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John Frusciante on the influence of founding RHCP guitarist Hillel Slovak: “His style is the centre of my own”

John Frusciante
(Image credit: Joey Foley/FilmMagic)

Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with their latest album, Unlimited Love, and what’s more, they have John Frusciante back in-tow. Now, the returning guitarist has spoken about how his early days in the band were “a struggle”, and how imitating Hillel Slovak - who passed away in 1988 following a heroin overdose - helped him find his own style.

In an interview featured in the latest issue of Guitar World, Frusciante explains how his desire to impress actually held him back from fully connecting musically with his bandmates and their audience during his early tenure in RHCP.

“The first year or so that I was in the band was definitely a struggle…I’ve got something to say that I think could probably be good for guitar players. I think that at the beginning of my time in the band, I had my mind too much on trying to impress people, and I wasn’t trusting myself enough. 

"I was feeling all these things — ‘I want to be unique,’ ‘I want to show off,’ ‘I want to stand out’ — and everything I was doing felt forced. I didn’t feel free and I didn’t feel like I was saying anything that I wanted to say. I didn’t feel like I was going deep in myself.

“I decided I was just going to use my guitar to try to support the other people in my band. So I simplified what I was doing. And at the same time, I was also putting a hundred times the amount of personal expression and soul into it than I had before.” 

“I thought I would play like Hillel, but flashier. After about nine months I realised the flashiness wasn’t impressing anyone, and there wasn’t really a place for it in the band chemistry"

"Those first nine months, I had the impression that a lot of their audience wasn’t into me, but by the time we released Mother’s Milk, I felt pretty accepted.” 

Frusciante goes on to give credit to Hillel Slovak's influence on his playing, explaining how the founding member’s playing style became the cornerstone of his own approach to the guitar. 

“I’m very lucky to have replaced such a great stylist. The challenge of attempting to appeal to his audience was character-building, and even when my own style appeared, I was still using his style as the basis for what I did.

 

"And luckily for me, there was some strange confluence of souls, where the more I stayed within the parameters laid out by Hillel, the more I sounded like myself. 

I wanted to make the band sound good, and I stopped caring about how I might come across. I became content to back up the other guys in the band and, unexpectedly, that made me stand out more, rather than less. 

To this day I see Hillel’s style as the centre of my own, where the band is concerned. He was a team player, and he added colour and meaning to his bandmates’ contributions, and that’s what I try to do.” 

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love is out now.

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.