Catching Up With…
It’s apt that Chad Smith is driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in California as he catches us up on his recent activities. Smith recently returned to the West Coast after four years in New York City, and he’s excited to get back into the studio with his quintessentially L.A. band the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “We’ve been riting since April,” Smith tells us, “and we’re about ready to record.” Although the band has worked with producer Rick Rubin on every one of its studio albums since 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, at the time of this interview Chad revealed that the producer role for the upcoming release had not yet been officially filled.
Before heading west, Smith collaborated with virtuoso pianist Jon Batiste and eminent bassist/producer Bill Laswell for a studio album called The Process. The project was initially conceived by director Jay Bulger (Beware of Mr. Baker) as a soundtrack for a musical film about a post-apocalyptic Detroit. “Jay was the Svengali of this project, the one who got everybody together,” Smith explains. “He would give weird, random suggestions to describe a musical landscape—‘Play something like the Meters, but sloshing around with rain boots’—then we’d interpret his suggestions and just improvise and jam.”
Smith’s grooves, which intimate African rhythms, avant-funk, jazz, and hip-hop, serve as foundations and guides for the compositions, while Laswell’s vintage sonic flair makes the tracks sound as if they’d been unearthed from a time capsule buried in George Clinton’s backyard during Parliament-Funkadelic’s infancy. “Bill did a great job arranging everything in postproduction, turning our jams into song structures,” Chad says. “A lot of it was drum led, because the musical changes [often occur] when my patterns change.”
Laswell’s role as producer extended to inviting a slew of guest musicians to his New Jersey studio, including Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio), Killah Priest (Wu-Tang Clan), Garrison Hawk, Toshinori Kondo, Peter Apfelbaum, and Dominic James, to add sonic textures and vocals to round out each composition. “I found the whole process fun, challenging, and risky,” Smith says. “When you’re put in a room with two dudes and you’re just going for it, you have to be a good listener—and that’s the most important thing to me as a musician.”
Speaking of listening skills, when time allows, Smith hosts an online interview series for Music Radar called In Conversation. Recently he sat down with Bulger and legendary Cream/Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker for a perhaps not-so-unexpectedly awkward discussion. “It was rough,” Chad allows, “but I expect that it could have gone worse. What was more unexpected was how well he played when I saw his band at the Iridium. He’s an old dude, and fragile. But he did his Ginger Baker thing, man—I was impressed.”
This year, in addition to the new RHCP album, Smith will be tracking drums for the new recording by keyboardist Ed Roth, a bandmate in the Bombastic Meatbats.
Photo by Laura Glass