Chad Smith: Balancing Act
Words by Tom Hoare
Chad gets up on the ledge. It’s windy, wet and the drop on the other side is about 150 feet. A fall from this height would mean it’d take Chad about 3.2 seconds before he hit the ground at a speed of 70 miles per hour. I did not want to be responsible for the death of Chad Smith.
Chad begins to mimic losing his balance. His publicist is telling him sternly to get down. Instead, he lights a cigarette and begins to emulate walking along a tightrope, steadily placing one foot in front of the other. When he reaches the end, he does a small jig, at which point his publicist loses patience, grabbing his feet and pulling him back on to the balcony.
Introversion was a term coined by renowned psychologist Carl Jung. You’re likely familiar with it. It’s probably not how you’d describe any member of a band famed for embracing full frontal nudity. But, earlier on that morning as we sat in a hotel restaurant eating breakfast, it’s how Chad had described himself.
Sometimes flecks of Chad’s spit would make their way across the table and land on my pancakes as he spoke. I didn’t mind too much, largely because I was ravenously hungry and I’d spent a substantial part of my childhood idolising the band in which he plays.
Chad Smith: How are the pancakes?
The Drummer’s Journal: Great. Thanks. Going back to what you just said - you don’t strike me as being particularly introverted…
It’s a performing thing I think. I enjoy performing – I think it’s important to convey energy out to a crowd. To be animated. And yeah, sure, people think that’s how you are. And the band does have a reputation for being (pauses) entertainers. But it doesn’t mean you’re like that all the time. Hendrix was this whirlwind on stage but this shy, soft-spoken guy off it. So people look at how you perform and think that’s what you must be like. Of course, in part that is who you are otherwise it’s not very authentic, but I’m not “on” all the time, I probably fall somewhere in the middle. I mean, I still get pretty nervous doing anything on TV.
You did good on The Tonight Show with Will Ferrell though…
Yeah, but I didn’t have to say anything. Whenever I do something on TV I have to write whatever I’m going to say on the floor tom. Thankfully I usually don’t have to say anything. I never really do chat shows where I have to talk, except for (adopts robotic voice) “I’m really happy to be part of this show.”
You were nervous about it?
Yes. Very. I was standing there waiting to go on thinking, “I’m not going to be very good at this,” and Will turned to me and said, “What about if I’m you and you’re me?” Then the curtain goes up! Music! Lights! So that saved me, he’s a pro, that’s what he does.
I thought you’d be used to doing TV shows with the band.
Yeah, we do them all the time but we’re usually just the performers at the end. And if there’s any talking, Flea and Anthony do it because they’re chatterboxes. They’re much better at that than I am. I’m not a fan of the attention in that respect to be honest. I’m more than happy to be in the back obscured behind the cymbals (laughs).
Have you ever thought about writing an autobiography?
No. I’ve been approached a couple of times to do that. But, I don’t know, it just hasn’t really appealed just yet. I think it’d need to be another 10 to 15 years, so then my mom would be dead. I’m just kidding of course (laughs). But, in all honesty, there’s a lot of stuff I‘d be quite happy for her not to know about.
How would you describe yourself when you were a kid?
I had a pretty standard Midwestern upbringing. My father worked for Ford Motor Company in Detroit. I was the youngest of three, my brother was two years older than me and he played guitar. I really looked up to him and the music he liked, English music of the early 70s mostly. But he did what you’re supposed to as a kid and followed the rules. I did not. I was very rebellious, and I think my parents were challenged by how to deal with this kid who was outside of the box, who didn’t want to go to school or do well in his studies. I just wanted to play the drums, not because I wanted to be a rockstar, but because I enjoyed it. My parents were supportive and let me play in the basement of the house. But I was a troublemaker. By the time I was 16, I just wanted sex, drugs and rock and roll.
And Detroit provided that?
Yeah. Drugs were everywhere, even in my high school. I started to smoke a lot of pot and play music. That’s not a great recipe for doing other things, outside of those two things.
But you still graduated from school, right?
Yeah, I did somehow. Then I started playing in bands all over Detroit and the Tri-County area. The city is not as big as it once was as it’s fallen on hard times, but I think it’ll come back. Detroit has a rich history, certainly musically. And it was really good to play all those clubs, six nights a week, three sets a night. That was my schooling instead of going to university. I was in a ton of bands and record deals came and went, but it was a really important part of my professional upbringing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.