Flea on his relationship with Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith: “We don't hang out outside of the band. Never have”

Flea and Chad Smith
(Image credit: Wagner Meier/Getty Images)

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Best of 2022: Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith are one of the great rock rhythm sections of the last 30 years. Smith joined the band in 1988 following the departure of Jack Irons who left the band after guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. 

Recently, Flea opened up on the nature of the duo’s relationship, revealing that despite their longstanding rhythmic partnership, they don’t hang out outside of the band and that they “talk by playing”.

Speaking on Rick Rubin’s Broken Record Podcast, Flea addressed how he and his partner in time relate to one another.

“With Chad it’s funny, because my relationship with Anthony is very personal and very much brother-like, and my relationship with John is also very personal, very emotional, very intuitive, very connected. 

"But my relationship with Chad is that we don't hang out outside of the band. Never have. I've probably been to his house once, it's like this different thing.

"It's just this very grounded, rhythmic thing, there's no bullshit about it. Not that the others [relationships within the band] have bullshit about it either, but, we get down, we look at each other, and that's how we talk. 

"Very rarely do we speak about emotional things, about spiritual things, even things that trouble us or things we aspire to. It's just, we get down and fucking hammer out some grooves. [laughs]."

Flea goes on to recount a story of how Chad Smith’s wife Nancy wanted to compile videos of his bandmates talking about Chad for his 50th birthday, which left him feeling both slightly embarrassed but grateful for their rhythmic connection at the same time. 

“I kind of said, 'Look, Chad and I, we don't really speak emotionally about these things that I would normally talk about under these circumstances.’ “We talk by playing, we talk by looking at each other and knowing when to lay back into a groove or knowing when to lean forward, and knowing when to sit right in the middle, or knowing when he should lay back and I should lean forward or vice versa.'

"Like all these intricacies of rhythm, which colour a song so profoundly, and we do all this stuff just by looking at each other. Afterwards, I was like, 'Why the fuck should I feel like that's less significant than speaking or talking about our fucking inner child or some shit.' 

"Like, that is a beautiful conversation that Chad and I share, and I'm so grateful for that. That's the way that we are, and that's what it is, that's awesome."

He continues by praising his bandmate's ability and sense of dynamics, and elaborating on how their visual communication is key to the band's groove.

"Chad is so powerful, like physically powerful on the drums. The dynamic that he can go to, the potential of where he can go is like a herd of elephants. The physical power, volume and strength of where he can go is always there. 

"I can look at him and be like, 'Here we go, motherfucker.' And I know that he is gonna explode like a fucking nuclear bomb. I better be ready to handle it, you know? And also like, 'Hey, it's time to get really subtle, quiet and beautiful.' He can go there too, he's so dynamic. It makes me just get down with him.

"Chad's a very meat-and-potatoes drummer, a real rock drummer, Bonham-style. He can lay that down heavier than any drummer I've ever felt before in my life. It gives me so many options. 

"I can get in there with him, on that one, and all of a sudden, it's just heavy, heaviosity. Or, I can dance around, in between it, and it does something completely different if I go syncopated, in between the holes. So, it just opens so much up." 

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love is out now.

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.