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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hall of Famers

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers had major occasion to celebrate their history and accomplishments this spring, when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But from what drummer Chad Smith says, there isn’t a lot of celebrating past glories going on in the Chili Peppers these days. The band instead has been focused on the here and now.

“There are lots of ideas, lots of creativity. Everyone’s excited to be playing music,” Smith says, as he turns his thoughts to the writing and recording of the latest album, 2011’s I’m With You. “The juices were flowing and the batteries were recharged. It was fun to, every day, show up and who knows what’s going to happen today. We might come up with a great song today. We didn’t always. But it was really good for a lot of it. So that made us feel really confident that we were on the right road.”

That feeling must have been reassuring, since recording I’m With You represented a new chapter for the Chili Peppers. The band was coming off of a two-year break and had seen guitarist John Frusciante quit the band. Over the course of two stints in the Chili Peppers, from 1988-1992 and from 1998-2009, Frusciante had become a major songwriting contributor.

His replacement, Josh Klinghoffer, was a longtime friend of the group and had toured with the Chili Peppers as a keyboardist/guitarist/backing vocalist on the latter part of the band’s tour in support of its 2006 double CD, Stadium Arcadium.

So there was familiarity with Josh’s playing abilities, Smith says, but what he would contribute as a songwriter was more of an unknown.

As it turned out, the creative chemistry between Klinghoffer and singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea and Smith was strong, and it immediately became apparent that the group had its new guitarist.

“The first day, we came up with ideas that ended up being on the record—two ideas,” Smith says. “One of them was ‘Brendan’s Death Song’ and the second one was ‘Annie Wants a Baby’ … so that whole process proved he was the right guy.”

I’m With You has not yet become a blockbuster hit like Stadium Arcadium (or, for that matter, earlier records like Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the band’s 1991 commercial breakthrough, or 1999’s Californication). It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album charts, but has since fallen off and now seems likely to become the group’s lowest-selling album in more than two decades. Musically, though, I’m With You is a worthy effort with some unexpected moments, from the delicate jazziness of “Did I Let You Know” to the lurching funk of “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.”

I’m With You could still get a boost from the Chili Peppers’ fall tour. They’ve kept attention on the record by releasing 18 tracks from the I'm With You sessions that were left off of the album. Those releases, as digital and vinyl singles, will continue through early next year.

The group has also released We Salute You, an EP featuring the covers of songs by six acts already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including The Beach Boys ("I Get Around"), The Ramones ("Havana Affair") and Neil Young (“Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere").

Smith says that joining such acts in the Hall of Fame isn’t just another honor.

“It’s kind of a special club,” he says. “It’s not for, ‘Oh, you did a great album this year,’ or, ‘You did this.’ It’s for longevity and for hopefully doing something unique in the music business and bringing something special. I can’t put a lot into awards and stuff. Music is not about a competition. But to be recognized for something, like I say, for the longevity of your career, what you’ve done and brought to it, we’re pretty pleased about it.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers headline the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m.

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