Interview: Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats
Mon, 24 Aug 2009 08:38:17
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In addition to being one of the most epic drummers of his generation, Chad Smith [Red Hot Chili Peppers] has an epic sense of humor, to say the least.
The most bizarre events fascinate him. "Did you know there was a cock-off between Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle?" Smith asks with a wide smile and a hearty laugh. "It's true, man! Frank Sinatra was the judge of this big cock-off in Vegas between those two. Milton was Sinatra's guy. I don't know what's going on with me and Sinatra [Laughs]."
Sinatra seems to be following Chad these days. One journalist described Smith's latest project, Bombastic Meatbats, as "music Frank Sinatra would listen to while sniffing coke off a whore's ass." If that doesn't paint a picture, then nothing will.
Cocaine and asses aside, Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats, combines tongue-in-cheek song titles and visuals with mind-bending progressive instrumental jamming. Prog has never been this funky or fun. Smith spoke to ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview about his new band's debut Meet the Meatbats, what the Chili Peppers are up to and, of course, Frank Sinatra sniffing coke off of a whore's ass.
Be sure to enter our exclusive Meatbats contest here too!
"Bombastic Meatbats" is pretty much the best band name ever. Where did that come from?
[Laughs] Where did that come from? That's a good question. I'm not really sure! It came from Ed Roth our keyboard player. His nickname is "The Wrench." We didn't have any good names. Not that "Bombastic Meatbats" is a good name, but we're not this serious muso-instrumental band. We like to have a good time. All of our songs have funny names, and we all have nicknames. You can't take our band name too seriously.
Off the bat, the name says this music is going to be a good time.
"Off the bat," no pun intended, right? [Laughs]
None at all. "Instantly," you know it's going to be a good time.
Yeah, if you come see us live, you'll have a blast. We're not a bunch of old farts. We're young guys that like doing our thing. We interact with the audience. You hear that it's instrumental music, and you get this pre-conceived notion that it's going to be some muso-noodley shit. We're grooving and we're playing though. It's a good time, and that's the way it's supposed to be.
The titles also have a sci-fi influence. "The Battle for Ventura Blvd." is a brilliant name.
Our guitar player, Jeff Kollman, came up with that one. That's the thing when you don't have lyrics. We're not singing, "Hey baby, I love you." So we have to kind of explain our titles. As a result, we have interesting titles. You can't take a band too seriously that has songs like "Oh, I Spilled My Beer" [Laughs]. That came from recording. We were playing, and after we finished I kicked over my beer. You can hear me go, "Oh, I spilled my beer." That kind of stuff is great. It definitely brings out the personality of our band. I think that's important for people to connect with us. I've got a funny story. I was doing an interview with this guy in Birmingham, Alabama. He was like, "I don't know how to categorize this music, Chad! It sounds like music that if Frank Sinatra was listening to it, he'd be listening to it while he was sniffing coke off a whore's ass! [Laughs]." I was like, "That sounds great! I want to listen to that kind of music!" Make that category at the record store and we'll put some other bands in it [Laughs]. I don't what to say [Laughs]—not snorting, sniffing off a whore's ass [Laughs].
Is there a certain degree of freedom doing an instrumental record since you're not constricted by words? You can really do anything you want.
That's true, but you want to make sure it's still music. We still have structure. It's not like Avant Garde experimental music. It still has verses, choruses, bridges and solos with that pop music structure. Obviously, there's a lot of space for stretching out musically. I think our guitar player Jeff does a really great job with coming up with interesting melodies. Most of the melodies are something you can grab onto. There are themes. I feel it's akin to the way that Jeff Beck plays melodies in a lot of his instrumental music. Being lyrical when you're coming up with guitar lines is hard to do, and Jeff does a really good job. I think that's what reins us in so we can go all over the place and do whatever feels right to us. That's all we're doing. We're taking notes out of the air and trying to put them together to make them sound interesting. We're just trying to make it fun.
Your drumming is cinematic. On this record it feels like you're telling stories with the percussion as well.
I'm trying! Hopefully that comes across. That's great you feel that way. It can be difficult. In the music we're doing, the drums aren't a melodic instrument. Sometimes in jazz you can play themes and melodies as a drummer. Guys that are really good can do that on the drums. I can play a song like "Pig Feet" and create a vibe that makes you feel like you're down in New Orleans when you're hearing it. One section sounds like Jimi Hendrix, and one sounds like The Who. We do that. While writing, we think of The Who or fill-in-the-blank-band, and that helps take things in certain directions. Our jumping off place is that '70s funk, rock thing. We all dig that. We really like those Jeff Beck records from the '70s like Blow By Blow and Wired. Ed plays a Rhodes keyboard. He doesn't use any synthesizers. His main mode of expressing himself as a keyboardist is by using instruments from that era. There's something very soulful to that. Everyone's got a strong personality that comes out. That makes chemistry, and chemistry's the most important thing with any band. We have a good chemistry.
On "Into the Floyd," you're not only marrying Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd in the title, but…
Musically! [Laughs] That's it, man. Sometimes the title will inspire the music, but usually the music will inspire the title. With instrumental music, you try to give them a vibe of your interpretation with the title. For that one, go smoke some weed, put your headphones on and listen. It's crazy because we did this record a year and a half ago. I've been busy with other projects. It's been difficult to find a time for the album to finally come out. Now we've got a release date though—September 15. . I'm on the road with this Chickenfoot project that I'm doing now, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers are going to start writing again in October. We wrote all of these songs so quickly. It was something fun to do, and that's why I like to do it! We already recorded another album, so the Meatbats have another record that we made before I left L.A. We also recorded those songs and the old songs at The Baked Potato in L.A. We've done a bunch of gigs there. We recorded about four shows. We have three records worth of music, and none of it's out yet [Laughs]. It's weird to talk about stuff we've done so long ago. I think we're so much better! I think the first record great. But obviously the last thing you've done is the one you're most connected to. We're not a singles-oriented band. It'll be a cult thing. The people that dig it and get it will love it. We're not competing with the Mariah Careys of the world. It's a certain niche. It'll be that Frank-Sinatra-Coke-Sniffing niche [Laughs]. We'll put it out and we'll put out the next one six months later. We're not going to wait three years like a pop record. It'll be good! We're three records in already.
Do you get into a different mindset for each project—this, Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot?
Yeah, my approach to playing music is always the same. I'm always trying to be musical and play what's right for the song. Then I inject my personality, make it feel and make the other guys feel good. From a musical standpoint, that goes for any music I play. They're three very different situations. I've been in the Chili Peppers for over 20 years. These are people that I have such an incredibly deep and personal musical connection with. You can't make that happen when you just meet someone. In Chickenfoot, it's Joe Satriani, Sammy Hager, myself and Mike, and we'd just been jamming on cover songs. Then we started writing songs. That's very new. It has its own excitement. It's something very fresh. Playing with different people is always really fun for me. I love that. The Meatbat thing came out of my friendship with Glenn Hughes. He played bass for Deep Purple in the '70s. Now, he's a solo artist, and I've played with him. I've been on his records. That's where I met Ed and Jeff. That came out of that project. We were playing together. We have some musical history together, but it's so different than playing more traditional rock with singing like Chickenfoot and The Chili Peppers. They're all different, and I think each should be approached way or else you get stuck in sounding the same. I try to do what's right at the moment, and hopefully it comes across. Be real and be honest at the moment of what you're doing. I think that's how any artist should approach it. When you do that, that's when people feel it. One way or another people can tell. There's a feeling that makes them feel a certain way. That's the great thing about music. You don't always get it, but when you do, it's rewarding, exciting and it makes you want to get up and go crazy or…
Sniff coke off a hooker's ass with Frank Sinatra.
[Laughs] I don't know why but that just really tickled my funny bone when he said that. You should've heard the guy. The way he came up with that was really off-the-cuff. The whole thing was great.
It's just like playing music. It all comes natural for you. You have to do it.
I can't help it! At this point, I can't do anything else. I wouldn't be very good at anything else. I love it! I'm really passionate about music. I don't know what else I'd do. I'd probably in jail or dead. It keeps me going. There's so much to do and not enough hours in the day. I'm working on putting 25 hours into a day. You think it's possible? Can I expand time? What do you think, Rick?
I think you can.
Well, when I play the drums I can [change time], but I don't think I can change the universe.
All it takes is a Meatbat and a bag of blow.
That'll keep you up for awhile [Laughs].