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Frusciante's main axe—a Yamaha SG2000—that he used during the Enclosure sessions.
What guitars did you use on Enclosure?
My main guitars are Yamaha SG2000s. My favorite is a purple one from 1980. I have a few others, and a few SG1500s. I switched from the Strat to the Yamahas in late 2010. I’ve played the Strat once in the last three years, and only on one little recording.
Why did you switch?
A guitar makes you play a certain way. A person who studies Jimi Hendrix’s playing with a Les Paul is at a disadvantage—you won’t really understand what he was doing with his hands. The way the instrument’s harmonics respond to the movement doesn’t have anything in common with what you hear on the record. A [Yamaha] SG is a lot like a Les Paul—it has a similar sound and responds to the hands in a similar way. It was an opportunity to change my style. I was looking for a way to have a new approach to the guitar, and at one point I thought of not using a pick. But the problem with that was that I couldn’t play along with records, because only two guitarists I like play without a pick.
Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, and Jeff Beck, who apparently hasn’t used a pick in 20 years. Those guys get such a wide range of sounds, but it would be impossible for me, because I don’t practice by playing in bands, but by playing along with records. I’m sure those guys could play along with anybody, but it would’ve taken me years to be able to do that. So I bought an SG, because I’m a big fan of John McGeoch from Siouxsie and the Banshees and Magazine. When I’d play along with his records using a Strat, the parts sounded too thin and weak for the simple power of his playing. In learning the SG, I had to teach myself to bend in a brand-new way and use new muscles to do vibrato. Everything had to change. I felt totally incapable on the guitar—it lowered my technique significantly. Where I could pick up a Strat and attack it, I couldn't do anything with the SG.
Is one of those subtle guitar parts on “Fanfare” a bass?
I play a Fender Bass VI on that song—and a Strat, I think. The Bass VI is a bass that feels like a guitar. The strings aren’t wide apart, and it has a guitar-like sound compared to a bass. You can play open chords—anything you can play on guitar sounds nice on it. The “Fanfare” guitar part is very basic chord progressions compared to most of the stuff that I do. But playing the same stuff that I played on the Strat on the Bass VI gave it a weightier sound that made it harder for my ears to decipher exactly what chords I was hearing. You’re not used to hearing those chords an octave lower.
Do you have a pedalboard in your studio right now?
No. If I want to change the sound of the guitar, I do it with the modular synthesizer. When I record, I just want to get the best pure guitar sound I can. Later, I decide whether to put some room on it, or put it through the synthesizer, or treat it with the computer in some way.
Photo by Neil Zlozower.
So are you using any traditional pedals?
Occasionally, I use an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress or maybe a chorus pedal. Let me see … [opens drawer] I have nice drawers with all my effects in them, but I hardly ever use them. With the Strat I had to use a distortion, but with the Yahama SG I don’t need a pedal because the amp gives me plenty of distortion. With Marshalls and a Strat, you need a distortion pedal. I use a chorus or flanger if I want a thin sound or some entertaining movement. Treating guitar with the modular [synth] after using chorus is also a nice sound.
What makes for an exciting guitar player?
Somebody who’s not conscious only of themself, but of the spatial relationships between themself and the other musicians. Someone who covers their own area sonically, rhythmically, and in terms of pitch. You can have that whether you play in an advanced style or a pretty basic one. There are great guitar players—like Matthew Ashman from Bow Wow Wow—who provide “land” that the other musicians run on and drive on and do all the stuff they do. That’s the part of guitar playing that gets overlooked by guitarists who get obsessed with technique: using the instrument to create a bed or an atmosphere for the other instruments. Steve Hackett was really great at creating guitar atmospheres that fit perfectly in the midst of Genesis’ music. And like most guitarists, I find it exciting to hear somebody going out on a limb, taking risks, and pushing themself.
Have you met anyone who’s doing what you’re doing?
Everything I’ve learned on these electronic instruments, I had the honor of learning from Aaron Funk, who goes by the name Venetian Snares. He’s not a traditional musician, but he uses a lot of the same gear I use. Along with our friend Chris [McDonald], we used to get together three or four times a year, starting in 2008. We’d live together for two weeks at a time, basically doing nothing but drinking beer and making music. But I don’t know anybody who’s both a traditional and electronic musician, except maybe Squarepusher.
Have the things you've wanted to say as a musician changed over the years?
It was always about making music that I had a thirst for—not entertaining or being popular. I let the world decide whether or not what I did would yield money. I fell in with very ambitious people and I felt like I had to coordinate my musical thinking with theirs, because they really had a drive to be popular. When I joined the Chili Peppers, they were playing clubs and selling 80,000 records. I thought they would never be any bigger, and I was shocked when I found out that they wanted to be. In a band like that, you have to compromise a lot and spend a lot of time doing things you don’t want to do, like promoting and touring the world for years.
The first time I was in the band I was confused by all that, but by the second time I had it clear in my head who they were, who I was, and how the two things could work together. The answer was for me to spend as much time as possible practicing guitar and using the leisure time to write songs and record music. When we did Blood Sugar Sex Magik, I started working on the 4-track, making music specifically for me in order to stay sane.
What was your favorite part about making Enclosure?
I guess just the feeling that I’m always discovering something. That’s what makes me want to do music in the first place. It just feels good when you can blend different genres that seem to have been segregated from one another in history. Blending them successfully is just a joy.
I feel like there’s a big message in Enclosure, that this is a way songwriters can express themselves without having to depend on producers or engineers or other musicians. Your job as a songwriter can be to create a sound composition in a way that traditional musicians can’t conceive. They know how to play their physical instrument, but when it comes to the actual goal of being a musician—creating a sonic composition—they rely on other people to do it for them.
Around the time I was making [2009's] Empyrean, I’d envisioned certain things, like the idea that jungle beats and slow, Black Sabbath-type heavy metal would go really good together. I saw how really slow music and really fast drums might intersect, but I had no capability to do it. When I finally felt I’d achieved it, it felt like I’d done something. Being in the creative process is my favorite part of anything I do. I really love the act of making music.