Red Hot Chili Peppers have never presented themselves as teacher’s pets, but Chad Smith‘s report card would surely say “plays well with others.” The longtime Chili Peppers drummer has also worked with a host of other acts, and in the past year has drawn attention for his resemblance to Will Ferrell; the two appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon together before going on to challenge Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich and, just last month, cover the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” with a band of Seattle music heavyweights. As RHCP prepare their next studio album, Smith is poised to release an album that is all about spontaneous collaboration.
The Process, due out on November 4, via M.O.D. Technologies, brings Smith together with Louisiana-born, New York-based piano wizard Jon Batiste and bass/production guru Bill Laswell. The resulting record, built from improvisations in Laswell’s studio, is an exploration of what Smith describes to Wondering Sound as “avant-tribal-funk.” And the collaborations don’t stop there: Wu-Tang Clan‘s Killah Priest shows up for a guest verse on “Turn on the Light/Ascent,” and TV on the Radio‘s Tunde Adebimpe sings on “Drop Away,” which you can hear below. (Other guests include Jamaican dancehall artist Garrison Hawk, plus Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, Peter Apfelbaum on woodwinds and Dominic James on guitar.)
Smith met Batiste — whom you may have seen perform with his band Stay Human on The Colbert Report — while the Chili Pepper was living in New York for a four-year stay that ended this spring. The drummer and pianist jammed together at a church in Harlem, finding an innate musical connection. Smith’s friend Jay Bulger, who directed Ginger Baker documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, put the pair in touch with Laswell, whose formidable discography spans work with Brian Eno and David Byrne, Herbie Hancock, Sly and Robbie, Afrika Bambaataa, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Mick Jagger, Swans and Iggy Pop. The project went from an idea for a film to a full-fledged album.
“I play very differently than I’ve ever played on a record,” Smith explains over the phone from Los Angeles. Laswell pushed Smith away from his usual rock-funk drumming, while Batiste tends to play Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3 organ here rather than his more familiar, New Orleans-infused piano. Getting out of that comfort zone, Smith says, “makes you play differently and inspires you to come up with different ideas. It was really fun and inspiring.”
Smith also addresses a TMZ video where he was asked to weigh in on reported 2015 Super Bowl halftime show performer Katy Perry. “I’m sure Katy Perry will have a huge spectacle and crazy show,” says Smith, whose Chili Peppers performed at last year’s event with Bruno Mars and prompted headlines when they acknowledged following NFL pre-taping requirements (Flea didn’t even plug in his bass). “I hope she’s got a lot of energy and a lot of time to put into it. I don’t think she has to worry about plugging in.”
As for RHCP, Smith says they’re “going to get in the studio pretty shortly.” That could be within the next two months, according to a separate Flea interview in Rolling Stone, where the bassist describes the new songs so far as “super danceable, funky shit and some real introspective, pretty stuff.” After The Process, Smith should have some adventurous rhythmic ideas of his own to bring into the mix.
You can preview snippets of the album and the full, Adebimpe-assisted “Drop Away” below. Scroll down for a behind-the-scenes video and the tracklist.
The Process (November 4, M.O.D. Technologies)
2. Drop Away
6. Turn on the Light / Ascent
7. Black Arc
10. Time Falls
11. The Drift