Jane's Addiction's magic tricks
This week Jane's Addiction releases "The Great Escape Artist," their fourth studio album in 25 years. That's a lot of time between albums -- enough time for a slew of personnel changes, solo projects, reunions, breakups, and more reunions, and for front man Perry Farrell to grow his Lollapalooza festival into a worldwide concern. But can a band considered one of the most influential of their generation make a two-decade leap without falling? We spoke recently to Farrell in Los Angeles.
MSN Music: Jane's Addiction is credited with defining the alternative era, an era long since passed. How do you modernize
Perry Farrell: You start by becoming open-minded and having open ears. I do that by going to Lollapaloozas every year around the world. I'm always in touch with the youngest, freshest musicians. You know? They're experimenting, they have nothing to lose and they come up with new sounds. Listening to them, to be honest with you, that's really what it takes. It takes staying in the game.
I kinda like to harken back to Tim Leary, when he was alive and I was going to visit him and he would be in on the newest things. He was in on computers really early, trying to make people trip using computers and video, using the Internet. Here's a guy who was truly on his deathbed, and he was still experimenting, still wanting to hang out with artists who could kind of get him off. He would have parties at his house and I would meet all the young people who were truly experimenting with music and with art and with the Internet, with technology. I really learned from him that you're never too old to learn and it's never too late to learn. He was starting on projects when he had six months to live.
So I apply that to Jane's Addiction. We're on the hunt for fresh sound. And we're gonna get that fresh sound. The years of knowledge from being in the band and being a professional musician, we can add into that sound a virtuosity. But we still wanna be able to deliver something familiar and something unfamiliar as well. All familiar is a bore. You've already heard it, why do you need it again, you know? ... I think we've gotten along better than ever. We've come to know each other after 25-plus years. At a time when most bands would be at a breaking point or a point of hating each other, I think we went through that to the point where we now have respect for each other and we realize that we are together powerful. And we give each other room. As far as I'm concerned, the guys gave me a ton of room to experiment, not only with the record but with the live show, where in the past I would feel like, "They're not gonna give me a chance here." That's a big part of why I didn't wanna be in Jane's Addiction. And now everyone is allowing of each other's lives and each other's time and each other's desires, so it's working out.
When it comes to seeking out new sounds, is your preference the live setting as opposed to going online, using Spotify or some sort of technology?
Well, I like Spotify. I think Spotify is really gonna turn out. But I've had Lollapalooza for 20 years now, so I look forward to seeing these groups in the flesh. It really kind of separates the men from the boys, so to speak, when you see them live and you can see how well they actually play or how much of it was studio magic, shall we say. I don't mind studio magic. I like studio magic; that's what we were doing with Jane's, this record, "The Great Escape Artist." We were getting in there with great musicians and a little studio magic on top of it. And you come out with some old sounds, some sounds you've never heard before, and that's what makes the music interesting.
I've always been more interested in the live element than records.
I agree. I'm more of a live person. To be honest with you, I don't have enough time in the day to sit around and listen to other people's music. I'm really busy making my own music. But I love to go out and perform it, and when I got out and perform it, I look to be amongst other musicians, because other musicians make the party, right? So I love to go to these big festivals and witness other people's music and perform it myself. That's where I'm at, that's my thing, that's what I do. It's like the passing of Al Davis. Al Davis said that outside of football and his family he didn't really have a life. Well, for me, outside of Jane's Addition and Lollapalooza and my family, I really don't have a life.
That seems to allow for a fair amount of exploration and travel, though.
Well, yeah. Travel is a big part of it. You're going around the world now to attend these festivals and perform at these festivals and run these festivals -- I love it. I look forward to it. It makes my life. I plan my life around performance and around other people's performances. To me it's kept me young all these years. It's kept me interested. Not only in life, but in music. I know a lot of people my age might start slipping and not really care about the new music that's coming out. That happens a lot to older people: They don't care. They stop going out to see shows or they stop listening to new music and seeing what's going on. For me, it's been something that I've done for so long it's my life.
Can you cite a few of those bands that were a reference point for the new album?
Yeah, but I will preface this by telling you that none of them did we try to follow as far as our actual playing or our actual parts. It was just a method, OK? We were very influenced by Joy Division, and I would say to you, Joy Division and Muse and Radiohead. We like those groups, the way they made music. New Order. But especially Joy Division, because they used a little bit of, like I say, studio magic. But they kept playing. And I would also add in there Pink Floyd. Because, again, it was great playing but with some studio magic. And those were groups that we, if you're gonna shoot for, you might as well shoot for the top, right?
But there's no replication there. Our personality is very different than Pink Floyd or Joy Division. So our attitude, what we can add to the method, shall we say ... Let's call it method. It's like Method acting. I don't know if you know what Method acting is. In a nutshell, Method acting is a form of acting whereby you recall a certain memory, and you bring that memory into your acting to influence how you're acting. So, for example, if I had to act out that I had a bad taste in my mouth for a particular person, I might wanna use salt as my method. Salt in my mouth. So while I was acting and talking to this person I was experiencing too much salt in my mouth simultaneously. That's what is known as Method acting.
So in this case we're gonna call, I don't know what we're gonna call how we produced this particular method, but the chemistry is live players with a little bit of studio magic and a little bit of synthetic, mixed in with a healthy dose of live. And the groups that we recalled, the groups that we felt did the greatest job at that, were people like New Order and Joy Division and Pink Floyd.
Who are you writing to these days? Is it the audience that's grown up with you or a brand-new audience, a new generation?
As I say, my first responsibility is to myself as an artist. I need to gratify that inclination to create art. And that is my first impulse. The next thing I do is start to consider well whether you're going to like it or not. ...What I think is gonna happen is people that love Jane's Addiction, for the most part, were always people that were interested in art. So they're gonna be fascinated by this new record the same way that I'm fascinated by it. I feel that if I'm true to myself, then the people that really love this, that really understood, that were my peers, they would be happy for me and they would be up for listening to this new record. And do I think we're gonna gain a new audience and a new generation of people? Absolutely. Because we're not stuck in the '80s. We're making music in a relevant way and we're making relevant music. So the young generation, you have this next generation, they're gonna hear it and they're gonna hear things that are fresh. And that's their key to enter into the world. If I were to make an '80s record, they would've said, "This guy has lost touch. He's 25 years lost touch." I'm counting on this new generation to really want to experience this record and want to come and hear it. Because it is speaking to this generation. I'm still out there, I'm still curious, and I'm still experimenting.
One final question, unrelated to the record: What do you make of this Occupy Wall Street movement?
I think it's noble and I think it's dead-on. Do I think it's going to matter? I'm not going to say that Wall Street's just going to shrivel up and go away. Or that the politicians are gonna turn around and forsake Wall Street.
Because I don't think they will. I hate to say it, but this democratic president that we all expected to help the poor helped Wall Street an awful lot. In fact, it was his very first mission. The man is in a very tough spot. If Wall Street chooses to, they can turn their back on him and then where would his funding be? I'd like to think I know where he's coming from, but I don't have any idea.
To be honest with you, the title of this record, "The Great Escape Artist," is all about escapism. It's got nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with the crummy, harsh side of reality. It's all about escaping to a place to get the hell away from it. I know it might sound shallow to you, but Jimi Hendrix had the same attitude. His whole plan was to take you away from it, to a place where you can be happy again.
My opinion means very little. My plan for you is to find a place to enjoy your world and enjoy your life, and I'd like to kind of create a space for you, to reserve for you. That's what my ambition is for the world. I don't know much about politics.
Jonathan Zwickel is an editor at City Arts magazine and a regular contributor to MSN Music who has written for various local and national music outlets, as well as for the Seattle Times and Rhapsody s music subscription service. His book about the Beastie Boys, Beastie Boys: A Musical Biography, was released in January.