John Frusciante on the influence of RHCP founding guitarist Hillel Slovak: “His style is central to mine”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with their latest album, Unlimited Love, plus John Frusciante is back. Today the returning guitarist opened up about how his early days in the band were “a struggle” and how emulating Hillel Slovak – who died in 1988 from a heroin overdose – helped him find his footing own style.
In an interview published in the latest issue of Guitar World, Frusciante explains how his desire to impress actually prevented him from fully connecting musically with his bandmates and their audiences early in his tenure at RHCP.
“The first year or so that I was in the band was really a struggle… I have something to say that I think could probably be good for the guitarists. I think at the beginning of my time in the band, I had too much in mind to try to impress people, and I didn’t trust myself enough.
“I felt all these things – ‘I want to be unique’, ‘I want to show off’, ‘I want to stand out’ – and everything I did felt forced. I didn’t feel free and I did it. ‘ I didn’t feel like I was saying what I wanted to say, I didn’t feel like I was going deep inside.
“I decided to use my guitar to try to support the other members of my band. So I simplified what I was doing. And at the same time, I was also putting a hundred times more personal expression and soul than before.
“I thought I was playing like Hillel, but flashier. After about nine months, I realized that The Flash didn’t impress anyone and there wasn’t really a place for it in the band’s chemistry.
“Those first nine months, I felt like a lot of their audience didn’t like me, but by the time we came out BreastmilkI felt pretty accepted.
Frusciante goes on to credit Hillel Slovak’s influence on his playing, explaining how the founding member’s playing style became a cornerstone of his own approach to the guitar.
“I’m very lucky to have replaced such a great stylist. The challenge of trying to appeal to his audience was character building, and even when my own style emerged, I still used his style as the basis for what I did.
“And luckily for me, there was a strange confluence of souls, where the longer I stayed within the parameters set by Hillel, the more alike I became.
I wanted the band to sound good, and I stopped worrying about how I could present myself. I just supported the other guys in the band and unexpectedly made me stand out more, rather than less.
To this day, I consider Hillel’s style the center of mine, as far as the band is concerned. He was a team player, and he added color and meaning to the contributions of his comrades, and that’s what I try to do.
hot red peppers, Unlimited love is out now.