Chad Smith Talks Bombastic Meatbats and "Live Meat and Potatoes"
Mon, 13 Aug 2012 12:52:10
Red Hot Chili Peppers Photos
Red Hot Chili Peppers Videos
"It's all about locking into a great groove," says drum extraordinaire Chad Smith. "That's true with any band."
Smith should know.
He's in more than a few groups who have mastered the groove. The legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot drummer once again brandishes true percussive panache in Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats.
On the band's new live disc, Live Meat and Potatoes, Smith and co. take an intimate Los Angeles crowd on a funked-out, jazzy psychedelic trip fueled by the virtuosity of the four men on stage. The Meatbats aren't your old man's jazz quartet. They bring a real ballsy bombast to improvisational music, making for something undeniably awesome and, of course, meaty.
About the set, he goes on, "We're in the moment. When artists are in the moment, they're being their pure selves. That's a beautiful thing to try and tap into. We just go for it. We don't give a fuck."
Fall into the moment on Live Meat and Potatoes and you might never look at instrumental music the same way again.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Chad Smith talks Live Meat and Potatoes, improvisation, and so much more.
What was the approach for Live Meat and Potatoes?
When you do live records, it's like, "Okay, we're going to record tonight". Sometimes, people get a little nervous or they think about it too much. We're no different, but we got lucky. We were playing two nights at the Baked Potato so we wanted to record both nights. If you fuck something up, it's fine because you've got a backup night. That takes a little bit of the pressure off. I think most of the record is from the first night, which is great.
As far as live records go, Live Meat and Potatoes sounds crystal clear.
Yeah, it does. I was very pleased with it. I don't know if you've been in that place, but it looks like a basement in somebody's house in Indiana or something [Laughs]. If you look at that room, it has lots of personality. It's been there for 40 years. This is a true representation of what the instruments sound like in there. There was no doctoring it up. We didn't put Peter Frampton's live audience in there or any overdubs. I was happy with it. We were pleased with it as far as performance and sound go.
Even though you're a jazz band, this comes across like a big rock show.
Jeff Kollman [guitar] is a rocker! None of us are real jazz players. I've got my rock and funk thing. If I were to play traditional jazz as people think of it, I'd get laughed out of the room. Ed Roth [keyboards] is probably the jazziest of us. It's a category. It's a box. We just do our thing, whatever that is. It's instrumental music. I can definitely say that. There's no singing—audibly [Laughs]. There are no words in our songs. In that realm, the whole instrumental music genre gets a stereotype of being serious with lots of notes and being for musicians only. We like to have fun with it. It's just our personalities. That's what we do. We all have nicknames, and our records have funny artwork. We're superheroes. We have songs like "Breadballs" and "Oops I Spilled My Beer". With a name like "Meatbats", you can't take yourself too seriously. We have fun, and I think you can hear us having fun. That's important.
All of these styles fit within what the Meatbats are, but it's still diverse. You tread some really unique instrumental territory.
I agree, thank you! You have to play with dynamics and have different moods. If it was all the same and linear, it'd be very boring. Especially with instrumental music, you have to be on your toes all the time. There's no singing, words, or melodies to latch on to. It's all about what you're doing on your instrument. You have to play things that are interesting for yourself and the listener. Our forte is the conversations we have with each other musically inside the structures of the songs. The songs do have structure. We're not just a jam band that does the head of the song and everybody solos. There's a lot of improvising in our group within a traditional framework of verses, choruses, and solos. To do that and keep it interesting with different dynamics and moods is really important. That's what we try to do.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of those two shows that you recorded?
Ed plays in CTA with Danny Seraphine, who was one of my heroes growing up. The Baked Potato is not a big place. If you're sitting at the table closest to the stage, you could reach out and play my high hat. Danny was like ten feet in front of me—standing right there. I was somewhat conscious of that thinking, "Is he digging it?" He was totally cool. He's a great guy. It didn't make me nervous, but I was conscious about it. When people come to see you play, you want to do well obviously, but we were recording on top of that. As long as things go well at the beginning, you can get into a flow and those thoughts go by the wayside. You just want to be in the moment, and that's the most important thing. Being such a small place, all of our friends and family were there so it was almost like a rehearsal. You could do anything, and they're not going to boo and throw stuff at you…I hope [Laughs]. Family members can be harsh! I remember having fun. It's always nice when you go back and listen to live recordings and be pleasantly surprised. You're like, "Oh, that was better than I thought." That's better than thinking you killed it and realizing, "Shit, not so much…" It was a nice revelation listening back with fresh perspective.
Is there any extra preparation for a show like this?
We'd been playing quite a bit. We were rehearsing, and we had just recorded our second record. Live Meat and Potatoes was done in 2009. I remember I was going out on the road with Chickenfoot, and I was like, "Dudes, we should record this new stuff before I go. I'm going to be gone for a while. Then, I'm back with the Chili Peppers until I don't know when". Everybody has got busy schedules. We had a good batch of songs though. We decided to write a few more and record them. We were playing quite a bit, and we had a couple of gigs too. We were just playing well. The first show back after 6 months might not be the time to record [Laughs]. You could get lucky, but…We were oiled up so we figured we'd get it down. If it turned out great, we knew we could do something with it. If not, we had something for the archives. There was no real preparation other than coming in and doing a little extra sound check to make sure all of the instruments were being recorded right.
Have you begun working on another album yet?
We're not. That's mainly due to my scheduling. I've been very busy with the Chili Peppers over the past year. We've done a few gigs here and there, and we're having a record release party August 19. We haven't been able to play very much. When I get done in April, we'll hopefully get back together and write some songs if everyone's around. It has been a while.
Is the recording generally quick?
Yup! We all get in the same room, and playing off of each other and improvising is obviously really important. We do the basic tracks together. It's all about the performance of the song. It's good for us to be pretty prepared when we go in as far as arrangements and stuff like that go, but we're not super exacting. We're prepared enough to be confident about where the song's going. We play off each other, and that's a crucial element.
What are some of your favorite songs to play?
I like it when any band I'm in does cover songs. It's fun to do your own take on something else. I don't ever try to copy someone else's song. If I'm doing "Highway Star" by Deep Purple, a Led Zeppelin song, or "Waiting Room" by Fugazi, these are incredible pieces of music. Trying to put your own spin on it is fun. It's challenge, but it's also really fun because it gives you some freedom to be creative with it. Hopefully, it works. It takes me back to my Detroit bar band days of doing "Alright Now" by Free for two years and trying to come up with a way to keep it fresh [Laughs].
That cover you did of "Teenager In Love" was great.
For "Teenager In Love", John Frusciante was going through his doo wop period. He was really into the vocals of those bands. I thought Anthony sang it great. That was from the By the Way era. There are a lot of interesting harmonies on that record.
What's the first thing that comes to mind, when you think of By the Way?
I think it's great! I'm really proud of that record. When it came out, people were like, "It's more mellow". We got a lot of that. The energy isn't mellow to me though. The most quiet song can be very intense though. It's the feeling and the energy of the song. John had rejoined the band. We did Californication, and we did a long tour. We came back and started writing those songs. We were in a good place, and we were having a good time.
What's on the horizon for Chickenfoot?
I hope to make some more records. It's fun playing with those guys! I really enjoy it.
Do you dig Chad's Smith Bombastic Meatbats?