|Born||Michael Peter Balzary|
October 16, 1962 (age 57)
Michael Peter Balzary (born 16 October 1962), better known by his stage name Flea, is an Australian-American musician and actor best known as bassist and founding member of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Flea briefly appeared as the bassist for such bands as What Is This?, Fear and Jane's Addiction. He has also performed with rock supergroups Atoms for Peace, Antemasque, Pigface, and Rocket Juice & the Moon. Flea has also collaborated with artists including The Mars Volta, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Alanis Morissette, and Young MC.
In 2009, Rolling Stone readers ranked Flea the 2nd best bassist of all time, behind only John Entwistle. In 2012, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the other members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Flea has also acted in films such as Suburbia, Back to the Future Part II and Part III, My Own Private Idaho, The Chase, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thrashin', Dudes, Son in Law, The Big Lebowski, and Baby Driver, in addition to voicing the character Donnie Thornberry in The Wild Thornberrys animated television series and films. In 2014, Flea returned to acting in the film Low Down.
Flea is the co-founder of Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit music education organization founded in 2001 for underprivileged children.
Life and career
Michael Peter Balzary was born on 16 October 1962 in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley, Victoria. He is of Hungarian and Irish descent. His father, Mick Balzary, an avid fisherman, often took him fishing. When Flea was seven, his family moved to Larchmont, New York for his father's career. In 1971, his parents divorced and his father returned to Australia. Flea and his siblings stayed with their mother Patricia, who soon remarried a jazz musician. He was first called "Flea" as a child for his seeming inability to sit still, and the nickname stuck ever since.
Flea's stepfather, Walter Abdul Urban (1941–2011), frequently invited musicians to his house, where jam sessions would often take place. The family moved again to Los Angeles, California, where Flea became fascinated with the trumpet. He had no interest in rock music at the time; he idolized jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. His stepfather was an "aggressive alcoholic", who eventually became involved in shoot-outs with police. "I was raised in a very violent, alcoholic household", Flea later said, "I grew up being terrified of my parents, particularly my father figures. It caused [me] a lot of trouble later in life." To cope, Flea began smoking cannabis at 13, and became a daily user.
Flea, who was then nicknamed Mike B. the Flea, attended Fairfax High School, and was somewhat of an outcast due to his taste in music and sex fetishes. However, he soon met Anthony Kiedis, and after a brief confrontation, the two became best friends and shared many secrets which bonded them close. Kiedis recalled: "We were drawn to each other by the forces of mischief and love and we became virtually inseparable. We were both social outcasts. We found each other and it turned out to be the longest-lasting friendship of my life." Flea was turned on to rock music by Hillel Slovak, and particularly punk rock by Anthony Kiedis. Originally a jazz trumpet player, Flea learned to play bass from Slovak, who shortly after asked him to be a bassist in his band, Anthym. Flea soon developed his own style and joined the group, but quit several months later in order to play for the punk rock outfit Fear. He then rejoined Slovak to form an intended one-off band: Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem along with Kiedis and Jack Irons, all of them at the time inspired by the free funk band Defunkt and the hip hop act Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
First three Red Hot Chili Peppers albums (1984–1987)
The band's concert repertoire grew to nine songs as a result of months of playing at local nightclubs and bars. The Red Hot Chili Peppers entered Bijou Studios to record a demo tape produced by the then-drummer of Fear and subsequently secured a record deal with EMI. Irons and Slovak, however, decided to leave the Red Hot Chili Peppers in order to pursue a "more serious" future with rock band What Is This? Flea ultimately respected the decision, but felt the band would be lost without them. He and Kiedis hired drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman to fill Irons's and Slovak's places, respectively. Andy Gill, formerly of Gang of Four, agreed to produce their first album. Gill and Sherman clashed with Flea and Kiedis; they continuously argued over music style, sound, and the album's production. Flea himself felt that the album was stiff and "a big mistake", but also admitted "we [he and Kiedis] were just disrespectful and obnoxious". The band's eponymous debut album, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, was released on 10 August 1984 to largely poor critical and commercial review. After a relatively unfruitful tour, Sherman was fired in early 1985. Slovak, who had been contemplating a return to the Chili Peppers, rejoined the group after being encouraged by Flea.
Funk musician George Clinton was hired to produce the band's second album, Freaky Styley (1985). The strong chemistry between Clinton and the Chili Peppers was felt instantly. Flea later referred to Clinton as "the warmest, kindest man in the world". Freaky Styley was released in August 1985. It received only a bit more attention than The Red Hot Chili Peppers with roughly 75,000 copies sold by year's end. Flea was somewhat indifferent to the poor album sales as he had recently proposed to girlfriend Loesha Zeviar, who was pregnant with their child. The band hired Michael Beinhorn, their last resort among potential producers, to work on their next album. What Is This? had finally disbanded, and drummer Irons returned to the Chili Peppers in mid-1986 after Martinez was fired. Flea, Slovak and Kiedis especially were involved in heavy drug use and their relationships became strained. Flea recalled that "it began to seem ugly to me and not fun; our communication was not healthy". Kiedis became dependent on heroin, leaving Flea and Slovak to work on much of the album's material by themselves.
Kiedis was briefly kicked out of the band, and given a month to rehabilitate. Kiedis completed the rehab and rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Los Angeles to record their third album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987). Flea has referred to the album as "the 'rockingest' record" the band has ever made. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan proved to be far more successful, commercially and critically, than the Chili Peppers' preceding albums, registering at number 148 on the Billboard 200. Following the Uplift tour, Slovak's drug use dramatically increased. Flea's relationship with Slovak faded, and Slovak became isolated and depressed. On 28 June 1988, Slovak was found dead of a heroin overdose. Flea reflected: "I didn't really know how to deal with that sadness, and I don't think [Kiedis] knew how to deal with it either." Irons, who was taking Slovak's death particularly hard, left the group.
Flea and Kiedis took some time to collect themselves, but kept the band together. But things grew awkward between Flea and Kiedis after all the sex orgies that they did together. Guitarist DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight and drummer D.H. Peligro were added, and the band entered the studio to record a new album. McKnight soon began to create tension within the group, as his style did not mesh with the rest of the band. Peligro, the former drummer of the punk rock band Dead Kennedys, was a friend of John Frusciante, an eighteen-year-old guitarist and avid Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. Peligro introduced Frusciante to Flea, and the three jammed together on several occasions. Flea was impressed with Frusciante's skill, and astonished by his knowledge of the Chili Peppers' repertoire. Flea realized that Frusciante could provide the spark McKnight was lacking. McKnight was fired, and Frusciante accepted an invitation to join the band. Peligro was fired shortly thereafter; the Chili Peppers brought in drummer Chad Smith as his replacement.
Mainstream success and side projects (1989–1998)
Flea and his wife Loesha started to grow apart, and he began trying to recreate the memories of his adolescence by smoking marijuana on a daily basis. The Chili Peppers entered the studio, and completed recording of their fourth album, Mother's Milk, in early 1989. Upon release, the album was met with mixed reactions from critics, but received far more commercial attention, peaking at number fifty-two on the Billboard 200. After this, Flea made appearances playing the trumpet on Jane's Addiction's 1988 album Nothing's Shocking, and bass on the critically acclaimed 1989 Young MC album Stone Cold Rhymin'. He would also appear in the video for "Bust a Move", the hit single from the same album.
The ensuing Mother's Milk Tour put even further strain on Flea's marriage. In order to make money, he needed to tour, and therefore spent time away from his family. Furthermore, he and Smith were arrested on charges of battery and sexual harassment after a performance on MTV's coverage of spring break; charges were eventually dropped. The band was, however, attracting over three thousand people per show; Mother's Milk had been certified as a gold record in early 1990. By the time Red Hot Chili Peppers returned to Los Angeles, Flea and Loesha agreed to a separation. He tried to put the separation out of his mind by smoking marijuana and having sex with random groupies, when the band was on tour for Mother's Milk.
When the successful Mother's Milk tour was over, the Red Hot Chili Peppers severed ties with EMI and signed with Warner Bros. Records. Rick Rubin, who had rejected an opportunity to produce The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, agreed to produce their next album. Flea had largely used the principal slap bass technique on the band's preceding four albums, and decided to downplay this style in favor of more conventional, melodic bass lines. To record the album, Rubin suggested they use a mansion that once belonged to magician Harry Houdini. Flea felt it was "a creatively fertile situation", and decided to bring his daughter Clara with him. He and the rest of the band, excluding Smith, remained inside the house for the entire recording process. When not writing or recording the album, Flea spent a large portion of his time with Frusciante smoking large quantities of marijuana. The emotions Flea felt during the album's recording were like nothing he had ever experienced:
“When we [the band] made Blood Sugar Sex Magik we spent a lot of time jamming—every day, for hours and hours. I remember during that time Anthony went off and made a movie, and for a long time it was just me, John and Chad, and we'd just go in there and play. Me and John were hitting the bong and we just rocked and grooved forever. It was the first time we went in to make a record where there wasn't this feeling of being sort of intimidated by what was going to happen.”
When Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released on 24 September 1991, it received an overwhelmingly positive critical response. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 200, and went on to sell over seven million copies in the U.S. alone. The album's ensuing tour was critically acclaimed – the Chili Peppers commonly performed shows with over twenty thousand in attendance. Seattle-based grunge band Nirvana also toured with them during the West Coast leg of their United States tour. The massive attention the Chili Peppers started receiving, however, caused Frusciante to feel extremely uncomfortable, and he abruptly quit the band during the Japanese leg of the album's tour.
Following the tour in 1993, Flea was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and was ordered to rest for a year. Flea and Kiedis felt it best to fire Marshall due to lack of chemistry and briefly replaced him with Jesse Tobias although his tenure was very short and he was quickly replaced by Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, who was once recruited in 1992 to replace Frusciante. The band was ready now to record their next album although Kiedis was in the middle of a heroin relapse, which forced Flea to assume the role of lyricist, something he had not yet done. He wrote most of the song "Transcending", and the intro to "Deep Kick". Flea also wrote the lyrics to an entire song; "Pea", in which he both played bass and sang. These three songs appeared on the Chili Peppers' sixth record One Hot Minute, which was released on 12 September 1995. The album received mixed reviews and was significantly less commercially successful than Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The One Hot Minute Tour was ultimately cut short due to various injuries Kiedis and Smith received, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to go on hiatus. Flea was so miserable that at one point during the tour discussed quitting the band. Flea began to practice Transcendental Meditation and yoga, and slowly decreased his marijuana consumption. Due to the Chili Peppers' inactivity, Flea joined Navarro in a Jane's Addiction reunion tour in 1997, filling in for ex-Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery. Rumors spread, that the band was breaking up until Navarro stated otherwise: "I want to clarify that the Chili Peppers are not breaking up ... Flea and I are more than happy to do both projects, time permitting."
Flea also had plans to record a solo album. He asked Chili Peppers manager Lindy Goetz to help him promote the record and his future solo career. Flea eventually abandoned the idea in favor of offering his bass services to other artists. He performed on over forty records from 1995 to 1998, ranging from Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill to former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt's debut solo album Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. He also worked with Tori Amos and Michael Stipe on a track for the soundtrack to the 1995 Johnny Depp film Don Juan DeMarco. Navarro was fired from the Chili Peppers in 1998, and Flea questioned whether or not the Red Hot Chili Peppers would stay together: "... the only way I could imagine carrying on is if we got John [Frusciante] back in the band." Frusciante had completed drug rehabilitation in 1997 after a severe addiction to heroin and crack cocaine left him on the brink of death. Flea visited Frusciante in early 1998, inviting him back to the Chili Peppers; an emotional Frusciante readily accepted.
Flea has displayed a wide variety of techniques throughout the years, ranging from his initial use of slapping and popping to the more traditional methods he has employed since Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Greg Prato of Allmusic has noted, that "by combining funk-style bass with psychedelic, punk, and hard rock, Flea created an original playing style that has been copied numerous times". Flea stated in an interview, that he was influenced greatly by Louis Armstrong. Flea has been considered one of the greatest bassists of all time, with Greg Tate of Rolling Stone saying "if there were a Most Valuable Bass Player award given out in rock, Flea could have laid claim to that bitch ten years running". Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan recalls, that when he first saw the Chili Peppers in 1984, "Flea was playing so aggressively that he had worn a hole in his thumb and he was literally screaming in pain in-between songs because it hurt so bad. Someone kept coming out and pouring crazy glue into the hole." Flea's sound is also determined by what type of instrument he plays. Before Californication, he did not believe the actual bass held much significance: "what mattered was how you hit them [basses] and your emotional intent, and I still think that's the bottom line." Flea owns a 1961 Fender Jazz Bass, treasuring it for its "old wood sound".
Regarded as one of the best rock bass players of all time, in 2009, Rolling Stone's readers ranked Flea the second-best bassist of all-time in their top ten poll, ranked behind only John Entwistle and ahead of Paul McCartney. In a 2010 poll, conducted on the BBC Two series I'm in a Rock 'n' Roll Band!, Flea was named the bassist in the ultimate fantasy band alongside Freddie Mercury on vocals, Jimi Hendrix on guitar and John Bonham on drums.
Flea's stepfather was in a bebop band that frequently jammed in his presence, so he soon became fascinated with the trumpet. Flea credits his continued interest in music to jazz performers like Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie. After Kiedis introduced him to punk and rock, Flea became infatuated with artists such as Black Flag, David Bowie, and Defunkt. Flea's early influences before Blood Sugar Sex Magik were mainly funk artists. They would become a notable aspect of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' sound up to Mother's Milk. Originally, Flea was given the impression by punk bands, that one should play as hard and fast as they possibly could, but ultimately rejected this philosophy during Blood Sugar Sex Magik: "I was so into being raw [...] it was all bullshit." On Californication and By the Way, Flea drew influence from electronica, gothic rock bands like the Cure, Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees and new wave music rather than funk. Flea has also spoken highly of Neil Young; he wrote an article for Rolling Stone praising Young for the consistent authenticity in his artistry, among other things
Film and television appearances
Flea has pursued a minor acting career since the mid-1980s. His first role was as young punk Razzle in the Penelope Spheeris film Suburbia (1984). Shortly thereafter he starred alongside the Chili Peppers, who played themselves, in the skate drama Thrashin' (1986). He played the ill-fated punker Milo in another Penelope Spheeris film, Dudes (1987). He also made an appearance in the Bruce Weber documentary film about the life and career of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker entitled Let's Get Lost (1988). He portrayed the character Douglas J Needles in Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990), though in an interview he referred to Part II as "a multi-million dollar piece of trash", saying that he was happy neither with the film nor his performance in it.
Flea played a minor role in the 1991 independent film My Own Private Idaho as the character Budd. He played a number of minor roles in films throughout the 1990s, including Son in Law (1993) as a tattoo artist, The Chase (1994) as a monster truck driver alongside Kiedis, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) as a hippie, in The Big Lebowski (1998) as a German nihilist, and the 1998 remake of Psycho. He has also lent his voice to the animated series The Wild Thornberrys as the character Donnie.
In 1991, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released a black and white film documenting the recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik titled Funky Monks. They have released two video concerts, Off the Map in 2001 and Live at Slane Castle in 2003—the latter of which had over eighty thousand attendees.
Flea has also appeared in television broadcasts with Red Hot Chili Peppers on several occasions. Several months before Frusciante's departure in 1992, the band performed two songs on Saturday Night Live – Kiedis felt the show was an embarrassment due to the guitarist; he believed, that Frusciante purposely played the song out of tune and incorrectly. Later that year, the band appeared in the popular animated comedy The Simpsons on the episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled". At Woodstock 1994, Kiedis proposed the band perform the first few songs in metallic suits with giant light bulbs placed on their heads. Flea was initially reluctant but eventually agreed: "... when we got to play, the energy of the whole thing took over."
In 2011, Flea appeared in the documentary, Bob and the Monster. The film details the life of musician and drug counselor Bob Forrest.
Flea appeared in the documentary The Other F Word, which aired on Showtime and was released through Oscilloscope Laboratories (a company founded by Adam Yauch). The documentary, which was directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, focused on a generation of punk rockers, how they have handled fatherhood, and how they went from public rebel to domestic authority figure. Mark Hoppus, Jim Lindberg, Art Alexakis, and Mark Mothersbaugh were also featured.
The 2014 film Low Down, also starring Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning, and Glenn Close, marked Flea's first acting role in 14 years. The film was directed by Jeff Preiss, who previously worked with Flea on the 1988 documentary Let's Get Lost. In 2015, he provided the voice of the "mind cop" Jake in the Pixar film Inside Out.
In 2015, Flea appeared as himself in the Amazon Prime series, Highston. He also played Eddie No-Nose in Baby Driver in 2017.
Flea had a cameo appearance in a 2017 episode of the FOX series Family Guy, titled " Peters Def Jam ". In a scene where Stewie said to his dog Brian that thanks to him, there's a recurring flea problem in Stewie's room, Flea enters and drops a bass line on his guitar. He asks Brian if he wants to hang out, but Stewie kicks Flea out of the room.