By Mark Guarino
When drummer Stephen Perkins reflects on Jane’s Addiction — the band he co-founded in 1986 — expect no humility.
“Jane’s is the soil or the fertilizer that all those flowers came out of that people call the Pumpkins or Nirvana, Primus or Pearl Jam,” he said. “When you look at a flower, you don’t look at the dirt underneath, but it’s there.”
Looking back, it’s obvious he and his bandmates — singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and bassist Eric Avery — have earned those bragging rights. Jane’s Addiction never sold as many records as its predecessors in the alternative rock era of the early ‘90s, but there’s no question its two critically-hailed albums — 1988’s “Nothing’s Shocking” (Warner Bros.) and 1990’s “Ritual De Lo Habitual (Warner Bros.) — beckoned that time period’s looming revolution in musical culture.
Combining Farrell and Avery’s rapture with goth rock mysticism and Perkins and Navarro’s love of hard rock muscle, the band’s two albums exploded with a sprawling mix of hypnotic world beats, punk rock ideology, guitar metal, funk grooves and overall artful intelligence.
“It was a combination of me and Dave wanting to show off our chops and them wanting to show off the beauty of darkness,” Perkins explained.
And like the Ramones ten years before, Farrell reclaimed the idea that rock lyrics can be about much more than sex, drugs and cheap rebellion. He wrote psychologically rich lyrics, and in his high-pitch, stream-of-conscious delivery, anything he sang sounded celebratory.
The band is in the midst of reclaiming its stature with a reunion tour and the likelihood of recording again. The line-up does not include Avery, who was asked but declined. His replacement is Martyn LeNoble of the Jane’s spin-off group Porno For Pyros. The tour arrives at the Allstate Arena Sunday.
Farrell and Perkins discussed the reunion in a phone interview last Saturday, a few hours before hitting the stage in Raleigh, N.C. Although fueled by getting together, they said it took hurdling personal strife to make it happen. Farrell and Perkins disbanded the band in 1992 to form Porno For Pyros while Navarro joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers and started a solo career. A brief regrouping in 1997 only yielded a collection of live material and outtakes.
But after playing a charity show last year, the group found themselves “falling into the rhythm of it,” Perkins said. And because 2000 was the Jubilee year, it seemed particularly apt.
“Because of the Jubilee year, I wanted to have the loudest mouthpiece I could to start the year off,” Farrell said. “And there’s no bigger mouthpiece in my life than Jane’s. We needed to heal and apologize to each other. In the Jubilee spirit, we had it out. We said our piece, kissed and made up and we’re best of friends again.”
Besides his work with Jane’s, Farrell’s other definitive mark on ‘90s rock culture was Lollapalooza, the touring rock carnival, which he kicked off in 1991. Jane’s Addiction headlined its first year, but in the seven years to come, it was the premiere bill for the most cutting edge music emerging at the time and helped catapult the careers of Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. Also on the road was a rotating bazaar of art galleries, bookstores, non-profits and social justice organizations.
But, like the music itself, Lollapalooza was eventually co-opted by big business. The late ‘90s market was swamped with copycat tours — H.O.R.D.E., OzzFest, Warped, Lilith — except, unlike Lollapalooza’s strict corporate-free ideology, these new summer extravaganzas were all swallowed up by sponsors. Soon, band managers realized they could make more money if their clients played other tours. Lollapalooza was squeezed out in 1997.
“It was becoming more and more of a headache and less and less of an artistic expression, so I laid it to rest,” Farrell said. “In the end … the treasurer was running the kingdom.”
When this tour is finished, Farrell said he’ll return to L.A. where he’ll begin putting out feelers about starting the festival back up again mainly because, people have been asking. This time, he’d like it to pair live bands with DJs. “I’ll consider it if I could do it right. I wouldn’t do it purely for the money. That’s why I laid it to rest. It was just no fun,” he said. “If it becomes too much of an issue of money, it smells.”
Lollapalooza signaled the end of the alternative era and corporate culture’s dominance over the public’s taste. With the rapid conglomeration of major labels, radio stations, concert venues and ticket servicing agencies in the late ‘90s, mainstream music has been homogenized to a breaking point. Since just a handful of corporations now control what and how music is heard, the music that is being brought to the public is overwhelmingly artless and derivative.
“What you’re left with is everything is the same sound. Now everyone is scratching their heads and thinking ‘what happened?’,” Farrell said. “It boils down to a few of these radio programmers. They ought to have their (expletive) kicked!”
Rap metal is the epitome of the kind of formulaic music that has prevailed, where true angst has lost its real emotional impact and has become a calling card.
“There’s energy. But energy without direction is a complaint without a solution,” Farrell said. “They think a bunch of tattoos are going to draw a crowd. I like tattoos, but they’re not going to impress me.”
“I don’t think people care as much about the songwriting,” said Perkins. “They get a guitar riff or a hook of a lyric and take it from there over and over. We took a lot of time crafting the stuff and I think it shows still. It’s a piece of art, not a song.”
Farrell, 42, said the difference between now and then is the availability of alternative and independent routes available to a young band.
“We were lucky. We came up through the punk rock era. The aspiration was to get into the independent stream. We were putting our own shows together, I didn’t have to worry about a major promoter cutting me off. I didn’t have to worry about college radio because it was starting to really flourish. I knew the independent label route. Things could be artistic and free,” he said. “Nowadays, because those options are cut off for these poor young people, they don’t have as many options. They have to fit a format to get off the ground. In one way, I don’t blame them. We as musicians all want to get out there and play, we live for it. So if the only route is, okay, you have to dress like a monkey, that’s what you have to do.”
Because of the Sept. 11 terrorism, Jane’s Addiction was first considering postponing its tour. Rehearsals were to begin that week.
Perkins, 34, said his decision to continue was based on his recent experience teaching drum circles at a camp for disabled adults and children.
“I was spreading happiness and love to these people who knew nothing about Jane’s Addiction or Porno For Pyros,” he said. “And it was basically the most primitive simple drum beat helping these people get through their day. Now our tour has more meaning than ever. I thought to myself, ‘wow, it’s a strange time to go to every major city in America.’ But I’m a drummer, I’m there to bring music.”
Farrell — whose electronic-heavy solo album this year was sensual and jubilant — shares his sentiment.
“You know, awhile back I learned mysticism teaches that politicians will never solve this problem we have on earth, nor will violence. But it’ll be spirit and those who bring spirit. And I would include our camp in that,” he said. “We bring spirit to people. Somebody may scoff or laugh at me for saying that, but you know, the crowds gather for us. And when they gather, I think there’s healing done. The meek shall inherit the earth. I couldn’t see living in fear. I can see living in harmony. And music’s harmony.”