“What makes the band so tough to sometimes move forward is what makes the band so great musically and creatively." - Stephen Perkins, on the foursome's creative challenges. "Let’s get into a garage and really terrorise each other musically and find out what we’re made of." - Stephen Perkins, on their musical pursuit.
"There’s a punk edge to it and that’s because we’re all very different people feeling different things at the same time.” - Stephen Perkins, on the mix in their music.
By Michelle Read
“The year’s over and we survived,” Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins says with a wry laugh.
He’s casting his eye back on 2009, a year in which Jane’s Addiction swallowed the ego, stared down all of the old fights and simply celebrated the four different personalities that made up one of the late 1980s and early 1990s’ most exciting, interesting and volatile bands.
Perkins, singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and bass guitarist Eric Avery have been through enough ups, downs and break ups to make even the most drama-hardened gossip magazine editor dizzy.
Their newfound peace, Perkins says, stems from the sense of perspective that comes with age – Perkins and Navarro are now 42, while Farrell is 50 and Avery 44 – and the fact that they’ve all got more than just the band to focus on these days.
In the 25 years since Jane’s Addiction formed, the band has been split more years than it has been together, so the four original members have moved their musical talents into many different arenas, with members playing in bands such as Porno For Pyros, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Panic Channel, Deconstruction, Satellite Party, Polarbear and Camp Freddy.
“Back in the day, all we had was Jane’s Addiction, that was the only thing really important in our lives,” Perkins says. “Now of course each of us has kids, or a wife or separate bands or a different situation, and they’re just as important as Jane’s Addiction so it makes things a lot easier to get through the day.
“If a decision in Jane’s Addiction doesn’t go your way then it doesn’t mean your day is ruined, there are other things around the corner... which makes it easier to see the right way to do things as a band. Then, of course, why would you want to be destructive and not move forward? Now we realise that.”
Even in Jane’s Addiction’s early days things were far from zen. Farrell moved to California in the early 1980s, where he surfed, waited tables and worked on construction sites before forming the gothic rock band Psi Com. When Psi Com hit the rocks Farrell was introduced to Avery and the pair went through several drummers and guitarists before bringing Perkins into the mix. The chain was complete once Perkins’ high school friend Navarro linked with the trio.
The band’s inimitable sound combined Farrell’s cheeky lyrics with the push and pull of their love for different genres from folk to punk, jazz and rock. After tearing up the LA club scene they pocketed what was then a huge advance of about $250,000 and recorded their self-titled live debut in a club for $4000. They hit their first problems upon recording their first studio album, Nothing’s Shocking, when Farrell demanded a major share of the album’s royalties.
The rest is indie music legend, as various stoushes broke out - Farrell accused Avery of hitting on his girlfriend, the band chose controversial album covers, Navarro battled heroin addiction and Farrell attended drug rehabilitation. Couple that with some intense touring miles – including a show during which Farrell and Navarro fought on stage - and it was all over not long after their second album Ritual de lo Habitual was released.
“Jane’s Addition in ’86 was the same as it is now, we have four different personalities, we have different styles, different friends, different record collections, we like different things, different art,” Perkins says. “What makes the band so tough to sometimes move forward is what makes the band so great musically and creatively. We all see it differently, we all bring different elements to each song. Someone sees it green, I see it blue and then someone shows up and says, ‘no let’s go red.’”
That tension is exactly what made Jane’s Addiction’s sound so unique, Perkins says, with songs such as Been Caught Stealing, Stop!, Jane Says and Mountain Song still sounding fresh today.
“When you respect the other guys, if you go through their record collection and you don’t like their music, it doesn’t mean you don’t like working with them. That’s important, I mean Metallica, Pantera or some of the real straightforward metal bands are really good, but I would imagine a lot of the guys in Pantera or Metallica probably all like the same music. That’s how they get that streamlined sound because they all listen to the same sh** and that’s why when they come up with a song it really sounds like one kind of voice. You can tell with Jane’s Addiction we’re going all over the place, one song is you know, psychedelic jazz, the next one is straight forward, or heart-beat pulse metal. There’s a punk edge to it and that’s because we’re all very different people feeling different things at the same time.”
Jane’s Addiction have reunited a couple of times now, including from 2001 to 2003 when they released Strays, but the current push could be their longest-lasting renewed team effort. They cancelled their last scheduled Australian tour when Perkins contracted a nasty elbow infection, but are looking forward to heading Down Under, he says. After their Soundwave shows there could be more touring, but they’re hoping to follow it all up with some new recordings.
“The one thing we don’t want to do is rush it or take a bundle of money from the label and have that pressure… we’re thinking let’s get down and dirty – not really in the studio, let’s get into a garage and really terrorise each other musically and find out what we’re made of, because once you go into the studio and you put some headphones on, you got a producer, you will come up with something - but does it represent the dirt and the soul and the blood, sweat and tears? Does it represent our four personalities?
“The new music direction should be the four of us making organic music, open to all ideas just like we were back in the day. If you put Been Caught Stealing next to Jane Says next to Mountain Song they could be from three different bands and that’s exactly what we should be doing now, not really trying for a sound, just making music and seeing how it happens organically.”
Jane's Addiction join an impressive line-up of bands, set to head Down Under next month for Soundwave. For more information head to www.soundwavefestival.com
Soundwave dates in February/March:
Sat 20 - Brisbane - RNA Showgrounds Sun 21 - Sydney - Eastern Creek Raceway Fri 26 - Melbourne - Showgrounds Sat 27 - Adelaide - Bonython Park Mon 1 - Perth - Steel Blue Oval