Californication: the second life of Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1999 – La Tercera

It was during a stay in Auckland, New Zealand, that Anthony Kiedis heard some words that caught his attention. “I went to a crazy woman on the street who was discussing that there were psychic spies in China. That phrase stuck in my mind, so back home, I started writing,” says the vocalist in his autobiography. scar tissue (2004, Hyperion Books). In the end it became the first line of the song “Californication”, which gave its name to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 20th anniversary album.

Days later, Kiedis showed the text to John Frusciante, the group’s guitarist. He loved it and immediately started composing music for her. But it wasn’t easy. “We couldn’t find it,” details the singer. “We tried 10 different arrangements and 10 different choruses, and nothing worked.”

That was the first theme that both began to work on in the summer of ’98. Before that, however, a lot had happened. his previous album One Hot Minute (1995) had not achieved the success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) and the group had even been on the verge of breaking up after the expulsion of guitarist Dave Navarro for his constant friction with the members of the band, and his problems with alcohol. “People had lost confidence in us,” Anthony says in his book.

It was then that, at the urging of Flea, the bassist, the Californians considered bringing back an old acquaintance: Frusciante. This had left the quartet in 1992 because of his conflicts with Kiedis and his drug addiction -Arik Marshall and then Navarro took his place-. Although he had released solo material, in the mid-90s his situation was dramatic. With almost no money, his days were spent basically painting and taking drugs.

However, the musician decided to enter a rehabilitation center. After leaving, Flea went to visit him one afternoon. While some records played and they talked, the bassist asked him if he would be willing to return to the group. Overwhelmed by emotion, and in tears, the guitarist accepted.

However, some things had to be resolved. Kiedis – who was also struggling with his heroin and alcohol dependency – and the man from “The Past Recedes” met at the Farmer’s Market, and over tacos, resolved their old grudges. At this point, neither bore a grudge against the other, so it was easy to reach an agreement.

Incredibly, in those days Frusciante did not have a guitar. So, after the tacos, they both went to a store, where the vocalist bought him a 1962 Fender Stratocaster, his signature instrument to this day. The following days would be spent together listening to music and discussing ideas, but perhaps without knowing it, they had just taken a key step for the following years.

By then, “Under the bridge” had earned a place in a generation that began to value alternative music. “The Faith No More thing in Viña, and Living Color smashing it at the Chile Stadium, made many people open up to listening to those kinds of bands. There were even those who already knew the Red Hot Chili Peppers, even with Hillel Slovak, with songs like ‘Fight Like a Brave’ and ‘Behind the Sun’, which managed to be on open TV in Chile”, the journalist and musical director of Radio Zero, Fernando Mujica, recalls to Culto.

“With the Blood Sugar Sex Magik they had become a gigantic benchmark. That album manages to sort out all the half-funky, half-punk catharsis they had. But then in the One Hot Minute, with Navarro, does not work and a downturn is coming. So when Frusciante returns, there is a change, which confirms what a capo he is,” adds Mujica.

For the guitarist and composer, Pablo Ilabaca (Pillanes, Jaco Sánchez, 31 Minutos, ex-Chancho en Piedra), Frusciante is a key musician whose contribution to the band is fundamental. “His guitar makes the difference on any record, because of his songwriting and because of the way he helps Kiedis vocally. I’ve always thought that some of his guitars have a lot of Joe Walsh from the Eagles; that melancholy, sunset Californian sound”, analyze.

The openness to new sounds is, according to Mujica, the key element of Californication. “There is another cadence, the musical structure changes, other influences appear. It was no longer just Funkadelic, but the years listening to Eagles with their parents appear. They showed that they could listen to another type of music and add more melody to it. That’s how they left the world of funk metal, and they become a big band like U2, to a dimension that surpasses the labels”.


Already with the formation defined, the group began to work in the garage of Flea’s house. In those sessions they created a lot of material and by June they already had 12 songs. Among those, one that later became a single: “Scar Tissue”. According to Kiedis, the lyrics were inspired by the idea of ​​irony as a form of hurtful humor. “I was thinking of Dave Navarro, the king of sarcasm,” he says in his memoir.

“When John started playing his guitar riff, I immediately knew what the song was about. It was an atmosphere of jokes, the happiness of being alive, a phoenix rising from the ashes,” the singer details in his text. At that moment, he left the garage, saw some birds cross the sky and in his mind came the words that would later shape the chorus. “With the birds I will share this lonely view.”

But it was not all joy. Other tracks were testimony to the harsh days of addiction. “How long how long am I going to slide? / Separate my side, I don’t / I don’t think it’s bad,” Anthony sings on “Otherside,” a lyric in which he reflects on his time on drugs. “All those relapses, each one of those setbacks that seemed to me like unnecessary additions to an experience that is torturous, they were all significant,” he details.

Despite everything, those of “Give it away” gained more confidence in their compositions, and began to plan the recording of an LP. Although they had worked with Rick Rubin on their previous plates, they decided to find another producer. But it wasn’t easy. “We had already asked Brian Eno three times to produce us, and he always said no, so we asked him again, even though that ‘no’ was inevitable. We didn’t know it, but he was doing us a favor by turning us down.” “, details Kiedis.

Given the refusals, they even explored the possibility of signing David Bowie as a producer, but “Starman” declined the offer as soon as it was sent to him. For this reason, they finally returned to Rubin’s side at Cello studios in Los Angeles, California. The sessions began in December 1998 and were especially productive. In a couple of months, they had already completed no less than 25 songs. But there was one missing that the singer was still thinking about and he wanted to finish as it was.

The topic in question was “Californication.” The same one they had been stuck with in the early days. At that point, every time the vocalist suggested it, he was rejected by the others. But he insisted. “This will be the best of the entire recording. It’s the best lyrics I’ve written in a long time. It has to be a song,” he details in his memoir.

With only a couple of days of studio work remaining, it was John Frusciante who hit on the key. One afternoon he came running to Cello yelling, “I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” With his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar (the same one with which he appears in the video) he began to play the characteristic arpeggio that opens the theme. “It was so different from anything we had tried before for that song that I listened to it impassively. He had already thought about Flea and Chad’s parts, so we rehearsed it a couple of times and recorded it,” says the voice of the Red Hot .

“In all that exercise of Californicationand then in by the wayFrusciante is the one who stands out the best,” says Fernando Mujica. “He remains a hero, a cool character, and he is a benchmark for a reason. What’s more, yes Blood Sugar Sex Magik makes Red Hot Chili Peppers become a benchmark, on this album the one who remains in that position is Frusciante”, he adds.

Once the album went on sale, on June 8, the group was in good spirits and planned to do a promotional tour of the United States, Europe and even South America, which allowed their debut in Chile in October of that year. Thus they were able to verify the good reception of the public to the new material.

“We were in Italy, John and I were riding in the back of a Mercedes with the window down. A motorcycle with two Italians came up to us. They looked inside and started yelling, ‘Hey, Californication, Californication!’ then they started singing ‘Scar Tissue,'” Kiedis details. They had made it. “We felt like a forest that was completely burned but that new trees had been reborn from the ashes,” says the musician. “Going through this project was a very unifying process.”

A common claim regarding Red Hot Chili Peppers is to place Californication as a point where the band, although it took the leap, found a formula that it then repeated endlessly. However, Fernando Mujica does not share that point of view. “I don’t feel like it’s repeating itself, I think it’s the continuation of a very intense moment they lived through, which lasts from ’99 to 2003, that is, like a second part. And it’s so intense that afterwards they intend to do a bigger work and take out the Stadium Arcadiumwhich is more guatazo”.

However, its popularity is not in dispute. Pablo Ilabaca tells Cult an anecdote that allows dimensioning the scope of the plate. “I can tell you that we were with the Chancho en Piedra mixing the album pig brand in Hollywood, Calif. So we would go for a walk down the boulevards of the city and ‘Californication’ would be heard. It was super special to feel that this music was from that place. It was a magical feeling.”

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Californication: the second life of Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1999 – La Tercera

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