interviews

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Natural Born Chili!
Marshall Law - Issue 1, June 1996

Alternative Guitar God, Dave Navarro, reveals his current feelings on playing lead, admits his longtime love affair with 4100s and discusses his unbridled loathing of light bulb costumes!

What do the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Spinal Tap have in common? Well aside from the Chili's penchant for wearing totally ridiculous costumes [do you have any idea how much it would cost to dress the band up as lightbulbs!? Remember Woodstock II in '94?], Flea & Co. go through axeman at a rate rivalled only by Tap's rapid turnover rate of drummers. Count 'em man, since forming in 1983 they're already on their sixth six-stringer [actually the seventh, if you take into account the fact that co-founder member, Hillel Slovak, left and then rejoined again before tragically dying of substance abuse in 1988]. For your information, the RHCP list of ex-axeman goes: Hillel, Jack Sherman, DeWayne 'Blackbird' McKnight, John Frusciante and Arik Marshall. Oh, in case you're wondering what the hell any of this abbreviated history lesson has to do with the subject of the piece, Dave Navarro, all will become clear...

As I'm sure you are well aware, the band's latest, and arguably greatest addition to their six-string spotlight is one Dave Navarro, a guy who's already written his own chapter in rock guitar history thanks to his groundbreaking and vastly influential work with Jane's Addiction. Now, unless you were in cryogenic suspension during the late '80s / early '90s, you'll be well aware of the fact that Jane's Addiction were largely responsible for the birth of the so-called '90s alternative' movement. Indeed, Jane's main man, Perry Farrell w as also the brainchild behind the immensely successful Lollapalooza movement.

Darkman?

Although he has a reputation for being somewhat dark and moody ["I am prone to being pessimistic" Dave admits], Mr. Navarro certainly can't be accused of being devoid of a [black?] sense of humor.

A truth, born out by the back of one of his Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar picks that reads "Hillel, Jack, B. Bird, John, Arik, Dave, ?". Funny, self-effacing stuff. Furthermore, when Dave took the time out of his busy touring schedule to speak with Marshall Law recently, he was nothing like the darkman image that certain media have painted of him. Instead, he was friendly, amusing and informative.

Voodoo Chili

"When I first picked up the guitar I was about 10 or 11," Dave recalls. "My parents gave me piano lessons when I was younger but all the music I liked was played on guitar so I rebelled and swopped instruments. I was also heavily into skateboarding at that time and I used to be a member of a skatepark [essentially an empty swimming pool] where they used to play music over the PA while we were skating. Anyway, one day Purple Haze and Voodoo Chile came on. I immediately stopped what I was doing and did that thing where you actually stare at the speaker.

You don't actually hear the music any better but that's what I did. And, while I was staring at the speaker, I went, "That's what I want to do." From that moment on there was never a doubt in my mind that I would do anything else."

The Dave 'Thing'

Many critics have described Dave's debut LP with RHCPs, One Hot Minute, as a Chilis/Jane's hybrid - a depiction the guitarist isn't exactly 100% sure of: "I really don't think I brought a Jane's Addiction thing to the table as much as I brought my thing," he muses.

"I definitely com from a slightly different place than the rest of the band, musically speaking. As Flea once said, they're percussive and sharp-edged whereas I'm more into melody and ethereal sounds.

It's a combination that's worked really well and has given birth to something very new. Having said all this, on the surface I'd have to say that One Hot Minute does kinda sound like the guy from Jane's Addiction playing with the Chili Peppers!" [laughs]. Thanks for clearing that one up Dave!

Less is More

Although Dave played a fair amount of lead during his celebrated time with Jane's Addiction [winning several magazine's 'Best Guitarist' as a direct result), he's kept such fretboard excursions to a bare minimum on One Hot Minute. "I totally wanted to get out of that lead guitar thing - I've already done more than my fair share of it," explains Dave. "Nowadays I'm much more interested in creating a mood than cramming myself down people's throats."

The Amp Remains the Same

Ever since his early days with Jane's in the late '80s and right up to the present day, Dave has remained loyal to one amp the Marshall 4100, 100 Watt, High Gain Dual Reverb head.

"I'm a fairly simple guy and I have a total lack of knowledge when it comes to musical equipment," the axeman reveals. "I'm not one to speak intelligently about my gear which is, I suppose, why I go with the 4100.

You basically don't need to have intelligence to use this amp (laughs) which is a good thing! What I look for in my gear is simplicity and range at the same time. I can get an amazing high-gain sound and a very clean sound at the flick of a switch. And, for what I do, that completely serves my purpose."

First Time - Last Time

Mr. Navarro's first ever major live show with the Peppers couldn't have taken place at a bigger gig - the already legendary Woodstock II festival of 1994. Mind you, when he first walked out on that enormous stage, the vast throng of people stretching out as far as the eye could see, didn't freak him out in the slightest - Dave had something else on his mind. "There wasn't really room for me to worry about anything 'cos I was wearing this stupid lightbulb helmet!" the guitarist recalls with a wry grin. "It was awful - I couldn't see and I couldn't hear. It was one of the worst ever experiences of my life."

So, it's fairly safe to assume that this unique piece of headgear has made its first and last public appearance then? "Never again, trust me on this one!" our subject exclaims. "There are no words in the English language that can adequately express the joy I felt when the thing finally came off!"