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Music

The tension between Flea and John Frusciante when making 'By the Way'

Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the most iconic bands of the past 35 years. Funk rock masters, they’ve created a sound that is like no other and the unrelenting energy of their music mixed with a penchant for catchy hooks has been a potent formula that has kept them relevant since their first real breakthrough on 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. 

Famously, however, it has not been an easy ride for the band, and they have endured plenty of struggles stemming from factors ranging from drug addictions to creative differences. Still, it is a testament to the band that they’ve managed to dodge these challenges and put their personal problems aside for the good of the group, which is the most essential thing in their lives. 

One of the most fraught periods came during the making of 2002’s uber-successful album, By the Way, which featured classic cuts such as the title track, ‘The Zephyr Song’ and ‘Can’t Stop’. In a 2006 interview with SPIN when the band had just released their follow up to By the WayStadium Arcadium, they looked back on the problems that had plagued them when making it, and it turns out that the big point of contention was between bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante. 

Watch Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and John Frusciante trade solos

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In the interview, Frusciante revealed that the deep relationship he had with Flea threatened to bring about the band’s ruin. “By the Way was a tense time for me and Flea together,” he said. “We just weren’t really seeing eye-to-eye, and we weren’t really understanding each other.”

“Every time we make a record,” the guitar hero continued, “I have sort of a concept, and my concept for By the Way was kind of selfish, because it didn’t have a lot to do with where we would come from. I wasn’t really into doing stuff that was funk-based or blues-based. Things I would describe as not having that would be the Smiths or Siouxsie and the Banshees or the Cure—I wanted to do something along those lines, and I wasn’t very open to things outside of that framework.”

Flea then explained that it wasn’t the musical direction of Frusciante’s concept, but the attitude he approached it with that irked him. “I felt that what he was doing didn’t warrant any input from me,” Flea said. “It’s not like I didn’t like what John was doing, ’cause how could I not like what John’s doing? He’s a great musician. But I didn’t feel welcome to express myself naturally. And once I started having that feeling, I just shut down and kinda withdrew from the process, and it wasn’t a happy feeling.” 

Interestingly, the interviewer noted that after the interview Flea called him to clarify that: “I don’t blame John for that time I was unhappy in the band. It takes two to tango, and it would break my heart if that’s how it came across.”

Afterwards, frontman Anthony Kiedis disclosed that this kind of creative tension is everpresent for the band, which for anyone looking in, isn’t surprising given just how colourful each character is in the group. “Sometimes there’s a bit of confrontation chemistry, which is good for the creative process,” Kiedis said. “Sometimes it’s the dark energy in this band, the mental illness that we all have a touch of, that drives us crazy and makes us hurt inside and makes us have to go bang on something until we find a cool beat. There are a lot of different levels to the chemistry—it’s not like there’s this great sense of constant brotherly love. Sometimes it’s the antagonism that really gets the ball rolling. But it’s a fine line between letting that create rather than destroy.”

Listen to ‘By the Way’ below.

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