By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Before heading into the studio to record By the Way, Frusciante began studying different types of music, looking for tools to expand the band‘s sound. Spinning a rare EP by the Human League, he explains his recent fascination with ’80s synth-pop stars. “I learned all Gary Numan‘s synthesizer parts on the guitar because that was very much in the way that I wanted my guitar playing to be. I was spending a lot of time learning parts from Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, because I was finding that people who were programming synthesizers in this early electronic music were playing in a very minimal way, where every single note means something new and every note builds on what the last notes were doing.”
That is not to say that By the Way sounds like a new-wave dance club filled with clove cigarettes and geometric haircuts. Unlike, say, the Strokes, who seem to merely cut and paste their influences into vaguely new arrangements, Frusciante has glommed onto various techniques, then used them to create something fresh. There may be a cold and futuristic Gary Numan--like synth weaving through the song “Warm Tape,” but it is placed between warm guitars and melodic harmonies. Much like contemporary hip-hop, the songs on the album seem a collage of existing, sometimes disparate influences in the service of something entirely new.
When Frusciante was still conflicted over his place in the pop mainstream, his friend Johnny Ramone revealed to him that for the entire time the Ramones were together, they had wanted to be like the Bay City Rollers. “And you know, when you see someone like him,” Frusciante says, “you see that that’s what was actually behind him . . . And you know, a lot of these great people like Lou Reed or the Germs, they would have loved to have been very successful.
”When I‘m writing music,“ he continues, ”I feel like I’m doing the same thing as the Ramones or the New York Dolls or what any of these people were doing, just writing music because you‘re excited. But I understand the level of success of the band that I’m in, and I‘m not going to try to pretend that what I really want is to be smaller. I know what we’re doing when we‘re going in there and putting the vocals under a microscope and making a verse shorter and a chorus bigger. I know what that’s all about, and I‘m not in any kind of fight with that. I see that the purpose is to make a pop record.“
The band had initially recorded a batch of minimalist punk songs as a counterpoint to the more heavily produced tracks on the new record. Yet when they sat down with Rubin, whose judgment they have come to implicitly trust, he suggested they leave the punk songs out. To him, they lacked the uniqueness of the other compositions, and he thought the band should stick to what they do best. The band, including Frusciante, agreed. ”People want to think that a fast drumbeat or loud guitars and a guy screaming makes it punk,“ Frusciante says, ”but I know I’m making music with the same feeling that I was getting from those records. The energy of punk is so inside of me and it‘s so much what draws me to keep doing what I do, that it’s in there inside the music, and when it a doesn‘t have any obvious remnants, that makes the music all the more intriguing.“
Their producer concurs. ”I think for a band that’s been making albums for a long time,“ Rubin says, ”finding new ways to express themselves keeps it interesting. And on this album there were lots of lush vocals and an orchestra, which we‘d never used before, and that just took it a new way. Maybe the next album will be much more sparse. I don’t know the direction it will go, but I know that evolution and change is a good thing.“
There may well be a painting of an aging Anthony Kiedis hanging somewhere in his Hollywood home, because in person the singer betrays few outward signs of being 40 years old, let alone a longtime ex-heroin addict. Perhaps like the old Twilight Zone episode, he has purchased some additional years of youth from a gullible elevator attendant; or, judging from recent pictures, Keith Richards. At an age when many men have lost hair and added chins, Kiedis arrives for rehearsal on a sleek, new Vespa scooter, looking like an athletic man in his late 20s. Gone are the exaggerated mannerisms and anti-social mugging of years past, replaced instead by a quiet and seductive politeness. When he talks of the band‘s history, as well as his own life growing up in Hollywood as a terminally stoned child actor, it is with a sense of warm nostalgia. He appears to have few regrets, though there remains a deep sadness when he speaks about the overdose death of the band’s original guitarist, Hillel Slovak.