Red Hot Chili Peppers & Chickenfoot drummer Chad Smith appears to have superhuman stamina. As if two internationally-renowned bands weren't enough to keep a man busy, the hard-hitting funktastic beat man (who shares a striking resemblance to Will Ferrell) has recently joined with Jeff Kollman, multi-faceted keyboardist Ed Roth, and Motor City bass ace Kevin Chown to form an unpredictable instrumental outfit that's spontaneous, sarcastic and unlike anything you'd recognize in the RHCP or Chickenfoot catalogue: Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats.
The Meatbats take pride in fusing together a dizzying array of influences, including old school funk, punk, and 70’s R&B. Their debut album, Meet The Meatbats (out this week), consists of 10 songs written in the span of a few days at Chad’s pool house in Malibu (known as “The Tiki Room”), and exudes the feel of a spontaneous party-funk celebration of soul.
I caught up with Chad just before the album's release to discuss all things Meatbats, as well as to get a little insight on the future of the Red Hot Chili Peppers - which, if you've been paying attention to guitarist John Frusciante's comments of late, is still riddled with uncertainty. Smith, however, feels differently. Read on to find out why...
What was the catalyst for getting the Meatbats off the ground?
We didn't really have any plans to do anything with it at first. It was like a year and a half ago, and we did that with no real idea of putting it out, getting a label involved, etc. But then this guy Jim from Warrior (Records) caught wind of it, and he saw us play a few times down at the Baked Potato, a little club on Cahuenga down in L.A. Just an old jazz club...But he came out, and it just clicked with him. He just got it, and he said 'hey man, I wanna put this out." So it just kind of fell into our lap a little bit. And the Chili Peppers have always had a strangely high level of success over there, so we went over and toured a bit, and it all worked out. It actually came out a month ago in Japan.
So this really started just for fun and grew legs on its own.
Absolutely. We love it and we're proud of it, but it's a side fun project. We don't really have time to tour properly either, because I'm going back to start work with the Chili Peppers again in about a month. So that's gonna keep me busy for a while. We're pretty excited about the Meatbats though man, the record's all set, and everything's coming together. We're really excited about it.
Was the entire thing freeform? I was under the impression you wrote everything in-studio, on the spot.
No, we came up with some stuff.. we wrote some songs at my house actually. Ed Roth, Jeff Kollman and I used to play with this guy Glenn Hughes who used to play with Deep Purple. now he's a solo artist, but that's how we met. We played in his band and played a few records with him and played live sometimes. We'd just jam when he wasn't around, and we always dug this kind of funk thing that we got into, and one day.. I don't know who it was, it might've been me - said "hey, we should record this shit, write some songs and get it down on tape," and that's what we did.
How long did it take to bring it all together once you were recording?
We did it all really quickly, probably in the span of a few days. We went into the studio and just recorded 'em really quick, and boom, there's a record.
There's little to no overdubs or overthinking done on the record, right?
Yeah very minimal - we cut it all live, and I think.... I think the piano had to be done separately because it was in a room that the drums would've leaked into. But other than that it was all old school, raw and live.
How are you gearing up mentally for the Chili Peppers to kick back into gear?
It's all good! I'm ready, it's gonna be fun. We haven't played in two years, so that's the longest we've ever not played together.
There's been a lot of concern over that, since you've been gone for so long. And John (Frusciante, RHCP guitarist) made a couple comments a while back on how he's got no intention of diving back in..
Yeah, he wasn't too anxious to get back & get going. But one way or another, we'll get going.
How do you reconcile all those personalities at this advanced stage in your careers?
I just try to do what's right for the music in whatever situation I'm in. I just feel like it's always fun to play different stuff and keep shit fresh. I just have to play, man. I just can't not do it. I'm fortunate that I'm able to find people as passionate as I am about playing music and keeping it fun. It's important to be artistically fulfilling, but at the same time you gotta enjoy yourself, man. It has to be a fun thing.
In terms of relating to or playing off the different guitarists you've worked with through the creative and recording process, is there a comparison to be made? Dave Navarro is a very different player than John, but your One Hot Minute album was so damn good.
Dave is more of a reactive player.. or at least he was with us, where John will initiate a lot of the ideas, come in with parts and ideas and such. With Dave, if you presented him with an idea, then he could come up wiht all kinds of stuff. But he wasn't a real instigator in that regard. And that's not taking away at all from his abilities as a musician - people just work creatively in different ways.
The Chili Peppers' creative approach seems to be very improvisational.
Right. The way that we were always used to was just jamming and improvising, and Dave's not a real jamming and improvising kind of person. Some stuff came out of that, but Flea was more the catalyst in coming up with ideas on that one. But that's the main thing with John - he'll have guitar ideas at home that he'll come in with. In all fairness to Dave, he was stepping into a circus, you know? We had our way that we worked, and I think he worked with Jane's Addiction in another way where Perry (Farrel) and Eric (Avery) would come up with parts and then Dave would come up with his thing. Just different approaches, initially.
It's a shame we'll never see those songs again though, because it's such a fantastic record.
Yeah. But John's... John is John, and there's nobody else like him. And Dave as well! We've just been fortunate to have played with such great musicians. The material just doesn't find a common place presently.
How are you distributing the album?
It's through Universal, working with Warrior Records, and so it'll be everywhere, but mainly at Best Buy. I know it'll be in six hundred Best buy stores, which is great, because it's hard to get CDs in stores now. Fortunately we've got a good relationship with those guys, and for a record like this, we lucked out.
Instrumental music in pop culture is often so linear and boring though. How conscious did you have to stay of that, not having a vocal anchor?
We're not old nerdy guys cramming notes into music and creating boring-ass music. That's not what we do at all. We're based in this fun funk element that doesn't ever become a chore. It's just something we all dig and it itches a scratch. We get to stretch out a little more than we would or could with our other projects. We're in a good place, man. It's good for the soul.