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Red Hot Chili Peppers

It's smoking hot in Hong Kong, but on the 45 th floor of the luxury hotel ensconcing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it's freezing. In a series of heavy, leather-upholstered chairs sit Michael "Flea" Balzary, one of the world's most recognisable bass players; Chad Smith, the only person I'm aware of who has an equally world-famous doppelgänger (hello Will Ferrel); Josh Klinghoffer, the most uncomfortable person in the room; and Anthony Kiedis, a man who, despite antics outlined in his outrageous autobiography, appears to have defied age. The elder members of the band exude a hard-earned zen-like spirituality; the younger, Josh, seems almost embarrassed by the attention - like a shy teenager forced out of his bedroom to say hello to his parent's friends at a party.


A coterie of journalists line a boardroom table facing the re-energised band, who, in the wake of the Grammy Award-winning album Stadium Arcadium, bade farewell to a longstanding and tumultuous professional relationship with guitarist John Frusciante welcoming into the fold Frusciante's friend, the musically well-travelled Klinghoffer. Josh, who had played the Stadium Arcadium tour was the natural choice for full-time membership as a Chili Pepper.

 

"So many times," says Kiedis, the picture of composure, a coo look on his tanned face, "when something seems to be collapsing, it's really the beginning of something new. That's when [Chad, Flea and I] had a long hard think amongst ourselves. There was no audition. The thinking was enough of a process…meditating on what we wanted it to be like… a warm, loving soul was part of the criteria." The fact that "Josh plays a lot of different instruments; he's a good piano player, guitarist, bass player, drummer, singer," says Anthony, certainly didn't hurt.

 

As well, interjects Flea enthusiastically, sitting cross-legged, and as child-like as a man pushing 50 can be, they needed someone to "give their heart to the music fearlessly, not worry about what people think…that's something a million incredible musicians wouldn't understand, but Josh innately understands."

 

Despite Josh's assertion "it's always been a dream of mine to play music with people that have as much of a thirst as these three guys do," Anthony says, "Josh didn't say yes. He wanted to think about it, which is an appropriate reaction to a big question." Josh's acceptance of the new role was, Anthony muses gently, "a blessing that turned into an amazing experience."

 

During the years between Stadium Arcadium and latest release I'm With You there has been a lot of exploration on the individual members parts: Chad stretched his creative muscle with various side projects (including supergroup Chickenfoot); Anthony focused on his new role as a father and Balzary returned to school to study music composition.

 

Despite the new pursuits, when time came to reconvene in the bandroom, Chad says, some things remained unchanged. "The way we always do it is we all get in a room and play together. It sounds very simple, but it's kind of a lost art with the way that technology's taken over in the recording studio. Lots of bands do the drums, build a track, then send some files and all that. We're just a simple, humble rock band. We just get in a room and play. It's the vibe of the performance and the interaction with other musicians that's what's important for our group."

 

Flea agrees with a full heart: "It used to be with bands, it was all about the interaction of people playing together… but people aren't doing it anymore. Even jazz guys are piecing and cutting. I'm not saying one's better than the other, but it's becoming rarer, and we really treasure it, playing together." Making I'm With You, he says, "I'd look over at Josh while he's rockin', he'd pull some crazy face and I'm like, 'Woah!' It's these intangible elements that we need to create art. Josh is the fucking greatest." Flea leans forward to beam at Josh, who goes bright red. "He is just amazing."

 

Anthony wryly suggests, "Let's talk about him like he's not here."

 

A flustered Josh mumbles, "I'm very uncomfortable over here," prompting a fawning coo from the boardroom table.

 

I wonder whether Josh could handle the nastier side to his arrival: dyed in the wool fans can sometimes be tough critics. "I don't know if you could ever really be prepared for it," he replies, squirming under the collective gaze. "I've sworn not to read anything or get into what other people think. But based on reactions from people at the three shows we've played [they tested their live cohesion at a series of club shows in Big Sur and California], it's nothing but positive. If I let myself think negative things, I'll start believing negative things."

 

The only voice of disapproval any of them admit listening to is Rick Rubin's, longtime producer of Peppers' albums. Flea believes they need him: "Every piece of music we write is like a child for us…he'll have different ideas about a piece of music than we will…"

 

"He comes with a machete," laughs Anthony.

 

"Rick tells us we have to shave this and cut that and we end up going, 'But, noooooo! I love that part! It's my favourite part!'" hoots Flea, waving his arms in the air.

 

Anthony, putting on a silly voice, cries, "That twelve minute outro! I love it!"

 

"That twelve minute outro makes me tingle like a little baby when I hear it!" Flea squeals. "And Rick's like, 'NO. Boring. Cut.' He's really good at taking the essence and putting it in a song. It's helped us harness what we do and make it so a lot of other people can feel the magic we feel when we're by ourselves - which is what Chad said: sitting in a room playing music trying to make ourselves feel good."

 

Hong Kong, album reviews and expectations aside, this is the only thing that really drives these four men when they are working together.

 

"It's just us, hopefully, having the wisdom to let nature takes its course. We let ourselves get out of the way and let nature do what it's gonna do. We have faith it will do something beautiful - which it repeatedly proves it does."

 


I'm With You is released Saturday August 27 on Warner Bros. Records. Red Hot Chili Peppers revealed in Hong Kong that an Australian tour was likely in early 2012.