When John Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers at age 18, replacing the band’s late co-founder Hillel Slovak, he intimately knew the musical situation he was entering. And as a major fan of the band’s heavy funk-rock style, he slotted seamlessly into that mold for two major LPs, 1989’s Mother’s Milk and their multiplatinum 1991 breakthrough, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
But Frusciante’s taste was always more eclectic than his day job suggested — he grew up loving everyone from Captain Beefheart to Kraftwerk to Yes. So during his second tenure in the group, which followed drug addiction and a stint in rehab, he aimed to explore a wider range of sounds — a desire that culminated with the Chili Peppers’ eighth album, 2002’s By the Way.
“In the past, particularly when we were writing Blood Sugar Sex Magik, I’d be writing to fit into the style of what the Chili Peppers — the band that [singer] Anthony [Kiedis] and [former drummer] Jack [Irons] and Hillel and [bassist] Flea created — were like,” Frusciante told Kerrang! at the time. “But now I don’t feel the need to make our music sound like the Chili Peppers; I don’t feel the need to fit within the blueprint laid down by the early albums.”
Most of the material for By the Way sprung up from jams, with Frusciante and Flea then pingponging arrangement ideas from there. Then they’d present the song skeletons to Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith, who’d write their parts. Still, the guitarist started to assert himself more as a dominant creative force, which skewed the material toward his multicolored vision.
“Every time we make a record, I have sort of a concept, and my concept for By the Way was kind of selfish because it didn’t have a lot to do with where we would come from,” he told Spin in 2006. “I wasn’t really into doing stuff that was funk-based or blues-based. I wanted to do something along those lines [of the Smiths or Siouxsie and the Banshees or the Cure], and I wasn’t very open to things outside of that framework.”
Whatever creative tensions may have sprung up, they didn’t alter the band’s trajectory. By the Way became another major commercial success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 — and the album’s lead single, the sensitive-then-aggressive title cut, became a steady hit on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
“It wasn’t really our decision to put that song out first,” Frusciante added to Kerrang! “But our managers thought it was an exciting song, and their enthusiasm convinced us. I guess they thought that it combined the wild part of our sound with the melodic part of our sound.”
Watch Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘By the Way’ Video
And filming the music video, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, offered some levity: Kiedis is kidnapped and driven through the streets by a rogue taxi driver played by comedian David Sheridan.
“That video was funny, man,” Kiedis added. “We got to do our own stunts and hang out with comedic genius David Sheridan. He never broke character for the four days that we were shooting, and he never ran out of dialogue that wasn’t side-splitting.” Added Frusciante: “The guy was really funny. I have an hourlong videotape of the improvised stuff he’d be doing between takes or during our lunch breaks, and it’s just brilliant. Most of the time with videos you’d spend hours just sitting around waiting to be called, but he actually made that one quite fun.”
All in all, both album and song pointed a new way forward for the Chili Peppers — and the recording process highlighted their need for better communication.
“We have our little tiffs with each other or our little misunderstandings, but before we used to just walk around, holding grudges against each other and thinking mean things towards each other but never discussing it,” Frusciante told Much Music. “But now it’s really important to each of us to talk about whatever the problems are and get through them before they stay inside us and fester and plant that evil seed that can break up the band while they’re in the midst of making good music together.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers Albums Ranked
Funk rockers have delivered some timeless classics … and a couple of forgettable releases, too.