Chad Smith

Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith sees life as an avenue for constantly being creative. 

He began playing the drums at age 7. He honed his skills through the legendary Detroit band Toby Redd and, since 1988, he’s been behind the kit for the Chili Peppers.

In between Chili Peppers album cycles, Smith has pursued a different kind of art—painting—since 2015. “The Art of Chad Smith” opens at EC Gallery in Solana Beach on Thursday, February 27, and runs through Sunday, March 1. 

The six-time Grammy winner will make two meet-the-artist appearances at the gallery: 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, February 29, and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 1. All artwork will be on exhibition and available for acquisition. The exhibition as well as the Smith appearances are complimentary and open to the public. Reservations are required by calling 1.800.599.7111 or emailing pr@ecgallery.com. A minimum purchase is required to spend individual time with Smith. 

“This is my second collection of this kind of thing,” Smith says. “What attracted me to do this is the musical connection to it. What happens is I’m in a dark room—a pitch-black room—playing the drums with these fluorescent, light-up drumsticks. I’m improvising on the drums, playing different rhythms, and they photograph me with different shutter speeds and different angles.

“That’s how it starts. You get the fluidity and the flow and obviously the colors from the drumming part of it from the sticks. Afterward, with technology, they manipulate it in so many ways. To try to have it translate to a flat canvas, that’s the challenge I find fun and interesting.”

Smith and the folks from SceneFour come up with images they like, and the drummer embellishes it with paint and other objects. 

“I wanted the power of how I play the drums—certainly rock music—to come across very explosively and with a lot of energy and bright colors,” he says. “That was the direction I was going for.

“As any artist, you want to grow and challenge yourself and change and take risks. That’s what I’m trying to do with this. It’s another creative outlet for me to express myself.”

Prolific artist

Smith certainly isn’t without outlets, as he’s also performed with the likes of Glenn Hughes, Chickenfoot, Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, Joe Satriani, Ozzy Osbourne, Second Self, Wayne Kramer, John Fogerty and Fishbone.

Smith has been doing this since he was a child in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Self-taught, Smith was inspired by Rush, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Kiss. Upon graduating from Bloomfield Hills’ Lahser High School, he skipped college and went straight to clubs like the Token Lounge in Westland, Michigan, and St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit. 

“I was so lucky right out of high school. I was so fortunate to have that experience,” says Smith, whose mom still lives in his childhood home. 

“I loved it. I was 18 years old, playing six nights a week. That’s really where I put my 10,000 hours, so to speak. I thought I just wanted to be a professional musician. I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to start playing music right away.”

Smith moved to California in late 1988 after auditioning nearly last for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Within a few months of being hired, he started recording his first album with them, “Mother’s Milk.” The quartet musically hit it off immediately. 

The RHCP found mainstream success two years after “Mother’s Milk” with the album “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” which spawned the hits “Give It Away,” “Under the Bridge,” “Breaking the Girl” and “Suck My Kiss.” “Give It Away” won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal. 

Smith is proud of his work in Detroit with Toby Redd and beyond. 

“I’m glad that was in Detroit,” he says. “I love Detroit. It’s such a great music town. When I moved to California after eight years of doing that, I joined the Chili Peppers. It was opportunity and luck. I was prepared.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have played music since I was 7 years old. I love it and I’m more passionate about it today than I ever have been. I’m trying to come up with interesting and new ways to be an artist. This is one of them.”

Smith isn’t sure why he feels this way about music.

“I don’t know,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a student of music. I want to learn. I don’t think you can ever stop learning if you want to grow and change and get better at anything. 

“Being a musician or a friend or a bandmate or husband, you just have to keep trying to evolve. I’m not always successful at that, but that’s life. We’re human beings and we learn and grow from that. Being in one band for a long time, it’s really important to keep moving and doing new things and challenging yourself. That’s the arc of living and life, I think—being conscious and open to stuff and other people’s ideas, the world around you, from kids to politics.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ dynamic recently changed when Josh Klinghoffer was replaced by former guitarist John Frusciante, who recorded five studio albums with the band.

“We have a special thing, the four of us,” says Smith, whose band is writing a new album. “I think people were more surprised than anything when they heard the news. I was (surprised) at first that he wanted to come back and rejoin the band. 

“People love this lineup—the ‘classic’ lineup of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. People are excited, as we are. We do have a thing, the four of us. We were put on this universe to make this music. It’ll be another chapter. It’s exciting. It’s a chance to grow and make something new.”