We’ve Got A File On You: Perry Farrell
The Jane's Addiction frontman/Lolla founder on 'Grand Theft Auto,' 'Entourage,' Kind Heaven, & more
We’ve Got A File On You is a new reboot of an old-school Stereogum franchise. Once called Annotated Media Guide, these are interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
Even when he hasn’t released new music for a while, Perry Farrell is a busy man. For over 30 years now, he’s been active not just as an artist, but also a curator — from the early touring days of Lollapalooza to its rebirth as a stationary festival, to its eventual international presence, Farrell has helped visualize ways for other artists to share their work, too. Along the way he has kept releasing music through a variety of projects, not only with Jane’s Addiction and then Porno For Pyros, but through a collection of solo endeavors, too.
The latest chapter in Farrell’s career sort of blends the two impulses. Last month, he released a new album called Kind Heaven. It’s the same title as the very ambitious Las Vegas project Farrell’s been cooking up for a couple years now. When Farrell first started talking about Kind Heaven, it was some of the wilder details that stole headlines: an immersive experience modeled on southeast Asian cities, with street food and live music, but also with, supposedly, the possibility of VR porn or improvised events happening around you, as if you were really walking down a city street in a far-flung corner of the world.
While on one hand it could sound like Farrell’s trying his hand at a different kind of cultural event — a Vegas destination — he also envisioned Kind Heaven as being very tied into his life as a musician. His own Kind Heaven Orchestra will be in residency there at times, between stints on the road, but other musicians will be in residency, too. He wants to have mentorships, studios; plenty of stages for young artists to play to visitors otherwise taking in the all-encompassing experience of Kind Heaven, but also other mechanisms through which they might be able to get a start early in their careers.
While Kind Heaven won’t open until next year, Kind Heaven is out in the world now. So we sat down with Farrell at a Manhattan hotel one day to talk about not only these symbiotic new projects but also an array of other topics that trace his long and unique career: influential Jane’s Addiction songs, lesser-known co-writes or one-offs, Entourage, and some memorable moments from Lollapalooza through the years.
Kind Heaven And Kind Heaven In Las Vegas (2019)
STEREOGUM: It’s been several years since you’ve released music. Now you have an album, a band, and this unique Vegas project that share the name Kind Heaven. The Vegas thing is very ambitious. You had talked about how there are some elements of the Vegas experience you can bring out on the road. How does the album connect with the concept of the Kind Heaven experience being built in Las Vegas? Are they all sister projects?
PERRY FARRELL: This is how it’ll work. I’m trying to fortify the music industry. I’m a musician, I’m into art. I’m not an athlete but I looked at the world of athletics. Starting from when kids are little to the time they become professionals, they to have a support system [in sports]. We used to have — believe it or not, when I was a little kid, I tried to learn trumpet in school. The teacher told me to give the trumpet back because I was never going to be a musician. But at least there were instruments there. One of the things I’m trying to do is create a support system for artists, fashion designers, chefs, the young and up-and-comers. I want to start kind of a farm league.
We’re out in the street scratching and scraping and people are not really going to small clubs like they used to. When I was a young musician in LA, we would go out every night to watch groups that were not signed, that were our peers. There were so many clubs. The array went to hair metal to punk rock to avant-garde, poetry clubs would pull you in sometimes. The support system. We’re entertainment, those guys are sports. Sports and entertainment should go together, and they do go together, right? Except we’re not organized the way they’re organized. So as a result, this free downloading thing really hit us hard because there used to be something called tour support. There’s no such thing as tour support anymore. A young group, if they get signed, and I’m talking money, because it is important … the time and the education is also support.
I want to create an environment. So if we were at Lollapalooza, [a young band] might be on at two or three or four o’clock but they’re pretty damn good and you have to know they struggled their ass off to get there. Starting with those types of musicians and those types of acts, I want to bring them in [to Vegas], in residency, and they can stay there for a month, they can record. I’m going to invite Tony Visconti, see if he’ll come be a mentor. I want to bring our community together. Our community is so unique. Talking about sports — an older cat can’t jump anymore, he’s not in the league anymore. With us, we can go until we’re 80. Mavis Staples, you know? We could potentially have a long, beautiful life as artists and musicians and idealists. But we need the ladder. We need the support system.
So I’m building it in Las Vegas, and I plan to be in residency myself. But I want to start a new type of residency. So, as an example, the great Celine Dion — she was there in Vegas, for, I don’t know, 15 years? I hear that she doesn’t speak in the morning, she walks around with a pad and writes things down. She’s there pretty much year round. I can’t do that. I just like to move too much.
I theorize: How can I put this thing together? I look at it as a coral reef, this beautiful reef I’d be making. Once it starts to happen, it takes care of itself. My idea is to build, in Las Vegas, but extract components of it. We can go in and do a charity gig for somebody around the world. We can have fun and go play Lollapalooza in Sweden. We can do other residencies, as we’re doing with City Winery and the Box. My ambition is to have it up and running in Las Vegas next year. But whenever I want, I can pull out and another orchestra can go there in its place. We have four stages running. Matinees and evening. I want the world’s greatest young artists to have a place, like a laboratory.
STEREOGUM: This is a big expansive thing in Vegas, and it’s been so long since you released an album. So how far back does all of this go?
FARRELL: I’ve been working on Kind Heaven for seven years. I started making pictures and images and then writing poetry over the images, then I would reach out to producers playing Lollapalooza. And then Taylor Hawkins, my buddy who just eats, sleeps, and breathes music, he calls me. I’m feeling good about life as a musician these days. The idea of a band is fine, the idea of a solo artist is good, too.
Now, I’m going to take a cue from the rap artists, who are always jumping in on each other’s tracks. I think that’s one of the reasons they have such strong roots. Yes, they talk shit about each other, but they also make allies, and it’s always exciting. So at this point in life, I have Jane’s Addiction out there. Porno For Pyros out there. And I brought in a little of both on this one. I have Chris Chaney, I brought in Pete DiStefano. Next record, I’m hoping to bring in Perkins and Navarro. Let’s make a Kind Heaven Orchestra, and let’s be effective. Let’s do things where we could actually turn around and make a difference and be charitable. There should be a charitable component to this. That’s the final step, when you become successful. Real success is your ability to give back.
Eddie Vedder And Chris Cornell Singing “Hunger Strike” At Lollapalooza (1992)
STEREOGUM: I hadn’t realized there was such an ambition to have Kind Heaven be not just an immersive experience, but an incubator for younger artists. In your life, you’ve already created a big event that is globally known and has led to some very famous moments and performances.
So I was looking around at some old Lollapalooza videos. The first one I wanted to talk about is from 1992, when Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell did “Hunger Strike” together. The original Lolla tour in 1991, it was intended as a goodbye. Then that second one, in 1992, became such a flashpoint moment. So you’re on what is ostensibly Jane’s Addiction’s farewell tour, but then it grows into this bigger thing, representing something that was about to take over the culture. Do you remember the moment you realized what was happening there?
FARRELL: I knew that there was a culture there before I even put the festival together. I lived in a bubble. People, when they’re rich, you say, “You’re living in a bubble.” I was living in the “poor musician bubble.” I didn’t go out of my way to try and shut down the hair metal dudes, I don’t talk bad about people. It’s silly, but it gets the girls going. “Sweet cherry pie,” is it a lyric I would write? No. But now, if I ever met up with those cats, I would shake their hand, you know? It’s hard to be a musician. And they’re trying to have a good time.
Anyway, I knew there was this community. I’m trying to do the same thing now with Kind Heaven. I’m trying to tip a community to happen. Really, what it was, in my little bubble back home in Hollywood, I was living with a few musicians. I knew people loved Henry Rollins, because I’d been to his concert and there’d be a thousand or two [people]. I’d keep going to these shows. Siouxsie, a thousand or two. I knew things didn’t add up, a thousand and a thousand. In this case, you’re talking about creating a new scene. When that happens, people are looking at it, they’re studying it, they might be a little afraid of it.
That’s why, in that last Jane’s run in 1991, I didn’t think to make it all about myself. It would’ve been cool. But I felt like it all would’ve just evaporated. I thought, “No, I’m going to bring the community out of their homes.” Back in those days, we used to go to each other’s homes and listen to each other’s records. That’s how we judged how cool you were, how informed you were, by record collections. “Oh, you like Killing Joke?” I wasn’t an expert, but I was learning. I just knew there was this beautiful, rich underground that — again, it didn’t have the organization. I knew it was there. It wasn’t such a stretch. The stretch was, all right, how are you going to organize it and bring it to light?
A Then-Unknown Lady Gaga At Lollapalooza (2007)
STEREOGUM: Obviously a lot of that stuff got a lot bigger than it would’ve been previously. Then the festival came back years later, in a different form. The first festival I ever went to was actually Lollapalooza 2007. One of my favorite memories from that time was I had picked up some newspaper in which they’d asked festivalgoers who their favorite acts were. And one of them was like, “Yeah I saw some woman on a sidestage named Lady Gaga, she took her clothes off, it’s nuts.” And then within like, a year and a half, she was titanic.
FARRELL: I can tell you a funny story about that.
STEREOGUM: Well, that’s why I’m asking. I’m singling this out partially because of what you were saying, the incubator. You see this unknown woman named Lady Gaga play the sidestage to a hundred people and three years later she returns as a conqueror, headlining the fest. Does the effect of that wear off, or is still surreal each time you see it happen?
FARRELL: It doesn’t happen often enough. I watch people and I root for them, and when they don’t get up there, or when they go away, and when they’re so talented, it’s kinda creepy — like, where are they? Why?
So [at Lolla 2007], my wife and I were getting dressed at our compound and we watch this U-Haul truck drive up onto the grounds in the artist area. Doors go up, and I looked in and there must’ve been 10 racks of clothes, solid. It looked like a hundred million racks. It got me in the guts. I love clothes. I said, “Who the hell is this person!?” She was this sheepish little gal. She had brown hair. All she ended up wearing was thigh high boots and a bikini. I looked around and there she was. She was very sweet, she said, “Hi, I’m Stefani.” [My wife] Etty and I talked about it the whole weekend. You know what? She’s doing it right, she did it right. She’s an artist. And I really appreciate that she’s constantly trying to create art. She’s got a beautiful soul.
I’ll tell you another thing. I love to watch people coming in with a sense of delight in their eyes. Sometimes they’ll go to the mainstage and stay there even though they have 150 to 175 other artists, but they’re intent on seeing this one. They won’t piss. They’ll pee in a bottle. By the time she came back, in 2010, I remember watching these kids get to the stage so early. I started giving them water all throughout the day because they wouldn’t leave. They wanted to see her. It was her Little Monsters.
Then she had this friend of hers who was also performing. I can’t remember the kid’s name. She went back to the stage where she started, the BMI stage, to support her buddy. I hate to say this, but … she’s like Gilda Radner. You just can’t help but love her. Not only did she support her friend, she stage dove. It shows you what kind of a friend she is. The crowd went crazy, they devoured her. They were pulling everything, everywhere. She loved it. They got her back onstage and then she dove right back in there.
“Superhero” As The Entourage Theme (2004-present)
STEREOGUM: Obviously you’ve left a huge imprint with having done the festival all these years, and all these stories we’re talking about, watching different people’s arcs. But, of course there’s also all the music over the years, and how it crept into pop culture along the way. This is a bit of a generational reference point perhaps, but … one of the big ones was “Superhero” being the theme for Entourage. It’s one thing to have a famous movie scene or a cue somebody really likes, but to be the theme song for a show for eight years is more significant. Were you a fan? Did you watch it?
FARRELL: I like HBO. Whatever HBO is doing, I’m interested. So, it’s their new show, and it’s about the movie business, LA, and then Mark Wahlberg is now the executive producer of it. So now it gets really interesting. His cast were the ones who pretty much insisted — the lead kid, Adrien Grenier. I met him at the old Rose Bar here in New York City years ago. He was like, “I’m the one who convinced Mark!” He didn’t really have to convince him, since Mark and I came up together musically, during his Marky Mark days. But, he really loved Jane’s, and we had a brand new record, so it wasn’t like they were trying to get the whole back catalog. So it was really cool. Adrien said, “I was the one who went to Mark and said we gotta get Jane’s on there.” I met Mark a little bit later and he’s telling me, “Yeah I got some other projects going, you know.” This is when he was first becoming an executive producer. He’s done quite well for himself.
This was a new situation, and it was a new record. I was like, “Man, if we can actually have a song on HBO every night that pops up, that could be really cool.”
“Been Caught Stealing” In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
STEREOGUM: I also remember playing a bunch of video games in the early ’00s that featured Jane’s songs. Those same Strays tracks were in some racing video games, and “Been Caught Stealing” was in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
FARRELL: I love Grand Theft Auto. People were looking to get placement. Managers were saying, we gotta get our group in a video game.
STEREOGUM: That was a new thing at the time?
FARRELL: Yeah, yeah. It brings in a little piece of change there. But more importantly is the platform and the game itself. I just thought it was unbelievable that we could have a fun time destroying the city and shooting it up.
I’ll tell you a little funny anecdote about it all. My son starts playing Grand Theft Auto. He was maybe 13, 14. Maybe somebody might say as a parent, “Don’t let your son play Grand Theft Auto.” Well, you know, they’re shooting each other all over the place in these new games. It’s their social environment. Both my boys, when they game, they have their little voice microphone and they’re talking and laughing. Half of it is they’re shooting the breeze while they’re shooting people, destroying things.
I walked in [one time] and I’m staring at the screen and the figure is kicking a dead hooker. Kicking it and kicking it and kicking it. I came in there, even though he was playing a video game, I more just wanted to hang out with him. They get so into them they just go into a hole in their room. Dissolve into a cave. I just missed him. I came in like, “Hey, what are you doing?” He’s like, “What do you want?” “I’m just checking out your skills, man.” So he’s kicking this dead prostitute. I said, “Are you earning points for that?” He said no. “Why are you doing it?” “Because I can.” I said, “All right, time out. Listen man, there’s something wrong with the fact that you’re wasting your time kicking a dead hooker.” He says to me, “Dad, it’s not real.” And I said, “But, that feeling you have in your heart. That is real. And that’s what I’m worried about.”
STEREOGUM: So you turned Grand Theft Auto into a teachable moment …
Andy Bell – “Honey If You Love Him (That’s All That Matters)” (2010)
STEREOGUM: How did this one happen?
FARRELL: I went to the Greek or the Hollywood Bowl in support of gay pride and gay rights, and he was performing. They were kind enough to come and escort me around and ask, “Would you like to meet this person?” I went, “Man, I’d love to sing a song with Andy, that’d be so great.” And they introduced me to him. It went from there. He had a new record coming out. Not a lot of people know about that. It was his record. I met his label people, I was sitting and eating with them and said, “I’d love to write a song with him.” He’s got one of the great voices of the ‘80s. He was a darling.
STEREOGUM: You were in the studio together and everything?
FARRELL: Yeah, he was there. It gets a little sweeter from there. My buddies in Venice Beach, they’re kinda tough. Some of them are gang families, they grew up in families that are gang affiliates. But they love music. So I invited a few of them out to dinner to hang out with me and Andy and Etty. And they got along so great. It was a sweet moment. Watching these tough dudes really get on with Andy — and Andy himself be amongst some kinda tough guys and enjoying himself.
It was a song, “Honey If You Love Him (That’s All That Matters).” I had a friend who was in the fashion industry. He manages incredible designers. He was telling me this story, the troubles of his boyfriend, and that was the advice I gave him at the time. Honey, if you love him, that’s all that matters. You could tell he was going out with a model. That’s what the song is about. A guy going out with a hot mess. I wrote the song and brought the music to Andy.
“Go All The Way (Into The Twilight)” From The Twilight Soundtrack (2008)
STEREOGUM: In general, you’ve explored more electronic sounds over the years. You had this kind of electro-rock song on the Twilight soundtrack.
FARRELL: One of my Venice buddies was going out with Catherine [Hardwicke], the woman who was the director of the first Twilight. So believe it or not, one of my surfing gang, he was going out with her. He goes, “She’s got this movie,” and I was like, “Yeah I’ll do it.” I didn’t know much about it. But just because it was Steve’s girl, I wanted to help him out. He was kinda dating her, and he was in way over his head. Like, “Hey man you were able to get Perry Ferrell to do this song.” I didn’t know anything about the movie or the series. And I heard that Radiohead was going to be on it. I felt pretty confident this was going to be good. If Radiohead’s going to do it, I’ll do it.
So we record a video for it. They gave us a budget. Again, I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was a young girl and a vampire story. I imagined the one from back in the day, The Lost Boys with Kiefer Sutherland. So I put together this sexy video, kinda bisexual women squeezing pomegranates on their breasts, and they were like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” So they never released the video, and now I understand why. But it was a sweet song, and they put it in a great place — it was the final scene, the dance. It was dance meets rock, electro-punk, you know? Something like that. And we have a plaque in our studio of Twilight, which is kinda funny.
“Children Of Night” From Stoned Immaculate: The Music Of The Doors (2000)
STEREOGUM: There was a Doors tribute called Stoned Immaculate in 2000, which you contributed a song to — do you remember that one?
FARRELL: [pause]. Hm. No.
STEREOGUM: OK, we’ll skip that one.
FARRELL: Well I can tell you about another one. This was a great story.
… A Different Doors Story Instead (Satellite Party’s “Woman In The Window”) (2007)
FARRELL: I was living in Venice. Somebody reached out to me from Israel. They told me they communicate with Jim Morrison and they happen to have music that Jim Morrison wants me to produce.
STEREOGUM: OK. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
FARRELL: I said, “OK, I’ll tell you what, first send it to me.” So they send me about eight songs. Some are poetry, some are Jim Morrison singing à cappella. The world’s never heard these songs. I’d never heard these songs. So what do I do? I got really, really excited. I started chopping things up, bringing in musicians. I know I’m not gonna be able to just release this, it’d be a bad idea.
I got a hold of Danny Sugerman, who was the Doors’ manager. Problem is Danny was on his death bed. I called him up and I said, “Danny, I know you’re not feeling well, can I come over? I’m gonna play you something man that might make you feel a little better.” He’s laying on his death bed, his wife — she was Oliver North’s secretary. Her name was — Fawn? Fawn Hall I believe. Oliver North’s secretary married the manager of the Doors. Gorgeous woman. Took care of Danny until the end.
I played him these songs. Danny’s just sitting there, a guy who’s terminally ill, this great smile on his face looking up into space, and he said, “Where the fuck did they get this?” He said, “You know what, I think before Jim left for Paris, I had heard he’d went up onto Sunset and went into a studio, thinking he’s never going to come back maybe, and just did it.” That could be true. That must be true. But how did these people get it? These people still have it, they’re out there right now.
The story takes a terrible twist. Danny dies about a week or two later. So Jeff Jampol is the next manager, he manages the estate. Jeff gives me permission to do one song. He has to go to Jim’s family. This wasn’t a Doors thing, this was Jim Morrison’s content. So he reached out to Jim’s family, and Jim’s family likes me, so they allowed me to use the song. It’s called “Woman In The Window.” I produced it, I put it on the Satellite Party album.
The problem with the Satellite Party album is, I was signed to Columbia when Don Ienner and Steve Lillywhite and a host of other great, great people working at Columbia, they all got wiped out. The next regime came. Donnie was the oldest acting president of a record label, at that point he’d been there for 25 years. My luck. We’re like a sports team. When the coach gets fired, pretty soon the quarterback is going to be replaced. That’s how it goes in sports, and that’s how it goes in entertainment. They bring in their people.
So when that record was dropping, I had heard “You’ve been shelved. They’re not doing anything. They’re bringing in a new president. This wasn’t his signing. But you’re fine to tour.” I went off on tour to support this album. I worked so hard. I lived on a bus with 12 people. I would wake up every morning around eight in the morning, go down to the radio station, perform at the radio station, then go out in the street and perform for free, then give tickets away to people, then perform that night again. That’s what I was doing with my wife to try and promote this thing. That’s how musicians are. We’ll lose money to play. We just want to entertain people.
That song was on the record. After I did that tour, I literally bought the publishing back off of Columbia, especially because of that song. I’m thinking, “This is a song the world’s never heard from Jim Morrison, and you just go and shelve me? Like, fuck you man.” This is not a dead issue. This is just an issue that is on the backburner and it’s going to come to light. This song had a lyric in it. “Open your window/ Woman of Palestine/ Throw down your raiment/ And cover us over.” It was Jim Morrison singing to us from beyond. Good news is, here’s the update: I own the publishing, and we’re putting the album out in the next year. It’ll get its day in the sun. And I have more songs. I have another one now, it’s called “Vast Visitation Of Energy.” And it’s all about that year, there was a vast visitation of energy. He just goes off on the most incredible poetry.
STEREOGUM: So you’re going to collect that other Jim Morrison stuff too?
FARRELL: I’m going to reissue Satellite Party but I’m going to own it now. I mean, there’s great songs on it, but it’s because you have to honor Jim Morrison. The world needs to hear this song. Especially now. What he’s talking about? “Woman of Palestine throw down your raiment.” “Just try to stop us, we’re going to love,” that’s the chorus.
Playing “Mountain Song” With Foo Fighters (2017)
STEREOGUM: This is another one of my favorite Lolla memories, seeing Foo Fighters do this absurd 3.5 hour after show at the Metro. You came out and did “Mountain Song” with them in this tiny club. Obviously there’s a lot of cool throughlines there, having these artists from the old days come back together at Lolla as the years come and go. When you’re playing “Mountain Song” with them, with all the history since — did you know in the moment, this song will be one of them, one that goes on?
FARRELL: That’s what I’m telling you: It doesn’t matter the size when you first start. It matters what your intentions are. If your intentions are great and right, it can take off like a rocket. I would do anything for those guys. Anything. Anytime. If I had to crawl, I would do that, because I love those guys. It’s easy. They just want to rock. And so do I.
Kind Heaven is out now via BMG.