If 1999’s Californication hadn’t far enough separated Red Hot Chili Peppers from their debauched, party-funk, socks-on-cocks days – and, really, with a title like that, you’d be forgiven for thinking such hedonism wasn’t too far away – then 2002’s By The Way saw the quartet settle into a pair of comfortable slippers while sipping on a mug of hot chocolate. But if its predecessor was mere foreplay, then by this album the band had learned all the tricks to induce a full-blown orgasm. And it largely came from the gentle caressing of guitarist John Frusciante hitting all the right spots.
Listen to ‘By The Way’ here.
“We started finding some magic… John was brimming with confidence”
As soon as the whirlwind surrounding Californication dissipated, work began immediately on its follow-up. Initial sessions involved the band members bouncing ideas off each other at home and in practice spaces. Frontman Anthony Kiedis described the process in his 2004 autobiography, Scar Tissue: “We started finding some magic and some music and some riffs and some rhythms and some jams and some grooves, and we added to it and subtracted from it and pushed it around and put melodies to it.” Kiedis and Frusciante in particular threw themselves into the process, finessing the guitar lines and lyrics between them. According to the singer, “Writing By The Way… was a whole different experience from Californication. John was back to himself and brimming with confidence.”
Indeed, from the outset Frusciante had a very clear vision of how he wanted By The Way to sound. In his mind, half the songs would be steeped in melodies and the other half would reflect the influence of classic British punk bands such as The Damned and Discharge. However, since producer Rick Rubin was unfamiliar was with those artists and their style of music, he encouraged the band to pursue their more melodic ideas. But with the focus landing almost entirely on the guitarist’s material, not everyone in the band was especially happy at being overlooked during the process.
“I don’t underestimate that the real energy comes from the four of us”
Bassist Flea was keen to pursue a more funk-laden approach throughout the By The Way sessions, and was more than a little put out at Frusciante’s songwriting dominance. But it wasn’t just a clash of musical vision that got the bass player’s back up. As he would later lament to Q magazine during promo for Stadium Arcadium, “John went to this whole level of artistry. But he made me feel like I had nothing to offer, like I knew shit.” A clash of egos is generally followed by fractured relationships, and it was a situation that caused the long-time Chili Pepper to nearly quit the band. Flea admitted it was only the idea of breaking the news to Kiedis that stopped him.