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The Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with a new hit album, Unlimited Love, that sees guitarist John Frusciante return to the band for the first time in years. To find out how that happened, don’t miss Part 1, plus discover how longtime engineer Ryan Hewitt captured Chad Smith’s thundering drums in Part 2, and in Part 3 below, Frusciante talks playing synths with Flea, while Hewitt discusses capturing bass, guitar and more. In Part 4, Frusciante and Hewitt revel in the challenges—and benefits—of mixing the album old-school analog-style at EastWest Studios. In our final segment, Part 5, Smith, Frusciante and Hewitt discuss some of their favorite songs on Unlimited Love.
GUITAR, BASS, MODULAR SYNTH
As for the other instruments, Hewitt used an EV RE-20 on Flea’s bass cabinet, along with an Acme DI box. “Flea is such a powerful, aggressive player that you need a microphone that is slightly forgiving and soft-sounding to counter his aggressive playing,” Hewitt says.
“You don’t want a detailed, super-responsive mic for someone who is playing that hard. The DI box is a simple transformer that sounded so great on him. Those both went to Neve 1073 preamps and then Distressors. Super-simple. I also had a Little Labs in-between phase box on the DI to bring it into better phase coherence with the amplifier.”
On Frusciante’s main guitar rig, he placed an SM-57 up close and a Telefunken U-67 further away. “I don’t think I even EQ’d him,” Hewitt remarks. “The tone is in his fingers, in his pedals and in his Marshall amps.”
Hewitt used a U 47, U 67, KM 54 combination on the acoustic guitars; a Shure SM 7 on Kiedis’ lead vocals; an AKG C-12A on Frusciante’s vocals; a C12 on the piano; and a U 47, Sony C-37, C-38, Mojave MA-37, Royer 121, U 67 and RCA BK-5 on guitar and keyboard overdubs. Everything went through the Neve 1073 preamps, except guitar/ keyboard overdubs, which went through various preamps, including Quad Eight, Chandler Limited TG2 and REDD 47, CAPI, Vintage UA and API.
One thing that may be different on this record is the Frusciante-influenced DX7 synth and Mellotron overdubs.
“He’s a master of modular synthesis,” Hewitt says. “He has this big modular synthesizer that he will tweak and mess around with for hours and get sounds. We have a lot of that on this record where it’s programmed, but it’s flowing with a band that is not playing to a click.”
“I’m pretty good at programming a DX7 synthesizer, but I had never recorded it through an amplifier,” Frusciante admits. “I had just recorded it straight into the board. So we were recording it into an Ampeg tube amp, and Ryan was using whatever microphone [a U 47, U 67 or RCA BK-5, depending on the sound] and going through all the old nice mic pres, and we got such warm sounds that I would have thought they were a Mellotron.”
Frusciante was excited that he and Flea exchanged ideas for the first time since 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He gives an example on “Bastards of Light.”
“There’s a synth sound that comes in halfway through the second verse, which was Flea’s idea, and I went to the modular and executed it,” Frusciante says of one of his favorite cuts on the record. Then the two collaborated on one of the unreleased songs; while Flea was playing the DX7, Frusciante modulated the sound of it. The actual recording process remained the same, something of a Chili Peppers standard: “All four of us in the room, no click, no nothing, tape, boom, play, make it good,” Smith says.
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“Once we get the arrangement down, then it’s just all about nailing the performance.” Smith, it should be noted, is the official “take-chooser” and was joined on that process by Frusciante on this record. If it ends up between two takes, they get out the knife, which Hewitt says is lots of fun. Unlimited Love was recorded old-school to ATR tape on a 24-track Studer A827 machine.
Tape has become so expensive and hard to come by that Smith says now, after a few good takes, they record over the material they know won’t be used, which they never did in the old days.