John Frusciante brought a necessary centre to the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Prior to his arrival, the Chili Peppers were completely enthralled with the punk-funk-quasi rap that bands like Faith No More and Living Colour were arguably superseding them at. Flea was a monster slap bass player, but the band had little cohesion or refinement to them as they approached a crisis point upon the death of founding member Hillel Slovak.
In comes Frusciante, a teenage wiz at musical theory with a deep understanding of melody who, perhaps somewhat incongruously, was also a massive fan of the Chili Peppers brand of hard-hitting funk. Even though he was pressured into retaining some of the thornier edges on his debut with the band, Mother’s Milk, his skills at sparseness soon forced the rest of the band to think about melody, especially lead singer Anthony Kiedis.
Kiedis was, to put it mildly, not the most gifted singer when it came to range and melodic capabilities. For most of the band’s existence, he rapped as much as he actually picked out musical notes in his vocalisations. He mostly got by on energy, charm, and ridiculous bravado, and when the band’s punk-funk was the style of choice, it worked for what they were doing. But it wouldn’t do with someone like Frusciante in the band.
“I think the original idea of having a singer like Anthony was that everybody say him as being very much like a non-musician,” Frusciante explains in a 2003 interview. “He comes at it from a standpoint of someone whose feelings for music are very concise, and he has a big capacity for feeling music, but he doesn’t know anything about music, or notes, or anything of these things.”
Frusciante explains that the juxtaposition of Kiedis’ relatively rudimentary knowledge of music and his other bandmates’ more specific knowledge is what leads to the best Chili Peppers songs. Certainly, Kiedis has improved as a melody maker, to the point where on albums like By the Way (for which Frusciante is promoting in this interview), he began becoming more comfortable with dispensing his more manic MC persona for something more befitting of a melody-based alternative rock band.
Frusciante certainly doesn’t take on any pretensions when it comes to Kiedis’ knowledge (or lack thereof) of theory and melody. He acknowledges the progression that Kiedis has made over the band’s career, from “rap type movement” to “pretty much almost exclusively melodically singing,” and ends by stating that Kiedis “has grown into a very mature songwriter”.
Check out the interview down below.