LOS ANGELES - With that gap-toothed grin, those tattoos, Flea (born Michael Balzary) has defined the Red Hot Chili Peppers with his funky bass riffs and bare-chested on-stage moves for more than 20 years.
The band's Grammy-winning hit 2006 album "Stadium Arcadium" has also spawned a year-and-a-half tour, ranked eighth in the nation as of May 3, according to industry trade publication Pollstar.
Fresh off a headlining stint at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the group joined Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder and others this month at a concert in Los Angeles to benefit the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a nonprofit school which Flea co-founded in 2001.
Flea lived in the artsy neighborhood of Silver Lake, near downtown L.A., for about 20 years. He now lives oceanside in Malibu with model Frankie Rayder, with whom he has an 18-month-old daughter, Sunny. (He also has an 18-year-old daughter, Clara, a drum-playing college student in Vermont who is into visual arts and photography).
The affable 44-year-old bassist sat down at the conservatory recently and talked with The Associated Press.
Wearing a loose white shirt and rubbing a tuft of hair - next to the tattooed word "Flea" - on his half-shaved head, he spoke about his passion for music education and settling down to a beachy summer when the band's tour ends in August.
AP: Tell me about the conservatory.
Flea: It was basically my idea. I basically started it. I got my friend Keith (Barry) to head up the music education part.
AP: Why do this?
Flea: Because the public education school system, music education, has let kids down. I think it's a drastic problem. When I was growing up, in L.A., I went to these schools, Fairfax High School, Bancroft Junior High School, and they had great music departments. I always played in the orchestra, the jazz band, the marching band. I went back six, seven years ago to talk to the music department at Fairfax High, and it was just gone. They had a volunteer teacher, a couple of acoustic guitars. They had nothing going on. It was shocking. When I went there, any kid could grab an instrument and play it. For me, that education was so important. ... At one point, I was nothing but trouble. I was on the street, I was doing drugs, I was breaking into people's houses. Music education gave me something to hold onto. I learned how to read music. It taught me discipline, a sense of self, a sense of accomplishing something.
AP: Music can truly be therapy.
Flea: Playing music is a beautiful thing. But listening to music is just as great. For someone who doesn't want to end up being a musician, getting the fundamentals of music gives that person a much deeper understanding. Music is like the genius of humankind, universal. ... People who have never really taken the time to get into music, their lives are a lot smaller. Kids deserve the richness and dimension of it in their lives. This is an attempt to do that.
AP: How do you balance your fame with being at the school?
Flea: Fame is a strange animal. ... In one way, it's an extension of who I am. I'm a performer, and have managed to get my performing into the mainstream consciousness of the world, I guess. But all these people also create something of what you are. I just know that it's allowed me to have the money to do this school, and that's a great privilege. ... When we finish touring, in August - we've been on our world tour for a year and a half - I'm looking forward to being around, teaching all the time. Bass and trumpet.
AP: What other plans do you have for the summer?
Flea: Well, I have the music school, but I'm also a lazy bum. I'm always working on music, composing music. ... Being a dad. I also like to play basketball and golf.
AP: Is the band working on any new tunes?
Flea: We're always kind of working on music, but not specifically an album now.
AP: How's the beach in Malibu?
Flea: I love it. Though I miss human beings, I'm really kind of a nature boy. I've always been a hiker. I can walk on the beach at night. I go hiking up the mountains there. This way I can be as close to nature as I can.
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