Posted August, 2012
As I wrote in my review of Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats’, Live Meat and Potatoes, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I absolutely love that album. I meant it then and I still feel the same way now. So, I was quite stoked when the opportunity arose to interview the band’s co-founder and drummer (that is, when he’s not beating the skins for his main gig, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or for the super group, Chickenfoot), Chad Smith.
The Bombastic Meatbats were formed as sort of a fluke. While doing some work with Glenn Hughes, Smith formed the band along with Jeff Kollman (guitarist for Cosmosquad), much in demand arranger/songwriter/keyboardist, Ed Roth, and bassist Kevin Chown (Uncle Kracker, Tarja Turunen). What resulted was a great rock/jazz/fusion/whatever-you-want-to-call-it band that is delighting audiences everywhere they’re heard. But more about that in a moment.
Smith rang me up recently from his SoCal home to discuss Live Meat and Potatoes and the music business in general. But before cutting to that chase, though, I had to ask a very obvious question: How in the world did Chad and the boys come up with the band’s name?
“Well, we’re serious about our music but we have a real loose sense of humor and inside jokes. But instrumental music sometimes has this stereotype of being ‘serious’, musicians only, lots of notes, and no sense of humor. We are serious about our music but everything else is just the personalities of our group. The combination of us together is kinda goofy – starting from the top – the Meatbats!
“I don’t know how we came up with it but it’s just part of the fun we like to have. I think the live CD picks up on that. We really like to stretch out and have fun with the audience and make them feel connected. It can be a little intimidating when there’s no singing – nothing to connect to that way. So, we just like to have fun with it.
“Music is supposed to be fun, for goodness sakes! At least, that’s what I think. I don’t know what other people think but I’m going to play music! I’m not working music – I’m playing it! To me, I always want it to be fun. Lots of times there’s work involved but, when you’re performing in front of a crowd and you’re entertaining, you present your art the way you want to and that’s what we do.”
Back to how the band formed, I asked Chad to fill me in a little more on that story.
“Myself, Jeff Kollman – the guitar player - and Ed Roth, the keyboard player – Glenn was a solo artist after Deep Purple – and, years ago now – he just needed a band to do some gigs here and there and we would play with him. I played on some of his records and helped him produce them. We’re really good friends and he’s a great musician. We were just his band. When you’re waiting around for the singer to show up – sometimes that happens. They’re not always on time. Maybe it’s because they don’t have any gear to bring. They don’t have to set up. So, we would just jam on this funk – whatever it is, whatever we do – and it was just fun and we really sounded good.
“One of us – maybe it was me – said, ‘Man! We need to come up with some songs, record ‘em and make records!’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, okay!’ That was really it. And we do! Next thing you know, a couple of records, a live album, playing gigs, and having fun with your fans. That’s what it’s all about!”
And has the legendary bassist/vocalist ever returned the favor by playing any Bombastic gigs?
“He has! You know, tonight we’re playing down in San Pedro which is down by Long Beach and Glenn lives down there. I’m going to call ‘im up and see what he’s doing. I think he might be in the studio. I think he’s playing with some other people but we’ll be in his neck of the woods. But, yeah, he comes in. We don’t have a vocalist very often but he does come in and he’s played a couple of times with us. It’s always fun!”
Most bands don’t come out with a live album until well into their existence. I asked Smith if it wasn’t a bit of a bold step to release a live CD as a third project. Before I could even finish the question, Smith was already chuckling.
“Yeah, I guess, but our songs are, like, seven minutes long. We really stretch them out and we have musical conversations. We take risks. It’s a lot of improvising. Therein lies where the jazz part of it is. I don’t really think of it as jazz. I just think of it as improvising and playing off each other and listening. Those are really important things. For me, with any music that I like to play with other human beings you’re interacting with, you have to use dynamics and listen and have musical conversations. So, we do that. It’s not just a jam band or some jazz situation where you just play the head and there’ll be solos. We have song structure.
“But, yeah, two records – I don’t know, I just felt that we were playing really good and we had been working and had just done the second record. I was going to go – I think – on a Chickenfoot tour and we were playing a lot at that point. I said, ‘Let’s record!’ We were doing two shows at the club we were always playing at in L.A. – The Baked Potato – and I think most of the album is from the first night. But, yeah, why not? I think we excel live. I really do.”
I was curious what Bombastic Meatbats does for Smith, musically, that he doesn’t get from the Chili Peppers or Chickenfoot.
“It keeps my chops up. I do a little more playing, I suppose – a little bit more. When you’re in an instrumental band you don’t have to worry about stepping on the singer. You get to play a lot. I mean, I play a lot in the other bands, too, but a little bit more in this one just because the nature of the music. It’s really up to you. You can’t just sit back there, keeping the beat. You have to make it interesting all the time.
“But, yeah, any musical situation I’m in, I want to have fun and play with people who want to take chances and want to take musical risks and are dedicated to music but also want to have fun. I want to have fun playing music. That’s the criteria for me and Meatbats certainly meets all of those things. They’re great guys and we’re friends. We get to do whatever we want. I mean, we’re not competing with the Lady Gaga’s and Rhianna’s and Katy Perry’s. We have a little niche and that’s cool. It’s great to have that outlet for musical expression. I’m so grateful that people support live music and come out and see us.”
As for where Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats play live, it’s, for the most part, in southern California although he says that, “We have played in other places. We’ve never done a tour. We went to play in Japan and did a ten day tour there. In the states, trying to find venues for this kind of music is difficult – to make money to pay for travel, airplanes, hotels and stuff. We’ve played in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and a couple of other places but no tours. Maybe, who knows?”
When asked what is planned next with the Meatbats after the activity over the latest album dies down, Chad said, “We’ll probably have to wait until after I get done in April with the Chili Peppers and then we’ll write some more songs. We’ll get back down into the Tiki Room here in my house and come up with some new songs and come out with another record, I think.” And then, with a small sliver of humor, added, “Maybe well do another live album again!”
When I asked Chad how he would like to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be after he’s left planet earth, after softly chuckling and giving the question some serious thought, Smith said, “That’s a good question. When we were inducted into the Hall of Fame in April, I got a little bit of that then because you’re looking back on your career. It was really cool and we were really honored.”
Then, Smith’s tone of voice turned very serious as he started talking about what is really important to him.
“A friend of mine who played bass with Elton John just killed himself a couple of days ago – Bob Burch. All of us – a lot of my friends – are from Detroit. I’m from Michigan. I played with him. I know him. It freaked me out, man. Just crazy! Young guy, family, kid, what was he thinking to do that? I mean, anybody but when it’s somebody you know, it really hits home, you know?
“I just want to be present and I want to be kind. I want to be loving. I want to be a good father. I want to be a good husband. I want to be a good person and continue to do that. It really doesn’t have anything to do with music. Music is what I do. I know that the music that I play touches a lot of people, as humbly as I can say that. We’re very fortunate and I’m very fortunate to play music that people really connect with. I’m really happy for that. It blows me away when people come up to me, ‘Oh, your music changed my life – your drumming. I started a band because of I saw you play’ or whatever it was. That’s unbelievable.
“But, more importantly, I just want to be a good example for my family and friends who know me and can have a good influence on them. They can look back and go, ‘You know, my dad was a hard working musician, doing what he loved. He was good to me. He was kind. He gave me a good map.’ That’s, hopefully, what I can do.”