Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis was probably the last person guitarist John Frusciante thought he'd wake up and see towering above him in his hospital room.
Frusciante had barely spoken to the tattooed lead singer since he'd packed up his guitars and split from the Peppers in 1992, he said. So, when Kiedis walked back into his life in January, Frusciante said the sight of his estranged pal came as something of a surprise.
Little did he know that the moment would foreshadow bigger things to come -- not to mention the band's return to its funky former self.
Frusciante, who helped the band develop its funk-punk sound during the Chili Peppers' most successful period of the late '80s and early '90s, last month rejoined the group to fill the spot left empty when former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro quit to concentrate on his side project, Spread. "I was in the hospital in January trying to get my mental health together," said Frusciante, 28, from his L.A. home on Wednesday (May 20), "and Anthony visited me a few times, and then, when Flea came back from his vacation, we all started hanging out and it was really great."
Frusciante, who has battled with drug addiction in the past, would not specify why he was hospitalized -- other than to say it wasn't because he was "physically addicted to anything" -- but said he was overjoyed to be back in the band. "I never thought I'd be back in this band," Frusciante said.
But the guitarist, who released two solo albums after his departure from the band, said when Kiedis began visiting him in the hospital, he felt a new bond forming. "There was just a feeling in the air, for us to be talking and getting along was a new thing. We're really good friends now, which wasn't the case the last year I was in the band."
As the group's fourth (and now eighth) guitarist, Frusciante played on two of the biggest-selling albums released during the Chili Peppers' 15-year career -- 1989's Mother's Milk, which featured the hit "Knock Me Down" and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," and 1991's multi-platinum Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which featured the hits "Give It Away" (RealAudio excerpt), "Under the Bridge" and "Breaking the Girl."
During his last year in the Peppers, Frusciante said he didn't feel like he was in a band at all, since the members didn't speak to each other unless they had to and tensions were running high. But now, ever since he began five-times-a-week rehearsals with Kiedis and bass player Flea (drummer Chad Smith is on vacation), Frusciante said he'd be going over to Flea's house every day, even if he wasn't playing in the band.
The group, which hasn't released an album since 1995's One Hot Minute, has written seven new songs, according to Frusciante, and plan to enter the studio as soon as it has enough music for an album. Not surprisingly, Frusciante said the sound that has emerged so far is much closer to the hard funk groove that he perfected with the group than the slightly heavier, less funk-derived vibe on its last album.
"It's definitely going to sound a lot more like what I did in the band than what Dave [Navarro] did," Frusciante said. "As far as the funk, it should have a really heavy aspect of that. I don't really play that kind of heavy-metal stuff." Frusciante also said that, for the first time since he's been associated with the band, he, Flea and Kiedis are writing together and Kiedis is churning out lyrics in a timely fashion, rather than waiting for Kiedis to come back to them with lyrics after the songs have been demoed.
Navarro, who recorded only One Hot Minute with the Peppers, said the return of Frusciante was "probably one of the best things that could happen to the band."
And Frusciante booster Rick Chapman couldn't agree more. "I feel that John rejoining the Chili Peppers is within the best interests of the band," wrote the 19- year-old University of Connecticut student and webmaster of the "Been Insane
-- Unofficial John Frusciante" website in an e-mail. "I feel (and I know many Peppers fans agree) that they were definitely at their best with John Frusciante intact. With John back in the band, they can return to a level of creativity that I feel has been lost for the past several years."
In addition to the loss of Navarro, the past year has been a tumultuous one for the band, with a string of scheduled dates being canceled several times following separate motorcycle accidents that sidelined drummer Smith and Kiedis. Certainly contributing to the band's slow return to the studio and the road was the public admission by Kiedis of a drug relapse and a subsequent stay in a rehabilitation facility.
While Frusciante -- who referred to drugs as "the greatest thing in the world" -- is not about to denounce substance use, he added that drugs would not interfere with the Chili Peppers' music-making.
"I love drugs very much," Frusciante said. "I also think my friends and music are the greatest thing in the world and if we started doing drugs it wouldn't take us in positive directions. It would distract us from what we are doing. A lot of times you do drugs to concentrate on your feeling good, but what we're doing now is about making other people feel good."
But it's the friendship that has re-formed between Frusciante and his fellow Chili Peppers that is driving the band forward now, he said. "When I was 9 years old, I really wanted to start a punk-rock band," Frusciante said. "But [the other two members] didn't have much interest in punk-rock. Now, this feels like the same thing, the same excitement, except I get to do it with Flea, the greatest bass player in the world, and Chad, the most violent drummer I've ever played with, and a best friend like Anthony as the singer.
"For us to be so competent on our instruments and to have so much love for each other ... to spend every day doing that, anyone would love to lead a life like that. I've living my life to make that little kid proud."