Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea on the meaning of God, the band’s worst album and the vice he misses most

Flea, bare-chested, flexes his muscles
“For me, music is the voice of God,” says Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
(Nick Fancher / For The Times)
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“Hey, come see my baby boy!” Flea says excitedly, holding up his iPhone as he stands next to his motorcycle in the parking lot of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. Dressed in basketball shorts and a red bucket hat, the 60-year-old bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is FaceTiming with his wife, streetwear designer Melody Ehsani, as she cradles their infant son, Darius, at home in Malibu.

Flea, who has two older daughters (one 34, the other 17), admits he kind of forgot how exhausting it can be to take care of a baby. “This morning was an early one,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s unbelievable. He sleeps with us, and every night I get in bed and smell his soft little head.”

Darius isn’t the only demand on Flea’s attention at the moment. Last year the Chili Peppers released two new studio albums, “Unlimited Love” and “Return of the Dream Canteen” — the veteran L.A. band’s first in over a decade with guitarist John Frusciante. Now the group, which also includes singer Anthony Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith, is touring stadiums and headlining festivals including August’s Lollapalooza. When Flea (real name Michael Balzary) is home between legs of the tour, he’s studying jazz trumpet with Kamasi Washington’s dad, Rickey.


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He also has a podcast: “This Little Light,” on which he interviews artists such as Patti Smith, Earl Sweatshirt, Rick Rubin, Stewart Copeland and Margo Price about their experiences learning to love and play music; proceeds from the show, which Flea produced in partnership with Parallel and Audacy’s Cadence13, benefit the nonprofit Silverlake Conservatory, which Flea founded in 2001 to provide the type of music education he felt was no longer being offered in L.A.’s public schools. The podcast’s finale, which features Kiedis talking about his unlikely journey as a vocalist, drops Thursday.

Having moved inside from the parking lot to an airy practice room, Flea asks for a moment before we sit down to chat. “I’m gonna do my little ritual,” he says. Then he bows his head in silence for about 20 seconds.

A multiple exposure in multiple colors of Flea's profile.
“My little baby’s hearing a lot of Ornette Coleman and Stravinsky,” says Flea, whose portrait here is a multiple exposure made in-camera. “The wheels on the bus aren’t going round and round in our house.”
(Nick Fancher / For The Times)

Is that a daily thing for you?
Yeah, I’m a praying guy. I pray in the morning when I get up, when I go to bed, when I eat. And when I do an interview, I’ll just stop for a second — like, let me get out of the way and let go of everything.

To whom are you praying?
To God. I’m not religious in any way, but I kind of believe in God. And I try to live a life that honors my idea of what God is — like a divine energy.


You talk about this with Patti Smith on your podcast — the idea of finding God in music.
For me, music is the voice of God. I grew up virulently anti-religious, and there came a time in the early ’90s, right around when I turned 30, I got really sick with chronic fatigue. I’d been a drug-taking madman — party all night, play basketball all day. I just thought I was Superman. And all of a sudden it was like all the energy got sucked out of my body. I was like, I can’t go on tour, I feel too s—. And I was cut off from my friends because I wasn’t partying.

So I read this self-help book by this guy Jon Kabat-Zinn where he talked about how if you strip away all your thoughts and actions — your pain, your pleasure, your memories, your hopes — what’s the thing that’s left? And it really struck me because I’d been so caught up in the external. I started thinking about that emptiness, and in that moment God just made perfect sense. I mean, like I said, I’ve still never been religious. And I’ve tried — I’ve been to churches.

Why did you feel compelled to try?
I thought there might be a sense of community. In the ’80s I’d go to churches in South L.A. as an atheist. I had a friend who knew where the best gospel groups were coming through, so I’d go and it would be incredible. I thought punk rock was intense. Punk rockers are a bunch of p— compared to a church where people are speaking in tongues and throwing themselves on the ground.

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How has parenting shaped what you do here at the conservatory?
It’s kind of the same thing — just wanting kids to grow up and be vehicles to let their light shine.

Does music education feel especially important in an age defined by screens?
I think it’s always been important. But, yeah, I worry about screens. That’s why I didn’t give my middle kid a phone till she was 15. Kids don’t get time to just do nothing — to lay on the grass and look up at the sky into the infinite. That seems really vital.


Do you try to steer your children’s musical taste?
I try to expose them to stuff. My little baby’s hearing a lot of Ornette Coleman and Stravinsky. The wheels on the bus aren’t going round and round in our house. F— “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” [laughs] We’re listening to Sonny Rollins.

Group photo of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Bare-chested Flea has a T-shirt draped halfway across his face.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2022: from left, Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith, John Frusciante and Flea.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

What has the podcast taught you about interviewing people?
The big lesson I learned before I ever interviewed anybody, just from having been interviewed 10 million times, which is that there’s nothing worse than being interviewed by someone with an agenda. You can feel it right away. Or someone with just a list of questions. “What’s your favorite color?” “I like blue because it reminds me of eggs.” Then the next question is, “Do you like eggs?” “I just told you I do!”

What’s your favorite of the interviews you did?
A really good one was with Anthony. We were both kind of in tears because I’d never talked to him about stuff like that. Anthony doesn’t really consider himself a musician or that he’s had any music education whatsoever. He used to say we should change the band’s name to Idiot and the Three Geniuses. And people would be down on him, you know? Eddie Vedder’s up there like f— Pavarotti, but the resonance is different with Anthony.

You think he’s a good singer?
I think he’s a great singer. And he’s always learning and getting better. When we started the band, he couldn’t sing a note — he just yelled. Now he’s got melodies, and he doesn’t even stick to them. He flows around and improvises. Look, I know who the great singers are: Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Roger Daltrey. But for me, all I care about with any musician is that a person sounds like themselves. And nobody sounds like Anthony Kiedis.

Before you started this current Chili Peppers tour, you said you didn’t know how John Frusciante would fare on the road. How’s he been?
Really good. Each gig is like a sacred thing for him. In true John fashion, he practices for like five hours before every show — “Blow by Blow” by Jeff Beck on, playing every single solo, warming his fingers up.


Is a football stadium a good place for rock ’n’ roll?
You want the rock-star answer? “Oh man, I really miss seeing people’s faces in a little club.” I don’t give a f— about that. I’ve played every club on Earth and I’ve seen their nasty faces. [laughs] I love playing stadiums. We go out there and it’s packed, feels really joyful.

The sound can leave something to be desired.
I’ve never been to see a stadium show.

Not even the Stones or somebody?
We once opened for the Stones at the Rose Bowl [in 1994]. I’d had sinus surgery and I had blood pouring out of my nose during the show. All I remember is that Jack Nicholson was there and I wanted to talk about the Lakers with him.

Which Lakers have you befriended over the years?
I haven’t, really. Steve Nash a little bit. My wife is friends with basketball players, and I keep thinking by proxy I’ll get there. I’m not the most social person in the world.

Surely, LeBron or Anthony Davis will dap you up when you’re courtside.
I’ve been dapped. But my wife is the one they really dap. I’m like the side-piece.

Melody Ehsani and Flea sit in an arena seat.
Melody Ehsani and Flea courtside at a Lakers game in 2020.
(Allen Berezovsky / Getty Images)

The shows on this tour are pretty well spaced. Is that necessary from a bodily perspective?
It helps very much from a bodily perspective. We’re certainly older.

Are you spent at the end of the night?
I’ve always been spent at the end of the night. I’ve always pushed myself as far as I can go, to the point where I’ve hurt myself, like I was saying in the ’90s when I couldn’t get up. Smoking crack didn’t help. But the days off are really nice. I get to go to the museum, see the Duchamps. And I’m a big exerciser: yoga, meditation, running.


Do you listen to music while you run?
Never. I love the sound of my feet on the ground and my thoughts unraveling. I don’t want anything else. Listening to music is a sacred time for me. Sometimes I’ll listen while I’m playing chess and realize I’m not actually listening. Cannonball Adderley just did something amazing, and I’m thinking about where to put my rook.

Flea and Anthony Kiedis, young and long-haired
Flea and Anthony Kiedis in 1986.
(Lisa Haun)

Chess, huh? Ever miss the days of Dionysian excess?
I feel like I got it in pretty good. I was talking to my little boy this morning — sometimes I just tell him stuff — like, “You know, Darius, I don’t miss doing drugs, but to be honest, I really miss smoking. Glad I stopped, but I’d love to have a nice fat Marlboro right now.”

When you were in your 20s, what kind of life did you envision for yourself at this age?
I don’t know that I projected that much into the future. I used to work as a delivery boy in a liquor store when I was just out of high school: Park Plaza Liquor at 3rd Street and Martel. And I remember there was this old woman who’d come in — late 80s at least but still getting around, always had a smile, lights were on in her eyes. She was beautiful to me because she had love inside. She wasn’t burned up with resentment and anger and hate. I remember seeing that and thinking, Man, if you get old and you’re like that, you’re good.

Willie Nelson recently played the Hollywood Bowl for his 90th birthday and appeared to be having a ball.
Willie’s so fun. When he’s home, he’s up every morning riding his bike, doing a boxing workout, playing cards and smoking weed with his friends all day. I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been in that circle in Maui — he’s having a great time.


Flea and John Frusciante face each other onstage, instruments in hand.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and John Frusciante at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on July 31, 2022.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

It seems absurd to ask whether the Chili Peppers will still be playing when you guys are 90. But it would’ve seemed absurd 30 years ago to ask the same thing about when you were 60.
I don’t know what’s absurd. I know we all care deeply about music and we all want to grow and be better. We’re still consumed with it just like when we started the band.

What’s the Chili Peppers’ best album?
I would say “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” but there’s a couple tunes on there I don’t think should have gotten on in retrospect. “The Greeting Song” wasn’t good enough. “Californication” is pretty good top to bottom. I saw Adele a little while ago and she told me that was her favorite record of all time. That meant a lot to me because I’m a big Adele fan.

And the worst?
I always regret the way we made the first one. I think the songs are really good. Our band was smoking at the time. But [drummer] Jack [Irons] and [guitarist] Hillel [Slovak] quit, and we hired these two other guys: Jack Sherman and Cliff Martinez. Both were great musicians, but the connection just wasn’t as profound as we had with the guys we started with. I’ve often wanted to go back and re-record that album, but I can never talk anyone into it.