John Frusciante, returning guitar hero of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is shining some light on his songwriting process with the band. He says he and bassist Flea will often settle things with a “faceoff” when they write songs together.
Frusciante tells Guitar World that the goal of their “faceoff” was to challenge each other to come up with better music.
“Flea and I, we’ve always done these things called ‘faceoffs.’ If we’ve been jamming and maybe we’ve got a good verse that we came up with, but it needs another section, in the old days we used to literally put our foreheads next to each other and give each other kind of a mean look. And then it would be, ‘Okay, I’ll go outside. You can stay here.’” A little like two sumo wrestlers stomping before the battle begins, eh?
Frusciante continues: “We’d go in separate rooms, and I’d write a section and Flea would write a section. We’d both attempt to write a chorus or a bridge or whatever it was, and then we’d come back into the room and one guy would play everybody his part, the other guy plays everybody his part, and one of them makes it into the song. Or sometimes both of them made it into the song.”
On “The Great Apes” from the new album Unlimited Love, Frusciante says Flea was the driving force.
“(That song) was something Flea brought in. In the chorus, the guitar part I play is just what his bass line brought out of me… I’ll tell you a little studio trick that we did on this one, because it sounds like I’m doing something more amazing than I actually am. At the outro, Flea and I do this switch. For most of the song, during the chorus I’m playing the melody we’ve been talking about and Flea’s playing the chord changes. But when it goes to the outro, I’m playing Flea’s chord changes and he’s playing my melody. And somehow it sounds more bass-y, by the way, when I start playing the chord changes!”
Sounds more Face/Off than “faceoff.” Hear the switcheroo below.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “The Great Apes”
Frusciante also implies (but doesn’t go into detail) that new song “Veronica” was constructed in part due to a “faceoff.”
Sharing how he came up with the structure, “I’m a big fan of tempo changes. It’s one of my favorite things about Black Sabbath – their first four records have all these tempo changes that take place within the same song. Another example would be Some Velvet Morning by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra or We Can Work It Out by the Beatles.”
He continues, “I thought, ‘That’s something we don’t have on any of our songs – a chorus that’s a completely different feel and tempo than the verse. And that became the object of Veronica. The verse is in 4/4, but the chorus has a triplet feel.”
“Another thing about the song is that wawawawow kind of filter effect in the verse. Some people probably think it’s a guitar effect, but it’s actually my modular synthesizer,” he adds, before concluding, “And we did all these backwards reverb treatments, sometimes on one instrument, but sometimes on the whole band, to make those tempo changes seem even more fluid. My ear is always looking for things like that – how can we make the recording more colorful without compromising the rawness of it?”
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Veronica”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are touring Europe right now, and will return stateside in July. See the dates and get tickets to their shows here. Beware searching for tickets to RHCP shows yourself. People have recently had trouble doing this and becoming what-not-to-do examples on social media.