The Chad Smith Interview
A 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad Smith has innumerable options and opportunities at his disposal. He could easily ride it out with the Chili Peppers, and spend his downtime writing poetry in the garden and taking leisurely strolls through the country — if it were in him, I suppose. Smith lives for his craft, so when he’s not working with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he channels that energy into other creative endeavors. One is the supergroup Chickenfoot with Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani and Michael Anthony. The other is a funky instrumental band called the Bombastic Meatbats.
With two studio albums in the can, the Bombastic Meatbats — which also includes guitarist Jeff Kollman, bassist Kevin Chown and keyboardist Ed Roth — have issued their first-ever live recording Live Meat And Potatoes on Marmaduke Records. In the following interview conducted with Smith while on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the drummer explains why a live album is a natural fit for the Meatbats. We touch on the various attributes of the band, and figure they’d do well on the jam band circuit. And we talk bout Smith’s future with Chickenfoot. Meanwhile, the drummer is busier than ever as the Red Hot Chili Peppers take on Lollapalooza and come home to Los Angeles for two sold-out shows at the Staples Center. Ah, the life of a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer…
So, you’re back from Europe and in New York, on a short break from the Red Hot Chili Peppers tour. Then you’re off to Russia, then back to the States for Lollapalooza and here in L.A. in August for a couple of sold-out shows at Staples. Has the tour been going well for you?
It has. People have been coming out. We’re so grateful that our fans are supporting us after all these years. We’re playing well and everyone’s in good spirits. Yeah, summertime’s fun — especially in Europe, where we just came from. There’s a lot of outdoor arena ones. It’s a little different from playing the indoor arena. European audiences are so passionate, they love coming out in the summertime. They’re really used to those shows. The weather doesn’t bother them. They’ve been doing those sort of festivals for a long time. It’s really fun, those European fans. They’re loyal. We’re just real lucky.
So, in the midst of all this activity with Red Hot Chili Peppers, your other band, the Bombastic Meatbats, not to be confused with the other 137 bands you’re in…
Yeah, that one. You’ve just released Live Meat And Potatoes. With two studio albums under your belt, why did you decide to release a live album?
You know, the Meatbats…we were born out of a live situation and that’s our medium where I feel we shine and excel the best. Doing studio albums is different. You’re in a controlled environment. It’s a different beast. Playing live for us, you know the way that we play, the type of music we’re playing, instrumental music, there’s a lot more room for stretching out and improvising and taking it somewhere. Having musical conversations with each and not worry about the constraints of time, length of songs. A lot of our songs are maybe three or four minutes on the record, and are six, seven minutes, sometimes longer live. That’s what we love to do: improvise and play off each other.
I think we captured a good performance. It’s over a couple nights at the famous Baked Potato in L.A. It’s been going 40 years. It’s very intimate. I think it holds about 90 people. It’s just our home. We’re comfortable there. We just thought we got two records now, so let’s go and just record some live stuff. I think it’s where the band shines really. This is a real good document of what we’re all about. It’s like I said, a lot of jamming, all lot of improvising and taking it places, good dynamics. Just being musical, not playing a bunch of notes for nothing. I think sometimes the stigma with instrumental bands is that they’re for musicians only, very serious, lots of notes. We have a sense of humor and we play songs with verses and choruses and bridges. We stretch out on that and just try to make it an interesting journey for the listener and ourselves. That’s what we do.
I can see why you would do a live album — I was lucky enough to see you play at the Sabian NAMM Jam and you guys definitely delivered.
Those NAMM things are dangerous because that’s where you get the noodling all day long and then…you know. Everyone’s obviously good on their instrument. But when there’s no singing and there’s nothing to grab on to as far as a melody and a vocal and words. You have to do that to keep people interested with the melodic instruments of the band. We try to take it some where and keep people interested, instead of just playing solos and everybody solos. I don’t know, that’s kind of boring to me. Maybe that’s because I come from a traditional rock band background.To me, those Jeff Beck songs that he did on Blow By Blow and Wired, they were songs and they had melody. But at the same time, there was a lot of playing. We really like that sort of stuff.
“Passing The Ace” has a very Jeff Beck feel, so I can definitely hear the influence. Ever jam with him?
When I was in Chickenfoot a couple summers ago, we played with him. It was a festival in Holland. He went on before us. It was Vinnie (Colaiuta) on drums, Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, and he was amazing. It was incredible. It was so musical, it blew me away. And I’ve seen him perform before at the House of Blues and it was Pino Palladino and Vinnie. And it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. He’s a master. Very inspiring. It was a little daunting to go on after Vinnie Colaiuta.
We’re playing our Chickenfoot songs and they had just mopped up the stage. It’s great. It’s fun to play to festivals with other bands. I love that. It’s not a competition. It’s fun to hear different kinds of music. A lot of times European audiences appreciate more eclectic lineups, where in America it’s all got to be kind of one thing. It’s the Oz Fest or the Warped Tour where it’s these similar kinds of genres. In Europe, they more open and appreciate and really like all the different kinds of music.
Sort of like the Fillmore back in the 60s.
Yeah, exactly. Buddy Rich on the same bill as Led Zeppelin. Country Joe & the Fish. That’s so cool. We’re so categorized and compartmentalized that people are afraid to think out of the box sometimes.
Speaking of Led Zeppelin, I love what you do with “Moby Dick,” mostly because you don’t try to sound like Led Zeppelin.
And I don’t do drum solos (laughs). There is no way I’m going to try and play a drum solo. That’s like covering the Beatles. It’s such a classic, so ingrained in people’s minds and hearts. It’s John Bonham’s showpiece. It’s a homage, I love that man, he’s my favorite drummer. We just try to do a slower, funkier version. I’m not going to sit there and play with my hands or anything. I can’t do it.
I was intrigued to learn that the origins of the Bombastic Meatbats had something to do with Glenn Hughes.
That’s correct. It was another NAMM show thing, meeting Glenn. We met and just hit it off. It was just one of those things that’s like, “Wow, this is my musical brother.” He’s so open minded and such a great musician. We did play music together, but we became more friends. It’s so great to meet someone later in life and become such good friends. Him and Gabby, his wife, and me and my wife Nancy — we see each other all the time. He’s the godfather of my son. Yeah, so we’re buddies. After we met, I played on all his records. I helped produced a couple of them.
So, he’s just wonderful. The band at the time was me, Jeff ( Kollman, guitarist) and Ed (Roth, keyboardist), and we were kind of his band to do live shows with him. We toured together a little bit. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, the singer isn’t always on time for rehearsal. They tend to wait for everyone to plug in, tune up. So we were just jamming on stuff that morphed into the Meatbats. I was like, “This is fun and great. We should get together and come up with some songs.” Everything was just off the top of our heads. We were just jamming. And that’s how it all started.
My understanding is the songs sort of spring from the grooves you lay down. Is that about right?
Not always. It’s real loose. It’s not my band. It has my name on it because when we went over to play some shows in Japan, the promoter felt it would help sell tickets. No one had ever heard of us and I said, “Alright, I’m fine with that.” And the other guys were saying, “If you’re cool with it, we’re cool with it.” It’s not like I’m going to leave the other band.
But, yeah some things come out grooves that I do. And they just jump on it and they just start playing. But it’s equal as well. It would be something that Jeff maybe had at home, a little idea. And Ed too, he has some keyboard ideas. But nothing is ever fleshed out. It’s just a seed and we add the soil and the water and it sounds like the Meatbats. It’s definitely a very collaborative effort.
There’s also a jam band, Phish kind of vibe about the Meatbats. Have you considered playing any of the numerous jam band festivals that take place?
We’ve thought about it. We’re not traditional jazz. There’s a hint of that fusiony stuff. I would say you’re right, and certainly when people hear the live record they’ll understand, we lean more toward a jam band kind of thing? I’m not real familiar…I mean, I know about Phish and I know abut Dispatch and I know about Spaghetti Incident. I don’t know that we really fall into that. We’re kind of somewhere on our own, I don’t know. I know what you mean. I’m sure we could play…
…I’m sure you could play Bonnaroo.
Didn’t the Chili Peppers play Bonnaroo?
We did. And some of those bands were there. I watched them. It was cool. It’s like a Grateful Dead show. The music goes with this whole lifestyle, and I don’t know if we’re really in there with all that, but we definitely like to jam and like to improvise. The songs are different every night. There’s sing posts we touch on, but besides that, it’s wide open. No, “Your solo’s this long and your solo’s this long”. Everyone just has to be a good listener. We’re open to playing together when we’re all in the same room (laughs) with anybody anywhere. Is it experimental…is it fusion…is it jazz…is it rock…is it funk...is it jam band…I don’t know.
And there’s the humor, very Zappa-like type of humor given the names of some of the songs. And I’m hearing a little Zappa in the music. How much of an influence does he have on the Meatbats?
Wow, you’re the first one to ever say that. It’s all in there. Of course, Frank Zappa is incredible. We have nicknames for each other and everyone who works for us. Our covers are cartoons. You don’t want to take it too serious. As far as the content when you don’t have any singing or any vocals that says, “Here’s the name of the song” because of the words. We just come up with the names, they’re kind of inside jokes. Names like...it could be anything.
Mostly animal parts and food is what I’m hearing.
Exactly (laughs). I get the Zappa thing there. We just don’t want to take it too serious. You come to one our shows and I’m telling jokes and making fun of the other guys. And them of me. Especially when you’re playing in a nice intimate setting like the Baked Potato. There’s 90 people and there’s a guy like three feet from your hi-hat. You talk to him and he can talk to you. I love that. That immediate energy and intimate quick response you get from people. We love that and we play off that. People come and have a good time. Lots of times, it’s mostly our friends. It’s really great.
According to your touring schedule, you’re committed to the Red Hot Chili Peppers until the end of the year. Do you plan on reconvening with the Bombastic Meatbats after that?
We don’t have any recording or writing plans at the moment, but we’re playing in L.A. when I come back to do those west coast shows (Staples Center with the Red Hot Chili Peppers). We’re playing at the Baked Potato. We’re going to have a record release party in August.
Funny, I’ll be seeing Phish around then at Long Beach Arena.
Really? Are they going to be doing like…I know they do The White Album or The Dark Side Of The Moon.
I think it’s just a regular show. They did Exile On Main Street in Indio a couple of years ago. It’s normally a big deal when they do those kind of shows.
Do they play for a long time? Three or four hours?
Oh yeah, about four hours. I saw them in Denver last year, and they played over four hours. They go off.
I love that. I’m all for it. Flea and I were talking because this guy who was traveling with us, doing a book and taking pictures. He’s a huge Phish fan and he’s seen them about 72 times. We were talking about it and Flea was like, “What’s this all about? This jam band thing?” So he was trying to explain it to him, and Flea was like, “You know what? Let’s just start a jam band.” And he was like, “You guys kind of are a jam band. You just don’t go all the way.” We jam and improvise in our shows. He was like, “You kind are, but not quite. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to just do it.” So Flea and I are going to start a jam band when we get done with the Chili Peppers.
Alright, another band. So, with all these bands you’re in, where does that leave Chickenfoot?
The Chickenfoot thing is always fun and it stays fun. Those guys are great, I love them. I was really disappointed because I couldn’t do the tour because it coincided with Chili Peppers. They understood that. I told them before we even recorded. I said, “Probably, I’m going to be gone.” And they were like, “Oh yeah, we forgot —you’re in that other band.”
Kenny (Aronoff) is great. He’s also filled in for me with the Meatbats. I just said, “You know, he’s a great drummer.” They knew who he was, but they hadn’t played with him before. And it worked out great for them. I hope to write more music with them and make more records because we just have a great time. it’s just really fun. Joe’s (Satriani) doing that G3 thing. Sammy’s (Hagar) doing some other stuff. He’s always running around doing some stuff. Next year, I’m sure we’ll reconvene in some way and write some music. We really enjoy playing with each other.
There’s a common thread among all the bands you’re in and some of the Meatbats song titles like “Oops, I Spilled My Beer,” “Pigsfeet,” “Breadballs” and “Lobster Legs,” what with all the food and animal parts references. So I was wondering in these political correct times: Are you a rabid carnivore or a closet vegetarian?
I’m not a closet vegetarian, but I do…Yeah, it does sound like it, doesn’t it? (laughs) “Lobster Legs” is about a girl in Japan who got up on the table and her legs were really short. Just like my music, I like all kinds of stuff, all kinds of food, all kinds of music. If it’s good, I’m into it.