Perry Farrell on Revisiting Nothing's Shocking and Jane's Addiction's Early Days
Courtesy of Jane's Addiction
While the Sunset Strip Music Festival has celebrated classic rock and metal with its illustrious headliners and honorees (The Doors, Joan Jett, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy), this year's featured band may be the first to fuse these genres in a way that was, and continues to be, all their own.
When Jane's Addiction first arrived, their thunderous rhythms were as potent as any metal band's. But the package was more provocative — it was punk. Frontman Perry Farrell brought this rebellious spirit to the group not only with his one-of-a-kind wail, but with an experimental perspective that melded art, theatre, social interaction and melodious expression.
The band captured a lot of this audacious alchemy with their major label debut, Nothing's Shocking, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The seminal recording marked a turning point in rock — and soon after it came out, Farrell did the same thing for festivals with Lollapalooza.
Decades later, Farrell is still evolving and incorporating new ideas into his work. His energy and enthusiasm remains as intense as ever. We talked to him about the past, the present and future in advance of Jane's performance on the Strip this weekend.
West Coast Sound: Excited to hear you guys play Nothing's Shocking in its entirety. Ever done that before?
Perry Farrell: No. Even when we first wrote it, we never played it as an album. This is a chance for people who’ve been listening to it for now close to 26 years to relive it. People are excited. We’re excited. When people think about that album, they think about certain songs that mean something to them. Like for example, a lot of fellas come up to me and say, “I lost my dad and that song — ‘Had a Dad’ — reminds me of him."
I don’t know about other musicians, but when I work on an album, I work on it doggedly. But once I finish it, I don’t go back and listen to it. So even for me, it's been kind of a treat to go back and listen and play it in that order and ignite old memories that were hidden back in my mind. I hope it will spark that for everyone...that great time when Los Angeles was teeming with music and the industry was like a thoroughbred.
WCS: Speaking of Los Angeles, after you guys got your star on the Walk of Fame, I wrote a piece for the Weekly about how Jane's Addiction is the ultimate L.A. band, more so than even X or The Doors. What is it about the band that you think reps our city so well?
PF: The band was founded in L.A. Except for myself, everyone is a native of L.A. I was a Queens boy, and my family comes from Brooklyn. We made the migration here in the ‘70s. I came here and chased the surf. But I was a Hollywood urchin too. Hanging out and living amongst the punk kids of Los Angeles. Dave and Steve were like metal kids, hanging out and going to shows on the Sunset Strip. There was the metal crowd and there was the downtown punk rock crowd. We brought together both.
WCS: Do you remember playing Club Scream downtown? That’s where I first discovered you guys in the late '80s.
PF: Oh yeah. The Scream was a big deal for us.
WCS: You were different from the other bands who played there, sound-wise and looks-wise.
PF: The music scene was changing. At that time, you had remnants of rock and hair metal, spread out at Gazzarri’s, the Whisky, the Roxy. And there were punk rock clubs that were spread out also. Scream was the crossover. We didn’t actually play that many clubs until the Scream. Before that, we put our own shows and parties together.
Jane's took that classic rock ‘n' roll and metal that Dave and Steve were into and mixed it with Velvet Underground, Iggy and Bowie. We had such an extensive vocabulary to draw from. We were such diverse players and we had such diverse opinions about music, and all of it was welcome. It was like a science experiment.
WCS: Throwing your own events was a big part of who you were. Was it a precursor to the festivals you'd do later?
PF: Yeah. We came up just playing gig after gig. House parties in Eagle Rock. Halls downtown. We had a gal who called herself our manager. But she was more like our financier. And she was a hooker. But uh, she loved us and we adored her.
WCS: Wait… a hooker?
PF: Yeah, she really was. She was an escort. But not quite on that league. She financed our parties for a while. That’s how we afforded the kegs of beer and the rental for the venues. And you know, there's a lot you have to do when you throw a party. You have dress the room. Put together the lineup. We'd have a cross-dressing dance revue and then there'd be a motorcycle display as well. These bikers would be looking at these cross-dressers and something combustible would happen.
PF: Sometimes it was negative. Thirty years later, it was positive, right? That explosion that became Jane's Addiction. It fueled the craziness and the wildness and the excitement that we stand for still today.
WCS: Speaking of what you stand for: Jane's has had its music used in advertising, like many bands have. What do you think about the whole controversy with Sid Vicious’ version of “My Way” being used in car commercial? What's your stance?
PF: I think it can be fantastic. We all want to be recognized in life. I was always happy when we had any success at all. That would include somebody saying, we’d like to use your music to represent our company. And if it was a cool company, I would be fine with it.
I look at it like this: If I am becoming part of the fabric of America – in other words, if people around America are seeing and listening to my music via a cool product – I feel good about it. It sounds corny, but I love my country and I feel that if I can be part of the country’s culture, the fabric of America, it's great.
There’s so much shit in pop culture. Why shouldn’t there be parts of it that are good? There should be a good thread. It shouldn’t be all crappy or not good for ya. Like, I could become one of our American heroes! Like Buzz Aldrin! Like Babe Ruth! Like Perry Farrell! Why not!?
WCS: Ah-ha! I get it. When you brought back Lollapalooza after the hiatus in 2003, a cell phone company was involved. You said something about everyone bringing cell phones to concerts one day. You predicted how important this technology would be to concert culture. What do you think about the prevalence of them now?
PF: Well what am I gonna do? Insist that nobody have a cell phone? Some people do that and I think that’s ridiculous. I choose to work with technology and apply it differently. Now I have this new project I'm working on called Kind Heaven where I am embracing technology... the experience won't work without a cell phone. For Jane’s Addiction, if I see a sea of cell phones during the show, I just take it as, they love you and they want to capture that moment. I choose to just be happy and be proud of that.
The 7th Annual Sunset Strip Music Festival takes place Sat. Sept. 20 and Sun., Sept. 21. Jane's Addiction play the outdoor main stage on Saturday. The band will be honored with the Elmer Valentine Award on Fri., Sept. 19 at the House of Blues. See SSMF.com for more information.
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