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Josh Klinghoffer Details His Red Hot Chili Peppers Departure and Legacy: ‘It’s Not Like I Feel Like a Failure’

A call from Eddie Vedder helped him move forward from the surprising dismissal

Josh Klinghoffer’s life as he knew it forever changed on Dec. 15, 2019. He went to a meeting with his fellow Red Hot Chili Peppers bandmates in Flea’s backyard and was immediately given word by the bassist, while singer Anthony Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith sat quietly, that he was out of the band. Even more surprising: former two-time Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante was replacing him. Stunned, Klinghoffer had to move on without the band he had been a member for just over 10 years. The band already had demos or somewhat finished versions of roughly 24 songs in June on what would have been their first album since 2016’s The Getaway, and third album with Klinghoffer.

As he continues to pick up the pieces from his sudden dismissal, Klinghoffer isn’t at a total loss. He quietly released a solo album under the name Pluralone (which was recorded when he wasn’t working with the Chili Peppers) three weeks prior to his ouster. He is now opening up for Pearl Jam on their upcoming spring tour. Klinghoffer also has 25 unfinished songs at his disposal, along with the songs he wrote from the scrapped Chili Peppers sessions.

Though things have certainly been better for Klinghoffer, it could have easily been much worse. Had this happened five years ago, Klinghoffer says that he would have been crushed. Now? Not as much. Klinghoffer is proud of what he accomplished during his tenure with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

SPIN caught up with Klinghoffer as he sat in his backyard in Pasadena on an idyllic Friday afternoon to discuss his dismissal from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band, his plans to move on, and how a phone call from Eddie Vedder allowed him to move on faster than anticipated.

SPIN: Could you ever tell that anything was off in the weeks or months prior to your exit?

Josh Klinghoffer: That’s the one thing I didn’t get any specific details about from Flea… though he did tell me one thing: When he went on his book tour in November and the band had been somewhat inactive for a month or so, that’s when he felt like there was something that he had created years ago with John that was not something you could lightly overlook. I’m sure he’d been hanging out with — or even playing and jamming a little bit with John — but it wouldn’t have seemed like a sure thing [that Frusciante was back in the mix].

Despite what went down, at least you can look back and say that this was a pretty strong live era for the Chili Peppers.

Klinghoffer: I always thought so, too. When I first started with them live, I’d already played on-stage with them, but not in the role I was assuming. I inherently had, as a fan of their band, the same energy that those guys had. I always felt good and that it seemed to make sense, even with this age gap, and that I wasn’t the person who had written these anthems with them. I felt like there a real connection that we had on stage.

And the albums?

Klinghoffer: I don’t hate or despise the records I did with them in any way. I listened to those songs a lot — especially when we were making them. I obsessively submerge myself into the music I’m working on and listen to it constantly. I have great love for most of the songs. I think there’s a few songs on those records I could do without just in the sense that I could have left them off the album in favor of another. I’ve always been impressed with Anthony for his ability to write lyrics and melodies for the amount of songs that the band comes up with. He has an unbelievable drive and an incredible ability to come up with new stuff. Watching it was pretty special.

Being that you played in the Chili Peppers for 10 years, did you ever feel like this departure was ever imminent in the sense that you had to keep your guard in case something like this were to ever happen?

Klinghoffer: No, not at all. The only reason I suppose that I’m not in the band anymore is because of John’s sudden reemergence or availability or desire to do it again. All the while, I didn’t have contact with him, but I knew just through what I heard from other people, that he wasn’t interested in playing guitar. He wasn’t in a place to play rock music or be in a band. I didn’t think he had much contact with any of the other guys in the band. I knew he and Flea spoke once in a while in the interim, but even when they’d get together and have a hangout, they’d always wind up getting in some argument. I never thought that this would happen until the last couple of years. There were a couple of things that make me think, ‘Oh I wonder,’ but I let my guard down. I didn’t think this would happen because we had written a whole album pretty much and we already had a pile that we had ready for two albums and we still wanted to write a little more. I didn’t think they’d want to halt that process and write anew, but it didn’t surprise me.

That said, this sounds it was the nicest possible dismissal though, considering the circumstances.

Klinghoffer: Flea is the one who said to me, five days after [the dismissal] that he had a really emotional week. At the end of the day, he and I are friends and he enjoyed having me in the band that he created. It is a special tight-knit little group and they don’t open their doors and let someone into their band lightly. The fact that they did that with me and that I was there for so long, was special. I think he respects and values me as a person and a friend. The fact that he suddenly wasn’t going to have me on the same seat on the plane in front of him like I had been for 10 years, was probably a bit painful. He said, ‘We’ve never made a personnel switch when there wasn’t a tragedy or trauma.’ I feel like my reaction to the news speaks to the fact that I’m just fully aware of how special of an experience I had with them. Just being allowed to hang out in the room with those guys and listen to their stories and have them want to hear my stories. It was like being part of an amazing club for a little while. I certainly don’t think my friendships with them are over and that the relationships don’t have to change too much, besides not seeing them as much. Whatever I’ve done in my life and growth I’ve gone through in my 40 years, my reaction was pure gratitude. Like I said on Maron, it’s not easy for me to sound like a hippie fucker. I’m sure there will be moments when I’m like ‘C’mon’ and ‘Really.’ But all in all, I’m so glad that I was able to do that with them and do it successfully. It’s not like they said, ‘Thank you and we’ve decided to go with this other person.’ It’s John, the person I grew up thinking was the greatest. I’m happy for him that he’s playing and wants to do music with them. 

Would you ever hop back on stage with them despite what happened?

Klinghoffer: I love those guys and watching them play their instruments. I love hearing Anthony sing when he’s working something out. Chad and I do nothing but laugh when we play. The only complaint that I could ever have about being in the band was that we didn’t get to play as much as I’d like to. There’s something about being in a band of this size and guys that are that age, it’s a little bit business-like. You rehearse a couple of times a day, then play for maybe two or three hours and then people go pick up their kids and all that. For the 40-year-old who never grew up, I’m just like ‘C’mon, let’s play all day!’ So if they asked me to play again, I’d be there in a second. That’s what’s great about this dismissal too, and luckily I’ve been able to keep it there. At the end of the day, it’s four guys who play music with each other and when they decide that they want to play with this other guy, it’s now those four guys. It’s not like ‘Noooo’ and lawyers and weirdness. It’s just four guys playing music together.

Do you still have those songs you worked on with them? What’s going to happen to them?

Klinghoffer: I think there’s 24 songs in all matter of arrangement to completion. There were ones that were one groove and one groove and a chorus. We didn’t finish. There were at least 10 more ideas on the list, if not more. There was a lot of stuff. We started in September or October of 2018 and wrote most of ’19 with the exception of when we were on tour and Anthony took two weeks for a summer holiday, and Flea got married and went on a book tour. That’s why we’d been on a writing hiatus. They’ll definitely going to start from scratch with John. The only possibility [of those songs reemerging] is if a certain idea that Flea had that were 100% borne of him, maybe they’ll throw it into the mix and give new life to. The ones that were more collaborative are probably going to go away.

You know that some bootleg is going to surface from those sessions at some point. 

Klinghoffer: If someone mugs me on the street and steals my iPod, that’s where they are.

When did you have time to work on your solo album?

Klinghoffer: With how the Chili Peppers are scheduled with their albums cycles, there are chunks of downtime that you can see far down the road. I was able to keep Dot Hacker [Klinghoffer’s other band] going as if it was a real band but didn’t tour. We’d make a record, then the Chili Peppers would tour. Because of that, I was able to do three Dot Hacker albums during Chili Peppers’ downtime. Any time there was downtime, I was working and try to stay busy. With the solo album, it would been what would I would have done with Dot Hacker. This time, I decided to let them make the effort and no one did, so I made the record on my own. I got chummy with [former Chili Peppers drummer] Jack Irons on the U.S. tour where he opened for the Chili Peppers. He’s always been one of my favorite drummers and musicians.

Is he in your band?

Klinghoffer: I don’t have a band at the moment. The Pearl Jam tour is going to be me by myself.

It seems like that opening slot came together fairly quickly in spite of all of this news.

Klinghoffer: The timing is crazy. I already had this record out. The invitation to do that tour came not long after the dismissal from the band. I think getting to know Eddie [Vedder] a bit more recently helped. We just played his Ohana Fest [in September] and he played the benefit for Flea’s school [Silverlake Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles in November]. I think he was just calling to check in and see how I was doing. I gave my speech that I pretty much gave to you that it’s crazy and sad and all of that stuff. I just feel kind of happy with the way things played out and what I accomplished with them. It’s not like I feel like a failure. There was some goodwill and I think the invitation was extended to open. In the week right after it happened, I was staring at a completely blank calendar. Jack had talked about doing a live thing as this project in the interim before the Pearl Jam tour invitation. It was a nice thing to have something to do or else I may have gone crazy. It’s pretty scary because this is the first time I’ve ever played any solo show by myself before.

With all that’s transpired — and it’s still fresh — how do you look at your experience as the lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

Klinghoffer: I really am proud about what I did. I worked hard and I don’t think there’s anything that I have to be ashamed of or feel bad about. That’s a longwinded way of saying that I don’t think I would have been as Zen if this was five years ago. I probably would have freaked out [over his dismissal].