Ritual de lo Habitual, 25 Years Later: Producer Dave Jerden Looks Back

Jane's Addiction in 1988EXPAND
Jane's Addiction in 1988
Fredrich Cantor/Warner Bros. Records

Ritual de lo Habitual, the bacchanalian, crushing Jane’s Addiction album that pushed “alternative rock” towards the masses, turns 25 years old this week. The multi-platinum LP's hit shoplifting anthem “Been Caught Stealing” spent weeks atop the modern rock chart. The blissed-out epic “Three Days” blew minds. The Ritual album cover, created by and depicting Jane’s frontman/shaman Perry Farrell in a ménage à trois, necessitated an alternative cover, emblazoned with the text of the First Amendment, so certain stores would stock it.

Dave Jerden, who also worked on Jane's striking 1988 debut Nothing's Shocking, co-produced Ritual with Farrell at North Hollywood’s Track Record Studios. Pre-Jane’s, Jerden engineered the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 1984 self-titled bow, as well as LPs from The Rolling Stones (Dirty Work) and Talking Heads (Remain in Light).  He would go on to produce key records by Alice in Chains, Social Distortion on The Offspring, among many others.

With the 25th anniversary of Ritual approaching, Jerden checked in from his Woodland Hills apartment to talk about the album's chaotic genesis.

Jane’s was known to be a dangerous, hard-living band. As a producer, how much was that an advantage in making a good record and how much was it a disadvantage?
Well, I always think the best albums are done, they have some kind of tension going on. All my successful records always had some kind of drama going on — I don’t know why. After working with The Rolling Stones I was used to this kind of crazy tension.

The story goes that Jane’s guitarist Dave Navarro doesn’t recall making Ritual because of his drug use. Did the band seem higher than they appeared making Nothing’s Shocking?
There was talk going on that there were drug problems, but they never brought drugs into the studio. In fact, outside the studio I never saw [any] of them use drugs. Now that’s not to say they weren’t using drugs. When I was with them in the studio on both albums, they were all work.

Dave says he doesn’t say he doesn’t remember making the record … he was totally present when I was there. There have been so many rumors about this record over the years and most of them are pretty much crap from my standpoint.

Before the Ritual album, Perry and Casey [Niccoli, Farrell’s then-girlfriend] had my wife and I over for dinner one time, and I never saw any drug use or any signs of drug use going on over at Perry’s house. So I think a lot of these myths get worked up. There were a lot of myths going on with the Stones that I’d heard over the years and when I actually worked with them, I found them not to be true.

Ritual sounds lush yet lean. What were you looking to do sonically on the record?
The first side of the album which has “Stop!” and songs like that on it, they were pretty much an extension from the first album. There’s been a lot of controversy over the sound, good and bad, of the first album. The reason I loved Perry and thought he was such a genius was he was able to use his music distill everything that was going on in the culture. There were a lot of cultural changes going on in the ’80s and a lot of stuff coming at us really fast in technology and through music, and he seemed to be able to distill all this stuff into his music. And my contribution was to try to emulate what was going on in his lyrics and keep it lean.

There was a strong punk ethic going on at the time of that record, and I was trying to keep things sonically down and dirty, almost aggravating on the first album. And then on the second album when you move into side two with “Then She Did…” and “Three Days,” “Classic Girl,” those are more epic songs.

When I was first presented the songs on a cassette that I got from Perry before I did Nothing’s Shocking, basically there was like 18 songs on this cassette and half of them, nine songs went on Nothing’s Shocking and the other nine went on the Ritual album. And I think what we did, songs like “Then She Did…” were kind of put off for a more production thing. But I wanted us to keep extending. I don’t think the band were ready on the first album to do a song like “Three Days” like they were on the second album. That’s just my impression.

Do you prefer Ritual or Nothing’s Shocking?
My favorite record out of the two is the Ritual album. In fact, out of every record I’ve ever done it’s my favorite. It has this strange vibe to it that I can’t put my finger on ... it’s like it’s coming from someplace else. How that happened I’m not exactly sure. If I could write down the formula for that I would use it every time, but something really happened on that record. What you hear on “Three Days” basically was one take.

What was it like seeing that one take of “Three Days” as it happened?
My best hour in the studio out of all the years I’ve been working is when I cut that song. It was absolutely amazing. What happened that day is they did one run-through of the song and it was pretty good. And then Roberta Peterson, the A&R person, and Steve Baker, both from Warner Bros., came down just as they were starting the second take. And the guys were actually performing the song. They had an audience. Normally in the studio you don’t have an audience, [or] if you have an audience, it’s usually people that are associated with the band that had been around for a long time. At first I was going, “Oh, I hope they get through this,” and then I just sat back and enjoyed it. 

“Been Caught Stealing” is a pretty odd song to have been a rock hit. Did you have any idea while you and the band were making the song that it would connect with so many people?
When we were first starting to cut the song, we had some problems with it, trying to get a groove on it and then we worked that out. It was just an album song to me. We took it to Roberta Peterson at Warner Bros. when it was done, when it was all mixed, and I went in with the band and we sat down and played the record and when it was done she said, “Wow.” And she’s the one that said, “I really like that song ‘Been Caught Stealing’" and that was the first time that it emerged as the potential single or whatever.

Was the dogs barking at the beginning of “Been Caught Stealing” something you set out to capture or a “happy accident”?
No, that was one of those moments that just happen. We just kept it. Having worked with Brian Eno, I realized that happy mistakes are probably the best thing that can happen on a record. That was Perry’s dog Annie barking when he walked into the vocal booth to cut his song. The door was still open a little bit as she barked and it got caught on tape. So we just kept it. It was so perfect.

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There are some cool effects on Perry’s vocals on Ritual. Did you all work those out in advance or were they on the fly?
He used those vocal effects when he sang live and he felt comfortable with it, and he asked me with trepidation, “Should I use these things? Is that the right thing to do?” or whatever and I said, “Hell yeah it’s right to do, you can do whatever. I mean, it’s your record.”

Where did the rocket-like sounds that go across the speakers in “Ain’t No Right” come from?
That’s actually the sound of an F-16 fighter taking off on the tarmac as the engines are revving up. So I just put that in there to add excitement. I like subliminal or even apparent effects that will propel a song into a mood. It was something I found. It was in a magazine, I forget the magazine, but there was like a cardboard insert that had the F-16 sound on it. This was right when CDs were coming out and it was like a cheap sample CD type thing ... I listened to it once and said, “I’m going to use this sometime on something.”

Ritual de lo Habitual co-producer Dave JerdenEXPAND
Ritual de lo Habitual co-producer Dave Jerden
Courtesy of Dave Jerden

There are a lot of interesting grooves on Ritual. How did bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins put those together?
Well, everything starts with Eric on bass. In rehearsals I noticed he was the one that would get things going, and then Steve is amazing — he’s like a drummer/percussionist. He came in with this huge drum set on Nothing’s Shocking and I had him strip it down so he would play more drum-type stuff instead of percussion stuff. And then overdub the percussion stuff. So that’s the difference in the two records as far as that goes. But Steve had his parts all worked out. So my job was to get the best takes of what he wanted to do. I would say on the Ritual album, Steve was the hardest working person, without a doubt.

How did you first connect with the band?
At the time Jane’s was getting signed, before Nothing’s Shocking there was a big buzz in L.A. about the band and I had actually seen the band play live a bunch of times with other bands, opening for other bands or sometimes being the headliner. There were a lot of producers after the band at the time that wanted to work with them, but they all wanted to change the band. They all wanted to change personnel in the band or have them sound like somebody else. I’m not going to mention names, but there were producers that wanted to kick Perry out of the band. There was one producer that wanted them to sound like U2 at the time because The Joshua Tree album was out. They came to me and said, “This is bullshit.”

I was working at a studio called El Dorado, where we cut Nothing’s Shocking, and the whole band came by and I played them some stuff I’d been working on and it was very relaxed and then they left. I was thinking at that time it would nice to do a record with them, but I actually didn’t think I’d do a record with them because there were such big producers after them at the time.

But then they invited me to a show, down at Scream, and I went down at 3 o’clock at the morning to Scream at this hotel downtown and saw them play and I was completely floored. I’d seen them play a bunch of times before, but this time they were absolutely, unbelievably great and then I got really excited about working them. I really wanted to do this.

If Perry Farrell called you today and said they’re going to make a new Jane’s album and want you to produce, what would your answer be?
If Eric Avery was doing the record with the band then it would be a no-brainer, I’d say yes. If Eric was not involved then … I’ve been talking to Steve Perkins — we haven’t discussed me doing another record or anything like that, but I have been talking again with Steve. And I do talk with Eric every once in a while. All the circumstances would have to be worked out, but I do think that if I did make another record with Jane’s Addiction, it would be a really cool record. 


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