Red Hot Chili Peppers have been laying low for most of 2015, but this weekend, they're stepping out for a special occasion: the annual benefit concert and auction for the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, the non-profit music school co-founded in 2001 by Chili Peppers bassist Flea. "Historically, it's our funnest event of the year," says RHCP frontman Anthony Kiedis, who sits on the school's board. "It's shocking and wonderful how supportive musicians and artists are in contributing their time and their art promoting the act of children learning music."
This year's event, taking place tomorrow at a warehouse at an undisclosed L.A. location, will feature musical performances by John Legend, jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and the Chilis themselves. About 300 guests will have the chance to bid in a silent auction on original works by art-world giants like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Richard Serra, Raymond Pettibon, Kenny Scharf and many more — with the proceeds going to support music education at Silverlake Conservatory. "It's amazing to call up someone like [acclaimed pop-artist] Ed Ruscha and explain to him that we're raising money to teach kids music, and he's like, 'Where do I send the piece?'" says Kiedis.
The musical portion of the event will be headlined with a full set by Legend. "I told Rick Rubin yesterday that he should come check it out," Kiedis says. "He said, 'Who's playing?' I said, 'John Legend.' He gave me that look, like, 'Oh, he's real.'"
Before Legend takes the stage, Washington — who released one of the best jazz albums in recent memory this spring with his triple-album opus The Epic — will perform. "I've never seen him live, so I'm about to be enlightened," Kiedis says, adding that he's a huge fan of the vibrant West Coast music scene that Washington represents. "It's been a long time since Los Angeles has had a community of musicians that's been so dominant and vital, and I feel like we have that now coming out of South Central. I'm very proud of that entire scene." He cites frequent Washington collaborators like Thundercat ("I couldn’t be any bigger of a fan") and Kendrick Lamar as among his favorite young artists. "[To Pimp a Butterfly] is one of my favorite records of the year, for sure," Kiedis says. "It had an energy and an intelligence and a color that reminded me of being a kid and putting on a Funkadelic record. And it had the best videos by far — Kendrick gave me new faith in the medium of video."
The Chili Peppers are playing the earliest slot of all, kicking off the festivities with a short acoustic set. "It’s fun opening up for someone — the pressure isn't on us to close the show, so all we have to do is warm up the crowd," Kiedis says. When's the last time they had that experience? "As a legitimate opening act, jeez, Louise. Maybe for the Rolling Stones in the mid-Nineties."
Kiedis is particularly psyched about the possibilities of playing acoustic, which they've done before at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit. "I love to play acoustic, whether we're talking about 'By the Way' or an old song like 'Me and My Friends,'" he says. "These very aggressive, loud, chaotic-sounding electric songs work rather nicely on quiet acoustic instruments. We rehearsed yesterday and played everything acoustically from 'Fire' by Jimi Hendrix to trying to figure out if 'Californication' works on acoustic — which it did."
"We’ve written some songs that I feel are as good as any songs we’ve ever written."
After the benefit, it'll be back to the studio, where RHCP are working with producer Danger Mouse on their 11th studio album and first since 2011. "The torture about doing this [show] is that we've been writing new music for the last year, and we’ve written some songs that I feel are as good as any songs we’ve ever written," Kiedis says. "We’re just dying to play the new songs — but we can't, because every single human has a recording device on them at all times." He says work with Danger Mouse has been going well. "He's very good about coming up with super-modern ideas, but he'll also touch on the acoustic guitar in the control room and strip the song down to its acoustic essentials," Kiedis adds. "Which is a beautiful place to be."