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
“I would say Anthony has gotten more secure in who he is,” Rubin continues. “He‘s always been fighting demons, but it seems like his relationship to the demons is better than it used to be. I don’t know that he would ever say that he‘s cured, or the demons are gone. But it does seem like his relationship to the demons is a much more positive one. Does he feel like a happier person? That’s not so clear.”
Drummers in rock bands tend to either be out-of-control court jesters like Keith Moon, or anonymous and easily replaceable components like whoever played in all those other bands. In the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad Smith is neither. He provides both a steady backbeat and some much-needed stability. It seems no coincidence that the most down-to-earth member of the band is also the only one who didn‘t grow up in the self-obsession of Los Angeles.
Smith is from the suburbs of Detroit and has lived the rock & roll dream. A local hero back home, he was playing the bar-band circuit with no real prospects, besides drunken backslaps and the warm advances of countless wet T-shirt contest winners, when he packed up and headed for Hollywood. In town for just under a year, he landed an audition with the Chili Peppers. Sporting poofy Billy Squier hair, a tattered Guns N’ Roses T-shirt and some way-too-short cutoffs, Smith sat down and attacked the drums, oblivious to the attitude being thrown his way. The band loved it. “We were laughing so hard,” Kiedis recalls, “we told him, ‘Okay, shave your head and you’re in the band.‘ He said, ’No,‘ and we thought that was even more punk than being pushed around by a bunch of assholes like us.” Reminded of this, Smith offers, “I think I’ve just been sitting in for the last 13 years. They never actually said, ‘You’re in the band.‘”
Along with Frusciante’s new songwriting influence, it was Smith‘s hard-hitting drum style that initially broadened the band’s appeal. The first Chili Peppers songs to receive mainstream radio play, “Knock Me Down” and “Higher Ground,” both feature Smith and a percussive drumming that bordered on straight-ahead rock. “He came in and had a monstrous influence on our sound,” Kiedis says. “We‘d always had great drummers, but Chad’s particular sound was something that was so solid and profound that it kind of spoke to the world. Cliff Martinez is the coolest drummer of all time, but his shit only spoke to a kind of more refined, intellectual artfunk vision of the world. We loved the hell out of his shit, but Chad‘s simple, powerful rhythms reached a lot more people.”
As of late, Smith’s drumming has become much more varied and subtle. No longer strictly in the John Bonham school of monolithic pounding, he has broadened his approach considerably, often employing several different beats and styles within the same song. On the album‘s title track, he works a driving neo-tribal beat similar to ’80s postpunk sensations Bow Wow Wow, before returning to a more conventional kick, snare, high-hat for the silvery pop choruses. Like bass virtuoso Flea, who rarely employs his trademark funk-slap style on the new record, Smith is now strictly in service of the song. “You just have to do what you think fits,” he says, “and the music that we‘re making now is more melodic, so we have a different role. I played with this blues guy in Chicago not long ago, who said, ’If I can hear you, you‘re playing too much.’ And I knew exactly what he meant.”
Smith has finished a barrage of interviews at the posh Chateau Marmont hotel and is dining in the celebrity-strung courtyard, looking surprisingly relaxed and unaffected. Upstairs on a nearby balcony, there‘s an intense glare of bright lights as Flea gives yet another interview to promote the band’s upcoming tour. Several hours before, each new group of foreign reporters had asked Flea to do something outrageous and funny for the camera, and he is still visible up there, gamely, if not reluctantly, hamming it up.
It is perhaps telling that the songs for By the Way were mostly written and recorded at a suite in the famed Chateau Marmont. It is an atmospheric, old Hollywood hideaway that has seen more than its share of high-end depravity. Comedian John Belushi died there shooting speedballs, Montgomery Clift recuperated there after his disfiguring car crash, and countless stars and starlets have shacked up in the bungalows. Columbia Pictures founder Harry Cohn was quoted as telling his two stars William Holden and Glenn Ford, “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.” The hotel now uses the quote as an advertisement.
Like in the X song “Sex and Dying in High Society,” what makes Los Angeles such a fascinating artistic milieu is its abundance of contradictory images -- violence amid opulence, poverty in a perfect climate, spirituality fueled by depravity, fame and crushing loneliness. While Kiedis claims to have never intentionally written a song about L.A., for him to address almost any aspect of his life is in many ways the very same thing. More than any current artist, Kiedis appears to have lived the quintessential L.A. experience, having been a child actor, a drug addict, a rock star, a hedonist, and a spiritualist. In simply observing the stations of his life, he delivers telling snapshots of the city.