This piece originally ran as a sidebar in the “Get Good: Playing for the Song” feature that ran in the January 2011 issue of Modern Drummer.
As we were putting together this feature on playing for the song, MD Pro Panelist Chad Smith was in the studio with singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, recording the Red Hot Chili Peppers album I’m With You. We thought it was a good time to ask Chad to riff on the process of presenting a song in its best light.
TRUST YOUR GUT FOR THE GROOVE
I try not to think too much. Eighty percent of the time, the first thing I come up with ends up being the thing, which is pretty cool, because it’s pure—it taps into what got you excited in the first place when you were jamming on ideas.
FIND YOUR PARTS IN THE VOCALS
As you arrange the song, you want to come up with something that inspires the singer, something he can work with. The way Anthony sings is very rhythmic. Even if he doesn’t have the words yet, he’s a good scatter, and his dynamics and rhythm—and how he changes them during the verses or the chorus—will affect what I play. Sometimes I’ll mimic it, sometimes I’ll support it, sometimes I’ll downplay it, sometimes I’ll ignore it.
LISTEN TO AN OBJECTIVE OPINION
After we’ve got the songs basically written, we’ll do preproduction with Rick Rubin. He’s objective and detached, not married to the song emotionally. We trust him, which is important. He really focuses us on what works within a song format, which is good because we tend to meander and do things a little too long, which is what musicians do. And there are a lot of people who listen to music out there who aren’t musicians. [laughs] It really helps me that he thinks like that.
DON’T IMPRESS YOURSELF WITH EXTRA TOUCHES
I try to produce myself a little. I don’t need to do fancy stuff to impress myself. It might be cool, but if it doesn’t add to the song…. I used to butt heads with Rick about that, thinking he was sometimes taking the personality out of the track. But he’d be, “No, it’s still you. It’s your feel, it’s your chemistry with the group. That’s so important; don’t discount that.” Our essence doesn’t get lost, and Rick is very careful about that. He doesn’t try to homogenize it. It’s more of an arrangement thing, making it so it’s something the listener will enjoy.
GO FOR THE MAGIC
Live is one thing. With a recording, it’s there forever. It has to have some magic in it. You might actually play it “better” at other times, but the keeper has to have something really special about it for you to say, “That’s the one we want on our record, that’s the one we want to be proud to play for our kids.” And…uh…sometimes that can mess with you. [laughs] I’m in the process of that now. There’s a universe of ways that people connect at any given moment. And when the magic comes, you have to bottle it, which is kinda hard. But when it does happen, you’re like, “Man, we’re so lucky we got it!”