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Dave Navarro
Ritual de un Guitarrista
by Jeff Schroedl
Guitar One - April 1998

Only a small percentage of musicians can boast of enjoying national success with even one group, much less lay claim to beating the odds three times. But for Dave Navarro, that's just the way things are. Navarro is fast becoming one of rock's most prolific artists. He currently juggles Jane's Addiction's "Relapse," a new solo project called Spread, and of course, his distinguished duties as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' newest kindred. With Navarro's busy schedule, it seems only fitting that this GuitarOne interview was done backstage during a few frenzied moments before Jane's Addiction's recent performance in Chicago. Nevertheless, he spoke humbly of his no-holds-barred efforts, telling the full story about his present addiction--the guitar.

Who were you listening to back when you first started to get serious about music?

The typical guys--Hendrix, Page, the Stones, Love and Rockets, Bauhaus, the Cure. A lot of English bands. I kind of feel like I developed a well-rounded schooling because my taste wasn't one-dimensional. I was into a lot of different types of music, and I think that really helped to round out what I do now. As opposed to listening to one school, I listened to many schools. As a result, I was able to pick from different places and hopefully make a sound that has all of the above.

Were you influenced by the blues?

A little bit. I think more so the guitarists I was influenced by were influenced by blues. I never really liked listening to B.B. King or any of those guys. That just wasn't heavy enough for me.

What about metal?

I was into metal, and I was into punk. Anything that was fast and hard, I thought was good. But that was at the time when I wasn't even hearing what was being said.

Did you take guitar lessons?

Briefly when I was a kid, but basically everything I've learned I've learned from listening to other records and playing with other players. The guitar lessons that I took just taught me the fundamentals; they didn't really teach me anything in terms of improvisation or style.

Did you learn theory?

No. I attempted to at one time, but I just didn't have the patience for it. As far as I was concerned at the time, theory meant that I wasn't able to simply "rock out." It was a lot like homework, you know what I mean? I didn't want to do homework. I wanted to play guitar to get away from that shit.

So the guitar was like a vehicle for "escapism"?

Yeah--escapism, fantasy, and release. It worked for a long time on that level.

Give me three milestones in your development as a guitarist.

One was hooking up with Perry (Farrell). He was really helpful to me in terms of thinking anti-guitar as much as I could while still being a guitarist. He kind of helped me listen to things a little differently. Another milestone was being friends with my cousin Dan who is a guitar player. He was basically the guy who made me interested in playing to begin with. The third milestone would have been listening to Jimi Hendrix for the first time and realizing that's what I wanted to do.

What was it about Hendrix?

He was just doing stuff that I'd never heard before. I guess it hit me on a level that is somehow indefinable.

What kinds of things did you spend time practicing?

I just used to play things as fast as I could all of the time.

Do you still practice?

I don't sit at home and go through scales and stuff anymore, but if I'm writing, I'm playing. If I'm bummed out I play; if I'm with other musicians I play; and if it's before a show, Flea and I will be rockin' together. I mean, I'm in two big bands, and we play together so much that I just get a lot of practice that way now. And on top of it, I'm not worried about chops anymore. I figure that practice doesn't exactly keep you in touch with the emotion of the music.

At what point did you start writing your own songs?

I'm not really sure. I kind of remember always coming up with my own stuff, but I don't think it seriously went into practice until high school--maybe 11th grade with Steve Perkins.

I know you prefer pedal effects over the rack gear. What are your favorite stomp boxes?

I use digital delay, a chorus, phaser, distortion box, and a Cry Baby (wah-wah). Mostly all Boss stuff. That's about it. I like it really simple, and I like to be able to turn the knobs on the floor as opposed to having to dial in some parameter. For me, it takes too much thought and energy--unless you have a full understanding of that stuff--in the middle of a show. If something goes wrong out there, I don't want everybody to wait up while I'm punching up presets and changing it. I just want to turn the knob.

Can you point out any specific ways you like to incorporate effects?

I guess like the droning with the delay; the wetness. I don't know, to me that's a sound that is just comfortable. That sound helps take me to another place, and that's what I want playing music to do for me. Considering the fact that I'm not a big drug user anymore, I don't have very many things to take me to other places other than music or sex or whatever devices I can find. I think the effects thing started off when I joined Jane's Addiction. Perry and I were both really into delay, and for me, I felt that when I would go into a guitar solo or something would drop out because I was the only guitarist. So I always found that if I stepped on a delay: a) the mistakes I made were undetectable; and b) it seemed to be fuller sounding. That just kind of stuck with me and became a thing that I enjoy.

So the delay helped you create a larger sound--sort of like your trick to playing guitar in a trio setting.

Yeah for Jane's Addiction, but it doesn't work so much in the Chili Peppers.

Because Flea tends to fill up more on the low end?

Right, he's a lot heavier on the bottom, and Chad's really solid, so I don't have to worry about things dropping out so much. In Jane's Addiction, we are really sensitive players; we really need to be in touch with the music and the feeling. With the Chili Peppers, not to talk down on the Peppers, but things are less multi-dimensional musically and emotionally. So I have to be a little more sensitive here (Jane's) than I do there (Peppers). I can get away with not paying attention so much with the Chili Peppers.

Let's talk about Spread. I've heard the album...

You have? Wow, how much did you hear?

I listened to the entire CD about three or four times; it's definitely very dark.

Yeah, it's on the dark side.

Tell me about "Starving." It sounds like you're using an alternate "drop" tuning on that track.

Yeah, the whole guitar is tuned differently. I'm actually down to Db, I think. [Flea steps in and interjects jokingly: "It's in the key of Db minor 7th augmented."]

Flea, you played on the record too, right?

Flea: On Davey's record?


Flea: On one song.

Dave: He played on "Everything." That's the one with the long jam in the middle of it.

Have you done much experimenting with alternate tunings?

Dave: Well, "Starving" and the song "Kettle Whistle" from the new Jane's Addiction album. As far as what it is, I couldn't tell you. I think the majority of it is within an open D tuning, and then there might be one string that's a half step down that makes it a little more dissonant. I think I invented it from something that was already invented. Frankly, it's easier to play and sing at the same time when you have less chord formations to worry about, and it's also easier on my voice to have it in a lower range.

Speaking of your voice, let's talk about your singing on the Spread CD.

Is there any particular style that you're going after with the vocals?

I'm not trying to emulate anyone. I'm not really a singer, you know? I just tried to be honest--to be me. That's why there's very little vocal effects on it. Even though my singing might not be the strongest, I'm not trying to hide anything or come across as a "front guy" singer. I'm just trying to tell you what I'm feeling.

"Venus in Furs" starts off very mysterious and tribal-like. Is that a cover tune?

Right. That's actually an old Velvet Underground sound. "The Bed" is a Lou Reed song, and "Venus in Furs" is Velvet Underground. Then the middle jam section in "Everything" is a derivative of "Machine Gun" [Hendrix song], and "H.T. Sparks" [hidden track] is the Who. So there are several covers, at least homages to influences on there. But it's not necessarily a player's record.

Yeah, it definitely comes across as being about the songs.

And more so than that I was going through a real f***ed up time, and I really needed to do something about it. The Peppers weren't doing anything, and this (Jane's Addiction) wasn't on the horizon. I was just kind of stagnant, you know? I just felt like I needed to do it.

There's a lot more soloing on the older Jane's Addiction material compared to what's on One Hot Minute and the Spread project.

I'm just a better guitarist now [laughter]. I don't know, I have always tried to do what fits the song, and One Hot Minute was more or less the four of us finding our musical sound together. We really hadn't found it yet, so that album is like a documentation of us finding it.

Looking ahead to the next Chili Peppers CD, do you expect any changes in the band's sound or direction?

Changes in the sound is inevitable considering that Flea is now in the band that I grew up on, and I've been in the band he grew up in for four years now. Now he's getting a schooling on where I came from, and we're just a lot tighter as friends and musicians. Like I said, we made the last record before we found our sound and before we had done any extensive touring. We actually recorded most of it prior to having the songs completed. Whereas that record took a long time to make, the Spread record took about a month because I knew how it was going to go. A lot of the vocals for One Hot Minute weren't even written. For the next record, we plan not to go in and record anything until all of the songs are written and arranged, we have vocals, and we know what's going to happen. And I think the next Chili Peppers record will be a lot stronger.