It is quite obvious that the best moment of this strange year could not be anything other than a Zoom meeting. Not just any Zoom meeting though. Far from the remote work meetings that paced our lives these past few months, it is Josh Klinghoffer himself aka Pluralone who kindly accepted to meet us through interposed screens. The previous guitarist of the famous Red Hot Chili Peppers took some time to answer our questions on the occasion of the release of his second solo album I Don’t Feel Well.
La Vague Parallèle: Hi Josh! How are you? Is lockdown still in force in the US at the moment? What have you been up to these past few months?
Pluralone: Hi! Well, I’m not sure because the US is so big so there are different states, different rules… I think there’s certain restrictions in California but none of it applies to me because I don’t do anything. I don’t go out, I have zero interest in being in a restaurant or a bar. It doesn’t affect me because I just do the same things: I go to the studio, I go to my workplace and that’s all.
LVP: You just released I Don’t Feel Well, your second solo record, which is intimately related to the sanitary crisis the world is currently facing, to the political situation in the US, to the wildfires that raged across the Western US. How did you manage to turn this negative energy into such a beautiful and poetic record?
P: Oh, did you write that really lovely review? Thank you very much, that was very kind. I read it very unsafely in the car, I was slowly driving and reading at the same time. I don’t recommend that but thank you very much for this review. I had to pull over and finish it.
Obviously, this is a terrible thing that is happening all over the world. This is really tough for a lot of people. But I tend to think that the energy that the world was running on before this happened was fairly unsustainable and pretty toxic, especially politically, economically or even environmentally. There were so many things that were getting to a boiling point. Obviously, on many levels, we have failed to act responsibly and accordingly – especially in the United States.
So to answer your question, that’s how I felt. There’s no stopping the virus so the only thing you can do is act responsibly, intelligently and kindly towards the people around you. I just took what is going on out there and tried to look at all the positive things that we could come away with this from. In the end, everything just points to this big pillars of existence: being kind and being generous, not believing misinformation, trying to be intelligent and not let your own emotional situation dictate your belief system or your action towards other people. Sadly, people are forgetting to hold on to reality. Again, this is all the underlying situation that I have that allows me to feel like this: I was very lucky to be in the Chili Peppers for ten years and I can afford to really just be focusing on myself at home. I don’t have to go to a job everyday and expose myself to potential sickness and death every time I leave the house. I was able to just focus on work and try hopefully to do my part and try to contribute to the world in the only way I know how. It sounds sort of lofty and farfetched to think that what you do can affect the world like that, but it’s really the only thing I know how to do. This is how I was able to do that.
Hopefully, we’ll never see this again. So how can I best spend this time ?
As I get more comfortable making records, I’m trying to get closer to the listener. I feel like it’s the most intimate thing that I’ve done, and hopefully the next one will be even more so.
LVP: Do you have any expectations for the world after this?
P: I hope the world will change for the better. I’m mystified everyday that society is always pushing against progress. I feel like the world has always been moving towards a more open and liberal society, yet there are all these dark forces being conservative and trying to keep the lead on things.
Through every crisis, through every hardship, I hope that we learn and we grow. That’s my hope. The world after, gosh… Who knows what’s gonna happen? I’m reading a book right now about nuclear weapons and I feel like if we keep just being short-sighted and nationalistic and bigoted and silly, it’s ultimately just going to end up in disaster. Sooner or later people have to wake up and realize that the world is moving in the direction of progress and stop trying to stop it.
LVP: This is the first time that you’ve been able to take time to sit down and create an album in one continuous stretch of time. Do you feel more comfortable with working on a longer period of time or is this something you would like to do again in the future?
P: I loved this! In the past, it’s been very easy for me to justify not focusing on myself, because it’s not the easiest thing to finish a song or to sit down and slow your mind down long enough to figure out what you’re trying to say with this song. Sometimes, songs come out instantly or fairly quickly but a lot of the time, they require a lot of slowing down of the senses.
In the past, it was very easy for me to go : “oh, I don’t need to finish this because I have Chili Peppers songs to write” or “why would I finish this song? I know I’m not gonna be able to record it for 6 months or a year because I’m on tour”. There was always a distraction and it’s always proven to be a reason for me to not finish things and leave songs incomplete. There’s always an idea or two that have been around forever that have finally been finished: Knowing You on this album, Segue on the last one. Those are both are from 2009!
So I’m so grateful that I have this chance to finish some of these songs and put them out.
LVP: Your first record was conceived over ten years and even if you changed your work method between these two albums, I Don’t Feel Well still sounds like the sequel to To Be One With You, with a more defined and personal sound. Is it the direction you wanted to explore?
P: It was pretty spontaneous in the sense that I didn’t really think too much about a direction. When the world shut down, I drove home from Seattle and it felt like my first break in 20 years.
It was the first time I’ve been at my house with no plans and I had all this stuff around the house that needed organizing or cleaning or straightening, so I did that for a couple of weeks and then when I was done, my life felt like it was in order, so I was just able to write a lot. My first week of work, I had written three or four new songs, because there was nothing to tear my attention away. I thought “wow, you have at least a little over a third of an album done, so why don’t we just try to make an album as quick as possible?”. That was probably April and by May, all the songs were written. I was able to get into the studio in June so I had a little extra time to polish up. Unlike ever before, everything was really written and kind of in place, which made the recording a lot quicker and a lot more focused and succinct. I was able to get it all done in four weeks.
Jack Irons did a couple songs from his house. That worked out a lot smoother than I thought it would. He got great sounds at his house. He’s actually playing on a B-side song of mine today or tomorrow. We found that system works. It was really great to have nothing but music to work on. It felt really good. At a certain point, when the songs started taking shape, I realized each song in my mind had a correlation to the first album. Even if it was something little like the first song starts with a drum machine on both albums. For example, Barreling and Red Don’t Feel had a similar thing. The second songs, Rat Bastards at Every Turn and Night Won’t Scare Me were both the songs I was the most excited about at first. Every song had a corollary, that’s how I was able to sequence the album. To me, I feel like the second album has the same sort of arch as the first one, it was sort of its mirror image. In one sense, the first one had a lighter appearance, the cover was white-ish, whereas the second one was darker and came out during a darker period. I feel like the new one is more hopeful and the old one is kind of more questioning. This one is a little more answering.
LVP: As you already said, this record is more focused and has less guests than the previous one. Would you say that I Don’t Feel Well is the most intimate record you’ve ever done?
P: Yes, absolutely. I haven’t made a ton of records but I would say this is the most intimate in the sense that the more I do it, the more I’m interested in being direct. It’s always been a struggle for me to get close to the listener. That comes from my own swamp of insecurity or fear, dislike of my voice, all these things… I’ve put a lot of effects on my voice, I’ve put a lot of overdubs, a lot of sounds…
As I get more comfortable doing this and making records, I’m trying to get closer to the listener. So yes, I feel like it’s the most intimate thing that I’ve done, and hopefully the next one will be even more so.
LVP: With the Pluralone project, you also managed to create such a strong and direct link with your fans, even more than with the Chili Peppers or Dot Hacker. Is this what you aimed for?
P: Yes! Even if I’m not really on social media myself: I started doing it a couple months ago through Andrew from ORGMusic.
I’ve never had a direct link with fans before. When I was in the Chili Peppers, I really spent a lot of time trying to create distance from people. To me, there shouldn’t be much distance between the person that makes the music and the person that likes the music. We’re all the same! If the music touches you, that’s fantastic, but there’s no big gap between us. Whereas when you’re in a band like the Chili Peppers, it’s so big! There is a huge gap. I wasn’t a member of the band when they created their most notable work so I always felt like I didn’t deserve any of that attention. When people would want my picture or want to meet me, I always felt like I wasn’t necessarily worthy of it and I wasn’t ever comfortable with the distance that was created between the band members and the fans of the band. The whole dynamic was already in place, I just didn’t like it: I knew what it was like to be just the extra guy in the band when I could walk in and out of the hotel and no one cared.
But as far as people liking the music I make on my own, I’m so grateful to people for listening at all! It feels like it’s a completely different experience and it’s one that I’m so much more comfortable having. Obviously, I know people are aware of me for the most part because of my association with the Chili Peppers but if they like what I play and what I make, it’s them who are making my dream come true, really. I love them and I’m grateful for their attention.
LVP: You contributed to many amazing projects but this is the first time that you’re really in the front line of a project, alone in the spotlight. How do you deal with it ? Did it change you as a musician and as a man?
P: Well, it’s hard to say yet because the minute I was supposed to be more of the center of attention, I was spared having to do it in public. If we were having this conversation after I’ve done ten months of touring and opening for Pearl Jam, I would probably have a different answer and it would probably have had some sort of effects on me. But as right now, nothing has changed, I make albums in the studio, they come out, people listen to them and I still do everything like I did before. So it doesn’t feel like I’m in the spotlight any differently that I’ve been before.
One day, I suppose, I’ll have to play live and that will be interesting. I can’t wait, it’s just funny that it probably won’t happen for at least a year… I have some time to do some push-ups and get in shape.
I enjoy writing and I enjoy having my own voice as a writer, it’s been my lifelong struggle to find something that I can feel proud of. It’s what you’re hearing on the new album: a manifestation of growth.
LVP: The first time we got to talk, I asked you about the way you sing, which favors the sounds, sometimes at the expense of pronunciation. That was very striking on the first record. On this one, I felt that you were paying more attention to the articulation. The lyrics were also more concrete, less abstract. Did you have a stronger or maybe a more universal message to deliver?
P: Well, I think my messages are always somewhat the same, I’m always writing from a very similar place. Sometimes it’s hard for me to finish things because I often feel like I have to find a unique spot or a unique voice for every song. I think that’s just a product of what we said earlier about getting closer: why am I doing this for? If I’m speaking like this, I mean… I have to admit that I either want to be seen and heard, or I don’t. And the reason why I’m not is because I’m scared. So I’m trying to face all those general fears that I’ve had in the past.
I think it also comes from when I started liking music as a little kid: lyrics were not what I was interested in, I listened to the sounds. There are some of my favorite songs that I listen to since I am ten years old that I still don’t know the words to. I mean, I will sing along but I don’t really know what it means. So I’m just more and more and more growing into someone who is interested in communicating through language whereas before it was more about communicating through sounds. I feel like that’s what makes it interesting for me: that’s still something that I’m growing into. I enjoy writing and I enjoy having my own voice as a writer, it’s been my lifelong struggle to find something that I can feel proud of. It’s what you’re hearing on the new album: a manifestation of growth.
I’m in the studio now with the guy who I make records with and he will say: “you should enunciate that more” and in the past I would go “fuck off”. Because to me, it was more important to sing it how I wanted it to be heard. But now, it is more important for me to be understood. You’ve got to connect to something. It’s always been really interesting to me if English is your first language and you still connect to a song, like when I listen to Serge Gainsbourg’s songs. I don’t know what he is saying, but I know that he is thinking of clever things and he is making plays with sounds. I just love the way it sounds. But if I was able to understand the nuance of the language, I would probably appreciate it even more. So I’m just trying to do that more: trying to be more direct, still hold on to the things I think are uniquely me. Just trying to connect more I think.
LVP: During your AMA on Reddit, you said that you were trying to have less guitar on this record. Is this something that you want to continue on your next record? Do you want to “quit” the image of the guitarist?
P: No, it’s not a goal or a focus. I love playing guitar, I just don’t write as much on guitar these days. I still do, but it winds up… I think perhaps it’s because when I was with the Chili Peppers, I was coming up with a lot of ideas on guitar so if you come up with piano ideas, that’s how it distinguishes itself from the music I was working on with the band. That’s something I thought of later, it was not a conscious thing like: “for me I play piano, for them I play guitar”, I don’t think like that. But I was just kind of enjoying leaving guitar off if that was an option. Finding different ways to make sounds.
And on this album a little bit more than on the first one, I was trying to leave the overdubs to a minimum, to keep it relatively to the instruments it was written on and obviously add colors if necessary. I didn’t want it to feel like a band, more like a guy. Having Jack Irons on the record is amazing, but I feel like I ran a risk sometimes with making it sound bigger with him playing. That’s why I tried to not put a lot of stuff on songs like The Night Won’t Scare Me or Red Don’t Feel. I tried to keep it on the smaller side. That was the thinking.
LVP: Speaking of guitar, you still have some great solos on your two records and I think it is a very special way of expressing yourself as a musician. Do you play/feel your guitar solos the same way with Pluralone as you did with the Chili Peppers or Dot Hacker?
P: Well, through a long time, I was just against guitar solos, period. I just didn’t like them. I really don’t feel like I did a lot of them in the Chili Peppers and now that I’m not in the band, I think about soloing a lot. I think about every solo that I did live and I feel like only through the end of my time with the band I was finally starting to get free of the shackles, of feeling like I had to do a certain kind of solo because… I feel like for 80% of my time in the band, even up to recently, everytime a solo would come, I had this voice in my head saying: “you should do this and you should try and do a solo like John Frusciante and step on this pedal and make it big”. No matter what, I feel like I was playing from a compromised position a lot of the time because I wasn’t totally acting under my own volition. Whereas when I play guitar on my own or if I’m playing with other people like Dot Hacker, even though it was years ago, I feel like I play a lot differently and I play more how I like to play. Especially when it comes to soloing, I feel like I could do more interesting things whereas a lot of the time in the band I felt like I should be doing this or I should be doing that, and I don’t think I do those things as well as I do other things.
I think I approach every song differently and if there’s a solo, I try to do something more melodic and more memorable now, whereas in the past I used to just make noise and improvise something. Now I think I’m just trying to write something simpler, maybe something that you can hum to yourself. One little tiny solo that I was really into was the one at the very end of the album, on the song I Hear You. I was doing the lead vocal and I had a guitar in the room, just to work out harmonies and I came up with that line for the solo at the end. When we were done with the vocals, I ran and I said “let me just do the guitar at the end!”. I did it once and that was it. It’s rare that I come up with a solo ahead of time. I usually just do it when I’m recording. I liked that little one.
I really do want to be in a band where it makes the lives of all the people involved better and offers a place for them to be who they want to be, and also to be the creative person they want to be. If I can help make that happen for other people at the same time as doing that for myself, I feel like that’s time well spent!
LVP: You also said in that thread that you were doing some electronic stuff. Do you consider releasing it someday or is it more of a personal hobby?
P: It’s more of a personal thing. I don’t really think of it as something to release. I like modulus synthesizers and I like drum machines so I built up a little bit of a collection of modular stuff over the years. When I was touring, I would buy a bunch of modulars, get it all set up and then be able to play with them for a little while but then the band would leave town for three months and I would come back and I would forget how to use all my new stuff.
So this last year, I’ve had more time to sit down with some of that stuff. I just record everything I do, even if it’s just on a little handheld recorder. So I have all this stuff that’s just mainly improvising electronic stuff and then I never listen to it again until several months later, when I pick something up randomly in the car. As far as I know, sometimes, it sounds like something that I would just listen to. It happened the other day, I was just trying to work on a specific sequential modular that I have, I quickly put up a beat and a little bassline and I was really focused on learning the modular and figuring out little aspects of the operational side of it. I wasn’t really thinking about the music and then I came across the piece that I recorded like a week before and thought “what is this? It can’t be me!” and I liked it! But I don’t really think in terms of releasing it. Maybe, someday, because it’s so innocently done. Actually, it’s just for fun, like painting. In the past, I did electronic music with my friend Eric Avery, we got a bunch of stuff we did together, we’ve talked about releasing it together… That’s definitely possible.
LVP: What’s fascinating is that you’re a very productive and inspired musician and you always seem to have a million ideas of news songs or projects. Have you ever faced a lack of inspiration?
P: I often would feel like I did, but I think it’s partly because of the constraints that were put on me by whatever I was doing. In the Chili Peppers, if we’re on tour for two years, it’s not conducive to making new music. I couldn’t do anything but I wouldn’t necessarily feel uninspired, it’s just that I felt like I was away from the creative process.
Lyrically, there have been times in the past where I felt like I wasn’t coming up with anything but that’s becoming less and less of a thing, because it’s tied with my level of confidence as a person. As a writer or a singer, I feel like I’ve had to overcome an enormous amount of insecurity, starting from playing guitar when I was 15… I never really thought I was a serious guitar player until all of a sudden playing with Bob Forrest. I just always felt like I was playing catch-up and I actually don’t remember when I learned how to play guitar! I just suddenly was playing guitar and yet I’ve had a pretty amazing existence as a guitar player in my life, but I can’t actually remember the moment where I sat down and learned how to play the guitar. It just happened. So I feel like I’m always thinking: “oh shit, I’m not good enough, I suck, I can’t do this, I can’t do that”, I think that’s just how I am and I have to fight against that my whole life.
To answer your question, I think maybe in the past there were moments where I was uninspired but I’ve learned now and I surrounded myself with a lot of different things to overcome it: if i’m not inspired to play piano to write a song then I go play on the synthesizer. Everyone should always remember that things come out of nothing. I was just listening to a Brian Eno quote about this: “Things come out of shit”. People sometimes think that if they are not coming up with all this genius music in their head, then they have no business doing it. But the littlest idea can turn into the greatest thing you ever heard, just like the greatest idea can turn into nothing, if it’s not the right hands or the right situation.
Lately, I find a lot of inspiration around because even if i’m not inspired to play, I feel like everything that you do in life can be an inspiration. The books that I’m reading right now, in service of maybe writing songs about this particular topic. So I’m reading a book, I’m highlighting lines, writing down words, thinking of lyrics… But it’s probably a stupid idea to write an album about this stuff that I’m reading about but you know. I’ll figure that out later!
LVP: You’ve said many times in interviews that you particularly enjoy playing in a band, but I get the impression that your creative process is very personal. What do you really like in being in a band?
P: That’s a good question because I’m dealing with that now. My intention in life was never to be a solo person, I’ve always wanted to be in a band. When Dot Hacker formed, I was the singer of the band and I was the one trying to lead the charge and then for whatever combination of reasons, most specifically me joining the Chili Peppers, that band wasn’t able to really function like it wanted to originally. Because of that, there wasn’t a lot of unity in the band. Luckily, all of us are still really good friends. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been working together remotely, because we can’t get into a room together and play. The roles are defined ahead of time: I write the thing, I send it to Clint and he puts the grand, he makes the painting out of what I sent, he sends it to the other two and they color in all the space. It worked once and we’re working on a second song, I just got really excited by the idea of being in a band again. I wrote 4 or 5 more songs so another Dot Hacker album is slowly or quickly taking shape, depending on who you ask.
This topic has been on my mind a lot: what do you want in a band? We all four spoke the other day on a Zoom call and I was talking about my desire to always have a band but more specifically how lucky I felt to be in the position with three friends of mine to not only do music, but also grow as a person. No matter what, it’s hard for me to admit to be wrong or even to admit that I played a role in something that may not have been working. I’ve been really lucky in the last several years to have a lot of time and a lot of experiences to look at the role I play. Even in the Chili Peppers I really examine what my role and the dynamic were in that band.
I think my ability to pretend like I wasn’t a cause of any of the things going on comes from a real deep psychological deficiency where I dissociate or I feel invisible in certain situations. So I’m just trying to get better at being a person in the world. And what I was saying to the Dot Hacker guys was that I was really lucky and really honored to be able, at 41 years old, to be in a group where I had the ability to put some of these practices into effect like being a generous person, writing a song and not trying control every aspect of it like I used to. I used to really try and control. For example, I play drums and I’m sure I made it uncomfortable for Eric sometimes, like I was always right there watching what he did… I feel like it’s a real privilege to be able to let the growth that has transpired as a person play itself out in a band situation where you can make music with your friends. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my whole life, since I was probably five years old, but let’s say specifically like ten or eleven. It’s been my dream to be in a band!
Again, I just feel lucky that I have done it and I still feel I have a lot to do with that. I really do want to be in a band where it makes the lives of all the people involved better and offers a place for them to be who they want to be, and also to be the creative person they want to be. If I can help make that happen for other people at the same time as doing that for myself, I feel like that’s time well spent!
With the Chili Peppers, it worked for ten years and I think that’s pretty much because we all cared about each other. That’s what I’m the most proud of.
LVP: Speaking of the Chili Peppers, many people think that you kept the band alive after John Frusciante left and that you did an amazing job renewing its sound. What is your greatest pride in this decade you’ve spent with them?
P: My greatest pride is that I came in to a situation that was really difficult. Aside from taking someone like John’s place… Coming into a room with three guys that are 18 or 19 years older than me, that are successful and one of the biggest bands in the world and being able to show them that I cared about them or cared about the band and cared about music. Not only the music that we were going to make but also the music that they had already made. And that actually worked.
I mean… John is John and if he wants to be in the band and those musical connections are available to reestablish, that’s fantastic and I am very happy for them. But the fact that I came in and we are all still friends and we were friends during it… That’s something. It’s hard enough to be friends with people and to make friends when you’re in your thirties or in your fifties, like them. When I joined the band, they were in their late forties and it’s not easy to make friendships at that stage in your life. I feel like that’s the thing I’m the most proud of. I like a lot of the songs we made together, even if I don’t always think the records were as solid of a record as they could have been, but I think it worked in a certain way for ten years and I think that’s pretty much because we all cared about each other. That’s what I’m the most proud of.
LVP: Before leaving the band, you spent a year working on a new album. Can you tell us more about this unfinished record? What was its vibe like?
P: I honestly don’t know because as usual, there were lots of music, lots of songs. We went in and did some demos, there were like 24 of them. I remember leaving that session at the end of the week annoyed that we hadn’t gotten to a bunch of other ones. There was a lot of stuff that we were working on, I don’t know, it’s hard to say… Maybe that was a problem during my time: I brought in a lot of ideas and I still feel like I didn’t get to show as many as I had. Maybe there was also a lack of focus sometimes because there were always so many new ideas being offered.
I still feel like it was shaping up in a way that had a lot of good stuff. There’s still a lot of stuff I would have liked to have changed about it. I was always trying to make that band sound a little more like I felt it did in the past. There was an aspect to it nowadays where I feel like the predominant energy or force of the band was moving it towards chordal songs, mid-tempo, where Anthony was singing more. I feel like that was the energy that the band was just moving towards whether I wanted it to or not. And I would write songs like that because I know that Anthony likes to sing like that. But most of the time, I just wanted to go like (he takes a guitar and hits it hard)… I just wanted it to be hard and funky and I wanted it to sound like they did live in 1985. That was what I would have preferred the band to sound like. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan tour with maybe one of two I Could Have Lied or Scar Tissue in there. Ten funky bangers, a Scar Tissue, a I Could Have Lied and I would have been happy, but I didn’t get my way. I didn’t make my dream come true. What will happen is they’ll probably make that album now!
LVP: Eventually, can you share a recent musical discovery with us? Or a book, a movie?
P: It’s not a discovery but yesterday was the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death so I watched John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky, which I guess was another documentary about the Imagine period. It’s a rediscovery of how fucking incredible that man was and how amazing his work with Yoko at that time was, just calling attention to how ridiculous the war in Vietnam was and how bold it was to take the stance they took. In a lot of ways we’ve progressed since then and in a lot of ways we absolutely haven’t.
That’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about and reading a lot about. I’m reading a book right now called The Bomb, about the history of nuclear weapons and how ridiculous it is that we possess the ability to destroy ourselves and we walk around with that threat all the time and that’s just how we live. I think this is something people should be seriously worried about. I’ve been thinking about the Cold War a lot, which I often do: I was born in 1979, I was a kid in the 80s and I’m obsessed with the idea of geopolitical unrest and how in 2020, nations and large groups of people can have such massive differences in the way they want to comport themselves or conduct their business, to the point where they have things pointed at each other that would kill millions and millions and millions of people.
I really feel like life for me is all about learning, that at the end of the day most of us really just want love and want to be close to other people. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.
A very special thank you to Claire Pinault for her help and support!
Pratiquant assidu du headbang nonchalant en milieu festif. Je dégaine mon stylo entre deux mouvements de tête.