Danger Mouse bring to your recording process musically?
He wanted to write music in the studio which was a very new experience for us and something that we all jumped at the opportunity to do. My boys were so thrilled to go into the studio and create something on the spot that would last for eternity.
His methodology is so different from anything we’ve ever done before. Traditionally, we don’t play to a clicktrack or to any kind of machinery. So our sound has been very imperfect and organic, rising and sinking with the tide of the song. He likes everything to be to a click, but it turns out that brings something really fun and exciting out that’s just different. A lot of these tracks that I would get to write to had that robotic quality — which isn’t to say it’s lifeless, because it’s just a different groove.
How did working with Elton John on “Sick Love” come about?
Flea came in one day with this bass line that melted my heart. He was inspired by the chords of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” We finished writing this song and it was really nothing like Elton’s—different tones, different textures, different lyrics, different melodies—but we felt like Elton had an ownership of those chords. We said, “Elton, we’d like to give you credit for this, but we’d also like you to play on it.” With his blessing, it seemed to make more sense.
You have such a deep catalog to draw from for your concerts. How do you choose what to play?
It is a bit of a balancing act, but part of the fun of making the record is now you have 13 new songs to play live. For us, we tour a lot and we played all our old songs a lot. We still love them and we still recognize the importance of playing those for people who haven’t seen us too much. People might spend their savings to come see us, and we want to make it a beautiful experience for them, and maybe one of our older songs is their jam.
The longer our new record is out, the more new songs we’ll play. For us on stage those are the highlights. Those are the moments where we really feel the new spirit dancing around the stage. [Song selection] is my job and I take it very seriously. I spend a lot of time trying to come up with the right setlist.
Over the years the Peppers have been outspoken about politics—you even played a Bernie Sanders fundraiser recently. How do you feel about the upcoming election?
I hate politics personally, and honestly, I try to avoid it. It’s just such a nasty, self-serving field of weirdness. Early on in this entire chaotic process, I listened to all of the candidates give their spiel and they all seemed like dishonest, untrustworthy, ignorant, hateful, awful humans—except this one little cutie-pie from New England. I believed him and I trust him and he seems smart and interesting and wanting something for the good of the whole and not for the good of the few. When the opportunity came up to support Sanders with that show, it seemed like a no-brainer. We did our part. I’ll be able to go to sleep at night knowing that I wasn’t a lazy punk.
On-again, off-again guitarist John Frusciante left in 2009 and was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer. Have you talked to John recently?
I have not spoken to John lately. But I did hear something positive and lovely, which was that he was looking forward to hearing the record. That made me happy, to hear (a) that he cared and (b) that there was not a sour grape rolling around somewhere. When John quit it was a great loss, because he is a brilliant songwriting partner and just an enormous musical human. But it also opened up the chance for us to have someone fresh and new. And often new blood will create new chemistry and maybe give you that B-12 shot in the ass to keep you going for another five years or another 10 years.
How have the Peppers maintained a fruitful working relationship for so long?
We never had any confusion that everything should be equal: the sharing of the work, the sharing of the money, the sharing of the joy, the sharing of the pain. That was a big step in the right direction for us having the potential for longevity, because so many bands break over “Hey, I wrote that!” We do love and respect each other; we do fight regularly. Our attitudes, our moods, and our egos clash — but we’ve been able to work it out. We’ve been able to roll with the punches. Flea and I are like brothers. I don’t think that relationship will ever end no matter what, because you can’t quit your brother. You just can’t.