Jane's Addiction on great decisions, bad record companies and terrible music

Strays Artwork

Pioneering alt-rock band Jane’s Addiction unleashed their first studio album on an unsuspecting public in 1988. Creatively and stylishly melding sweeping art-rock and a heavyduty metal crunch, Nothing’s Shocking was comprised of songs built on guitarist Dave Navarro’s multi-storey riffs, topped with the unmistakable melodic banshee howl of vocalist Perry Farrell.

Live shows crackled with the mindbending excitement of the nucleus pair’s immaculately flawed relationship. This clash of two creative forces – fuelled by a mountain of mind-altering substances – led to some great music, but also to the band splitting in 1990 after just three albums. Apart from one US tour in 1997, the band members went their separate ways and busied themselves with separate musical activities. But Jane’s Addiction cast a long shadow, and in 2003 they were back and surfing a new wave of popularity with Strays, their first album of new material in 13 years.

What was would you say was the best career decision you ever made?

Perry Farrell: I can think of three. The obvious answer would be getting this band back together, and the second would be forming Lollapalooza. The third answer would be breaking up Jane’s Addiction. Because here I am now, and we have a wonderful story, and I really wasn’t feeling it back at that time. I thought, be true to yourself, do what you feel in your heart and not what everyone else wants you to do because it’s gonna make life good for them. Who knows what would’ve happened and where I’d be today if I hadn’t done that?

You can go about this business of music in two ways. You can go for it all. And back then we saw some of the other bands around us just blow up. But we’re here talking now. As for them, I don’t admire their position. But I really admire where we are, looking from the outside, because it’s very hard to maintain a career, let alone have one 13 years later and feeling as fresh as ours.

Y’know, this is the best we’ve ever done. We were underground, and now we’ve come back at a time when it’s very difficult to sell a record. So for us to come back and sell a million records is wonderful, whereas people coming up at the same time as us were expecting to sell ten million and now can’t even sell one. To me it feels wonderful being where we are.

Dave Navarro: The best decision I made was to accept the invitation to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I really got a great schooling on working with a band, and coming into an unfamiliar situation forced me to expand my creativity and musicianship. In the same breath, it helped me truly appreciate what I had in Jane’s Addiction. So when I came back to it was that much more appealing and rewarding.

Which career move would you like the opportunity to be able to go back and change?

PF: In spite of what I’ve said, I deeply regret that the band broke up the first time. The problems we had were really all about treating each other with decency and with respect, and we didn’t have that. That always stuck in my side – why couldn’t I accomplish that? And if I could have it would’ve been a great thing from a career point of view and also from a personal point of view. The act of forgiveness is huge. It’s the hardest thing and the greatest thing, and we didn’t quite accomplish that. We lost the bass player (Eric Avery) although we tried and tried. It was hard, but we were blessed too, because (new bassist) Chris Cheney came in, and I’m in love with Chris Cheney. He’s talented, sexy and dedicated and a great human being. So we got something great in him.

DN: I don’t regret anything that I’ve done careerwise, because ultimately every decision that I made has led me to where I am now, and I’m pretty happy. Oh, I was asked to perform with Beyoncé recently but I couldn’t make it, so I really regret that! She’s a beautiful woman and she has a great voice.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you ever asked for on a tour rider?

PF: I have on my rider that I need two bottles of fine red wine. But it has to be fine wine; I won’t accept anything that costs less than 100 dollars! That way I get to taste lots of great wine – and get to take a lot of it home, too. I have a great cellar now and people are like: ‘Oh, man you’re really into wine’. But, y’know, it’s really easy for me.

DN: As far as rock’n’roll anecdotes go we’re pretty shy of ’em. I’ll turn that question into a positive. We ask for new socks and underwear for every show. When you’re on tour and you’re on stage every day you get kinda sweaty. And you wanna be clean.

What’s the worst stunt a record or management company has ever tried to pull on you?

PF: I’ve probably gone through more management and record companies than most guys you’ll sit down with. I know most of them, because I’ve been in this game for 20 years. I’ve moved around and dealt with them from the musician’s point of view, all the way to a promoter and producer’s point of view with Lollapalooza. So sometimes I’m sitting at the head of the table and sometimes I’m one of the lads in the band.

What I will say about record company executives is this: the industry as a whole is in a quandary. You’ve got this beautiful art form called music. It’s not gonna go away, it’s an ancient ritual, it’s a part of our culture as a human race to listen to and communicate through music. But they’re not really sure about how to contain this thing, how to make a living from it – which is fair, as that gives the musicians the chance to make their music. But we need a system in place to promote and expose, publicise and distribute. But the avenues of distribution have changed so vastly. So I think they’re slow, they’re afraid.

If you want to see how to proceed, then look at the hardware. The radio expanded and exploded not because of content but because of the radio itself, the gear. They needed something to have people need a radio for, and originally all the content was supplied by the radio manufacturers themselves. Now these days music’s being played on iPods and computers.

So, record and management guys, they’re good people for the most part, but they need more leaders willing to take risks, calculated risks, on a yearly basis. They’ve chosen pop as their format to keep their heads above water, and I don’t think that can possibly last because it’s causing bad music to be made. They’re losing the record buyers.

DN: I really can’t think of any one thing.

Which song would you rather never hear again?

PF: Y’know, we used to not wanna play Been Caught Stealing or Jane Says. Sometimes radio songs aren’t the best songs for musicians to play in a live situation. There are better ones that are heavier but don’t always make it as a single. Sometimes the single can be lighter, but musicians who like to rock and get into that kind of groove don’t wanna skirt and tiptoe around, they wanna nail it. I think at this point we don’t wanna upset people who go to our shows. Most of them, especially the young ones, have only heard those two songs on record. So we said, let’s try to play them in a way that we dig them again. So we streamlined the amount of notes, and found that the fewer notes you play the more impact each of those notes has, they come harder. Now, Been Caught Stealing kinda floats.

DN: There’s this one yodelling song by Scatman John . I really never want to hear that again.

Do you think great musicians are born as such rather than made?

PF: They’re born. I really believe that. And I’ve really felt that in the past couple of days, as a matter of fact. I’ve been watching a lot of the new groups, and have come to appreciate my own group. Robert Harvey from The Music, he’s got a great voice. There are a lot of good bands out there but a great voice attached to a good band makes that band a great band. That great voice comes around rarely. Some of these gals these days who say: “I’m a diva”… well I’m sorry, they’re not divas. Diana Ross is a diva. Diana Ross has a God-given voice, and that’s why she deserves to be called a diva. Dave Navarro, he picks up a guitar and this sound comes out of it and it’s the kind of sound you hear legend of. They’re definitely born.

DN: I think they’re born. There are great musicians who were taught, but the people who really touch others’ souls – whatever career path they choose – were born with that ability. And those who have become musicians do it extremely well.

What would you have liked to have done with your life if you hadn’t become a musician?

PF: Well, my father was a jewellery designer on 47th Street in New York, the diamond district. He was the guy who had black hands, who buffed and polished the stones and created the original designs. So I was brought up around jewellery design. From there I was a talented graphic artist, and for a while I was a graphic designer on magazines. I was fascinated with it. I designed the first two album covers for Jane’s Addiction.

DN: I’d be an FHM photographer.

What would we find on the ‘hobbies and interests’ section of your CV?

PF: Being with my family – I’m a very proud father. And I’m studying Judaism. Also, I really do want to start doing the graphics again. I didn’t do the cover of ‘Strays’, but by the end of this tour I’ll have a nice library of images ready to go for us. It’s the way to go, because record companies won’t take the time that you would, if you could, to design things yourselves.

DN: Yoga – every day. I also work with video, computer editing. Apart from that, spending time with my girl (ex-Baywatch star Carmen Elektra), watching movies and laying low. The normal human things.

What goals would you still like to achieve?

PF: I’m really looking forward to making the next record. I want to have breathing space so that we can expand what we’re capable of. We know there’s a radio format, and we’ve done that. I’m not saying there won’t be a few radio songs on there. I mean, even The Beatles always had two for each record. But I want to be able to think, to have a stream of consciousness and put together a record where there wouldn’t be any interruptions during four months of writing. With that kind of concentration I know that we could accomplish what we’re capable of musically. To be interrupted, having the static of what radio wants, it leads you up a path where you feel in your heart that you’re not truly where you wanna be.

DN: Truthfully, all the things I’ve wanted to accomplish, I have. But I’m open to those goals to present themselves.

Which song or piece of music would you like to be played at your funeral?

PF: I was thinking of I Would For You. But I like to think it would be one that I haven’t written yet.

DN: This Is How We Do It by Montel Jordan.

Jane's Addiction: how LA’s weirdest band made Nothing's Shocking

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.