Flea: “You need crackle and smoke!”The Aussie rock god that is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bass player tells us why conflict with other band members is grist to the creative mill.
They’re the most infamous twosome in the world of rock ’n’ roll after Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: Anthony Kiedis and Michael “Flea” Balzary, the two longest-standing members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Between them they have sold 80 million albums in the last 33 years and earned themselves a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course that’s down to musical talent, but over the years there has also been plenty of authentic rock ’n’ roll behavior.
The history of the band is littered with members coming and going and—until the late 1990s—well-publicized and excessive drug use. But they’re still going. Somehow, through it all, their creativity has managed to survive the drama.
How? According to Flea, who’s now in his 50s, it comes down to facing, rather than avoiding, the inevitable conflicts.
THE RED BULLETIN: You and Anthony Kiedis are bound together by a 40-year friendship and 33-year career. Do you ever argue?
FLEA: All the time! Over any tiny little thing. I’m not sure that there’s anything we don’t argue about.
Sure. But I admit we don’t argue now the way we used to in the past. In our 20s we’d often be so pissed at each other that we wouldn’t talk for days at a time. Now we’re more reasonable. We don’t take things so personally anymore, because we know that we’re there for each other when push comes to shove.
Don’t all those tensions affect your working relationship?
On the contrary. Anthony and I have felt this amazing high ever since we’ve been creating music together, and I think that high is based on frustration and anger.
What do you mean by that?
It’s easy to say something to someone that you know is going to make them happy. Criticizing a friend isn’t a nice thing to do, but it’s all the more important so you can both move forward.
What makes for a productive creative relationship?
It needs to crackle and smoke. Look at the great pop duos. Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, for example. All eccentrics individually, but together they created amazing music.
So if someone wants to be successful, then they should find their polar opposite to work with?
Exactly that. Find yourself a sounding board! And just as importantly, live out your contrasts. You can’t fit in or do yourself down if you want to get the best out of yourself and your partner. That would get boring pretty quickly, like in a marriage.
OK, but how do I find my polar opposite?
You can’t plan for it. Do you want to know how I met Anthony? At a fight. I was 14 years old and I was beating the crap out of this annoying guy in my class at school. Anthony appeared out of nowhere and roared at me, “Leave the guy alone!” We had this huge fight that ended up with us hugging and laughing. And not long after we were friends.
In his autobiography, Kiedis calls you his soulmate. How do you see your friendship?
In the same way. We’ve been through so many firsts together: stealing, fun with girls, taking acid. When we’re together there’s this energy that makes everything possible. But if I’m honest, I’ve never read his book. I was afraid to.
I flipped through it a couple of times. There were bits in it that flattered me, but there were other parts that really annoyed me. Like, “That’s not true at all!” Everyone remembers things differently, that’s true. But I didn’t want our friendship to suffer as a result.
Did you stumble across the passages about your sister?
You mean that he had sex with her? I knew all about it. I was in the next room that night.
Some male friendships have ended over less …
If my sister’s screwing anyone, then let it be my best friend. I was actually pleased that she liked him as much as I did.