Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt
|Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt|
|Studio album by John Frusciante|
|Released||November 4, 1994 |
|Genre||Lo-fi, avant-garde, psychedelic rock, experimental rock|
|John Frusciante chronology|
Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt is the debut solo album by John Frusciante, released on November 22, 1994, on American Recordings. Frusciante released the album after encouragement from several friends, who told him that there was "no good music around anymore."
Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt combines avant-garde and stream-of-consciousness styles, with guitar, piano and various effects and synthesizers on a four-track recorder. The album's first half, Niandra Lades, was recorded before Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1992; during the recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The second half, Usually Just a T-Shirt, was recorded while the band was on tour in the months leading up to Frusciante's departure. Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt sold poorly upon its release in 1994, and was taken off the market, only to be re-released in 1999.
Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1988, at the age of 18, and released his first album with the group, Mother's Milk the following year. The follow-up album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was recorded in an empty mansion that the band decided to live in for the duration of recording. Frusciante adapted well to the environment, and often spent his time alone painting, listening to music, and recording songs that would eventually make up the first half of the album, Niandra Lades. Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released on September 24, 1991 and was an instant success. The album peaked at number three in the U.S. and went on to sell over 12 million copies worldwide. Soon after the album's release, Frusciante developed a dislike of the band's newfound popularity. He felt that the band was too famous, and wished they were still playing small nightclubs like they were before he joined the group. By his own admission, the band's rise to popularity took Frusciante by surprise, and he could not cope with it. During Blood Sugar Sex Magik's promotional tour, Frusciante began using heroin and cocaine heavily. He and vocalist Anthony Kiedis often argued before and after performances. According to Kiedis, Frusciante began purposely sabotaging shows by playing the wrong intro for a song, or playing out of key. His relationship with the band had become progressively more strained, and he abruptly quit during the Japanese leg of their world tour in 1992.
Writing and recording
After leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Frusciante continued to write and record solo material. He had been doing so since the age of nine, but had never considered releasing his material to the public. That was until several of his friends—including Johnny Depp, Perry Farrell, Gibby Haynes and former Red Hot Chili Peppers band mate Flea—encouraged him to release the material he wrote in his spare time during the Blood Sugar Sex Magik sessions. Frusciante began working on final cuts of the songs he had been writing, and producing them at his home in mid-1992. The production process, however, became hampered by his increasingly severe addiction to heroin. Usually Just a T-Shirt was recorded in the order it appears, with the final tracks being recorded shortly prior to Frusciante's departure from the Chili Peppers. Frusciante's use of heroin and cocaine became more extreme during the final stages of recording in late 1993; he began viewing drugs as the only way to "make sure you stay in touch with beauty instead of letting the ugliness of the world corrupt your soul."
"My Smile is a Rifle" exemplifies the album's avant-garde lyrical themes complemented the record's disavowing of conventional song structure.
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During a 1994 interview, a visibly intoxicated Frusciante noted that he wrote the album in order to create "interesting music", which he felt no longer existed. He felt contemporary artists were not writing material he deemed worth listening to and the mainstream population were settling for mediocrity. Drugs were another significant topic Frusciante based Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt on. According to Frusciante, he "was stoned for every single note I played on the album." He increased his drug use to cope with worsening depression that was caused by leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and his subsequent isolation. Several songs on the album deal with his dislike for the Chili Peppers' success, such as the album's eleventh track, "Blood on My Neck From Success".
All of the music on the record was written by Frusciante, save for the cover of hardcore punk band Bad Brains' song "Big Takeover". The track was intentionally slowed down and recorded melodically because of a pastime in which Frusciante sang punk songs in different time signatures: "It was just something I had been walking around thinking of in my head. Sometimes I'll walk around singing punk rock songs to myself, but as if they were regular songs instead of punk rock songs, you know, slow it down and make a melody instead of just yelling them out. And then the idea occurred me to record it like a Led Zeppelin ballad with mandolins and stuff." River Phoenix, a friend of Frusciante's, had contributed guitar and backing vocals to two songs that were intended be included on the record, but they were ultimately left off due to protests from his family. These were later included under different names on the album Smile from the Streets You Hold in 1997.
Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt incorporated Frusciante's avant-garde style of song composition, with his stream-of-consciousness methodology. He recorded, mixed, produced and mastered the entire record by himself, and released it on Rick Rubin's label, American Recordings. Warner Bros., the Chili Peppers' label, originally held the rights to the album because of the leaving-artist clause in Frusciante's Chili Peppers contract. Because he was living as a recluse, however, the label gladly handed the rights over to Rubin, who released the album under his label.
Release, reception, and aftermath
|High Times||(favorable) |
Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt was initially previewed by Billboard magazine, who said that "Chili Peppers fans might be daunted by the album's elusive experimentalism." A representative of American Recordings did not foresee the album as being viable in any mainstream music stores, and some retailers went as far as to ban it from being sold. After the album was released, Frusciante played three small performances, and participated in a few magazine interviews to promote the album; explaining in one interview that people would only be able to understand his work if "their heads are capable of tripping out." At one point shortly after release, Frusciante began searching for a string quartet to play the album with him on tour. The idea was eventually discarded when he could not find a band that "understands why Ringo Starr is such a great drummer, can play Stravinsky, and also smokes pot." The concept of a tour was ultimately abandoned as well, due to Frusciante's diminishing health.
Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt was not widely reviewed, but yielded a generally positive response from critics. Steve Huey of Allmusic, who rated the album four out of five stars, said that "[the album was] an intriguing and unexpected departure from Frusciante's work with the Chili Peppers", and that "the sparse arrangements of the first half help set the stage for the gossamer guitar work later on." He went on to say that Usually Just a T-Shirt—the latter half of the album—contained "pleasant psychedelic instrumentals with plenty of backward-guitar effects." Ned Raggett, also of Allmusic, noted that "there's nothing quite so stunning as [Frusciante's] magnificent remake of Bad Brains' 'The Big Takeover'." Adam Williams of PopMatters said the album "fall[s] somewhere between madness and brilliance". He went on to compare Frusciante to Syd Barrett, and felt it was a "hint at a deeply cerebral artist looking within for inspiration and creativity." High Times' Tim Kenneally saw the record as "a revelation, both disturbingly intimate and cryptically veiled. Ladeled straight out of the guitarist's stream of consciousness, it's worlds away from the up-front, balls-out funk assault of his former band," with "an ethereal, otherworldly quality." The album received its share of negative criticism as well. Rolling Stone's Christian Hoard felt "Frusciante's eccentricities run seriously amok", and that " [the album] sounds like a string of four-track demos. The first part of the album is slightly more tuneful than the more ambient, experimental second section[...] Mostly what you get are Frusciante's acoustic-guitar scratchings and stream-of-conscious ramblings." The first Rolling Stone review of the record, however, was positive: "All in all, [the album is] a mess - but definitely a fascinating, often lovely mess. As one might expect of an album titled Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-shirt this is twisted, cool stuff." The Boston Herald said that while the album was "a stark display of Frusciante's acoustic guitar virtuosity" and "eerily beautiful", the singing was "terrible; his high notes will drive the neighborhood dogs into a frenzy."
Frusciante's drug addiction worsened as the years progressed. An article published by the New Times LA described him as "a skeleton covered in thin skin". He participated in an interview with Dutch public broadcast station VPRO—the first media appearance he made since leaving the Chili Peppers. In the interview Frusciante speaks of the positive effects drugs have had on his mind and proudly admits to being a "junkie". He went on to confess addictions to heroin and crack cocaine, but ultimately described himself as being in the best health of his life. In 1997, Frusciante released his second solo album Smile From the Streets You Hold, primarily for drug money. Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt was estimated to have sold only 45,000 copies when Frusciante ordered it out of print in 1998—when Frusciante rehabilitated and rejoined the Chili Peppers. Smile From the Streets You Hold was withdrawn from the market a year later. In 1999 Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt was re-released on American Recordings. In the early 2000s, Frusciante said he planned to re-release Smile From the Streets You Hold sometime in the future, but did not give any indication as to when. It was eventually re-released on American Records in Europe of 2006. 
All songs written by John Frusciante, except where noted.
- Niandra Lades
- "As Can Be" – 2:57
- "My Smile Is a Rifle" – 3:48
- "Head (Beach Arab)" – 2:05
- "Big Takeover" (cover of Bad Brains) – 3:18
- "Curtains" – 2:30
- "Running Away into You" – 2:12
- "Mascara" – 3:40
- "Been Insane" – 1:41
- "Skin Blues" – 1:46
- "Your Pussy's Glued to a Building on Fire" – 3:17
- "Blood on My Neck From Success" – 3:09
- "Ten to Butter Blood Voodoo" – 1:59
- Usually Just a T-Shirt [commonly referred to as 'Untitled #1-13']
- Untitled #1 – 0:34
- Untitled #2 – 4:21
- Untitled #3 – 1:50
- Untitled #4 – 1:38
- Untitled #5 – 1:30
- Untitled #6 – 1:29
- Untitled #7 – 1:42
- Untitled #8 – 7:55
- Untitled #9 – 7:04
- Untitled #10 – 0:25
- Untitled #11 – 1:51
- Untitled #12 – 5:27
- Untitled #13 – 1:52
Cassette editions of the album contain two additional songs, which could not fit on CD copies: "Ants" and "Outside Space".
- John Frusciante - vocals, guitar, bass, piano, mandolin, banjo, clarinet, producer
- Toni Oswald - vocals (Untitled #9)
- Martyn Atkins - art direction and design
- Dirk Walter - design
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