What Being a Red Hot Chili Peppers Fan Has Taught Me About Creativity

“All my life has been a search for my highest self and a journey to the depths of the spirit.”

Acid for the Children



Singer and songwriter Anthony Kiedis was on a spiritual retreat in Thailand when he penned a poem. Traveling on a boat in the Andaman Sea, a simple melody came to him, guiding him as he put pen onto paper. 

From his travels to faraway destinations such as the Sea Gypsy Village in Thailand and the bustling bazaars in Indonesia, it intrigued him as he observed the scale at which Western and Hollywood culture had pervaded in such places — even spotting bootleg Chili Peppers t-shirts being sold and worn. 

He thought too about a phrase that had particularly stuck with him during his time in Auckland, New Zealand, where he encountered a crazy lady on the street, who ranted about there being psychic spies in China. 

The poem was titled Californication, an elegy on the glamorization of Hollywood. In the poem, Kiedis reflects on the dark side of Hollywood which outsiders often don’t see, drawing on his firsthand drug-and-sex addled experiences. 

Much later when the band worked on an album with their newly-rejoined guitarist John Frusciante, Anthony brought the poem forward. While the band thought the poem made great lyrics, they had immense trouble turning it into a proper song that they felt strongly enough about. They kept trying, and the best they made out of it was a bad reggae song. 

“Even though there was a perfect song in there, we couldn’t find it,” wrote Anthony in his memoir Scar Tissue. “We tried ten different arrangements and ten different choruses, and nothing ever worked. All these other songs were pouring out of us.”

By the time the album was nearly completed, Anthony still kept pushing for the song to be worked on. And every time he did, the band would tell him that they already had twenty-five songs recorded, and that they didn’t need another one.

“No,” Anthony told them. “We have to have this. This is the anchor of the whole record. It’s as good a lyric as I’ve written in a long time. It has to be a song.”

The few days they had left for recording went by. And in the last moments, John ran into the studio with his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar, screaming, “I’ve got it! I’ve got Californication!”

John sat down and played a rueful, minimal arrangement of notes and sang the lyrics. He then taught the song to bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith, and after rehearsing a few times, they went ahead and recorded what was to be one of their greatest songs. 

Over the years, I’ve shared a lot about the Chili Peppers in my articles. They’re easily one of my all-time favorite bands, and they were the first to truly make me fall in love with music. And as a matter of fact, they were a major influence in my decision to start this blog in the first place.

What makes them exceptionally different from other artists I’ve loved is the emotional quality and weight that is undeniably present in their music. No other music could give me an experience that is visceral as theirs. Because even if I don’t understand what the lyrics mean in a logical sense, and even by the merits of just the instrumentals, I would know how the music makes me feel. 

A whole gamut of raw human emotions are pinwheeled in their music, with the right song finding me at the right time, depending on how I feel at the moment. And with that, I feel as though I have a loyal companion who knows just how to be there for me in good times and bad times. 

And of course, they are also incredibly prolific as artists. Writing songs often comes easily to them, and even in the rare times when it doesn’t, they know just how to find the right pieces of the puzzle.

Spontaneity and improvisation are a defining aspect of their music, whether they are recording in a studio or playing live in concert. It’s well-known that whenever they jam, there is very little talking involved, as they communicate with their instruments instead, knowing just how to match each other’s musical parts. Their playing right from the heart is what makes listening to them such a surreal, telepathic experience. 

A lot of what makes them great goes back to their understanding of creativity. To them, creativity isn’t merely about creating something. It goes far beyond that as a way of being, and as a way of relating to the world around them. 

And so, here are the biggest lessons on creativity that I’ve learned as a longtime Chili Peppers fan.



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1. Creativity is Spiritual


“Once I opened my mind to the concept of a higher power, I never struggled with it. Everywhere I went, I felt and saw the existence of a creative intelligence in this universe, of a loving power larger than myself, in people, everywhere.”

Anthony Kiedis


There’s no mistaking that the Chili Peppers see creativity as a very spiritual thing. In their interviews and writings, they have often discussed at length on how they don’t take credit for their talent or ideas. Creativity, as they understand, have less to do with themselves than it does with their relating to a force larger than themselves. John, for instance, calls this force nature, while Flea prefers to attribute this force to God. 

As John remarked in the documentary The Heart is a Drum Machine, “The idea that somebody considers themselves responsible for a piece of music is ridiculous. We’re only acting into the laws of nature, that have given us the possibilities that we’re exploring with our intelligence.”

Creativity, as he understands it, is “just nature expressing itself through our existence,” in the same way that a plant grows out of the ground. He doesn’t believe that a musical idea starts in our minds, but instead, from somewhere we don’t have direct contact with. He explained that just as the laws of nature, such as the frequency spectrum or the acoustic law, would still exist as a physical reality, whether or not they have been discovered, so is the same way with music and art. And so, he argues that if we don’t create art out of our ideas, someone else would. 

And if you didn’t know, the Chili Peppers alternatively call themselves Funky Monks, based on a titular song off of their Blood Sugar Sex Magik album. 



2. Don’t Give Up on Your Ideas


“There’s a good song in there somewhere. We just have to find the right approach…So persevere, kids!”

Chad Smith


Think of ideas as blessings. As an artist, it’s your responsibility to hone your ideas as best you can, to give them a life of their own. And it’s worth saying that certain ideas present bigger challenges than others. 

For the Chili Peppers, Californication was one of their most difficult songs to write. After all, their songs are usually born from jams, whereby they would figure out the melodies and instrumentals, and the lyrics would come last. Yet in this case, Californication was first written as a poem, then made into a song. But as the story shows us, if you persevere long enough with your ideas, great things can happen subconsciously. 

And this isn’t to say that the Chili Peppers don’t display the same level of craftsmanship with the “easier” songs. You can just listen to their demoes,  and notice just how far they went in making the songs as good as they were in their final versions. 

As John commented on their work ethic, “Usually when I write a song that’s really good, I know it’s good because I just wanna play it over and over, and the next day I can’t wait to listen to it and play it again. Those songs usually end up becoming better than others just because I play them more times, and the melodies and the way I’m seeing it start to take on another life.”


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3. You Control What You Focus On


“If you shut off your brain you will notice that music exists beyond anything that we perceive with our five senses, and we don’t really understand how it is that music exists in the air and comes through us as a vehicle. But it does.”

John Frusciante


Personally having seen them live a couple of months ago, it’s still mind-boggling to think about the level of spontaneity that they dedicate themselves to onstage. No two shows are the same, as John never plays the same guitar solo twice, and likewise, the other members would also add their own individual twists on the songs. I’m truly in awe of how they are able to play the most beautiful and melodic improvisations while standing in front of thousands of screaming fans. 

I think about this too in relation to my work. How much better would I write if I were being completely honest with myself, if I were less pressured by the thoughts of what other people might say? 

As John advised, “The idea there is to shut your mind off. Music comes through you when you’re not thinking and when you learn how to just surrender to the current of music. It’s not about thinking anything or planning anything.”

He learned this especially as a young, 18 year-old guitarist in the Chili Peppers, who was mostly just starstruck to play in his favorite band. He famously has a disdain for his first album with the band, Mother’s Milk, as he was very self-conscious about “fitting in” as a new member. Only in their breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik did he learn to let go of such thoughts, and to play the way he really wanted to play. And this changed the course of the Chili Peppers’ musicianship altogether. 

He said, “On Blood Sugar I was being very careful to not think and to play from somewhere else other than using my brain activity to play the guitar. I would shut off my brain and let my fingers just go and listen to the rest of the music; listen to the bass and the drums, and not really listen to myself except maybe the sound coming back from my own guitar.”



4. Reconnect With Yourself


“Music of any worth has been done by people who were very interested in the internal process of their soul and their mind that’s taking place while they’re writing.”

John Frusciante


John left the band for the second time in 2009, after he fell out of love with the band’s music, and also due to his dislike for the life in the limelight. He would dedicate the subsequent years on electronic music instead, as a solo artist, until late 2019, when he officially rejoined the Chili Peppers again.

After rejoining this time, John had to find his footing. For one thing, he hadn’t seriously played the guitar in a very long time. But more importantly, he had to reconnect with the part of himself that wanted to play music with the guitar purely for its own sake.

And so, before they started working on any new songs, he only wanted to jam to songs from the Chili Peppers’ first three albums, which are now generally considered to be their deepest cuts. Those albums were from a time before John joined the band, when he was just a fan. Jamming to those albums, he wanted to reconnect with the reasons why he fell in love with the band in the first place.

Sometimes, the creative process can get stale. It may start to feel mechanical, and it may stop being fun after a while. I’ve certainly gone through a few periods like this. I don’t believe there’s a point in creating art if you don’t feel a love for it. So in such times, I would take a breather and look back at the big reason why I fell in love with writing on this blog, and that is, I get a thrill in sharing whatever little knowledge I have. With that, I would go back and explore new things such as books and music that I find exciting.

As writer Neil Gaiman said of his own life and work, “I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.”


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5. Let Your Well Run Dry


“If the last song you wrote is your best song, you gotta keep writing.”

Rick Rubin


When it comes to doing creative work, it’s only realistic that not everything you put out will be great. Not every idea you have is exciting. But great artists understand that the important thing is to keep creating. Because if you only want to create good art, you’ll be afraid of creating at all — and that’s essentially what writer’s block is. But if you keep creating, no matter the outcome, you would inevitably put out great work every now and then.

And this is how the Chili Peppers would approach their albums. They would write many, many songs — say, four albums’ worth of songs — and only cherry pick the very best songs for one album. By writing more than they think they should have, this increases their odds of putting out more great songs. 

This could largely be credited to their producer Rick Rubin, who would tell them to “keep writing” until they’ve “written out”, or in other words, when they truly feel that their well has run dry. 

There is also wisdom in this approach when you consider the perishability of the present moment. Just like writing an entry in a diary, it’s likely that your idea would not have the same urgency, or the same emotional weight if you were to work on it a year from now. So, the best time to create is right now — or as Rick Rubin put it, now is your “best chance to go mining.”



6. Art is Your Sanctuary


“I took great comfort in that sacred place, a space of searching and satisfaction, a space that would always be home. Once I found this way to access it, I knew it would be there forever. My life had meaning.”



One thing I’ll always find so infectious about the Chili Peppers is their deep and unbounded love for their craft. Creating great songs is just a byproduct of dedicating their waking hours in their sanctuary that is their music. Having weathered through drug addictions in their past lives, music has been an unconditional friend to them that keeps negativity at bay.

John Frusciante, who suffered most from his past addictions, said, “I know that if you dedicate every second of every day to being as creative as you can be, then you can live a way richer life with more variety of feelings and making other people feel good as well, every minute of the day, with no drugs.”

“What happens to you is dictated by the things you think about,” he also said. “You should always think good things and always look for the good in the world. If you look for the bad in the world you’ll always find something bad. But if you look for the good in the world you’ll find it. It’s there.”

I’ve personally found the same sense of belonging, the same sanctuary in art, especially in writing and music. After struggling with years of depression, I could honestly say that if I were to only focus on how horrible the world is, on things that are wrong in my life, or the things that I wish I had, I really wouldn’t be alive today. But instead, I’m still here today, because I choose to focus on the things that are right, on the things that I love. 

And I pray that I would never lose this personal connection to art. 

As Flea poignantly wrote in his memoir, “We’ve all got our own sacred place, but to access it, your mission must be pure and your aim true. Just a little thought of trying to use it for a power tool, a career move, and the process becomes corrupted. You gotta go for the joy, the pain, the adventure, the search, the journey to love. I learned that from Kurt Vonnegut. You have to be willing to dedicate your life to that journey, not as a means to an end, but just as an opportunity to trip out. You gotta suspend all self-judgment, and embrace all. The reward is the journey itself.”


  1. Love the idea of creating for the sake of creation. I too often hope that whatever I create is the best. I got to remember that sometimes the act of creation alone is enough. Thanks for today’s peptalk!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Izzat Zailan says:

      Love is a big deal, especially when it comes to creativity!


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