interviews

this page was updated on 2014.08.14 @ 23:51:42 CDT

Peppers Guitarist Proves He Can Stand The Heat
by George Varga
San Diego Union-Tribune - April 11, 1996

"This is one musician who likes to get things done early," said guitarist Dave Navarro, who performs with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Tuesday at the San Diego Sports Arena.

True to his word, Navarro--the Peppers' fifth guitarist in little more than a decade--had phoned 30 minutes ahead of schedule from Phoenix for a recent midmorning interview.

A quiet, thoughtful man, the longtime Los Angeles resident clearly values his privacy. But he candidly discussed his career, from his early love for the music of Jimi Hendrix ("the most influential person in my life other than my parents") to his battle with hard drugs during his 1986-91 tenure in the band Jane's Addiction.

"I dabbled in a lot of things that were very harmful to me, and I've come out the other side," Navarro, 28, said. He also acknowledged declining an offer to join the Peppers in 1992, both because he was pursuing another project and he had no desire to be just a hired hand. And he expressed mixed feelings regarding his first album with the band, last fall's One Hot Minute, saying: "I think we were very successful in some cases, and not in others. Either way, it's valid."

But Navarro, who regularly visits relatives in San Diego, stressed he is delighted to now be working in the Peppers alongside singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea (born Michael Balzary) and drummer Chad Smith.

Question: Jane's Addiction was noted for its experimental edge, while the Peppers' brand of funk-rock-meets-punk-and-rap is more mainstream. How has your guitar work changed since becoming a Pepper?

Answer: "I think it's just expanded, and I've become a more versatile guitar player from working with new musicians, as corny as that sounds. I certainly didn't change anything specifically to fit in any better. But I think my playing has evolved through being in Jane's Addiction, Deconstruction (Navarro's post-Addiction band) and now with these guys. It's something that naturally happens when you play with different musicians."

Q: To what degree do you have carte blanche to play the songs the way you want, and to what degree are you reverent to the way (ex-Peppers guitarist) John Frusciante did them?

A: "I'm pretty faithful when it comes to playing his parts. They were written a particular way, and I don't want to repaint anybody's painting. At the same time, I can do anything I want in my solos. And I take liberties here and there; as long as the basic song is the same, it doesn't matter."

Q: Longevity has not been a characteristic of the Peppers' previous four guitarists. Do you see this as a long-term gig?

A: "I really cannot speak intelligently about the future. All I know is, I'm happy with what I'm doing today. Longevity doesn't play into my way of thinking."

Q: Anthony, Chad and Flea have been a unit for a long time. How easy or difficult has it been to fit in, musically and socially?

A: "It was awkward at first. Here was an existing unit that had invited me to join them, and I was pretty much in a position where I had to immediately create an album with these guys. And having no personal or musical relationship with them, I was sometimes forcing things or they were forcing things.

"It was a strange process. But we went to Hawaii for four months and wrote songs. And after you spend four months, you feel like you've spent five years together. It was a bonding experience, as people and musicians."

Q: Were your ideas welcome, or did you have to tiptoe?

A: "It wasn't cut and dried. I tiptoed the first couple of weeks, until I felt more comfortable. But my comfort level had nothing to do with them. It had to do with me."

Q: Not long after you joined, the Peppers played the Woodstock '94 festival. What are your memories of that event?

A: "I have a very positive feeling about it. That was my first big show with the Peppers, so it was a very important day for me. I didn't go there trying to recapture any vibe from the '60s. I just went to play a rock show. But it was my idea (for the band to wear Hendrix Afro wigs).

"It was inspired by the fact he (Hendrix) played the first Woodstock, and that we are all such huge Hendrix fans--an homage, so to speak.... When I was about 10, I was at a skate (board) park, and they were playing Hendrix over the P.A. system; I think it was 'Purple Haze.' When I heard that, I realized I wanted to do whatever he was doing."

Q: Were you equally keen about the giant light-bulb outfits the Peppers wore at Woodstock '94?

A: "I forgot whose idea that was. I was equally keen on being a team player."

Q: As a member of Jane's Addiction, you performed on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991. How did you like that?

A: "I loved it. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I got the opportunity to play with, basically, each band on the bill, and it was really cool. Ice-T came and sat in with us, and I played with Nine Inch Nails many times, and Living Colour and Siouxsie and the Banshees ... "

Q: The Banshees was one of a number of bands to come out of England, in the late '70s and '80s, with guitarists who were technically limited but who were very good at creating space and textures. Did that influence you?

A: "It was a tremendous influence on me, and some of my favorite music comes from bands with guitar players who are focused more on sound than technique. What happened is, when I was very young I got into Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. As I got older, I wanted some more aggressive music. And I turned to speed-metal, rather than punk, because--being a guitarist--I wanted aggression, but also impressive playing.

"Then I got burned out on that, and got into bands like Bauhaus and the Banshees. What I do now is probably a combination of all those influences. I guess that's only natural."

Q: What do you think of the (Lollapalooza) festival now?

A: "It definitely has become more commercial ... I imagine it's become a big moneymaker for a lot of people. I really don't care about Lollapalooza, to be frank. I know there are people who are outraged that Metallica is headlining this year, and I'm like, 'So what?' There are more important things to be outraged about. I have a hard time seeing beyond my own emotional discomfort to get upset that Metallica is playing."