Josh Klinghoffer has toured with and recorded with an astounding array of critically and commercially renowned artists, from his current crew Red Hot Chili Peppers to Beck, PJ Harvey and Gnarls Barkley. But for the career musician, his most recent project has fulfilled a lifelong career fantasy: he wanted to start his own band, to plays his own songs, in a band of friends.
Sounds pretty attainable, right? Imagine, though, the guitarist and drummer has been in other people’s touring bands since he was in his teens. For years, he’s plotted song demos but rarely had the time and personnel to flesh them out. And in the last couple years, he joined RHCP to replace his friend, former collaborator and longtime guitarist John Frusciante.
“You’d think that [Red Hot Chili Peppers] is my main thing. And of course I love being in that band,” Klinghoffer said in our recent interview. “But since I was a teenager, I wanted to be in a band with my mates, my pure image of a band. My path in life has never led me to that until now.”
Those pals turned out to be Klinghoffer’s talented Gnarls tourmates Clint Walsh and Eric Gardner, plus Hella bassist Jonathan Hischke. The result is Dot Hacker, and its first album “Inhibition,” out today (May 1). The set is a spacey, melody-driven mesh of able-bodied, technical dark-rockers, with the 32-year-old’s vocals, on par with the quixotic close-eyed Matthew Bellamy. It’s a very solid set.
The group started jamming before Klinghoffer even joined RHCP, but finished product obviously took the wayside as the guitarist helped to bang out “I’m With You” (2011) and start preparing for a world tour. The Chilis’ frontman Anthony Kiedis injured his foot over the winter, which put part of the arena trek on hold, so Klinghoffer finally found the time to work out some Dot Hacker.
“The funny thing about my dream… is that even though I was touring with bigger and bigger bands and crazier venues, I still found myself miserable because I felt I was on the bus listening to demos of my own songs going, ‘You f*cking failure, why don’t you finish these songs and do something?’ My excuse was always that I don’t have the people to do it with,” he said, though conceding it may still be a while before Dot Hacker can tour in support.
“I just like playing music and doing it with people that I care about. It doesn’t really matter where, it’s like, why don’t we just play piano in a small bar? Why do we want to make an arena full of people happy? But we do. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is really make people happy, offer some sort of positivity with music that I’ve written. The Chili Peppers do that for people. They’re already established. I still want something that came out of me, and out of my heart.”
For as established a musician as he is, Klinghoffer is still relatively new to the whole frontman gig. He may be playing to a stadium of fans with the Chili Peppers, but “I’ve never had to connect with the audiences as 'Josh.' Some people know how to rock out. Everybody’s eyes are on Anthony, y'know? But for me it’s a weird paradox to be a shy person and then to start jumping around, to be the show. I haven’t ever had to give a shit,” he said. Dot Hacker have really only played 10 shows. “It’s a process. I don’t know what my stage vibe is yet.”
Klinghoffer was very much in the limelight, though, this past season, as he joined RHCP in accepting the band’s spot into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Instantly, with just over two years playing with the Chilis under his belt, he became the youngest inductee into the Rock Hall – a footnote, though, in his personal history.
“It’s a weird thing to have a Hall of Fame for rock. It’s weird that I spent years worshiping the Cure, and here’s the Chili Peppers, and then one gets in one doesn’t. It’s ridiculous. In my heart of hearts, it means nothing to me, but I do understand it means a lot to other people. It creates positivity,” he said. “I felt like a wanker on the stage because I just waltz in... partly on the strength of songs that [Frusciante] helped write. Being the youngest person inducted is obviously going to have a lot of weirdness about it. But I mean to say that there’s no point in being negative about it…”
It’s refreshing to hear Klinghoffer say this. We discussed the concept of “rock ‘n’ roll” as dangerous, subversive – and now here is a annual ceremony for a museum, corrosive to that core creative force. “I grew up watching some of the bands that were there… looking at a history of junkie f*ck-ups and crazy [musicians]. And then here is [Guns N’ Roses’] Matt Sorum sending a shout-out to cocaine from the podium. It’s a pretty skewed sense of reality.”
I asked Klinghoffer if he had any inner-protest to it. He said he wore a Cure t-shirt to the ceremony.
“Kind of weak, right?” he laughed. “I’m working on my game.”
Above, HitFix has the honor of premiering the SoundCloud stream of Dot Hacker’s “Inhibition.” Check it out, and send it on its own tour.