There are few bands where every member could easily function as the front man. No matter what instrument is strapped to you, this takes persona, swagger, style, and musical genius. The Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of those bands. And when it comes to bass, Flea is at once at the top of the pack and in a league all is own. But what is it that makes his style so unique and unforgettable?
If you’re looking to add a bit of red hot flare to your basslines, try these inspired-by Flea techniques to take your playing to a new level.
Blending Funk and Punk with Percussive Slaps
Though the Chili’s defy genres, if you listen to the basslines across their discography it’s evident that, deep in Flea’s DNA, are double-helix strands of funk and punk. This works itself out in many different ways on his four string fretboard.
But arguably there is one major feature of his funk inspiration that bleeds through on every record: slap. This give the generally straight forward chord structure of punk-bred tunes a pop and punch that takes the bass straight out of the rhythm section and places it on par with a lead instrument.
If this technique is new to you, at its essence is the need to abandon using your four fingers to pluck the strings in favor of your thumb to slap the notes. Typically, you’ll also find your palm comes in handy here—pun intended—as a way of deadening notes after the punchy attack.
Bouncing Octaves within Bass Riffs
Often in tandem with the slap style noted above, Flea plays in multiple registers for greater sonic dynamics. For example, slapping on a low string octave is often echoed instantly with his pulling the note up just an octave higher.
If you listen to the timing of this in Flea’s playing, keep an ear out for how the slap often follows the beat of a the kick drum, while popping octave notes routinely coincide with the upbeats on the snare. In this way, Flea’s funk roots are as much about developing a signature bass sound as they are about reimagining his role in the rhythm section.
Interspersing Bass Chords with Single Notes
When thinking of bass most of us probably have single notes in mind. Those lower register roots of the guitar section that need a bit of bottom end to anchor the sound. Leave the chords to the guitarist, right? Not if you’re Flea.
One technique Flea deploys on occasion is ditching the single notes altogether, or using them sparingly, in favor of chords played on the bass. Typically this comes in the form of power cords played on the upper three strings to avoid a muddied sound. And nothing’s more punk rock than power chords!
By doing these simple yet innovative tricks, Flea takes the bass beyond its traditional place in the band and, once again, proves the infinite possibilities of four strings.