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Guitar World Acoustic
NO. 43
By Alan Di Perna


"Whenever somebody comes over to my house now," says John Frusciante, "I ask them if they want to hear my new song-whatever I've just written.  I'll get my guitar and sing for them."  
Frusciante's recent guests are lucky.  The first time I visited the guitarist's Hollywood Hills home, for a 1991 interview, he vomited and exposed himself.  But Frusciante has come a long way since the early Nineties, when he was by far the most drug-addled and out-of-control member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers-an outfit celebrated far and wide for being drug-addled and out-of-control.  Frusciante's problems led to his departure from the band in 1992, but good behavior led to his reinstatment in 1997.  He's now back in the saddle, drug free, and enjoying the success of the Chili Peppers' recent album, Californication.  And while his earlier solo albums- 1994's Niandra Lades & Usually Just a T-shirt and 1997's Smile From the Streets You Hold- were abstract and often meandering, his newest disc, To Record Only Water for Ten Days (Warner Bros.) is a collection of focused, melodic, mostly acoustic guitar-based songs, with an overlay of analog synthesizers and drum machines that reflect Frusciante's love of the synth-pop Eighties.  The songs have the quiet, intimate feel of home recordings.  Far removed from the Chili Peppers' testosterone-drenched funk metal sound, they reflect a more contemplative side of Frusciante that will surprise many.
     The guitarist's music and manners have grown more tractable over the years, but he's still a pretty unusual character.  He claims to have spent much of the Nineties in contact with the spirit world, and that many of his best friends are visitors from the "astral plane."  He describes To Record Only Water For Ten Days as a musical expression of the feelings and ideas he's received from the spirits.
     He's in good company.  Down through the years, artists as celebrated and diverse as William Blake and Carlos Santana have described intimate collaborations with incorporeal forces.  But only John Frusciante could have made To Record Only Water For Ten Days.

GUITAR WORLD ACOUSTIC: Were many of the songs on your new album written on an acoustic guitar?
FRUSCIANTE: Yeah- just about everything was written on acoustic.  When the Chili Peppers were first touring for Californication [Warner Bros.], I was carrying around a Fender Mustang electric for a while.  I started writing so many songs on that that I decided, halfway through the tour, that I might as well bring an acoustic with me.  Having an acoustic with me made it twice as much fun to be in my hotel room and to be on the road and stuff.  Usually I write songs on acoustic guitar now.
GWA: Did you start out playing acoustic?
FRUSCIANTE: Yeah.  My parents wouldn't buy me an electric, because they didn't know if I was going to stick with it.  I tried to play the guitar once when I was seven and lost interest.  My teacher could show me only the beginning of "Stairway to Heaven," and she couldn't even explain to me why the rest sounded the way it did.  I wanted to a Les Paul like [Kiss lead guitarist] Ace Frehley, but nobody would buy it for me.  But then, when I was nine years old, I discovered punk rock, and that's when I finally decided what really mattered was the feeling inside of me.  And that could be expressed on the simplest folk guitar.  The day I started playing again, I wrote 20 punk rock songs in a row on a little cassette recorder, screaming my head off and playing the acoustic guitar.
     Once I did get an electric, I pretty much stuck to that.  My interest in the acoustic guitar didn't start up again until I was 20, when I was writing and recording stuff on my first solo record and listening to [original Pink Floyd frontman] Syd Barret a lot.  That was when I really started spending a lot more time on the acoustic guitar.
GWA: You have, of course, played acoustic with the Chili Peppers-on "Breaking the Girl," for example.
FRUSCIANTE: Yeah.  That was written on a 12-string acoustic-in fact the working title was "12-string."
GWA: What kind of 12-string was it?
FRUSCIANTE: I don't remember.  I have a good 12-string right now; I think it's a Martin.  But "Breaking the Girl" was inspired by that Led Zeppelin song, "Friends"-if you compare what I do on the A string in "Breaking the Girl" to what Jimmy Page does in "Friends," you'll see the similarity.  And then Thelonius Monk was the influence on the chorus.  I was reading chords out of a Thelonius Monk book.  I used the first two chords from something of his and then took it someplace other than where he went.
GWA:  And then [Chili Peppers singer] Anthony Kiedis wrote the words?
FRUSCIANTE:  He wrote the words, and I wrote the melody for the verse.  And for the chorus he made up his own melody.  He did use what I had.
GWA:  Do you see your solo work as a kind of antithesis-or maybe an antidote-to what you do in the Chili Peppers?
FRUSCIANTE: In a way.  Most of the stuff for my first two albums was recorded when the Chili Peppers were writing Blood Sugar Sex Magik [Warner Bros.], which practically followed a formula.  We'd write a verse and then search for a chorus.  We'd write a bridge and I'd make up an intro.  Every song was put together with that pop song sort of format, more or less.  So when I was writing stuff for my first couple of solo records, I just wanted to do something completely different from that.  Just for my own head.  Just to make sure I was seeing music in an infinite way, as opposed to any kind of formulaic way.  On those albums, I didn't have the discipline of a songwriter to finish songs.  It was more important for me to be in a state of searching all the time than it was to write a clear song that had a perfect shape.  But in doing that, I stumbled across those feelings that I really feel I'm here to put across with music.  I gradually started to get an image in my head of what my music could sound like if I took the most important parts of the feelings on those first two solo albums and put them in a form that was more concise and perfect.  And that's what I did on my new record.
GWA: What kind of acoustic guitars did you use on your new album?
FRUSCIANTE:  A couple of songs on the recording were done on a Gibson, but mostly I used this old Martin, maybe from the Forties that I borrowed from Anthony; he got it as a gift from [Blood Sugar Sex Magik producer] Rick Rubin.  I gave it back to Anthony and bought a couple that are very similar to it.  One that I've been using when I play my own shows apart from the Chili Peppers is a small-bodied brown guitar from the Fifties.  It has a big song.  I used to have a Gibson L-1 like the one Robert Johnson is playing in that picture of him, and this guitar is very similar to that.
GWA: Over how long a period of time were the songs on the new album written and recorded?
FRUSCIANTE: About four or five months-I work pretty quickly.  When I get a song idea, I finish it.  Or else I don't, and then it's never finished.  I figure the song wasn't meant to be if I can't finish it in a couple of hours.  And once the song is written it usually takes about three days to record.
GWA: I understand you recorded the entire album at your house?
FRUSCIANTE: Yeah.  I have a Yamaha MD8 digital eight-track machine, just a microphone, an Akai MPC3000 sampler and a Korg M10 synthesizer from 1980.  And I used a Nord lead and a synthesizer module for a couple of things.  Sometimes I'd fill up eight tracks, have them bounced down to two tracks and then fill up six more tracks with vocal harmonies and stuff.  So some of the songs have as many as 14 tracks.
GWA:  Did you use a capo on the acoustic for any of the songs?
FRUSCIANTE: No. I never used a capo until a few months ago, when I learned how to play that Smiths' song, "Back to the Old House."  But "The First Season" has a lot of funny chords and a lot of barring.  Maybe some of that sounds like it's capoed.
GWA: The acoustic guitar on "Fallout" sounds a little unusual.
FRUSCIANTE: That's the Gibson I was telling you about.  It's on "Fallout" and "Saturation," which are the earliest recordings on the album.  The frets on that Gibson are kind of fucked up-the guitar kind of frets out on certain notes.  And you couldn't play the 11th fret of the High E string.
GWA:  "Going Inside" sounds like it's about meditation.  "You don't throw your time away sitting still"-that could almost be a line from a Buddhist text.
FRUSCIANTE: I believe in the reality of imagination.  I believe that a person can go really far just sitting still.  I don't follow Buddhism or any other religion; I don't follow gurus.  I have my own relationship with the spiritual world.  I've had a lot of spiritual contact over the last few years-to the point where I'm not searching for anything.  I feel very solidified in my place in other dimensions.  I know where I'm going in my next life.  I know which spirits are my friends and which aren't.  All that stuff.  But it's not like I read books about the subject or anything like that.  I don't practice meditation like [Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist] Flea does.  But in a way, when I play my guitar or write a song, or even when I'm driving in my car listening to music, I'm doing a form of meditation.  And I do Yoga, too.  But I usually think about [Depeche Mode's] David Gahan and Martin Gore when I do yoga.  That's the best meditation for me, just to start thinking about a rock star that I really love.  It makes me perform so much better, whether it's yoga or anything else I'm doing.  It makes me feel completely content with where I am.
GWA: When did your contact with the spiritual world begin?
FRUSCIANTE: Around the time the Chili Peppers were writing Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  I started playing a little game with myself, where when I was playing guitar I'd say, "oKay, I'm going to leave my body now." And when I would do that, I found that the music coming out of me was much better than anything I'd ever done.  It became obvious to me that these energies were possessing my body.  I would just get out of the way and let the energies play my guitar for me.  SO I just started to have this natural sort of belief in these spiritual forces.  And as my beliefs became more concrete, they started revealing themselves to me more.  I always heard voices in my head as a little kid, but now I had an excessive amount of voices in my head all the time.  Having conversations with me.  Telling me about the future.  They'd say something was going to happen in two minutes-and it would.  They would do these things to tell me were in tune with and could see the future.  Because the future has already happened many times.  They don't live in a dimension that has time, but they feed off the energies of people who do live in time.
     So by the time I quit the Chili Peppers in 1992, I was devoting myself to nothing but magical progress.  I got to the point, five years later, where I could sit in a room with a ghost or an astral body for half an hour at a time.  Which takes a tremendous amount of concentration.  
GWA: Do drugs make one more receptive to the spiritual world? Or less so?
FRUSCIANTE: I've seen them do both.  I would say that there are better and longer-lasting ways of getting in that kind of world than taking drugs.  In my experience, drugs definitely were a good way of shutting out the real world and going headfirst into a world that had nothing to do with the material plane.  But the thing is the material plane is very much a reflection of other dimensions.  And other dimensions get a lot of juice and energy from the material plane.  And I now have a very rich inward life functioning as part of the world.
     So it worked out for me.  But most people don't have five years to throw away from their normal course of life to become a drug addict and shut out the world the way I did.  I guess because of money and stuff, I had the opportunity to do that.  But I've come back into the real world now.  And through the last few years of not taking any drugs, I found a way to feel even more high and get all the feelings I was trying to get from drugs.  There's a way to do it.  It has to do with purifying yourself, eating extremely healthy and doing whatever kind of exercise supplies you well.  And there are other things, like being pure of intention.  I don't have any kind of drive.  I often think that's the reason I've been able to be successful with music-twice!  It has a lot to do with the fact that I don't give a fuck about being successful.  I don't depend on that that for my happiness.  I can be happy whether I'm a loser or a winner.  I still love myself either way.
GWA: The album title-To Record Only Water For Ten Days- sounds a little like a reference to fasting.  Because there are those who drink nothing but water when fasting.
FRUSCIANTE: Originally, that's what it meant to me.  But I started to realize that fasting was maybe the way a guru in India could purify himself.  But somebody who's lived the life I've lived had to do it another way that was gonna take longer.  So the album title is a reference to what I had to do to purify myself.  It's like imagining one's body as a tape recorder, and what it would mean to record only water for ten days, or whatever period of time.  I was so infested with all kinds of spirits eight years ago that it was really necessary for me to have a certain amount of fights and battles to cleanse myself.  To make it so that I was capable of making music that was a pure reflection of the places in the universe that I think are really beautiful.
GWA: But you didn't actually record water at any point?
FRUSCIANTE: No.  But to me, the music is as pure as if you were listening to the sounds of water.  My music is that pure because I've worked at making myself that pure.