Steve Perkins talks about the birth, the breakup, and the rebirths of Jane’s Addiction.
Published: August 8, 2012
Jane’s Addiction might be the seminal alternative band. Coming out of Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, Jane’s Addiction brought together the sounds of punk, metal, New Wave, and even the Grateful Dead to create a new aesthetic. In 1991, their farewell tour gave rise to the Lollapalooza festival, which united what bandleader Perry Farrell called “freaks”—artists as diverse as Ice-T and Henry Rollins were on the first bill—and forged a new sense of “alternative culture.” Jane’s Addiction has reunited several times since then and, last year, released a new album with the help of Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. City Paper caught up with Stephen Perkins, the drummer who has played in every incarnation of Jane’s Addiction, to talk about the old band, the new record, and how to make great music.
City Paper: How’s the tour going?
Stephen Perkins: We’ve had a month and a half off, which has been wonderful. But the first two legs were really, really exciting. Not only getting back on the tour bus with my old friends who I met when I was 14 or 15 years old, but to have brand-new music and put it into the set list with the old catalog and to hit those emotional highs. And that’s what Jane’s Addiction really is to me. It’s an emotional experience, and if it doesn’t feel right, we break up. That’s why we don’t really have a consistent work ethic, because we only want to do it when it’s real. We don’t want to pose up there. We don’t want to fake it for a payday. So when it feels real and the friendships are there, that’s when we get back together and that’s when the shows are really great. That way everybody who sees a show and hears our music is getting the true, urgent Jane’s Addiction, the Jane’s Addiction that’s real.
CP: How did the new album come about?
SP: It was a great moment when we met Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio—unbelievable musician. Shows up, and it was me and [Dave] Navarro and Dave: me and the two Daves. So we got together for about two or three months without Perry and made noise and found a sound. We just found a real inspiring way to make music again and it wasn’t about verse-chorus, the bridge, or how many times the intro will come. It was really about finding the noise and then kicking that noise and fine-tuning and sitting down with Perry and writing songs and carving and coming up with melodies and themes and taking, like we always do, the great poems that Perry has and putting those into a real potent punch—“Three Four” [mimicking Farrell’s high voice] Bam! There’s the “bam.” That’s the way to sound like Jane’s Addiction: Carve the songs, cut the fat, edit them, and still have the emotional peaks and valleys and the dynamics Jane’s Addiction is known for. Because basically we all four are very different guys, just like in the old days. All four of guys have different record collections, different friends, and we dress different, and we bring different sounds and ideas to the table, which makes an eclectic record.
CP: That sounds a lot like how bands start out. Was that how Jane’s started the first time?
SP: In ’86, when we all met each other, it was a combination of me and Dave running that slashy metal playing and Eric and Perry really influenced by Siouxsie [and the Banshees], Echo [and the Bunnymen], Joy Division, Bauhaus—more of the subtle songwriting approach, less slash. And that’s what you get when Jane’s started: me and Dave kind of overplaying and Eric and Perry underplaying, and that was the dark with the light. And that was something we didn’t ignore. Me and Navarro love Grateful Dead and all of a sudden “Summertime Rolls” was born, and Perry loved African music and all of a sudden “Mountain Song” was there. You bring what you have to the table, and if you respect the cats you’re working with, you listen. And that’s what happened this time. Sitek would bring records to the hangout and I’d never even heard this shit. And I’ve been a musician my whole life. I love listening to music and Sitek was bringing this shit I’d never heard of. And we both shared the love of Bad Brains, and from that point on, we had a different record collection. You don’t know what you’re going for, but you know there is some ground to break. You don’t want to repeat what you did even though you love it. You want to go past it. You want to grab that urgency, that desperation that rock music needs, or it’s just a fraud. If you’re not urgent, if you’re not desperate . . .It’s tough to hear Mick Jagger sing, “I can’t get no satisfaction”—that’s crazy. He’s got it. You really have to live it.
CP: Are there bands you hear that are coming from where y’all were trying to come from?
SP: For me, Jane’s Addiction was the little pebble that went to the still lake and the ripples are still moving, and it doesn’t mean they sound like us, but the philosophy is there. Like I said, there’s a got to a be a desperate ion, an urgency, a pushing of the envelope, and a mixing of the old and the new without repeating. Jane’s Addiction in ’86 was surrounded by, at least on the Strip, G&R, Motley, Ratt, Poison. But at midnight the Chili Peppers and X and Jane’s and Fishbone—there was a whole other thing going on. You know, Motley was supposed to be dangerous. We’re looking at it, thinking it’s bubblegum. That ain’t what was going on in L.A. That was the Strip. That was hairspray. We took our music to the point where it was environmental. We took Hollywood in ’86 and put it into a song. Porno for Pyros took the riots and put it into our music. And that influences great bands around us: Don’t pose.
I feel like Jane’s Addiction, to me, is the best thing I’ve done in this life and it’s changed the world. But I really look back in my life at the ripple effect. If the [Smashing] Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Nirvana are the flowers, Jane’s Addiction is the fertilizer, the dirt, the shit that they grew out of. Just as Bowie and Lou Reed and Iggy were the fertilizer. So I’m proud to be the shit for some of the great bands of the 1990s.
Jane's Addiction will be playing at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric on Aug. 14.
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