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One Hot Interview
with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Dave Navarro
by Marina Zobgi
Metal Edge - vol. 40 #12, May 1996

Currently on the road in support of One Hot Minute, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are making up for time lost when drummer Chad Smith broke his wrist in November, necessitating postponement of their U.S. tour. Though the Peppers played a few club dates--not to mention Woodstock--with new guitarist Dave Navarro before they recorded OHM, this is the first time most fans will get to see the current lineup.

As is obvious from listening to the new album, Dave has made his presence felt. His atmospheric, highly textured style was a crucial element in the music of his previous band, Jane's addiction; it adds a whole new, heavier dimension to the Chili Peppers' hard funk rock. Singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, and Chad have run through a string of guitarists since original member Hillel Slovak overdosed in 1988. They took a chance thiss time in enlisting a high profileplayer with such a distinctive style, but the risk seems to have paid off. The band has obviously entered into a new phase of creativity.

We talked to Dave via phone in mid-December, during the band's Chad-induced break (their European tour ended in late October.) He may look somber and mysterious, but the guitarist is actually a straightforward, enthusistic, likably neurotic kind of guy. It's no coincidence that he worships Woody Allen.

M: How are you doing?

D: I'm OK. I'm enjoying the Christmas season, although Chad broke his wrist and we had to postpone our tour. I'm thoroughly pleased that I'm home right now with a Christmas tree and I'm making a Christmas gift for my girlfriend right now at this moment. I'm hand-making a rosary for her.

M: Is she a really good Catholic or is it an art thing?

D: It's an art thing. My home is completely done up in religious gothic design; it's something that's really appealing to both of us.

M: So you're enjoying your break, rather than sitting there wishing you were on the road.

D: I never sit here and wish I was on the road. It is not what it's cracked up to be.

M: Is it true for you that the show is good and the other 22 hours of the day aren't?

D: I would hate to quote such a cliche rock 'n' roll thing, but yeah, it is like that, and sometimes the shows aren't even that great, to be honest. There are times when we step out there and we hit the first chord or the first note of the song and I'm thinking to myself, "This is going to be the longest hour and a half I've ever spent in my life."

M: But does this sometimes get better?

D: Oh sure, every show's different, so sometimes it gets better, sometimes it completely falls apart. Other times when we step out it's great and when it ends, it's great. Especially when you're working with three other members. I liken my relationship to this band as I would any relationship. It's up and down; it's not one way all the time. It's more like a relationship with a woman than with a man, because everyone's so much more sensitive including myself. We're sensitive in so many ways. Not only emotionally and spiritually but creatively...the way we play together, it's very sensitive. I don't know if I'm making sense.

M: It's probably good that you're in the Peppers at this point when you've already been in one major band, so you already know there will be ups and downs and you just have to ride it through.

D: There weren't too many ups in the other band, although I enjoyed it. It's hard to explain, but I enjoyed the downs. You know why? Because there's no bottom that can fall out from under you.

M: When you're that low?

D: Yeah, because you can't go any further, but when you're up, anything can happen to bring you down.

M: Do you think any touring momentum was lost with the break being as long as it's been.

D: Yeah, I'm sure our musicianship has suffered, but I think my mental and emotional state would have suffered much more if we hadn't had this break. I can't be with the same people all the time, be away from my loved ones and go out and pretend to have a great time. If we do it with breaks in between, I will more than likely have lots of great times out there.

M: So do you guys make sure there are breaks?

D: Yeah, we do. You know, Flea's a father and Chad's married and all four of us are involved with pretty intense relationships. Music is great, touring can be great, but all of that comes second to my personal relationships with my loved ones.

M: How was that European tour?

D: It was pretty good; it was pretty intense. There were a lot of pretty exciting moments. There was a night that we played in Italy where we got finished with the set and we were backstage waiting for the encore and the four of us felt that the response wasn't exiting enough for us to go back and do the encore. We turned on the house lights and a riot broke out. They got really upset, so about twenty minutes later--I think maybe a third of arena had emptied out--we just came back with the house lights on, had the crew set up our instruments again, and played a couple more songs, and it was just really bare bones, really raw, really exciting, almost the nature of punk rock, to me...There was anarchy going on in the audience. While we were playing, items were being hurled at us, Flea had to have stitches at the end of the show, cut his face open, destroyed some instruments. It was ridiculous, it was incredibly great.

M: Live, some songs must take on a life of their own after a while; they can mutate into different entities entirely. You guys are open to that?

D: In terms of freeform expression on stage? Yeah. There's never really any set way that anything's supposed to go, which I think our lighting guy has a hard time with because every night we go out and say "Here's the set," and hand it to him and then it never is the same way. Personally, I like the kind of music where you can take it to another place live and then paint yourself into a corner so that you have no idea how you're going to get yourself out of it. That's always really exciting to me. Certain songs like "Transcending" or "One Big Mob," those songs end up being ten or fifteen minutes long sometimes, and it's really exciting to have to get back to the song and finish it somehow, have to connect with three other people and unify.

M: You played a few shows live before you recorded the album. Did that help when it came time to record?

D: You would think it would, wouldn't you? (laughs) I'm sure it did in an intangible sense, but I think it helped to bond us as guys more than it helped our musicianship, so I guess in that sense the answer is yes, it was helpful.

M: I know you were pretty involved with songwriting. Was it exciting, scary at first, working with these guys?

D: It was every emotion you can imagine, you know. It was overwhelming, I think that was the operative word here. Just to step into this huge machine with all the things that go along with it. I had never been exposed to anything like this, I mean, Jane's Addiction was moderately successful in terms of what we started out as and what we became but this was a whole 'nother ball of wax, this was stepping into an already huge outfit and it was pretty intense, and I basically have never let myself feel like I'm a member of the band.

M: You still don't?

D: I do more now, but I'm personally not comfortable deciding that I should be comfortable.

M: Apparently, it took a little while for you guys to come together musically. Was there ever a point where you said, "I don't know if this is working"?

D: Oh yeah, I think there were many points where we were all feeling that way, but we have a very good understanding for one another, a great love for one another, and I think that prevails. It's hard to explain...musically, we come from completely different backgrounds and at first it was kind of strange trying to play together because I personally prefer music that is spacious and open and dreamy and when Chad and Flea start playing, it's like there's no room for anything to happen, and I had to kind of sit back and learn how to complement that in a way.

M: Do you feel that you've grown as a guitarist in the past years or so?

D: I really do think that I have and I'm grateful for that and that is, ironically, one of the main reasons I joined this band, because I saw it as an opportunity to play with extremely talented people and musically grow, and kind of get my feet wet with something I'm not that familiar with.

M: What is the most rewarding thing about being in the Peppers: is it being with these guys or having grown as a guitarist.

D: There's so many different things that I adore about this band, and I could never put my finger on one thing. I think that would be like saying which child of yours do you love the most? You can't really say, although ironically, I asked my dad which son he loved the most and he said my brother!

M: He told you that?

D: Yeah, but he was kidding. My brother's 14 months old. In fact, he cries on the record.

M: Is that the baby on "One Big Mob?"

D: Gabriel, that's my little brother...I carry around a miniature tape recorder and I record things just so I have them, a library of recorded sounds. Because I also have a studio in my house that I make other music with, it's a little bit more experimental than the Chili Peppers. That was something I intended to use for personal purposes, then when we got to that spot in the song I was like "I have the perfect thing!," just ran home and got the tape. And I gave him a credit too.

M: How aware and/or comfortable are you with the sex symbol thing?

D: What sex symbol thing?

M: You as one.

D: I'm not aware that I am, so...

M: Well, hate to tell you, but we've been getting letters along those lines, girls asking questions that I'm sure you wouldn't want to answer.

D: I guess I know what you're talking about. It's so funny because I stay home all the time with my girlfriend so I'm not even out there, I don't even know what's going on. I guess I'm comfortable with it because I haven't really felt any backlash from it. I don't know, but a funny story is: Chad, Flea and myself did a Rockline show, radio thing, and by mistake or as a joke or intentionally, somehow I gave Chad's home phone number out over the radio (laughs) and he got flooded with calls and he got a bunch of girls that wanted to talk to me and he finally got upset with the whole thing and gave one of them my home phone number, and this girl called me and she was out of her mind. Because the way I feel is I'm just a quiet little insecure person and this girl is telling me she's going to name her first child after my mom (who was murdered when Dave was 15) and read me a bunch of poems she wrote about my dead mother, that she dresses in black now because of me and everyone at school calls her the "Dave Navarro chick." I'm going "Wow, this is really weird."

M: What do you say to someone like that?

D: I was just really flattered and I talked to her for a half hour and I told her to call me again in a week. I said, "If you don't abuse my phone number, you can call me once in a while."

M: I'm sure you made her day.

D: You know what? The truth is I either made her day or I shattered all her illusions.