An interview with Josh Klinghoffer: Life after The Chili Peppers

[This one is all Ross MacDonald, AJoMT’s Ottawa correspondent. – AC]

Josh Klinghoffer’s band Pluralone has just kicked off the North American leg of its tour opening for Pearl Jam. Just before the Ottawa show, A Journal of Musical Things had an opportunity to chat with Josh about Pluralone and touring with Pearl Jam, as well as what else has been happening with him over the past couple of years.

AJOMT: How was the opening show on your tour in Québec City?

Josh: “Another good first show every time. Every leg so far this band has had great first shows, which is not always the case. The band sounds great. And everyone’s in a great mood, but I really feel like Pearl Jam is reaping the benefits of the relationship that they’ve cultivated with their audience, the crowd is just always spectacular. Whatever’s going on on-stage, the band gets back this amazing kind of response and energy from the crowd.”

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AJOMT: About the pronunciation of your band, because of the French influence in this area is it maybe Plur-alone (cry alone)? How is it pronounced? And what is your meaning?

Josh: “So pleur is French for cry. Is it spelled that way?” (AJOMT: no, it is spelled differently) “Oh, you’re not the first person to say plur-alone. It is Plural-one.”
“So where does that come from? Well, I had this band called dot hacker, several years ago, 10-12 years ago, little more, and that was one of the names that came up for that band. And I must have just been sitting around one night and smashed those words together. And it reminds me of plurality and singularity, and the fact that you’re smashing those two words together to make one. I think it was a high-minded concept at the time, it seemed to me that we are always trying from a singular place to find plurality. Or, we are a plurality and we should be striving for a unity, so yeah, it’s kind of high minded, and it’s almost embarrassing to say, but I think it’s true in a lot of ways. Every time the chilli peppers had a break at that time, I just made an album on my own. And I was almost done with it, and I thought: ‘oh, gosh, I gotta call it something.’ So I just reached back into the past and pulled one out.”

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AJOMT: On your latest album ‘This Is The Show’ you composed all the music, but you are working with Clint Walsh and Eric Gardner. Is this the end of Dot Hacker? Or will Pluaralone move forward parallel to Dot Hacker?

Josh: “Well, this album was sort of born out of out of another kind-of Dot Hacker album that didn’t quite get off the ground because we were still kind of separate and the pandemic and Zoom meetings and file sharing. We did one song together, where Clint was functioning as the producer, and it came out well, and we all had a good time. It was called ‘Divination’ and we put it out. And I thought, let’s keep going. So I wrote a bunch of songs and then it never really clicked again like it did on that one song. But the songs were there, and Clint and I were having a great time communicating and working together in this new capacity. We had always worked together in a room like a band does, we had sort of designated roles like Josh writes it and then walks away. And now Clint is sort of the producer, and he’ll kind of communicate with the rhythm section separately. And then Clint will be in charge of delivering the finished product. So Clint and I just decided to kind of push through just the two of us. Jonathan, the bass player at the time was in Nebraska, so it was okay. But essentially, the album was just made by Clint and I.

“For Pluralone, I never sort of wanted it to be a solo thing. But I didn’t have a band at the time, either. So for this album, Clint was the producer, and hopefully, if I ever played live, especially these songs, he’ll join me and maybe another musician or two. I absolutely adored working with him (Clint). The collaborative relationship is definitely not over.”

“‘Offend’ was one of the early songs, I both really enjoyed working on that song and love how it came out; because it’s really kind of simple.”

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AJOMT: About the pandemic, many artists have stated how tough it has been, but also that often there was a silver lining. Many bands got a break and/or wrote and recorded new music. How was it for you?

Josh: “Yeah, I sound kind of crazy when I talk about it, and I always have to watch myself because for me on a personal level, it was exactly as if the universe called and said ‘I’m going to give you one wish’ I would say, ‘could I maybe just have like two years off?’ It was so shocking how perfectly timed it was for my life. That break was my first proper break in 20 years, that’s kind of how it felt to me. I know there’s misery everywhere, and we lost a lot of people, and it messed up so many things that we were used to. But I think, especially for people who travel all the time for work, and who would never get a chance to really enjoy their own space, that they could spend time relaxing or re-building. I really got a chance to breathe and relax and let my body and mind recover. Since joining the Chili Peppers it was touring, touring, working, writing, touring, writing, and working. Leaving that band and then gearing up for the Pearl Jam experience, it’s all amazing. I think I learned how to really compartmentalise and put those emotions somewhere far off, and they don’t really show themselves much, but they’re always leaking out here or there. So when the break happened, I just really was able to breathe. Maybe we were given a slight reminder of how precious life is. As simple as going to my parents’ house and the normal speed of life. It was just such a pleasure to go to their house for dinners on every Sunday, we would watch something, and it was something I looked forward to. I hadn’t had that experience since when I was a kid. And then I wrote and recorded an album. And then it seemed to me like the minute 2121, the minute the ball dropped with the clock struck 12 On New Year’s Eve, it was off and running again. I feel like 2021 was pretty full-on for me.”

“So again, I know that not everyone had the privileges that I’ve been afforded by my job. But for me, there was lots of positives.”

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AJOMT: You co-wrote and recorded on Eddie Vedder’s album Earthling. How did that collaboration come to fruition?

Josh: “Very organically, it was incredible. As I said, 2021 sort of seemed like, like the reset button was hit and I was back in the studio. I started working with Andrew Watt and Chad Smith on a Morrissey album, which came out of the blue. And that’s a whole other conversation and it’ll take us an hour. But the short version of it is that Andrew and his team of people got in touch with Morrissey, and there was talk of doing something together. I was extremely lucky to have known Andrew for a little while; he’s really good friends with Chad Smith, and they have this beautiful friendship and musical partnership. So I was lucky enough to be playing with Chad again, which I sorely missed. So I’m back in the studio, we’re making this Morrissey album. And toward the end of that there was just a little difficulty and it’s still not out.

Andrew was reaching out to people that he knew and one of them was Eddie Vedder. Andrew was looking for guidance and asking for opinions, sending a couple of songs, ‘what do you think of this? Can we say this? Are these lyrics too much?’ Eddie’s just great counsel, and he’s got a very clear and level ahead and he was very helpful to Andrew. When Eddie was asked to play the VAX Live performance in Los Angeles, he asked me to join him. (Eddies asked) ‘what’s it like over at Andrew’s studio? Can we go over there?’ He just wanted to come by and see the place that he had heard about through the Morrissey discussions. Eddie actually got there about five minutes before I did on the first day and he was playing drums because he wanted to get his blood flowing. And I walked in and I picked up the bass. And within 15 minutes, we had written the music to the song ‘Power of Right’. So now what was just supposed to be just a Hello, I’m just gonna stop by, in no time at all, we had one song.

So then, Eddie just played a couple of chords out of the blue, and we all looked at each other, ‘record that quick!’ and that became ‘The Haves’. So now we had two songs, and he was gonna leave town go back up north, and we kind of had a farewell. And just that night, we were like ‘we got these two great songs’. We were having such a good time hanging out and playing together, and we just said, ‘it’d be it’d be kind of silly not to carry on’. So in July Chad Smith had a week that he could steal away from his family on vacation and we ripped out the rest of the record right there.

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AJOMT: The song ‘Brother The Cloud’ speaks to many people, especially after losing a loved one. How was the writing process for the album?

Josh: “Yeah, that was one of the early ones. I was driving into the studio one morning, and Chad was staying at Andrew’s house; and I went by to pick them up to go to the studio. And we had the music ready to go (for) Eddie. Eddie’s vocals came pretty immediately to that one. And he was like ‘can we do something at the end?’ And that became the outro. That was one of those early ones were you know, I’ve never seen someone that brilliant, that emotional, and that complete of a vocal come together that fast. Clearly, he had that in him emotionally through what he went through with his family. It was jaw-dropping to all of us. Eddie had that happen, he lost a brother several years ago. It was very heavy… heavy.
“I’m really proud of that guitar, we were all just having so much fun. And I remember it was a typical me sort of overdub session, where I played the main guitar on that song. So then when we got to the end, I played one part and I thought ‘I could just I could layer that a couple times’. I was working on my part and we just ran it three or four times and that’s what you hear. I thought I was gonna do each one over again. But it’s three or four take tracks of the same notes but different patterns, and it just came out beautifully I think. The end though, I’ll tell you the end is tricky, it was so it was so quick.”

AJOMT: Eddie Vedder has some tour dates in October on the west coast. Are the Earthlings an official group going forward? 

Josh: “Yeah, it’s definitely not the last time we’ll play, I think everyone had such a good time that last time and we were really looking forward to playing that Ohana encore. With the Earthlings we’ll be gearing up to play with Eddie on that weekend. There was no way we could just do the one, Chad Smith is quite busy now with the Chili Peppers, but we were able to fit in these two shows.”

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AJOMT: Over the years, the grunge and post-grunge music scene on the west coast has disproportionately more than average collaborations and support to fellow musicians. Is it something in the water?

Josh: “They are all friends, and they are all playing together, it was a scene. It’s not as fairytale as that, but it almost is. When I travel around the world with (Pearl Jam) they will still talk about stories. Eddie said not long ago ‘it really was a thing’, there was a lot of camaraderie. It was the basis for everything that I wanted to do in life.”

AJOMT: From Dot Hacker to Pluralone, and the Earthlings, and a touring band member of Pearl Jam, you are a renowned multi-instrumentalist; are you the busiest musician in the world right now?

Josh: “The way my body feels today I would probably answer yes. But I know I’m certainly not. There are guys who are humping their drum sets around the subway system of New York, and there are lots of working musicians all over the place. I am so lucky that I get to do this, I never forget that for a second. I was definitely the busiest musician at the Ohana Festival last year, I played seven times.”

AJOMT: What’s next for Josh Klinghoffer?

Josh: “Just more music. I had a good battery recharge in 2020. Since then I have recorded, at Andrew Watt’s house, and working on Morrisey’s album, Eddie’s album, and Iggy Pop’s album. I felt that I was crazy that I haven’t put a studio together. Apart from any live obligation playing with Pearl Jam, hopefully, I will have two years of straight recording.”

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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