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Flea, USC freshman, talks about his upcoming solo record

07:02 PM PT, Sep 23 2008


As fellow L.A. Times blog All Things Trojan reported last night, Michael Balzary -- better known as Flea 'round these parts -- is indeed a freshie at USC. I interviewed the bassist last week about Hullabaloo, the upcoming benefit concert for the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, which he founded with childhood friend Keith Barry in 2001, and we got a chance to gab about his classes, his upcoming solo work and whether or not things will be resuming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

--Margaret Wappler

So you're taking classes at USC. What brought that on?

I’m glad my music education has developed the way that it has, but it’s so much fun to learn this stuff because I never knew anything. I played trumpet in the school bands. I learned things I liked to play on my trumpet but I didn’t learn why this note goes with this note and why it produces that sound. Or how to create tension in the composition. The Chili Peppers did that in our song structures but all based on emotion and intuition as opposed to knowing the math and academics of it. Knowing the structure is really fun.

What classes are you taking?

I'm taking three: theory, composition and jazz trumpet.

What are you studying in jazz trumpet?

In jazz trumpet, I’m improvising over jazz changes and getting comfortable with that. I’m also studying with a classical guy named Boyd Hood who plays with the L.A. Phil. But the jazz teacher at USC is named John Thomas. Right now he's having me transcribe a trumpet solo from Lee Morgan off the track “Party Time” from the album “The Procrastinator.”

Do you ever get any students who say, "Why are you here? You don’t need this, you’ve been in a successful band."

Well, not from people there, but people outside the school have looked at me like, what are you doing? Except for real musicians who understand. I think most people see it as being about commerce –- you only go to school to make money, and you already make money playing music so why would you go to school? It seems backwards but it makes perfect sense to me. My whole musical life has been an educational process and I’m just furthering my education and filling in the blanks. There’s stuff that I want to know that I don’t know.

So, are the Chili Peppers working on a new album?

No, we’re on a major hiatus. It's a two-year hiatus.

And that was very set? You said, 'Two years and then we’ll talk about starting again"?

Basically, yeah. We just needed two years. We had our noses to the grindstones so hard for so long. We needed to get away from it and get a fresh perspective on things.

At this point, do you guys have plans to get back together and record something else?

We’re just taking the two years off and seeing where we are at the end of that.

What about solo work for you?

I’ve been making a record at home and it’s nearly done. It’s mostly instrumental stuff but I have Patti Smith singing on it and the choir from the school but mostly it’s an instrumental record. I’m not sure how to describe it but a lot of people have described it as cinematic, like soundtrack music. It’s not really a commercial enterprise, it’s not going to be on rock radio or anything. The record is based on the character Helen Burns from "Jane Eyre." I love Charlotte Bronte and all of the Bronte sisters.

I've got to ask: Do you still have the stuffed animal pants?

Someone stole them. It’s so funny because for years I always lived in crappy little apartments but right when we got the money from signing with Warner Brothers I got to buy a house. I bought a nice house in Los Feliz that I was real excited about. I drove home and the first night at that house, someone broke into my car and stole my bass, my leather jacket and those stuffed animal pants out of my trunk. And I had lived in crappy neighborhoods for so long and never got robbed. As soon as I stepped up, someone took my stuff. I commissioned the girl who made them to make me another pair and I never saw the money or the pants again.

Photo of Flea holding a French horn -- he'd left his trumpet at home -- at the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. Credit:  Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times.

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way to go flea! Ways expand and ALWAYS HAVE FUN!!!


Fight on Flea!


"I never saw the money or the pants again."

That's just wrong man!

Deb Lawler

As a fellow "older" student at USC - right on...and fight on. I am much more appreciative of the knowledge I am gaining now as opposed to when I was younger. My reasons for going to school now are more about learning for the sake of learning as opposed to having a degree to get a job.


It's so refreshing to see a seasoned rock star like Flea getting back to the basics. This could only benefit the next Chili Peppers project and I can't wait to see where he takes his muse next. Hopefully the other members of the band will follow suit and keep it real over the next two years.


If it isn't enough that Flea is already the coolest musician in the Universe, he now has to go and make himself even cooler. If that's even possible.


Awesome!! Flea.. .always inspirational. Rock on!!


frusciante should do the same !

Mart Kiedes

Read this interview isn't so good for Pepper's fans! In fact it seems also to be a sort of "well, we are gonna meeting next years, and then we will decide to continue making good music for our bilion of fans or not". Flea, you and Anthony, Chad and John got only to understand that WE ARE WAITING FOR YOUR NEXT CDs, AND TO HAVE FUN WITH YOUR MUSIC BUT ALSO WITH YOUR CONCERTS WHICH ARE A SORT OF AMPLEX, BECUASE I HAVE NEVER HAD FUN AS ON YOUR CONCERT!


He said thier taking a break, although a long one.As much as I love thier music I think they've deserved a break, imagine how draining going on a tour as big as the Stadium Arcadium one must be on a person,I'm a huge fan of thier music and in particular John as I'm a guitarist myself, but I can wait the next couple of years to hear new music from them, I think everyone else should just want for all of them to be happy and enjoy a well earned rest.
For Flea studying at USC I hope he enjoys his time there and broadens his musical knowledge :)

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