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Q&A: Anthony Kiedis on New American Music Festival, Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman discusses Bob Dylan, LCD Soundsystem and other exciting music

May 19, 2008 12:35 PM ET

Anthony Kiedis is keeping busy without his Red Hot Chili Peppers ("We're disbanded for the moment," he tells Rolling Stone – for more on the band's year-long break, keep reading). The California dad recently pulled together Bob Dylan, the Raconteurs and more bands for Pittsburgh's New American Music Festival (sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters), which takes place August 8 and 9. Kiedis dialed up RS to explain what exactly a festival curator does, where the RHCPs are at and whether he's putting any thought into the ever-evolving business end of the music biz.

Tell us about the New American Music Festival. I've heard you're curating and I've heard you're hosting. Which is right?
Curating is more accurate, but I guess curation is a word that could be defined differently by many. It's kind of vague. You think of it a little bit more in term of the visual-art world.

How did you get the job?
Basically, American Eagle came to me saying, "Do you want to curate a show?" And I've known people that have curated festivals before and I thought, "Hmm. Is it real? Do I really get to choose the music? Because if I do, I'm in." I was listening to a lot of very exciting music. I thought, "What a great opportunity for me to basically design a concert for myself, that I would want to go to." So I kept asking, "Do I really get to choose the music? Are there strings attached?" I didn't really want to get into something where I signed on and then suddenly they flipped the switch on me and it wasn't real. And they were incredibly gracious about allowing me to have the final say in choosing.

How did you find the experience? Was it difficult?
It's not as easy as it sounded. It was kind of an interesting experiment because at first I was kind of like a kid, who wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it. And then I realized, "Okay, that's just not how this works." I'm an absolute die-hard LCD Soundsystem fan and they're one of these bands that are completely dismantled and some of them are in England and some of them are on tour with other bands. I got to engage in e-mail conversation at length with James Murphy, and that turned out to be a really incredible experience. He is an excellent human being and is very smart and I have to say, his music gets to my good nerve. For every kind of door that closed, another wild or totally fascinating door opened, like Bob Dylan.

I wouldn't have pegged you as a Dylan fan.
Well, you really can't argue with Bob Dylan's music. I put him in the top 10 of all-time greatest musicians that I have ever encountered. I also loved the idea of getting Ringo Starr and his All Star Band to be on this bill, which we couldn't do. But I wanted to expose this college-aged audience to the greats while the greats are still being great. So Bob Dylan, after much negotiation and deliberation, made himself available for this festival which was enough said at that point. I knew everything was going to be all good from there. The same for the Raconteurs. They were very busy and all over the place. People forget musicians are very giving people. They give this music and their time and their energy and their heart and their soul to the public, but they also have families and lives and friends and homes and sometimes they want to go experience that. And all we want them to do is to keep giving us their music. Fortunately, Jack and his Raconteurs were willing to go one more time because they kind of wanted to go on vacation and do the family thing, but in the end they were kind enough to come around and play this one more show for us, which I'm totally grateful about.

Did you run into any other major problems during the booking?
For some reason, this is the summer of bands getting married. I ran into that twice. I'm very keen on M.I.A., I think she's a rocking live performer. She wanted to play, she was very into it and it seemed like a great deal and suddenly she's getting married. Same with Hot Chip. They have a real groove; they write good songs and have an interesting personality. Except for the fact that they're getting married. Undone by matrimony, but not really undone.

Are you involved in other aspects of the festival besides the booking?
I definitely discovered along the way that I wanted to throw my two cents in to other aspects on how they ran the festival. There were several appealing points, one that it was actually in the streets. That reminded me of when I was a kid and we used to have the L.A. Street Scene, which was a phenomenal experience where I saw James Brown and the Minutemen and the Circle Jerks and all these really cool bands.

What's the status of the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
We're disbanded for the moment. We actually took a very long time to make the Stadium Arcadium record, because we wrote a lot of songs and then got way too married to them and decided we need it to be a double album. Which was a great experience, but it took forever. It was really a grueling, long haul and it followed two other very long hauls, Californication and By the Way. So we kind of started in 1999 with the writing and the recording of Californication and we didn't really stop until the tour ended last year. We were all emotionally and mentally zapped at the end of that run. Cooler heads prevailed and the discussion at the end of our last tour was, "Let's not do anything Red Hot Chili Peppers-related for a minimum of one year, and just live and breathe and eat and learn new things." I was about to have a brand new son. Flea is very inspired to re-up his musical direction and ability and skill and he wants to learn new stuff. John [Frusciante] has been firing away on his own, making different solo projects. And Chad [Smith] joined a jazz band and went to Japan. I'm just home, hanging out with this really cool little kid, learning how to surf. But I'm starting to get just a little bit of a tingle that it would be nice to start thinking about songs and pieces of music. But just pieces.

With a lot of your contemporaries like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails revising how they handle their business, do you see the Chili Peppers doing anything different with distribution when you get back together?
I don't spend that much time trying to figure out that puzzle. One of my friends is Rick Rubin and he lives around the corner from me. Every now and then I get into talks with him about what's happening in that world because he's much more involved and he's trying to figure it out. I'd rather put my energy towards music itself. It is interesting and it's wild to see it changing in our lifetime. I think there is always going to be inspired music and there are always going to be inspired listeners and there is always going to be an inspired method of getting it from A to B. I really don't know what it is and I really don't even care that much, but my mind is totally open to contemplating something completely different and new than as we knew it in the past. But I'm not worried about being the guy who invents the most unique and dynamic method of distributing music. I figure that's going to work itself out.

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