Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell talks Adam Yauch, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Lollapalooza and greatness vs. consistency
Perry Farrell ended this interview with a simple statement: “Long live rock 'n’ roll.”
He means it, too. (As if you had any doubt.)
“What is great about bands?” the Jane’s Addiction singer mused by phone during a recent day off tour in Houston. “With a band, you don’t simply get that quickie, 30-second blurb-chorus-message that you do in pop. You get a guitar player that plays a solo that is important as the voice, and a drummer who’s gonna set a beat that you’ve never heard before, a groove you’ve never heard before, and a fill you’re gonna remember all your life. And the same thing with a bass player — he’s gonna drive you. You can get away from that 30-second pop-chorus for a moment and get into something that I feel is even higher.”
Such has been Jane’s Addiction’s mission for the past quarter-century. Though they’ve produced some memorably mighty singles — Been Caught Stealing, Jane Says, Mountain Song — the group has released just four studio albums since 1987, including last fall’s The Great Escape Artist. However, their highly theatrical live shows — not to mention Farrell’s role as the founder of the Lollapalooza music festival — helped make Jane’s Addiction icons of the alternative rock movement.
On Saturday, a mostly classic Jane’s Addiction lineup — Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins, along with bassist Chris Chaney — will bring their Theatre of the Escapists Tour to a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall. (Click here for details.) We kicked off our recent phone conversation with Farrell by chatting about the death of the Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch. Here are excerpts.
The Beastie Boys always seemed to have a lot in common with Jane’s Addiction, in terms of what moved them, what motivated them, how they approached making music. Did you feel that way?
You know, yeah. I felt that they had a very silly surface, much like myself — sarcastic and sophomoric, if you will. But you probably won’t find three more intelligent, sweet, good-natured, loving people than the Beastie Boys. Behind it all, they really care about people, and they really care about what’s happening, and their enthusiasm for the arts was really strong.
They were just inducted into the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame, along with another band that’s sort of a kindred spirit to Jane’s Addiction, the Chili Peppers. Jane’s Addiction is eligible for the Hall this year. What do you think are the odds that you’ll get in?
Let’s not talk odds. Let’s talk, do we deserve to be in there? I would say that we deserve to be in there.
As far as a group, and music, and performance? I think we’re one of the great rock groups. Period. I think that we have had a great influence on music as it has evolved over the last 25 years — certainly on a musical level, a performance level, but also from the level of promotion and the parties that I’ve put together, (like) Lollapalooza. If you look at the music industry today, I would say festivals are the healthiest aspect of music today. That and iTunes.
It’s interesting to hear you say that, because I think the easy answer for any musician is, “Eh, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.” Yet you take the opposite approach.
Well, listen: If it doesn’t happen, I’m not gonna cry, just like I’m not gonna cry when I don’t get nominated for the Grammys, and I don’t cry when I don’t have a No. 1 song on Billboard. Those kinds of things, they’re appearances. Sometimes you can’t help appearances. There’s somebody that’s marketing harder than you, and they have a mentor that has more connections to you. Some of those things, they’re kind of out of your control. But what I can control is the quality of the music that we’ve put out, and our shows, and Lollapalooza and the other parties that we put together. And in that, I’m certain that we deserve to stand next to the other greats.
Do you think Dave Navarro should have been inducted with the Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Well, they didn’t invite him. And I don’t think that was cool, at all. I think Dave should have been — not that he would have gone, but he should have. I mean, why wasn’t he? I don’t know, man.
Jane’s Addiction has gone through a lot of offstage chaos over the years — breakups, reunions, long stretches of time with no tours, no new music. Do you think that choppy history, that lack of consistency, has influenced your music in any calculable way?
If there’s any reason for not inducting Jane’s, it would be the lack of consistency — as if consistency has something to do with the recorded music. It doesn’t. Are you looking for consistency in music, or are you looking for greatness and movement and emotion? That’s who we are. Are we consistent? We have not been consistent. But that’s life.
Can I say something about consistency, though? No. 1, it is overrated. Today, with these short attention spans, you can’t take four years off to write another record. People will forget about you. I think you can’t take any longer than two years. A lot of the groups that are making it today are making it on consistency, not on greatness of music. What I hear, I’m not necessarily impressed with. But I can’t deny that they are staying consistent and continually giving us music and staying out on tour. And that has almost replaced the greatness of art.
Because your live shows are so theatrical, it’s interesting that you’re performing in actual theaters. How did that idea evolve?
There’s two places that I really love to perform. One is at festivals. Those are always exciting, because you have all this energy going all the way back. When you’re doing that, you’re having this giant conversation. But when you’re doing theater, you’re able to touch a person. You’re able to look at them in the eye. It’s a wonderful feeling, especially for me these days. I love to look into the eyes of a generation and see how they have changed and evolved. You get those kinds of things when you’re performing in a more intimate surrounding.
You’re big on forging a connection with your audience during your live shows. Has there ever been a crowd that, for whatever reason, you just could not bond with?
There are times, yeah. I like to attribute that to screwed-in seats. Really, the screwed-in seats invite these numbskull bouncers — well, I don’t want to call them names, because bouncers are there for a reason. But a lot of them don’t really understand that letting people come up to the front once they’ve got their tickets is going to make the show better. I understand they’ve got to keep the lane clear or whatever, but when you think about it, in GA (general admission), there’s no lane that’s clear. They’re trying to do their job, but sometimes they get in the way of the performance, to the point where you have to stop and say, “Look, man, you’re causing a riot.” What I’m looking for is freedom. As long as I’m playing in a location where there’s freedom, I never have a problem communicating with my audience.
Do you still feel as personal a connection these days to the Lollapalooza brand?
Well, yes. Listen, I was very instrumental in getting Lollapalooza down to South America, and I’m still very, very involved in it in Chicago. It has evolved, it has changed. What I love most when I think about Lollapalooza and my involvement in it, my connection to it, is the fact that I’m able to bring 150 groups to a place and give them this audience of 60,000-plus. It’s as far as the eye can see with people, and (for) the young groups, that’s really where it’s at. What I feel most good about is that I’m providing a stage for a generation of musicians to break, and for many of them, it’s the show of a lifetime. I remember getting a phone call from deadmau5 after he performed, saying it was the best show he’d ever done. Those are the moments that make me feel really proud.
Do you see any newer acts who are filling the role that Jane’s Addiction established — that pure, loud, spiritual, primal, alternative rock 'n’ roll?
The two groups that I like that are coming up, MGMT is one. I think Andrew (VanWyngarden) is a really great guy. And I think Alex (Turner) from the Arcic Monkeys is a really great guy. Now, as far as the wildness and stuff of Jane’s Addiction? They’re different personalities. They have different things that they bring to the table. So to each his own. We wouldn’t want everybody to be the same anyway.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*