Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis wrote in his 2004 autobiography, Scar Tissue, that the band’s drummer, Chad Smith, originally came to Los Angeles from his native Detroit with dreams of becoming a movie star — though Kiedis apparently failed to fact-check that bit with his bandmate.
“That’s bullshit,” Smith says with a laugh during a recent Zoom interview. “I don’t know where he got that from.”
Even so, Smith is one of the stars of Count Me In, an entertaining new documentary on Netflix (directed by Mark Lo; produced by John Giwa-Amu) about the history, art and joys of rock drumming. Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins, Cindy Blackman of Santana, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, and many other drummers also show up.
Smith spoke about the Chili Peppers’ upcoming stadium tour, the film, his work with Eddie Vedder, and more. (He also revealed that the band is nearly done with a new album, recorded with longtime producer Rick Rubin.)
How do you feel about the fact that at this point in your career, with John Frusciante back in the fold, the Chili Peppers are finally doing their first U.S. stadium tour?
It’s kind of scary. We’ve played stadiums in Europe before. Live Nation was really confident that we could do it, and we’d never done it. We’re like, “Fuck it, balls out!” We’ll literally have our balls out. [Laughs.] No one wants to see that! Old balls!… I know there’s gonna be people, even Chili Peppers fans, that have never seen this lineup. We’ve written some of our best songs with these these four guys, and we do have something special. It will be really exciting, and I see us not taking that for granted at all. As you get a little bit older, you appreciate it more. It’ll be a real joyful thing. I just wish it wasn’t so far away. It’s fucking June of next year. I’d play tomorrow if it all made sense. But it needs to be safe and fun and have some consistency. I know other guys in bands that are out and they’re just walking this Covid tight-rope thing. I hope it all works out for everybody.
Do you really have no clue where Anthony got the idea that you wanted to be a movie star?
Well, trivia fact, actually — in 1991 we were getting ready to record Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and we were having trouble getting off our label at the time, EMI. So we had a little downtime and for two weeks I was in a film called Session Man. Terrible movie. It was about this band and they’re breaking up and the guitar player wants to quit and and I’m the drummer in the band. Not a stretch for me. The movie is just so bad, and it’s a half-hour long. And it ends up winning the Academy Award for Best Short Film in 1992!
You signed on early to the Count Me In documentary about drummers. Did you feel that a celebration of drummers and drumming was particularly needed right now?
I think any time is the right time, because [dumb-guy voice] “We don’t get enough respect, man!” [Laughs.] Nah, you know, any drum-oriented thing, I’m down to wave the flag. And I was really pleased with the final cut. Often with these drum things, they’re a little too drum-nerdy, where you have to be a drummer to really get it. But I think they made it palatable for a general audience. I really loved that they highlighted female drummers and how important they are to music, because that’s sometimes overlooked. I thought the women in it were great. And I loved Stephen Perkins in it; he’s such a drummer’s drummer.
I loved the part where he breaks down Keith Moon’s drumming on “Who Are You.” A lot of people are pointing that out as a highlight.
Exactly. I loved how he dissected that. Look, any rock drummer loves their Keith Moon. People think he was just crazy and playing whatever, but Stephen broke down how he was playing off the vocal, and the dynamics of it.
The film also spotlights how drummers are their own musical community.
In my experience, the drummers are usually the ones that are the most down to earth and easy to talk to and maybe the egos aren’t as elevated. We’re the guys and girls in the back, and it’s a very supportive community. Maybe it’s part of the nature of the instrument; we’re the goalie or the catcher. We’re holding it down, and not only supporting, but leading. You can’t have a great band without a great drummer.
Before you even joined the Chilis, they recorded “Organic Anti-Beat Box Band.” Does it bum you out to hear so little live drumming in current music?
I prefer, you know, humans. As a player I like to hear some personality comes through. It makes a difference.
Supposedly between One Hot Minute and Californication, there was a moment when you guys were shopping for an electronica producer and talked to people like William Orbit. True?
Yeah, we were kind of looking to change it up, which is always great. I’m open to anything, but I suppose I’m glad that didn’t happen — just from a drumming standpoint.
What do you remember about your audition for the Chili Peppers? Legend has it they hated you at first sight.
I had long hair and a bandanna and shorts and a cut-off Metallica t-shirt and and I’m six-three and they’re not tall gentlemen. They just looked at me like, get this guy out of here. But I went in and everything back then was fast, like James Brown on speed. I started doing my thing, and they were like, “This guy’s not following, he’s leading.” I remember Anthony just running around the room laughing. I remember we did the Hendrix cover, “Fire.” And the producer at the time, Michael Beinhorn, was there, and he told them, “That’s your guy.” So I owe Michael. Then they were like, “You gotta shave your head.” And I’m like, “I’m not shaving my fucking beautiful flowing frizzy ’80s locks.” And they were like, “We respect that.” But here’s the thing, I had played in clubs right out of high school for eight years in Detroit. So that was the 10,000 hours thing. I was prepared. There’s no shortcut to that.
How did you end up playing with Eddie Vedder on his new solo album and live at the Ohana Fest?
I work a lot with the producer/musician Andrew Watt. He’s amazing. We did a couple of songs for Ed, and then it turned out great and we just ended up doing a whole record, which is excellent. I’ve known him forever. We took Pearl Jam on that first tour in 1991 way back when, and you know, obviously he’s an amazing musician and so fun to connect with on a musical level. We’ve played together but we’ve never recorded or done any shows. It was really fun. Easy, fast. You didn’t hear it from me, but Ed’s talking about doing [more solo tour] dates.
I guess you’re still good with Josh Klinghoffer [who was bumped out of the Chili Peppers with the return of John Frusciante], since you played with him in Eddie’s band?
Yeah, me and Josh have been making records and doing lots of stuff. I love Josh. He’s an amazing musician and a great band member and I’m so glad he’s in with the Pearl Jam camp and the Eddie camp. He loves those guys and loves that music and yeah, he’s a good friend of mine and I love him and so it’s been great to make music with him. It’s all good.
How do you deal with the physical effects of aging as a drummer?
I’m gonna be 60 on October 25th. My kids say, “Dad, you’re old as dirt. Was there electricity when you were born?” But I feel good, and I do try to take care of myself. I play all the time. It’s a use it or lose it kind of thing. As long as I can keep doing it the way I like to do it, let’s go.