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Josh Klinghoffer on Joining Pearl Jam as a Touring Member: “I Feel Like I’ve Known These Guys for 30 Years Already”

The former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist also talks about playing on Eddie Vedder's upcoming solo album and his Pluralone solo project

josh klinghoffer interview
Josh Klinghoffer, photo by Emily Ulmer
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    Life may have handed just about everyone lemons during the COVID-19 pandemic, but few have made lemonade as well as Josh Klinghoffer.

    The LA-based guitarist was set to kick off the first tour with his solo project Pluralone opening for Pearl Jam when everything shut down in 2020. So Klinghoffer stayed at home and made a lot more music, finishing the second Pluralone album I Don’t Feel Well and a series of standalone singles that included the September release “Across the Park.”

    By the time Pearl Jam finally returned to the stage at the See.Hear.Now Festival in September, Klinghoffer had graduated from opening act to touring member of the headlining band, adding guitar, percussion and backing vocals to the band’s recent shows. A couple weeks later, Klinghoffer played his first set as Pluralone at Pearl Jam’s Ohana Festival in California.

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    Klinghoffer, who spent a decade as a member of Red Hot Chili Peppers and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band, won’t hit the road for a full scale European tour with Pearl Jam and Pluralone until Summer 2022. (Pearl Jam’s US tour dates are currently on hold, but you can grab tickets to the Europe dates here.)

    So while the prolific guitarist and songwriter is at home in L.A. finishing up yet another album, Consequence got Klinghoffer on the phone to talk about his influences and some of his best sideman experiences.


    What are you up to today? 

    Today I’m going to go to my workspace and appear in the Redd Kross documentary that’s being made right now. That’s not a common occurrence, I don’t do that every day. I’m really good friends with Steve McDonald, I think they’ve been working on this for a while, so we’re doing it today. But I’ve been working on music, that’s what I did yesterday and the day before and the day before that, working on another Pluralone album.

    I guess you got the last Pluralone album done during lockdown last year, so you’re just continuing to crank out songs?

    Pretty much, yeah. I mean, I’ve had a weird experience in the sense that the minute that the solo project kinda took center stage in my life, the world shut down. The notion of touring, which was never really on the table for anything I did on the side when I was playing with the Chili Peppers, wasn’t really an option. So because of the pandemic, my live career has basically been the same as it always was, where I just make music and don’t have to play live.

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    Was the Ohana festival the first Pluralone live performance?

    Oh yeah, it was the first time I’d played a song longer than three minutes onstage. I’d never played by myself before.

    Are you playing these sets solo or do you have a band? 

    I played that one solo, and I think when I was scheduled to go out and open for Pearl Jam I was gonna play that solo. But my goal in life had never been to be a solo performer, I like playing with other people. So I’m sure at some point, depending on the situation, I’ll have other people, either a full band or just one or two people, just someone to interact with.

    How have the first few shows with Pearl Jam gone?

    Oh, great, very well, couldn’t be better, really.

    It seems like such a cool thing to fall into this group that already has this great kind of family vibe. I would imagine they wouldn’t ask you to join if they didn’t really like you, so I’m sure it’s a great situation for you.

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    It is, it’s enormously gratifying. My bedroom wall when I was like 11, 12, 13 years old was all these people. I feel like I’ve known these guys for 30 years already, I don’t know if that will make it work better or not.

    Does that also mean that you didn’t have to drill yourself on the songs as much, you already knew a lot of the material?

    Yeah, kind of. I mean obviously the role that I’m filling in their band is kind of funny at the moment, just in terms of the music that they’ve recorded in the past and the songs that I know really well. I’m sort of doing a new role, playing a lot of percussion or background vocals, predominantly with the new stuff. And then anything that’s an older song that has a harmony, extra little things that they sort of get by without, I have free range to add if it makes sense to.

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    I generally don’t go up there for one little teeny part, I try to make my being onstage matter instead of just popping in and out for one little word. But they’ve been incredibly welcoming and generous to me, and have just sort of let me find my place.

    Are there actually now songs where Pearl Jam has four guitarists on one song, or will you jump on guitar if Eddie’s not playing guitar?

    I play guitar on a few songs, but it’s usually a tiny part. There is a song called “Seven O’Clock” that I play guitar on, and Eddie is playing guitar, but he doesn’t really play ‘til the end. So there are four guitars up there, but it’s sort of like the minute he takes over on guitar, I put mine down.

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    Gigaton is an interesting record for them, because it does feel like there’s a lot of rhythmic emphasis. So is it something where you’re doing a lot of additional percussion on the new songs? 

    Yeah, percussion a bit here and there. I have a couple concert toms up there, but predominantly my role is helping with the background vocals, of which there’s more than in the past perhaps, particularly on the song that was their single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” there was a bunch of BVs that Eddie added that the rest of the band wasn’t involved in when they recorded. Background singing is kind of particular in that band where the guys who do it, they do it when they come up with a part, but it’s not really something that they focus on.

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    I saw that you played on Eddie Vedder’s solo single “Long Way.” Will you be on the rest of the album, too?

    Yes.

    How did that come together? I was surprised to see that he’s actually doing a solo record with backing musicians, and not just a ukulele thing.

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    That came together just sort of through hanging out in LA over the summer. I’m not sure what’s been public about that record yet, so I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say, Eddie’s kind of the spokesperson. But that just came out of having fun here in LA over the summer. That song was a lot of fun to make. Benmont Tench plays on it, I mean, it sounds like a Tom Petty song.

    I love seeing the Heartbreakers guys play with Chris Stapleton and all these other people now that Tom Petty’s gone — they’re such great musicians. 

    I know, especially a song that sounds kind of like what they’re used to doing. I wasn’t there when Benmont did his organ playing, but apparently he was pretty tearful, for those guys just to have it ripped away from them like that, it’s gotta be still really shocking.

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    I really enjoy the Jack Irons stuff on the Pluralone albums. How did you get to know him? 

    I’ve known him now for several years now, obviously, through the band. When Jack opened for the Chili Peppers on the first leg of the Getaway US tour, he was originally just gonna do the one leg, and then everyone loved having him around, he was basically just traveling as part of our band and our group, so he wound up doing the whole thing. So we got to spend a lot of time together, and we’d get coffee and we’d talk, and it was just always my dream to play with him, do something with him, so we sort of put the plan in motion at that point.

    And at the time when we got off that tour, he was living up north near the studio where Tom Waits made Bone Machine and Mule Variations, so I thought I’d do two birds in one stone. So I booked some time there — it’s right down the street from Jack’s house, so that’s where we did most of Jack’s parts for the first Pluralone album.

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    Then the second was made all during the pandemic. Jack had just moved back down to southern California, basically right when that started, and he set up a little recording situation in his house. Jack is the closest collaborator Pluralone has, apart from me. And now Clint will be doing this next album with me, but Jack is kind of like part of my musical family. He’s just always been one of my favorite musicians.

    Have you and Jack talked about the fact that you’re now the two only people who have played with both Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers?

    We sort of have, because right when I first was asked to go on tour with Pearl Jam, it was right around the time where Jack was moving back down to southern California. So I was seeing him a lot that week, and he was saying, “You couldn’t have fallen in with a greater group of people.” I particularly love the records that Jack made with Pearl Jam — those two were so important to me.

    I agree, those are great records. If you could ever get Jack onstage with Pearl Jam to do some Yield and No Code songs, I think that would be great. 

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    Yeah, well, he was very nearly gonna come to Ohana, but it just didn’t work out. I had asked Jack to play, and we weren’t able to make it happen, but Jeff [Ament] had said, “If you need any bass, let me know.” And then Jack didn’t make it, but Jeff still said, “I’m down to play if you want.” So Jeff played a song with me, so I was looking forward to having those two at least reunite, although it would have been hard to play my own song if I was trying to just watch them.

    What song did you do with Jeff?

    He did a song called “The Night Won’t Scare Me,” which was hard enough for me anyway with him there. I was trying to enjoy playing with Jeff in front of people — it’s like a split brain situation.

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    Musically, where would you say your influences for the Pluralone stuff are coming from? 

    Well, all the bands I listened to when I was really young, I don’t know if those necessarily come through, but the bands I listened to in the later ‘90s like Radiohead and Blur, and then some of the ‘80s music like The Smiths, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen.

    So you’re kind of an Anglophile — you love a lot of British bands.

    Yes, totally. And I’m sure there’s loads I’m forgetting, but I used to say I want to make music that sounds like Scott Walker and Pan Sonic, but I don’t know if I’ve achieved that yet.

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    I didn’t realize how many people you had done touring and session work with over the years, like Beck and PJ Harvey. What are some of the best experiences you’ve had with those other artists you’ve toured with?

    Well, every one has a special significance to me and my path to where I am. My first tour was playing with the Butthole Surfers, which is always a fun thing to say out loud. But the Beck tour was amazing for me in the sense that I was 23 or 24, so it was really my first time going and touring with this group of new people, and I’d been a fan of Beck when I was young.

    The band — the four of us, Greg Kurstin, Steve McDonald, myself and Jay Bellerose — we all just kind of got along like a house on fire. It was kind of this new situation, the Butthole Surfers tour was a little remote, those guys weren’t on the best of terms with each other, and I was just this young kid that was brought in to help, everyone kind of hung out on their own. The Beck tour was special because that foursome just sort of bonded very quickly. I was blown away by how special of a unit we became, and I felt like Beck had a good thing with such a connected group behind him. So that was special for that reason, and it was really my first time going around Europe playing music.

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    And PJ Harvey, kind of same thing in a different way, the band and the crew were a pretty tight unit, I was the only American in that group, and again as always the youngest. So I just felt like everything I did and every day I was learning so much about people and the world and the way life is lived in other countries and other contexts that weren’t my own. Being in my mid-20s, I felt like I was getting hyperdrive life experience and I was very grateful for that. And I got to jump around the stage with a guitar.

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