Chad Smith on ‘Foo Fighters – Landmarks Live in Concert’ and the Musicians that Inspired Him
Hosted by Chad Smith, drummer for the Grammy-winning rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, the PBS series Landmarks Live in Concert features a line-up of global superstars performing at landmark locations of either historical or personal significance, around the world. For their episode (airing on November 10th), Grammy-winning rock band Foo Fighters traveled this past July to Athens, Greece for a truly incredible performance at the Acropolis. From creator, director and executive producer Dan Catullo, the series is part live performance, part travel show and part history lesson, all in one really cool package.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, RHCP drummer Chad Smith talked about how much he’s enjoyed being the host of Landmarks Live in Concert, getting to delve deeper into the history of each of the locations that he travels to for the musical performances, what it’s like to be on stage at the Acropolis, and how much preparation he does prior to talking to each subject. He also talked about how much he’s grown to appreciate his own band members, having played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers for 30 years now, that he has no intention of hanging up his drumsticks anytime soon, which drummers most inspired him, and what it’s like to see fan appreciation for his band, all over the world.
Collider: How did you get involved with Landmarks Live in Concert and come to be the host of this show? Was this something you ever thought you’d find yourself doing?
CHAD SMITH: No, I never thought I’d be the host of any show. When I think about hosts, I think about game show hosts. My friend, Dan [Catullo], that I’d worked with previously on some concert films, who’s quite a renowned director, came up with the idea for Landmarks Live, to get iconic bands and artists in iconic landmark locations. Somehow, he thought that I would be a good person to do it with, so he came up to me and asked me about it and I said, “What?! What is it?! You want me to go anywhere in the world with really great artists and bands to locations that most people don’t even get to go into? Yeah, I’ll do that!” I get to talk to all these guys and see how they tick, and that’s been really rewarding for me. I’m enjoying it. Often, when you travel with your band, you don’t get to see a lot of the cities, so that’s been pretty cool. He said, “We’ll just film it and see what happens,” and so far, so good.
Have you enjoyed not only playing host and hanging out with the bands, but also really getting to learn about the cities you’re in from the experts?
SMITH: Yeah, it’s not just being a tourist. I’m so fortunate to be able to hang out with the mayor of Venice, Italy or be with the Minister of Culture in Greece and have her tell me about the Parthenon and the history of the Big Bang of modern civilization. I skipped out on some of my history classes in high school, so it’s been really great. I’m genuinely interested ‘cause it’s fascinating to me. The people I’ve been lucky to hang out with, I just ask them one question and they tell me all about it. It’s been great. It’s been fantastic.
What’s it like to be in Athens, Greece, standing on the stage at the Acropolis and looking out, not just at the audience, but at the surroundings?
SMITH: It’s not the Honda Center in Anaheim, no offense. It’s really something special. [The band] really was affected by that because it really was something cool. Going into it, you have some expectation, but once you actually show up and stand on the stage at the Acropolis and look around, it’s unbelievable. They were the first major rock band to play there, ever, and it’s 2,500 years old. No offense to Yanni – Yanni is cool – but I don’t put Yanni in the rock band category. All of those things really made it special.
Are you jealous that you didn’t get to jump on stage and play at the Acropolis, yourself?
SMITH: It’s funny because I’ve played with the Foo Fighters lots of times. Whenever I show up at a gig, they always call me up and we jam on some cover song or something. They were like, “What song do you want to play?” I was like, “Really?!” And they were like, “Yeah!” There’s a new song on their record that Paul McCartney played drums on, so they asked if I wanted to do that one. Taylor [Hawkins] was going to come out and sing it because he sings it on the record. We got to the show and they were soundchecking, and I was with the Minister of Culture, who was telling me all about the Parthenon. In the background, I was hearing, “Chad! Chad! Come up here!” So, I missed my window there, of getting to play. Maybe someday. You never know. I did get to jam with Andrea Bocelli, thought. That was pretty cool.
What was that like?
SMITH: Oh, my god! I didn’t even know he played keyboard. He’s a really accomplished piano player and keyboardist, so he’s got a little man cave jam room at his pad, and we sat down and played. He played this funky keyboard thing, and I was like, “Man, who knew that Andrea Bocelli has got the funk.”
You’ve done previous episodes of Landmarks with Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley and Andrea Bocelli, and after the Foo Fighters, there are still episodes to come with Kings of Leon, Black Eyed Peas, and Prophets of Rage. Did you know about all of the artists previously? Do you do any research or prep before you chat with them, or do you just wing it?
SMITH: There’s a little bit of both. I do some prep, especially with Andrea Bocelli. Of course, I knew who he was, but I didn’t know his story. I do a little bit of prep, just so I’m not in there [all tongue-tied], but not too much. I want to be able to have it be fresh and to have them be able to tell their story. I think it’s really important that they get to tell their story and not lead them. I’ve been interviewed, so I knew that I wanted it to be a free-flowing conversation and not a question and answer kind of thing. I don’t want to do a real prepared thing. So, there is some winging it, but at the same time, it would be a disservice to them, if I didn’t know certain things about them.
Obviously, I know the Foo Fighters a little too well. We had to edit it down, so that there weren’t stories about when we toured together. I have to ask a few things for this show, about playing in the location and all that stuff. Kings of Leon are cool. That’s a good one. They’re from Memphis, and I got to go play drums in Sun Studios, go to Graceland, and see Martin Luther King’s memorial. There’s lots of cool stuff. And I’ll be doing some more episodes that I’m looking forward to. We’ve got some artists booked, but we have to work out the scheduling. Before, it was me with my touring, but I’m off the road now, so I’m a little bit more available. Some more stuff will be happening at the beginning of the year.
In what ways do you most appreciate the band and your fellow band members now, that you didn’t when you were younger or when you first started playing with them?
SMITH: When you’re younger and you’re in a band, I joined [Red Hot Chili Peppers] when I was 26 and you’re just a different person. That was 30 years ago. You spend so much time together. You write the songs, you record them and you go out on the road. It’s like a family. You’re like brothers, but it’s also like you’re married. You have this common goal and you want to always keep that in mind. When you’re young, you’re on the road and you’re doing crazy stuff. I don’t have any regrets about it. That’s just kind of what you do, and that’s what I did, for sure. And you can get mad at the other guys. We used to hold grudges for a long time. I’d be like, “I’m not talking to you! You said that about my shoes!” We were just young, and we were very brash and punk rock about everything. As you get older and do it more, you do learn to appreciate the other people and what they bring. You become better friends. We’re still friends and we care more about that. That can only come with experience, age, and dare I say, a little bit of maturity. Now, if somebody does or says something, we talk it out. We don’t stay as mad at each other as we used to. That’s normal. Everybody has those things. We just happen to be in a band and it’s real magnified, but we still love what we do.
We probably appreciate it more and we’re more grateful for what we have. This thing that we do together, for whatever reason, connects people and connects us. You can see how it connects people, all around the world, and it’s pretty amazing to have that gift and be able to do that. We certainly don’t take that for granted. We’ve been together for 30 years, and we’re playing sold out shows and stadiums, all over the world. I never, in a million years, thought that that would be the case, in 1989.
At the same time, being a drummer has got to be exhausting. Have you thought about hanging up the drumsticks, or will they have to drag you off of the stage before you’ll ever want to stop?
SMITH: I’m going to die on the drum set, I hope! That would be a great way to go out, but toward the end of the show. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid, since I was 7 years old. I love it! I found my passion at a young age, and I was so lucky and fortunate. And then, I got in a band and found other like-minded people. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love it so much. I’m probably more passionate about music than I was, 20 years ago. I really love it! If you’ve seen us play, it’s very physical, the way that we play, and that’s the only way I know how to drum, certainly with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So, as long as we can continue to play at a high level – almost like an athlete, where you want to go out on top – we’ll keep playing.
Who are the drummers that most inspired you, when you were younger, and is there anyone that you look at now and think that they’re really kick-ass on the drums?
SMITH: When I was growing up, I really liked a lot of the English bands, like in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It was Ginger Baker, Ian Paice from Deep Purple, Mitch Mitchell, who played with Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, Bill Ward from Black Sabbath, Roger Taylor from Queen, Keith Moon from The Who. I loved all of those drummers, and they’re still some of the best rock drummers of that generation. Later, I did go through my Neil Peart from Rush phase, when I was a teenager, and then later Stewart Copeland from The Police. Those are really great rock drummers. Today, there are a lot of good drummers out there. I don’t want to single somebody out or leave somebody out, but there are guys that can play circles around me, that’s for sure. The most important thing, to me, as a musician and as a drummer, is to be a really good listener. The best musicians are great listeners, but also technique is important. If you’re playing in a band, which is what I do, I’m more of the supportive role. I know my role in the band, and often, I now see some young drummers that are very interested in speed and chops and how fast they can play. It’s good to have technique, but it’s how you apply it, the musical choices that you make and your taste. That is important, and sometimes it’s not learned early on. You’re not a fully realized musician, at a young age. Well, a few are, but those guys are real freaks of nature. John Bonham, of Led Zeppelin, at 19 sounded the same when he was 30 years old, and there was Tony Williams, who played with Miles Davis, at a young age. Most people need to play for a while, get experience, and play in lots of different situations. That’s how you learn and become a well-rounded musician. I don’t see that with a lot of young players. Our culture now is about doing it fast and wanting it now, but you have to be patient. There’s no real short-cuts. You’ve just gotta put the time in. If you love it, you’ll want to do it.
I love that you were just walking around the Athens Flea Market and there was a Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt hanging up. Is it always a bit surreal and strange, when you randomly come across something for your band, in a place so far away from home, or have you gotten used to that, after playing with the band for 30 years now?
SMITH: What you didn’t see is that I actually planted that shirt there. I actually went there and put that up. No. It’s amusing to me. We played Greece one time, about five years ago. When your t-shirt is sandwiched between Motörhead and The Ramones, it’s flattering and amusing and kind of surprising. We do have a very identifiable name and symbol. It’s great! It’s an honor that people think of us, in that way, and that they want to wear our shirts, or anything like that.
Foo Fighters – Landmarks Live in Concert: A Great Performances Special airs on PBS on November 10th.