interviews

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Hot in the City
Red Hot Chili Peppers
by Murray Engleheart
Beat magazine - May 1, 1996

Although just two nights earlier he was rolling on the floor laughing 'under very intense and private circumstances', there's an ebb and flow of darkness around the Red Hot Chili Peppers seventh guitarist, 28 year old Dave Navarro.

The guy isn't making a studied bid to be the bad ass, though the pierced and tattooed Harley-straddling gypsy guitar slinger, who slammed and airbrushed all manner of sonic soundscapes through the to-this-day stunning Jane's Addiction, could probably step into that sort of role at a moment's notice, which was why he was the man that Guns n' Roses wanted to replace Izzy Stradlin. His mother and aunt were murdered when he was 15 and recently, those wounds were reopened when one prominent US magazine reported that he had actually witnessed the horrific event.

"That was misprinted," he explained. "I was a little upset about that. She was murdered, however I didn't see it."

Despite the immense emotional weight of such a horror, the aesthetics of darkness seem to become Navarro. With the reportedly macabre contents of the basement of his Hollywood Hills home and the coffin-like structure he uses for a coffee table, it's reasonable to at least consider that brilliant sunlight and the guitarist are not the greatest of pairings. Which is fine. It's an environment that perfectly suits his other great love--movies.

"I write for a magazine called Bikini, which is a subsidiary magazine of Raygun," he explained. "I do a movie review column with my cousin, John Navarro. It's basically just dialogue between us discussing the films that we've seen. Basically, we just take the piss out of everything. If it's a really terrible movie, we just review it as if it was brilliant. It's easy to do with anything regardless if we like it or not. The whole thing is just for comedic purposes, basically."

"There's a film called Leaving Las Vegas. It's a pretty dramatic film about an alcoholic starring Nicholas Cage, and years ago, Nicholas Cage did a film called Honeymoon In Vegas, which was actually a comedy and so, we reviewed Leaving Las Vegas as the sequel to Honeymoon In Vegas and how it was full of sight gags and one-liners and Nick Cage is the new Jim Carrey and stuff like that but all in seriousness.

"It's easy to take some kind of comedic twist when you absolutely have to. But for me, I love films and it's kind of a cool break from the music industry and I get to go to all the screenings. It's just kind of a cool gig. It doesn't pay well."

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have proved to be somewhat more lucrative. Despite their absence since the release of 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik album, thank to suck demons as illness and the equally damning writers block, the Chilis have lost none of the impact or appeal unlike many of their contempories. Navarro's Chili Pepper debut, the One Hot Minute album, has been received for the great slab of bristling, bone cracking aural sex and soul it is. He called its construction "a pretty important turning point in my life" and commemorated the work with a tattoo of the angel from the cover on his arm.

"The spectrum of music we have available to us to play is one of the things that makes it an interesting project for me. My moods change so rapidly and frequently that it would be impossible for me to play one genre of music. Human beings are so complicated and multi-dimensional that it would only be fair to at least try and approach some of the different personalities that we all have."

The tour on the back of One Hot Minute has produced such moments as Iggy Pop joining the band on stage at Madison Square Garden for what else but the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." But while Iggy, who was no doubt touched by the line "we can dance like Iggy Pop" in "Coffee Shop," managed to keep his pants up, elsewhere, others made special efforts to do exactly the opposite.

"The night that Silverchair ended their run with us, we hired a bunch of strippers to come out onstage with them and strip during their final song, which was unbeknownst to them. Needless to say, it made for a very charming experience to watch those guys get a little rattled by something like that," Dave said letting fly a rare and quick laugh.

Apart from Navarro bringing in and about a massive shift on the sonic axis on which the Chilis turn-this is a man who has said that he actually sees music rather than just hearing it as Jimi Hendrix pictured what he did in colours-the guitarist naturally enough also injected what has clearly been a highly productive shard of his brooding intensity to the otherwise zany grouping. Just don't expect him to analyse that interaction in any way.

"To answer that question would either be arrogant or self-defeating," the man who turned down a job supporting Tom Jones at The Billboard Music Awards replied.

Let's try self-defeating.

"No. I'm saying any answer that I would give you would either come off as arrogant or self-defeating, therefore I'm not going to answer it. It's impossible for me to tell you what I brought to the band. Please don't be offended. I've been asked that question a million times before and I've never answered it."

I wondered than it Navarro saw something spiritual going on in the band, which I believe there is, that he found attractive. His response was an immediate and surprising "no." The subject of his job offer by Guns n' Roses, just as Jane's Addiction drew to a close, received more wordy attention.

"There are hundreds of reasons (why he knocked it back) but the main one was I just wasn't ready to pack it up and go on the road with some huge rock band at the time they asked me to do it. It was easy to walk away from that one."

Anthony Kiedis once described what the Chilis do as sacred. Do you agree? "I agree that he said that," he laughed quietly.

transcribed by Gaby