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Recording the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Unlimited Love,’ Part 1

Kicking off our coverage of recording the Red Hot Chili Peppers' hit 'Unlimited Love' album, guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith share how the band mended fences and got back in the studio together.

Recording live in the studio, from left: Flea, Chad Smith and John Frusciante. Photo: Ryan Hewitt.
Recording live in the studio, from left: Flea, Chad Smith and John Frusciante. Photo: Ryan Hewitt.

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—find out how that happened below. In Part 2, longtime engineer Ryan Hewitt shares how he captured Chad Smith’s thundering drums, and in Part 3, 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.

The band is back together—again! With the return of guitarist John Frusciante, for the third time, and with producer Rick Rubin at the helm and engineer Ryan Hewitt at the board, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have reassembled and reignited, creating a new thread in their identifiable string of magic that defies a label, yet encompasses all styles.

Listening to Chad Smith’s hard, funky drum groove, Flea’s fierce, pumping bass, Frusciante’s tasteful, melodic guitar work, along with Anthony Kiedis’ distinctive, multifaceted vocals—weaving through the deeply layered songwriting—it’s clear the Peppers are full of Unlimited Love (Warners, April 2022).

“We’re firing on all love cylinders,” says drummer Smith in mid-March, sporting a big smile behind the SSL 4000 console at EastWest Studios, during the final mix.

A SONGWRITING REUNION

Josh Klinghoffer was the guitarist back in mid-2019, before the pandemic, when the group began working on material for a new album. The way Smith remembers it, they were all less than underwhelmed with the outcome.

At the same time, Flea and former member Frusciante had been talking about how the latter wanted to come back. The reason was pretty basic: Frusciante felt that before any of them left the planet, he wanted to enjoy a sense of collaboration and exchange of ideas that he had only recently come to appreciate, mainly through his work with friend Aaron Funk on several electronic projects. He had done a lot of reflecting, he says, on how he might have been controlling when he had been a part of the Chili Peppers, and he wanted the opportunity to offer a more “sharing experience” with his former bandmates.

Red Hot Chili Peppers “The Getaway Tour”

“I started wondering what it would be like if I were as supportive of them as I am my friend Aaron?” Frusciante confided. “If I just try to let them be themselves, rather than making my own visions the center of everything. It felt like if somehow any of us died leaving it the way it was, it would be terrible.”

The idea was to give and take, to go with the flow. By January 2020, the guitarist was in a private rehearsal studio with his former bandmates, jamming and playing the old tunes, and, within a couple of months, working on new ones.

Then, Bang! Covid hit and the place shut down. Soon after, Jeff Greenberg, president of the Village, let them mask up and work at his studios. It was…kinda like old times, getting into that familiar groove.

John Frusciante, on the couch, and Chad Smith taking a break. Photo: Ryan Hewitt.
John Frusciante, on the couch, and Chad Smith taking a break. Photo: Ryan Hewitt.

“We weren’t doing any recording, we were just writing,” Smith says. “Everyone got comfortable, and it was just what we normally do—we jam and improvise and some song ideas come out of that, whether it’s a bass line, guitar riff, drum beat or whatever. Then the melodic instruments would come in with some ideas. I’d have things I’d be working on at home, John would bring in song parts and riffs, Flea would come in with a bass line or piano thing and we’d work on that, and we fell back into our usual creative process.

“That felt good and familiar,” he continues. “Chili Peppers has never been a band where it’s, ‘Hey, I have this completed demo or drum machine part I want you to do.’ Everyone has their creative input, which is a big part of why we sound the way we do.”

It’s also the strong personalities on their instruments and the chemistry as a unit, Smith asserts, that creates the sound. Producer Rick Rubin, whose last record with the band was 2011’s I’m With You, said on a recent podcast that when he came into the studio to check out what was going on, it made him cry.

“I didn’t see him cry; I was too busy playing the drums,” Smith says. “He was probably emotional. He’s been with us since the early ’90s, all our records except for one with John and me. He’s a sensitive guy, and he walked around, we played.

He didn’t go into producer mode. He just was soaking it in, smiling. It was pretty awesome, because we hadn’t played it for anybody.” After spending a little more time on the material, the band convened at Rubin’s Shangri-La studio/house in September 2020. The songs were mostly rehearsed, but Smith says that once they get into the studio, things can change, especially when working with a producer of Rubin’s talents. “He’s good at finding the essence of the song,” Smith says. “He’s got great ears. He’s a big-picture guy.”

A few songs would still be written in the studio, but about 50 were in good shape, according to the team, 17 of which are on Unlimited Love. The rest have been finished and mixed and are in the vault; fans are already speculating on the Red Hot Chili Peppers releasing a quick follow-up.

 

CLICK THROUGH FOR PART 2: RECORDING CHAD SMITH’S DRUMS.

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