Progress Report: Jane's Addiction

NAME: Jane’s Addiction
PROGRESS REPORT: Alt-rock pioneers return with their first new album in over 8 years. Drummer tells all!

Given that it’s been over eight years since Jane’s Addiction released a studio album, it’s kind of easy to forget just what a potent force the band can be. Back in the band’s early ’90s Lollapalooza-startin’ heyday, they were a true force of nature — a freaky psycho-sexual amalgam of sleazy metal, glammy LA punk rock, and schizoid gothyness. When the band released their 1991 breakthrough (and most would say, undisputed masterpiece) Ritual De Lo Habitual, it really felt like there was no other band in the world quite like them. Not only did the band manage to change the face of popular music at the time, frontman Perry Farrell’s ambitious vision had a pretty profound effect on youth culture. Love it or hate it, the “alternative nation” of the 1990s would probably not have existed without the help of Jane’s Addiction.

The past decade has been a weird one for Jane’s Addiction. Amid breakups and half-baked reunions and a variety of personnel changes, the one thing the band hasn’t done enough of is create new music. That will finally change with the release of a brand new studio album, The Great Escape Artist, this October. Recorded with the assistance of producer Rich Costey and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek (who helped write and play bass on the record), the new album suggests a return to form for the band. Whether or not they can live up to their own iconic and bizarre legacy remains to be seen, but it’s clear from talking to drummer Stephen Perkins that the band’s journey continues to be both epic and cosmic in nature.

Also, not only is Stephen Perkins an excellent drummer, he’s an excellent interview subject. He’s sweet and funny and talks in an excitable non-stop stream that is tough to transcribe but really fun to listen to.

Stereogum: Hey Stephen!

Perkins: Cole, good afternoon, how are ya? Where you calling from?

Stereogum: I am calling from Brooklyn.

Perkins: Nice, I was just out in New York last week.

Stereogum: Yeah, I was really bummed I couldn’t go to your show at Terminal 5 but I heard it was pretty spectacular.

Perkins: Well, T5 was pretty good, but the night before was a real thrill for me cause we were out with Elvis Costello and the cats from the Grateful Dead were there.

Stereogum: Whoa. That’s a funny combination.

Perkins: We really stretched out as far as Jane’s Addiction and how we play our songs. You know, we always change the batteries every night to fit in with the environment. And that environment really called for a lot of musical players because it was really a jam festival, so you know the 8 to 10 minute freestyles turned into 13-15 minutes. I think all of the songs took on a new life and there was a little bit of jamming between tunes that was playful and fun. We did something we haven’t done in 21 years, which is something called “Bobhaus,” which is Bob Dylan lyrics with Bauhaus music. We broke that out and we did “In The Flesh” by Pink Floyd. You know, I have been playing with Navarro since I was 13 or 14 and I met Perry when I was 17, so I have been jamming with these guys since forever. It’s what I do. But the Jane’s shows are really packed full with a lot of playing but sometimes it’s nice to have a reason to stretch things out in the show itself and pull things in from the environment. The Terminal 5 show was interesting because they packed in a whole bunch of cool 3D cameras and filmed it.

Stereogum: How does it feel to be playing some of the new material?

Perkins: That’s probably the most exciting thing you can add to any show for any band is to fucking try out the new stuff. With a lot of bands back in the day, especially us, there was never not new material being played. It was all on the stage before it was even recorded. With the old records it was kinda like a documentation of what we sounded like live, they just put up the mics and let us play. We’d maybe have some fun on the post and then the mixing, adding some interesting things. But really Ritual is shocking because it is what we sounded like on stage. Nowadays, most bands, especially bands in our situation, almost never get to test out their songs live. It is definitely a fun way to experience the songs and to see if they are going to be the seed that gets planted and grows into a tree and depending how it grows we now get to see what sort of life goes in it and how emotional you can make it. So there is always that aspect of playing new music which is exciting to me. Where does the new music fit? How does it fit with the old catalogue? Where are the emotional moments in the set that we want to hit and what kind of moments? How do the new songs fit into that picture? And then of course practicing it and tightening it up so it sounds like the old catalogue that we’ve been playing for 25 years, that shit is a no-brainer. Perry has been in the band for 25 years and for him, its the same as it is for me and Dave, you know we just play the songs. Practice is good for endurance and getting your muscles up but you don’t necessarily have to practice with heart. It’s a really cool challenge, its an interesting way of looking at the next tour in 2012. How long do we want to play on a night? I like to stretch it out because I am a hungry music lover but I understand sometimes musicians sometimes don’t like to watch shows for a long time so sometimes its hard to write a set list with musicians, kinda like how tennis pros don’t like to watch tennis matches all day long, the tennis lovers do and they watch. With a great band that can play well live, I think is worth it to stretch things out. I am looking forward to seeing songs from the old days, how many songs from Strays, which was an interesting point in our sound too and of course wherever we are at now. You want to create the bridge from the old days and how to present that onstage. In Jane’s Addiction we are all different people with complicated relationships and all that stuff comes to the surface when we come together.

Stereogum: How was the experience of making of the new record for you?

Perkins: Ever since the mid-’70s, drum machines and click-tracks and computers have really taken over the drum department of the recording process more then anything, but I really have an organic drive because I grew up on Jazz expression drumming. Then my friends bought guitars instead of trombones and saxes so I kinda formed into a rock drummer while holding on to that jazz theory of expressing yourself and not just being a clock. I like Motown playing but that was never my gig. I don’t like just being a clock and doing those beats that just go back and forth. I am more like a dog that is really hyper, you know what I mean? I am travelling and I got a lot to say but its only a 3 minute song, so where does it fit? It’s a Stewart Copeland situation where I want to say something. In a rock situation where you got a lot of voices and you can be very lyrical on a drum set if you really try to be. It is always exciting for me as a drummer to join forces with Dave Sitek and the guys in the band, and working in influences from the last decade of electronic music and hip-hop, where people are writing amazing drumbeats with their hands on an iPod or an iPad. As a drummer, trying to replicate that with his hands on a drum set, it is almost impossible, really. Especially the discipline in sound you would get from a drum machine because its so consistent. A human being can’t do that. So those influences have all gone in my drumming now, but back in the old days it was just jazz and rock, you know Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and John Bonham — the guys who were a part of my arsenal because that’s who I grew up with. Now there is so much more stuff to listen to, it’s impossible for that to not come out in my playing.

With this record there was a lot of crashing and carving and never losing that emotion because that is really the most important thing. You can polish something too much and get a soulless fucking performance and that sucks because that’s not Jane’s Addiction. Jane’s Addiction is better at putting the lights out and just jamming and getting the soul. That’s the balance, it’s about finding the emotion and getting that perfection that we all come to love in the studio because you can get there day after day, you can perfect it and that’s kinda fun ’cause its like a movie, you want to make every scene perfect from wall to wall. When it’s the first record that we’ve made in ten years, it’s got to be perfect, but then again perfect means also having some rough edges. You got to be dangerous with the sound. Me and Dave Navarro played without Perry for two or three months and just blew up and found a new sound and then to innovate the record we just recorded demos and sent everything to Perry. Then Perry wrote lyrics to the stuff that kinda turned him on and sent them back with melodies and lyrics and then we went back and forth and then into the studio. So it was really interesting because the stuff was organic, then again technology took place to really find a way to really present it, and then Perry got a hold of it and sang on it which really gives it a new life, and then you hear the lyrics which makes you want to play differently and that forces where your head is. I think lyrically it’s important because it’s the words of a story, but as a musician in the band it allows you to interpret how it sets up the drum part or whatever instrument you might be playing. Like if each thing is something about death or suicide or fame or something fucked up, I want to know how to look at it through drumming. Like it’s the birth of some child. We all have something to say — I got a story to say on my drum kit and everyone else has one, whether they are playing bass or guitar or keyboards and now there are those drum machines and turntables, and it was really just a fun experiment to find the sound and another experiment to find the record.

Stereogum: What I have heard so far sounds very reminiscent of early Jane’s Addiction. It has a similar vibe.

Perkins: Yeah, well we captured what I always felt Jane’s sort of had that metal bands had, which is the juice. It wasn’t really go home and fight or fuck, it was a different type of juice that still had a lot of adrenaline but it was still emotional. It’s like a wave crashing on a California beach because we are a California band and we couldn’t have probably come out of like Mississippi or Miami or New York. It had to be California to sound like that and we still sound like that so it’s like a celebration in the music but there is also of course an agony … but that is L.A. You know we’re all trying to clean up the world in L.A and we’re into yoga and healthy eating and cleansing but then at the same time we are fighting for a bigger billboard on Sunset. Its like that kinda energy here that makes it weird. So there is always like this Jane’s Addiction California sound that we definitely embrace. We just want to work with good people and talk about what we are into today and have that come up to the surface. Perry’s got a lot of things on his table and Dave does too and I just had a baby, so my life has completely changed cause I now have a family. All of that stuff goes into it, too.

Stereogum: Wow! Congratulations!

Perkins: Thank you! It’s fucking great. I mean music was always first, but now I got a baby that is now two years old … so, it’s like learning another way of approaching things at this stage of my life. It takes a lot of energy to make a great record. That is what we had to go through and that’s what you hear.

Stereogum: Well what will happen next? Will you guys tour the hell out of it for the next year or so?

Perkins: I think so. 2012 is the time to really look at some world touring, but now we got a few shows coming up in Canada, one in Kansas City, Missouri and then off to Reading and Leeds to play the NME stage, which is a slightly smaller stage but its a pretty prestigious spot and its fun … with around 10,000 people. And then we do a small gig in London and then off to Israel to fucking do a show in Tel Aviv, which is a new thing for Jane’s and will make for a powerful night. We’ve got some fun things going on but its really about the tour and putting our gears into motion. We’re probably going to be on tour throughout next year, which is fine as long as we don’t over do it. I mean if you do four weeks and then have a week off or five weeks and then a few weeks off its fine for a period of time. But back in the day we would do eight to ten weeks, which just isn’t fucking healthy anymore.

Stereogum: You have been doing this band for a long time now and the band has such a crazy history. Does being in Jane’s Addiction feel different to you now then it did twenty years ago?

Perkins: Well there’s the friendship that we’ve always had. That has never changed, it’s “us against the world” and that is still there, but back then it was only about the band. It was just Jane’s Addiction, it was all we knew and all we talked about and all we felt. And if we only had that in our lives, it would be complete. You can’t live that way forever. You got to grow up along with the things in your life — be it hobbies or whatever. Dave has got some amazing hobbies. I have been married for 16 years and we just got our first kid, so I have got this whole other world that takes place. Perry’s gone very public with a lot of different things he is working on. You know all that for us makes us feel so different, but when we’re on stage and I hear *hums bass line for “Mountain Song”* and it’s our song starting up, I want to play like I am 18 years old again. That’s what rock and roll is, it really takes you back, even by hearing some Beatles tunes, it makes you feel reminiscent of what its like to be young and hopeful and to be 16 years old and listening to Sgt. Peppers, which blew my mind. So I still really feel that with my music and I really connect with them and with our new music and if I really didn’t feel the connection with them, that would be the reason to break up. We always do breakup if it’s not real. We really can’t fake it. I mean we can make a million dollars for three months touring but we would fucking hate each other, which isn’t good. Even with the nostalgia its not worth it if it doesn’t sound good or look good. One of the things with Jane’s is that we have never been good at faking it. You know what I mean?

It’s funny to remember me and Dave when we first met Perry and Eric. You know, Dave and I were still just getting into X and Iggy, but really it was just Van Halen and Iron Maiden that was fueling us because we were just 17. Like, we knew how to play every Zeppelin song in the book but Perry and Eric were into the Banshees and Joy Division, and that was all they listened to. That was really sort of the sound that you heard on our first record — our combined songwriting meets the metallic Van Halen brothers. Twenty years later Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual still sound very modern to me. That’s what I think about our new music too — its not 1985 or the year 2011, its just timeless fucking rock music. I mean, I’ve got to love my own band and my own music because I made it. But I really do love it.

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“Irresistible Force”

The Great Escape Artist will be released on 10/18 via Capitol Records.

Upcoming tour dates:

09/24 Chicago, IL @ Metro
09/25 Chicago, IL @ Metro
10/03 Los Angeles, CA @ TBA
10/04 Los Angeles, CA @ TBA
10/17 New York, NY @ TBA
10/18 New York, NY @ TBA

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