Music

Josh Klinghoffer: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Day Out and Dot Hacker

JODY MACGREGOR chats to Josh Klinghoffer about his band Dot Hacker and his day job: touring the world as the newest member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Josh Klinghoffer has an insane résumé. He’s played guitar and sometimes drums on tours with PJ Harvey, Beck, the Butthole Surfers and Gnarls Barkley, and he’s appeared on albums by Warpaint, Perry Farrell, Tricky, Charlotte Hatherley and his long-time friend John Frusciante. Even so, it wasn’t until he was brought in to replace Frusciante in the Red Hot Chili Peppers that many music fans heard his name.

His own band Dot Hacker – which he formed with friends from the Gnarls Barkley touring band and math-rockers Hella – has had to squeeze itself around their busy schedule. Although they started playing together in 2008 their first album, Inhibition, was only released in the US last year and is about to have its Australian release now. It’s the kind of bombastic art-rock that gives Klinghoffer a chance to show that he can also play the piano and owes more to Radiohead and Muse than any of the bands on that impresive CV of his.

Because the Chili Peppers are having some down-time after finishing up their world tour earlier this year, including a headlining slot at the Big Day Out, Klinghoffer has some more time to work on Dot Hacker. He’s currently at a studio Los Angeles, trying to finish recording their second album before he gets whisked away again.

How far along is the second album?

There’s 15 songs recorded, musically, and I’ve done vocals on two of them. I’m working on the third today. The way this band works, just because of scheduling, the blessing and curse of this band is sometimes we work really quickly and things come together, we record them, but then [I’m] trying not to finish the song entirely so that everyone has a place of their own in it and trying not to make too many decisions about arrangements or instrumentation. I also don’t really finish the vocals off until we get recording, which is partly due to having so many other things going on and so much music I’m working on. Also part of it’s laziness as well. Now that we’ve got 15 songs recorded it’s time for me to do the vocals and finish off the lyrics – get the song written. Which is hard sometimes because when a song is new some of the lyrics feel like they’re not completely confidently delivered. I don’t know, it’s a hellish place for me to be [laughs]. It’s how we did the first record and when I listen to the first album I hear a lot of that in the lyrics and the singing. I’m trying to get past it now and acquaint myself with the songs more.

Scheduling must be a nightmare, to set aside a bunch of time for this when you’re also in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the other guys in your band have other things as well. How do you do that? How do you set aside entire weeks to focus on one thing?

The thing about being in the Chili Peppers is I’m away the most, but I also have the most solidified schedule for the longest in advance. I know exactly where I’m gonna be and for how long so I can say to the other guys, “I’m here from this date to this date and I want to spend every second of that period working on our songs and this band so hopefully you guys can do what you can do to make sure you’re available.” That usually works, even if someone has to pop out for a day or a weekend, do a few gigs or whatever they have to do. We’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time this year working on stuff so that’s what brought us to where we are now: 15 songs into a record and hopefully if I can get everything sung on and sounding up to snuff I’ll have it out by the end of this year. Though the first album was recorded in 2009 it was only released over here last year. I guess in Australia it’s gonna be released this year. If I can get another album out this year it’ll put Dot Hacker on the ‘60s album-per-year schedule, which I admire.

You’ll seem super-productive.

After doing the Chili Peppers album and the tour that followed it it’s allowed me to do nothing but write songs and play music. That’s the biggest gift that I could ever ask for.

“It’s impossible for poor Anthony and Flea to go outside [on tour] but I can sort of sneak out”

You were here with the Chili Peppers for the Big Day Out tour earlier this year. Those big festival tours, I imagine they’re pretty hectic. Did you have much of a chance to relax while you were here?

That trip was toward the end of our tour so we were all looking to take as much time and enjoy Australia as we could. I’ve been there several times and there was a nice chunk of time where I was able to go down to Flea’s house a couple hours south of Sydney. I was able to go spend time on the beach where Flea has had a house for many years and really relax and enjoy Australia away from a big city, which I’d never really got to do. That trip, Big Day Out, we definitely had some time to relax. Then we went to South Africa, which was amazing. The band had never been there, which has happened a lot on this tour. We went to places many times where the Chili Peppers had never played before.

What do you like to do when you visit a country for the first time?

The saddest part of the tour was the specific chunk of touring – we call it ‘leg’ of touring but that gets confusing because I talk about my broken foot – so the specific leg of touring where we went to places I’d never been to before like Romania, Bulgaria, Israel and Turkey and Lebanon. That whole three-week period I was bed-ridden with a broken foot with a cast on. On the flipside I got to catch up on a lot of rest and a lot of episodic TV and movies. If there’s anything touristy that I want to see I’ll definitely do it. I have the luxury. I watch poor Anthony and Flea try and go outside in some of these places and it’s impossible for them, but I have the luxury of travelling in this amazing situation with these amazing people and I can sort of sneak out and go look at anything I want around town basically undetected, which is amazing. I’ve always done that on every other tour I’ve ever been on.

Do you remember those shows in Australia very well? Which ones did you like the most?

I liked all of them except I had a really hard time in Adelaide for some reason. I think it was after having that time off, I think we had four days off, we were down at Flea’s house and we were running around and hiking and playing basketball and swimming and whatever I think I was knackered, it was hard to sync back into the rhythm after being in such a beautiful place. But I think as usual the show was fine and I was just mentally someplace else. I remember that one being a really hard one for me. Perth and Melbourne, I mean they were all pretty magical, I thought. Our good friends Off! were also on the Big Day Out, I got a lot of time to hang out with one of my best friends, Steve McDonald, who plays bass in Off! and he’s in the band Redd Kross.

Did you get to see many of the other acts at Big Day Out?

No, I didn’t get to see too many things to be honest. It was so hot a couple of times I opted to stay out of the sun as long as I could. I’m friends with Zach Hill, the drummer of Death Grips, I got to see them. That was fun. I got to see Off! obviously, I got to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who I enjoyed a lot. And that’s pretty much all I can remember. I remember hearing The Killers play the Crowded House song ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ which I had played in Auckland a couple of days before.

“I’m really anxious to get back to work with the Chili Peppers”

Do you have a time limit for finishing off this Dot Hacker album before you have to get back to doing other stuff? Do you have work on a new Red Hot Chili Peppers album at some point?

Yes, we definitely do. There’s no specific time limit but self-imposed. I like to think I’ll have it finished by the end of September, no later than that, mainly so I can go out and play some more shows with them this year before the Chili Peppers start working again. I’m really anxious to get back to work with the Chili Peppers but just the way the year has worked out, mainly with Flea playing with Thom Yorke, it doesn’t look like we’ll get down to any serious work until the end of the year, like maybe December. Which gives me the sneaking suspicion that we won’t really get to it until the beginning of the new year.

The Chili Peppers are going down to South America for a couple of shows in November and I think we have one in September right before Flea does the US Atoms For Peace tour. So there’s a couple of Chili Peppers things on the books. I’m leaving in a couple of weeks to do a couple of shows in Alaska with the Chili Peppers and a festival in San Francisco. It’s great because the band never gets fully out of shape. We can keep ourselves acquainted musically. Mainly with Flea being gone a lot this year I can finish this Dot Hacker album with a little bit of ease, although time is running out.

One last thing I wanted to ask you about the Chili Peppers was what it was like stepping into John Frusciante’s shoes – did you feel like the new guy for a long time?

I think obviously I felt like the new guy, but also the fact that I’m 19 years younger than those guys – or something like that – would make me feel that way anyway. On the flipside I didn’t necessarily feel 100% new when it came to being in their world and their situation. I toured with them all throughout 2007 as the backup guy with John and I’ve been in bands that have opened for the Chili Peppers since ‘99 or 2000. I’ve been in two other bands that have opened for the Chili Peppers so I’ve been in the family and been good friends with those guys and friends with everybody on the crew, just really in the Chili Peppers’ world for so long that just because I’m filling a new role now as sole guitar player, and songwriter, and one-quarter decision-maker, I didn’t necessarily feel like the new guy. That also has to do with those guys being really incredibly welcoming to me. They’ve never done anything to make me feel like the new guy. They’ve really looked to me to add to what they have and they’ve been nothing but accommodating and gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable.

Obviously they’ve done this before, you know, John joined the band after not being an original member. They’ve had lots of different members, like Dave Navarro, and they also know that I’m friends with John, spent a lot of time working with him, they were very conscious and very aware of what I might be going through taking on this role. They really did an amazing job of making me feel welcome and comfortable and including me. It was always discussed that I was an equal member, but they really made me feel like that from the get-go.

In terms of filling John’s shoes, I don’t think anyone could fill anyone’s shoes if you will and ever replace another person when you’re talking about creative endeavours, art, songwriting, whatever. I just hope to bring something as genuine as he did to their band. John is one of the most amazing, beautiful, creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing work so I can only hope to have something close to that.

Did it take you a while to get used to being the frontman on stage with Dot Hacker? Doing that after being in bands but not being the focus of attention?

Yes, it did. Maybe some people can jump right in and be something like that I remember when first played live, period, just the jitters, the physical feeling like, “Oh my God, this is insane.” Then you do it a few times, you get comfortable, it goes away. You look at yourself in a different light and you’re comfortable with it. With Dot Hacker and singing and being the lyricist and being the focal point, every time we would play a show I would go away and not do it for three months, four months, so it was always hard for me to find a comfortable feeling. But I think now after having done such an extensive Chili Pepper tour where we’re playing every night, the Dot Hacker album is out, the songs are sort of out there in the world. We just did our first tour opening for Cedric Bixler’s new band. That was a great experience because I got to be the singer of my band every night, not just once. To answer your question, it took a minute but I think with everything it takes doing it a few times and you sink into your level of comfortability and you’re off and running.

Do you have any plans to bring Dot Hacker out to Australia?

I would love to. I’ve had a few emails about the release of the album down there that have intimated that we might come, which was news to me when I heard it at first. I guess there’s talk of bringing the band down there in December maybe? Which would be absolutely incredible.

Dot Hacker’s Inhibition is out now through Smack Face Records.