Chad Smith (Bombastic Meatbats- Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot)
Chad Smith is one busy dude. By now, most people know The Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer is part of the supergroup Chickenfoot. In addition to that, Smith has started a new band but one that is a complete departure from his previous work. Well, not a total departure. It still has the groove that the Chili Peppers are based on. In fact, Smith calls it "just groove music". They're called Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats and they've just released their debut on Warrior Records called Meet the Meatbats.
The thing that sets this apart is that this is an instrumental outfit --- no vocals. However, if you're thinking sleepy, neo-jazz played by goateed studio pros smoking cigars and wearing French beanies, forget it. This is a super-charged record that runs the gamut of moods, running from the flex-your-muscles type of songs of "Oh! I Spilled My Beer" to the spacy "Into The Floyd". Usually these types of records have me reaching for the stop button pretty quickly but this one held my interest all the way through…and then some!
Each one of the Meatbats (Jeff Kollman – guitars, Ed Roth – keyboards, Kevin Chown – bass and, of course, Smith) are more than a little proficient on their instrument but the main thing that comes through the speakers is that they also have a great sense of feel. They are pouring their joy of music out through each and every note. Chad says they are just out to have fun and that is certainly conveyed in each song.
It was a real pleasure to speak with Chad recently about how the Meatbats came to be.
antiMusic: I just got the CD and I have to say that I'm not usually into instrumental music of this sort. But I absolutely love this record. It's the exception to the rule. I hope it does really well for you.
Chad: Wow. Thanks man.
antiMusic: I guess the thing that has to be answered first so we can put everything into perspective is: What the heck is a meatbat? I mean, we could be talking about your arms (laughs) ….
Chad: Well, it is a certain part of the body.
antiMusic: Perhaps somebody coined a part more south of the equator because you guys have a talent that is not able to be showcased on the record. I'm probably wrong, right? (laughs)
Chad: (coughs and laughs) I'll let you say, Morley. I'm not going to comment on that. (laughs) Let's just say that it's more on the Steely Dan kind of thing. (laughs)
But you know, we kind of came up with different names and I don't know who came up with The Meatbats, to tell you the truth. But the music is fun. It's not serious. Like lots of times, people think of instrumental music and they think of old guys trying to show off and play a million notes and it's all really muso-oriented, fusion-y and all that. And this is like funk that is really just groove music, you know? It's not about how many notes you can play or how fast you can play or that kind of thing. It's party music.
Jeff plays some beautiful melodies and Ed does too but there are song structures with verses, choruses and bridges and solos. In that way, it's structured like normal songs. I think it's just fun and that's something we really want to get across, especially with the name. We don't take ourselves too seriously, you know? We take the music seriously but when you come and see us it's really about having a good time and it's just party music.
We play this little club in LA a lot. It's called the Baked Potato. It's an old jazz club and it's like 90 people and it's just like playing in your basement somewhere if you lived in Indiana or something and all your friends come. And we just play whatever and we improvise and tell jokes and it's just great. Everybody has a nickname and it's just fun. It's sort of like this inside-joke, cult thing and that's cool. We're fine with that. We know we're not competing with Coldplay or anything like that (laughs). This is a special thing and some people will get it. We just want people to have the chance to hear about it and then they can make up their mind if they like it or not.
It's just a fun thing. It started as a fun thing and it's continued that way and I hope it stays that way. Because all I want to do is play music that's fun.
antiMusic: Apparently, you guys got together while working with Glenn Hughes. How long ago was this, for the Soul Mover record?
Chad: Well, we would play together around that time. That's when I really started playing a lot with Glenn. We did that record. Ed's on it. I don't know if Jeff is. I think JJ is on that record. But live we play some gigs with Glen, you know, we toured a little bit with Glenn not a lot, but we'd play whenever we could together. We really have so much fun together. And Ed and Jeff play with him a lot. When we'd be like rehearsing for a show or something, if Glenn was late or something we'd just jam on this kind of stuff, this Meatbat kind of stuff. And we just fell into this love of this kind of groove, kind of funky, you know, Billy Preston-y, Jeff Beck-y, Meters stuff and we'd do it just for fun, obviously, just screwing around.
And I said, man this is really cool. We should try and write some songs and just make a record. Which you could do these days, pretty easy. (laughs). So we did. One day I went, why don't you guys come on over to my house and we'll just come up with some ideas? It just came really fast and we recorded really quickly. And that was actually January of 2007 when the Meatbats started actually, when we started making songs. So we had this record for a long time and we've been playing.
We actually have another one finished. (laughs) And as much as I love this one, we have these songs for the new ones I'm really excited about. Those will come out pretty soon…it's not going to be three years down the road. It'll be soon because we're not going to be working any singles or anything. You know this guy, from Warrior Records, Jim Irvin, came and saw us and he got it man. He was just like, I did what you guys are doing. I get it. He wants to put it out and it's also coming out in Europe, and then it's out in Japan. So it's all happening all at once. I talk to people and they're like: how are you playing in Chickenfoot, in the Meatbats, in the Chili Peppers? When do you sleep, you know? And I say, it's not really that. It's just kind of all came together at the same time. So I'm just chuckling.
I'm going to come back and play with the Chili Peppers in October. We're going to start writing songs again. And the Chickenfoot tour is going to end at the end of September. But I'll do more with those guys next year. And I'll find time to play with the Meatbats. We're going to be like a wedding band; we'll only play weekends, you know? (laughs) We'll go out and play San Francisco, and L.A and San Diego or something. I'm just really fortunate you know that I get to play music with people who are like-minded like me that want to do it for fun and that are passionate about it. I'm just very, very fortunate.
antiMusic: I almost forgot to ask: how are you feeling?
Chad: Yeah, I tore my tendon in Paris. It was weird. I never had anything happen to me. But I am kind of physical. I play kind of hard. (laughs) I had a motorcycle crash a long time ago where I separated my shoulder. I had a lot of scar tissue in that area. The muscles in the shoulder and the tendon that connects the bicep to your shoulders is just a skinny little thing and with all the wear and tear of years of banging on the drums it just started to fray at that tendon a little bit. In Paris a little piece of the tendon came off and it really freaked me out. I was like ah s---, this is not good. I can't do my thing. Luckily it wasn't that bad. I just needed to rest it. So we did have to cancel some shows and I feel bad about that. But there was no way I was going to be able to play right away so I needed to take a little time off. So I got three weeks off and did some acupuncture and stuff and it's healing up and I'm fine right now thank goodness.
antiMusic: I always thought you seem like a guy that likes to have at it, not just trying to fill all the open air but just going for it in a kind of a kid with five bottles of Red Bull sort of way, but there are moments of fusion and jazz like in "The Battle for Ventura Blvd" or "Lola" where you're kind of hanging back there in the pocket, not behind the beat but not driving it either. Is it an effort for you to pull back on occasion or can you easily adjust to fit the mood?
Chad: You know, I try to play what I feel is right for the song in any musical situation. And the Meatbats require a different feel, you know? There's lots of different feels and different stuff on the record which keeps it interesting. And obviously that's important. And yeah, if it's just groove and just hang back and be supportive, that's what I do. I just want to make the music feel good. It's not about what I can do, or throw in my licks, or any of that kind of stuff. There's time for that. There's certain areas where it's time to stretch out and then there's time to just hang back. So it's really just trying to play what's right, what I feel is right for the music and how I interpret the music and hopefully that works.
I don't pretend to be any kind of jazz player. That's not my forte. There are guys who could play circles around me and do much better than what I do, but it's my interpretation of it, you know, in this particular thing. And it's really fun to play, to just grow and to play different kinds of stuff. That's really rewarding. And hopefully I'll get better at it. And it's a challenge though. That's inspiring to me. To be in a different creative situation. All the bands, and the projects that I do, I only want to do them if they really interest me, and if they're really creative things, I'm not doing jingles for Snickers bars. I just want to play with people that want to play with me, and music that I really enjoy. At the same time, it's important to try new things and challenge yourself and like I say, grow. So this is one of those opportunities and I love it; it's great.
antiMusic: Conversely, there are moments on the record that you can almost see a giant smile from you coming through the speakers, in particular on "Oh I Spilled My Beer". You're just laying into the skins on that one. Is that one of your favorite songs to do with the guys?
Chad: That's right up my alley you know. That's great, but that's also typical of the Meatbats sense of humor. When you don't have words, you have to title your songs somehow. So that one, literally, we finished the take and I moved my leg or something, I don't know, and I had a beer and I knocked it over and was like, "Oh…I spilled my beer." And so, yeah, that really sums up our thing, you know? It's just really fun and spontaneous. We want that to come across.
antiMusic: "Need Strange" has a real "Trampled Underfoot" vibe. Was that a starting point or a compass at all for that song?
Chad: Yeah, I think, yeah, with the Clav, right? Right. Ed really comes from that Billy Preston world, you know, and that was a real great cut to track so yeah, I get that comparison. Between that…and then when I start playing (laughs) yeah, it makes sense. Yeah, it's really fun to play…. I love that he plays all those instruments, you know, the Clav, and the Wurlitzer, and you know he plays the Fender Rhodes, and the piano; he doesn't play any synthesizers or anything. It's all that kind of old school analog stuff. I just love that. I love the way he approaches his instrument. He's such a great player. Everyone is a really good listener. I mean that's the most important thing, certainly in any music but really in instrumental music it's about how you play off the other guys. To me that's what makes it kind of very cool. You can tell, it's just guys in a room, all playing at once. It's not a studio thing that's built track by track, each guy overdubbing. I mean it's all just us in a room playing live. And that's what I want to hear. It's kind of a throwback to that kind of era of you know those bands I talked about and kind of a jumping off point. We're not trying to emulate or recreate any kind of, you know, 70s thing. It's sort of a fresh take on that kind of stuff.
antiMusic: When I was first listening to the CD, this cut came on and I was like wow this is like an extra from the Dark Side of the Moon sessions. When I checked the info, it said "Into the Floyd". It sounds so related. Did you purposefully go for a Floyd vibe or did it just come out that way?
Chad: A lot of the songs really just come out of the air, man. Someone will just suggest going with a beat or a groove or Ed will have something at home or I'll suggest let's do a New Orleans kind of thing. In a lot of musical situations you'll write or try and write something and influence it by saying "think The Who or think Stones or think Meters". You think "OK, I know where to go from here" and it'll put you in that headspace. You're not trying to steal it. You just think, oh okay, yeah, yeah, I get it, as a direction. But with this track, yeah, especially with the piano (laughs). Yeah, you nailed it.
antiMusic: Considering I would imagine when it's time for the Chili Peppers to do their thing, you spend a lot of time jamming out with Flea. What do you get from this band that is different than that kind of experience --- just less of a familiarity?
Chad: When you play with somebody for over 20 years, there's sometimes just no words needed. There's an unspoken connection, that's a very special chemistry. It's based on the same thing, you know. It's improvising, and jamming; that's how we came up with a lot of these songs. That's where a lot of Chili Peppers songs come from too. It's just a way of thinking where you can really inject your personality into the music when everyone is involved with the exception of a songwriting situation. You know instead of a guy brings his demo, he's all finished, and here, play this drum machine beat, you know whatever.
And you know, people who want you bring what you do to the table are smart-(laughs) because it's going to make it more unique. It's going to make it sound, you know, it just sounds better to me when everybody is involved. Because then everyone is encouraged to have their musical input and it's just going to make that sound more unique, when it has that chemistry of the different personalities coming out through the music. And that's really what we do. That's what's happening in the Meatbats. Everybody's doing their thing and together we have a certain sound and a chemistry and I just think that's the best way to make music. It's honest. It's real. It's from the heart. It's from your soul. And I think people connect with that. It's the kind of music I like to hear and so it's the kind of stuff I want to make.
antiMusic: You've said in other interviews that Chickenfoot is not a side project. It's a real band. How do you view the Meatbats?
Chad: Well, we all live in L.A. which is great, you know. We play whenever we can and everybody's cool with that. Luckily, it's not like some other bands where it's "OK, you can't do it. We've got to get somebody else". There's no pressure. I think maybe the other guys would like to be able to play a little bit more and travel. Once the record comes out hopefully people will get into it, and I would like to do too. But uh, I just gotta say no to things at some point. (laughs) I have a family at home, and I can't travel as much as I used to. I've traveled a lot with Chickenfoot since May and my wife is very patient… but I have a feeling that she would be really upset if I said, "Hey, I'm going to Japan a week after I get home." So, you know, we'll play wherever we can. It'll just make it that much more special you know. It's not like we're some big huge touring band, with 59 people working for us. It's not like a Chili Peppers thing. It's just the four guys. We set up our own stuff. And we go play. It's cool. I like that. It's so different from some of the other situations that I'm in. I start playing with these guys, just for the love of it and that's great. Really. It's good for me to play to 90 people and with no singing, no light show. You're just there. It's all music and that's what it's all about. It's why I started playing. And I want to continue to do that. It's fun and I want it to be fun and stay fun. When it's not going to be fun anymore, then I'm not going to do it.
antiMusic: You mentioned a follow-up record. Will the material be in the same vein as this one here or might there be some surprises?
Chad: It's done, man. It's finished. We mixed it and everything. It's probably more cohesive because we had played together by that time more than when we did the first one. And actually the bass player had just joined. We just got him and so we are more together now as a unit. It's sounds more like guys that have been playing together. It sounds like an actual band. There's some different stuff on there. To me, it's really a very natural progression of this one. I mean we're talking about this some, but I got to say the next one we're all really excited about. The sound is better. We were at a different studio. I'm very proud of the first one but it's evolved in a very positive way.
antiMusic: I could talk to you all day, Chad, but I guess I'll wrap it up by asking, anything else you'd like to tell us about the CD that we haven't talked about yet?
Chad: I don't want people to be scared of by the whole stereotypical instrumental music thing…. that we're guys that are going to music school or something or John McLaughlin clones or that kind of thing. We're not like a fusion band. It's just four guys really enjoying what they love to do and I hope that comes through with the grooves. And thanks for giving it a chance.
Morley and antiMusic thank Chad for taking the time to do this interview.