Perry Farrell is the last of the true rock stars.
From his stance on hitting the bottle (for) to popular music today (against), he lives and breathes the stuff he sings about. He may not be wearing corsets and dresses like in his performances two decades ago, but he can still stand in front of a crowd and make them wail and rage like they were surly 17 year olds again (which, by the looks of some of the jeans-and-leather-jacket-clad crowd at the show I recently attended, was probably in the mid 1980s).
As I made my way to Terminal 5 to sit down with the Jane’s Addiction frontman during an end-of-December snow storm, my four-inch heeled ankle boots skidding down 55th street as I rushed, I hoped I wasn’t late. I was told to be there at precisely 7 o’clock that evening, with his manager telling me in a pre-interview phone call, “Don’t be any later than that…but you may have to wait an hour or two, you never know. It’s New York, and it’s rock and roll.”
As I waited around backstage, a woman (presumably a hanger-on of sorts) came up to me and as we started speaking, confessed “You know, I heard that Perry’s parents used to condemn him to the basement. Isn’t that crazy? Can you imagine?” Farrell moved to California after graduating from high school, and lived off of money from seldom construction jobs until forming his first band, the goth-rockers know as Psi-Com, in 1981. He subsequently met Eric Avery, Stephen Perkins, and Dave Navarro, and Jane’s Addiction was born.
I was finally sitting in his dressing room, one-on-one with the man who was at the head of his California surfer/car-residing peers to incite the alternative rock movement of the 80s and 90s. All in all, it was a pleasure to speak with him, only interrupted a few times by his tour manager’s impatient knocks on the door, hurrying us along. Perry would have been in a bit of trouble had I been a Baltimore Ravens fan; he knocked my hometown’s team as we spoke. But luckily, I care about football as much as he cares about Rick Ross (Perry sang to me, “Everyday I’m shufflin'”).
Jane’s Addiction has had a turbulent history to say the least, breaking up and making up like it was part of their daily grooming regimen. However, they seem to be safe for the time being; Dave Navarro, the guitarist who was reportedly the biggest issue over the years for the singer, played proudly and fluidly next to Farrell when the group took the stage after we spoke.
Perry stood onstage, ripped abs glistening, with long-skirted dancers floating in mid-air on either side of him. He threw his hands up in the air, closed his eyes, and seemed to let the sound of the crowd wash over him.
Now that’s fucking rock and roll.
What was the LA music scene like in 1985?
The scene was like night and day to what scenes look like today. I don’t even know if there is one so much. There was a scene. Young people identified with musicians. Musicians spoke for their generation and they had a definite and determined style and outlook and something that they had to say, and I feel that that’s largely gone; it’s just been gutted, diminished. For whatever reason, the music industry hasn’t been able to keep the great new music organized and healthy. There is no scene to speak of. It could be a lot of things: it could be that people don’t really care to go out and listen to music. They want to go out with their friends, they want to play video games or go drink at a bar. They don’t necessarily want to stop and see someone developing and playing an instrument. It could be that, or it could be that the music industry made a severe left turn and started going for tween music because that’s the music they can still make a living from, so they don’t support young groups like they used to. They don’t put any importance on it. Rolling Stone Magazine doesn’t put any importance on it, so the rest of the world looks at it and says, “It’s just not important anymore.” But I can tell you that it’s really causing the actual music scene to suffer tremendously. I was just talking about this! I’m going to use a group like The Clash as a watermark for a group that I would hope and pray and wish to play at Lollapalooza. Someone like The Clash, or The Cure. So now the groups that we’re looking at this year, do they match that? Do they meet that on excellence? On attitude? On representing their generation? Where’s the standout? They’re the guys that say “I defy you. This is what we’re all about, and we’re changing things.”
Speaking of Lollapalooza, you started doing one in Chile and Brazil, and now you’re doing one in Israel in 2013.
We’re working on it. We’ve had some complications as you probably saw in the press. Things happened over in Israel, but we’re working on it.
Would you like to expand it any more? Do you have any other ideas for places to do that?
I’d love to do it in many more places around the world. The good news about music is that it’s transformative, and it’s got the ability to heal and bring people together. But, in the case of Lollapalooza, we could do Asia…or just look at a map and start to image what it would be like if we brought international music into certain regions, how it would transform that region, because it really would. Immediately people start to become more sophisticated because music is a universal language, and when you speak that language of music, people start to adapt to one another, so it’s a great thing. But, the inner organs of the music industry are ill.
They have been for a while, huh?
They have been for a while. And it’s not getting better.
How do you combine touring and home life? Do you ever bring your family on the road?
My kids are with me now, actually. I try to bring them around with me as much as I can, which gets me in trouble with the school, because they try to keep kids in school as much as they can, and I try to take them out as much as I can. I think I’m giving them a great education, but I’m sure they’re getting a great education at school, too. I don’t stay away from my family any longer than two weeks. My wife is also my business partner, so she’s with me and at all of my performances. She’s the prima ballerina of Jane’s Addiction. We have a project where we recorded and performed dance music, and we’ve got some incredible music coming out at the end of next year. There’s a new project that I’m working on…I guess this is what I was getting at. I do see that, since the time that I started which was 25 years ago, people were more than happy to listen to a group that hadn’t been signed, and didn’t even have a record. People don’t do that anymore. It’s like, let’s say you had a child but you didn’t care about the child, you didn’t care what it became, you weren’t really that interested. That’s what it’s like for a young musician today. The music industry doesn’t care about you if you’re a young guitar player or bass player. They just don’t. Maybe they’ll grab you and slap you on some pop product because that’s how you can be used for them, but are they interested in your group? No. There was a moratorium placed on rock and roll probably 7-10 years ago. Some of these record labels? I know the inside of them. I know what they were saying to each other, that they weren’t going to sign any more rock music. But anyway, the irony is this: when it comes to festivals, it’s all about alternative rock music. People don’t go out to see pop. But they listen to it, and they’ll make money other ways. They’ll sell hoodies and headphones and all that other shit. But I do notice that the way people go out these days and are entertained is changing, and what you have to do is be aware of it, and you have to give them a different environment. That’s what I’m doing next year. I’m working on, right now, a project where I’m going to create a brand new environment, but it’s not going to be a club, and it’s not going to be a festival.
I recently dug up an old video of Jane’s Addiction from The Roxy in 1987, and one commenter said, “They all look so much healthier 25 years later,” while another said, “There’s just no substitute for drug-induced youthful exuberance.” How did the spontaneity and youthfulness of the time contribute toward your creativity that made you who you were, and do you think that’s something that you kind of get off on onstage today?
Well, let me reference the greats: Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, The Grateful Dead. Were they on drugs? They were. And I only reference the great artists here. The impressionists, the cubists. They were all on drugs, or drinking. So when it comes to art, I do think there’s a place for inebriation…or mind alteration, let’s call it that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. What I think is wrong is when you can’t help yourself and you end up hurting yourself to the point where you’re losing your health, you’re losing your life, you’re losing your loved ones and everything is caving in on you. It’s difficult, but you have to be able to deal. You have to be able to maintain it. That’s the answer. To me, it’s not sobriety. Sobriety is fine if someone doesn’t like the way they feel, but if an artist wants to do something and alter their mind? I’ve had great success.
Do you have any particular performance routines, pre, during, or post show? Any rituals?
I’ve come to really love drinking tequila, because it has a little bit of a stimulation to it. I know alcohol is a depressant, but tequila has a little bit of an “up” feeling to it. So I’m always drinking tequila before the shows. I’m working with this one brand Dobel, and it’s really delicious. It’s almost got a bit of a vanilla flavor to it. It was made in oak casks by maestros, as they call themselves. Masters…master tequila makers. It blends very well, and it’s awesome with everything, but I particularly like it with energy drinks. When we’re all toasting with one another, I’ll pour some of that and I say, don’t shoot it, just sip it. Sip it on ice, it’s really good.
There was something said about Pornos for Pyros doing a 2013 reunion of sorts. What’s that about?
Yeah, I put feelers out for it and people were interested. I don’t know if it will happen, but I definitely told people that if they were interested in having Pornos perform, then we’re open to it. Festivals are booked for 2013, so maybe even 2014? But then I’ll be busy, so…
I read a piece a couple of years ago in the Times Magazine where you said, “I’d put on a dress, leggings and boots and think I looked great, but I like looking like a fella more and more as I get older.” Besides that, how do you think your style has evolved over the years? Is there a vault somewhere with all of your old corsets?
I have them! [laughs!] I look at them and I think maybe I’ll bring one out some day. The corsets are, for some reason…they still could probably work. The dresses, no.
Would you let your sons be rock stars if they wanted to be?
People offer to buy Lollapalooza all the time, to buy the brand, and I don’t sell it because I think to myself that I want to give that to my children. I want them to have it and continue with it…it’s a place for people to gather to be entertained, and it’s a massive gathering, and that much I know. As far as the music, do I want them to perform? Sure I do. When I go home, I’m going to be taking piano lessons, just so that they have to take piano lessons, too. They’re refusing to take them but I tell them, “well I’m taking them, too!” I want them to play music, and honestly they’d be very good, but again, they don’t look at music the same way that I did. And this conversation is relative all throughout. They don’t see the importance of being a musician. They go to school and talk about that guy [Rick Ross] that sings, “Everyday I’m shufflin!'” They might get off on that song, but it’s like a cartoon to them. They’re not passing around good bands the way I was. They’re not looking at their big brother’s record collection or my record collection going, “Wow!” It doesn’t mean the same thing. Music’s just kind of there for them. They do like songs and I see my kid a lot of times kind of aping me in the mirror, like doing hump moves when I’m not around…like I’ll peek around the corner and see him doing moves in the mirror. But if they don’t end up being musicians, I wouldn’t be surprised just because to kids today, they don’t hold it in as high esteem as I did. I do want them to be around entertainment, because whatever is going to happen, the whole idea of music is going to transform. There are going to be different environments for people to play music. Musicals! Musicals make more sense because they’re telling stories and they have costumes and something to look at. But it’s going to turn into something else. It already is turning into something else. The agony and the frustration is that it’s not developed yet.
What can you tell the readers of Prefix about what we can expect from you, or Jane’s Addiction in the near future?
My next project is that I’m working on a play, it’s a musical, but it’s going to be immersive theater. It’s not going to be in a theater, I’m going to create an environment and the music will be within that environment, and Jane’s Addiction will be within that environment.
What do you think about the future of music and social media, and how would you like to see that progress?
I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. You need to find out about the lives of these musicians and find out where they’re coming from…I know it sounds like I’m going off on a tangent here, but there was a Super Bowl once, and the team that was playing was a very boring team: The Baltimore Ravens. They didn’t have very much offense. They got to the Super Bowl because of a good defensive team, but they’re not very exciting to watch on television. I wasn’t going to watch it because I really didn’t care about the Ravens, but there was a human interest story about this one guy who was a defensive lineman, who took care of his blind mother. He still lived with her. So I’m watching this thing, and the next thing I know, I’m thinking that I wanted this guy to win the game, and I actually watched the game because of that. That’s what I’m talking about with music. The attention to the musicians…there is no attention. Social media can help to expose the young artists, because once you learn about them and meet them…it used to be that every band had a statement. Their statement was in their clothing and in their music, and I don’t know why, but we’re living in a corporate bubble. No one’s saying, “I’m taking the world and running with it. You cannot stop me.”
Which you guys did.
LISTEN UP JANE’S ADDICTION & TEQUILA FANS!
As part of the partnership between Dobel Tequila and Perry Farrell, we are giving one lucky U.S. reader a Perry Farrell autographed bottle of Dobel Tequila and a Perry Farrell signed special edition photography book from legendary music industry photographer Danny Clinch featuring amazing photographs shot at the inaugural Lollapalooza Festival in Sao Paolo, Brazil with Perry Farrell.
To enter for the giveaway, please be 21+, and live within the United States, and sign in via Facebook in the widget below. Only individuals that “Like” Maestro Dobel Tequila will be eligible.
All entries MUST be submitted by midnight on January 7. The final recipient will be chosen at random.
And don’t forget, once you have “liked” the Dobel Facebook page, you can then download Jane’s Addiction’s latest album, The Great Escape Artist, FOR FREE courtesy of Dobel Tequila and the band’s legendary front-man Perry Farrell. Good luck!