Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith Teases What to Expect With His New TV Hosting Gig

Chad Smith
Laura Glass

Chad Smith

Chad Smith figures that being an artist will help make the new PBS music and travel series Great Performances: Landmarks Live in Concert sing.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer is serving as host for the show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Friday (Jan. 20) with Alicia Keys at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, followed by Brad Paisley on Jan. 27 at West Virginia University. The formal season will begin in June, and Smith will be conducting interviews with the artists as well as introducing the episodes.

"The premise for me is to get them talking about why this is a landmark for them and what it means for them to play there, and we talk about their career and music -- the usual," Smith tells Billboard. "I just feed 'em an easy line or to and they start talking. The different angle is the musician to musician, artist to artist thing; I think that frees them up a little bit to feel like they're talking about somebody who gets it, who's doing what they do. That's a real connection there."

Smith, who began doing an "In Conversation with Chad Smith" podcast during 2013, was approached for Landmarks Live by Drive City Films' CEO Daniel E. Catullo III, who will be directing and executive producing the series. Sting and Andrea Bocelli are on tap for later, and the Chili Peppers may do an episode, though Smith would step out of the interviewer's chair if it happens. Other locales will include London, Paris, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Jamaica, Havana and more in New York City. Smith, meanwhile, is sharpening his own journalistic skills to prep for his encounters.

"I have to do my homework a bit," he acknowledges. "Like Alicia, I had never met but I know of her, and Brad. So I have to do some background and check 'em out and go watch YouTube and read some stuff about them. I want to make it fun and interesting and, of course, informative and let them tell their story. But they're all pros, these people. It's not any of their first [interview] rodeo, you know?"

Smith notes with a laugh that the first Landmarks Live show is going up against presidential inauguration telecasts, and as a decidedly non-Donald Trump partisan, he'd like nothing better than to beat them in the ratings. "It's a really dangerous time and I'm really worried about what's going to happen to everything," Smith says. "I was in Amsterdam the night of the election and stayed up to watch the returns and was like, 'Omigod...I can't believe this!' It blows me away that this is actually happening. But we're just going to have to stay on it. Everybody that's not a bigot and is not sexist and is not a crazy egomaniac, we just have to keep him in check somehow, because if not he's going to run us into a fuckin' World War III."

The post-election apprehension has put a spin on the shows during the North American leg of the Chili Peppers' The Getaway World Tour, according to Smith. "We're very positive and our music is very positive and free," he says. "At the show's we've been playing there's a feeling of, 'Hey, we're here right now, in this moment and we've got a cool thing going on. There's a real connection and let's celebrate it,' and that's a beautiful thing. You know, in dark times sometimes the best art comes out of it. To connect with people and the human experience is more powerful and important than ever."

Smith and his bandmates expect to be doing that into 2018. Shows are currently booked into September, including the Bonnaroo festival on June 8, the inaugural Lollapalooza France during July in Paris and Rock in Rio on September 24. "The heavy stuff -- like three weeks on, 12 days off -- is going to stop at the end of July, I think -- until more stuff comes up," Smith says with a laugh. "Our manager's always like, 'There's a new festival in Arizona and they want you,' so we'll see. It's going great, man. We're having a blast. People are coming. It's amazing. I think now we're playing at a really high level, as humbly as I can say about our little band that we take so seriously. We've been on the road most of six months and we're hitting a good groove and the new songs are fitting right and people start cheering and it's a good feeling."

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