By Mark Guarino
Perry Farrell is Lollapalooza. So it made sense that when the brand name was acquired by Austin-based Capital Sports & Entertainment (CSE) and remounted as a destination festival, that Farrell was made a partner to give Lollapalooza’s new chapter a familiar face.
On Sunday, Farrell — who fronted Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros — will debut his new band Satellite Party featuring Tony Kanal of No Doubt and Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme. He also had a major hand in booking bands for both days, bridging the gap between the festival’s alternative rock roots and its recent commitment to buzz bands of the day and the jam band crowd.
Farrell talked recently about Satellite Party, Lollapalooza and the future of both. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: What led to your decision to revive Lollapalooza as a destination festival as opposed to a tour?
A: That’s a great question. I think a pretty hot topic in the live music scene right now … is how some of these big tours that (went) going out … didn’t really make it. So the industry is in a funny position. Young people don’t want to really go to see the music that Lollapalooza has been known for. They just don’t want to go to amphitheaters. I’ll cut to the chase … People want to go to a destination that’s a lovely new place, a new experience that’s not going to jam them for parking and beer and everything else – and water. And they want more for their money. So I’m aware of that. I think everybody’s aware. The whole country is aware of it. The whole industry is aware of it. So we made a very smart decision to work with CSE, because CSE has Austin City Limits and they’ve done a destination festival … perhaps the best in the country. Unfortunately, through the years, there were less and less destinations and you had to pretty much sell your tour as a package … But look, the system’s broken, so the only thing to do is to … refine the idea, understand what the public demands are. The public wants something where they can feel it’s a very fresh, exciting experience that is once a year or once in a lifetime and go from there.
Q: Why Chicago?
A: The thing about Chicago is that it’s such a central location for the entire country. You have five states bordering it. It’s just kind of like a crossroad of the country and all the airlines are always crossing through Chicago. There’s a beautiful breeze, you know, even in the summertime, coming off the lake.
Q: There’s quite a variety of artists on the bill. How wide a demographic were you looking for?
A: Well, I look at it as a DJ. You would be surprised how you could fit a Nine Inch Nails song in with a Johnny Cash song, in with a Grateful Dead song, and then flip into a Digable Planets song. You wouldn’t expect it, but if I played it for you, just in the right order, at the right time, it would make sense. And, going back to Lollapalooza, the music style that we were known for, the greatest, latest breaking music, the young new musicians that were going to be next year’s headliners and next year’s performers in amphitheaters and stadiums. So we’ve not lost that. I mean we’ve got the greatest crop of young musicians I think in the county, with people like Louis XIV, and Kasabian, and Arcade Fire, et cetera, et cetera – The Bravery, The Killers. So that core, you know, I think is a necessity for Lollapalooza. We always want to have that core of crop of young musicians. But, now let me give you a heads up on how we book these days. It’s a little different. Back in the day, we would always have a headliner. That headliner would be the young new group that was breaking that year and they were giants. They’re not breaking musicians like they used to. So, what you’re seeing with bookings across the country, across the world, are people are kind of digging back … not just for the headliners, but to fill up their lineup. And we have to do the same thing. So the forte is to kind of combine them, bring in some of the greats, some of the older guys and combine them with the new. It’s just like a DJ. You know, at a certain point you’ve got to break out Billy Idol and you’ve got to break out Weezer, you know, but it’s going to make The Bravery more digestible. Because if you give them all young, most people aren’t even going to know who they are. But if your mix them in with older groups then people will go, “I know they must be important because they’re following Primus, I know Primus. I know Dinosaur Jr. But you know what, I’ve never heard of these guys and they’ve got to be good because there on Lollapalooza’s roster and they don’t fool around.”
Q: The industry has changed since Lollapalooza started in that there are so many new ways to exploit the marketplace. Now that the festival is entering a new phase how comfortable are you in moving more into that direction?
A: Well, what concerns me is how little people really care about integrity. I mean you look at reality television and you look at what celebrities are these days and how people kind of basically jump the line to get into the public eye. And it’s sometimes frustrating when you’re trying to do something great and grand and you have the goods, as I believe Lollapalooza and the artists of Lollapalooza have … It seems that if you have money then you’re good and you’re OK and it doesn’t matter how you made the money. So … there is a concern. I have to constantly weigh what we are and what we do against people that jump the line and just do stupid things for money and exploit it. We do have a sponsorship now. CSE really has been building this with their own money, which is great. I mean it’s like a dream come true. You know, the past system that we had in place, we had to pretty much be under the sway of the overseeing producers and at the mercy. And they would buy the tour basically for what they felt it was right and we would barely make any money, if we made any money. We would just break even and all the money we would hope to make would come from sponsorship. Well that’s not the case anymore. We can build this thing and maintain its integrity.
Q: At first you said you wouldn’t perform but now you’re playing with your new band Satellite Party. What’s the future look like with that band?
A: If I can be honest with you, I would like to approach it from the theatrical side of things first. I’ll tell you why. Number one, just to be honest here, the music industry was a wonderful thing to distribute and market your records in the past. I’m not really sure, at this point, what they are to musicians. I have to kind of really give it a good long hard look at it, how it can contribute and benefit what I’ve got going. My plans are to go out and play and perform for people, and the distribution of it, you know, I can back door that. So, I want to build first. I want to get my key players in production in place first, so that I can safely say that we’re going to have a wonderful yearlong experience and nothing is going to stop that and it’s done that well. Because, again, if you go back to the record company and try to build a wonderful tour, you’re going to be sad and you’re going to be disappointed because they’re not going to give you the money that they were giving in the past.
Q: So what’s the future of Jane’s Addiction?
A: My plans for Jane’s is, when the sky rains money, (that’s) when we’re getting back together.
Q: Any preview of what Satellite Party will sound like?
A: I keep going back to being a DJ. It’s more than as hobby, because I do it for trade. But I get to experiment and see how people are responding to modern music out in clubs. So it’s very important research work for me. So, how I built the Satellite Party sound was by researching what works out as a DJ. So like five years ago, or seven years ago … the whole dance scene was happening. And as a DJ, I was playing lots of house and progressive house. People weren’t really looking for it when they went out anymore, but I love that sound. And what I found was … the club systems are built for, you know, hip hop, and are built for house music, electronic music. So that’s why, when you go out, you don’t really hear rock much anymore. Rock productions sound pretty good over radios, car radios, but they don’t really hold up when you go to clubs. So, I tried to infuse the rock into the club sound and I actually put it mostly at the speeds of hip hop. Because the beautiful thing about record-to-record is when you can beat match it, or at least get it near the heart rate, people will digest the next song. It’s hard to DJ songs with different tempos. It’s real easy to keep a house going. You know that’s why hip-hop works so well out at night, because they just beat match really easy. They fall right on top of each other and keep the party going. So that’s what the sound of the Satellite Party is. It’s using my elements of historical elements of rock, the power of rock, but using the frequencies and subs of dance music, and then using the BPMs of hip hop.
Q: One thing that’s new since the early days of Lollapalooza is the jam band phenomenon. While most package tours have been failing, jam bands have continued to thrive. Why you think their model seems so successful right now?
A: Look at radio. A lot of the major stations are being turned into talk radio. And the slice of the pie for rock has gotten increasingly smaller and smaller. And you listen to the radio and you kind of understand why. I think that the jam bands … their mindset is, “let’s go out and play.” And when … you have a great experience, having been to the party that they played at, and you know that, when you go to where the party people are, where they’re alive and they’re dancing and they’re kind to each other and they pass around party favors and they’re generous. And you go away from there with a great experience, you feel like, “you know what, if I’m going to go out, I want to go to a party like that again.” And so I think it’s a very communal, happy place to be. So I want to be a part of it and I want to promote it.
Q: How will you know this year was enough of a success that you’ll remount it next summer?
A: To build a festival today, a destination festival, especially within city limits, is just monstrous. How does the traffic flow? How are the hotels doing? Is there enough room for people? Was it too crowded? Was everybody happy with the food? Was the city happy with us? Did it run smoothly, so that everybody felt that it was easy? And the difficulty is from our side. We want to make everything appear and feel easy. It was very difficult to find one fantastic place … We worked so hard to get Chicago happening and right. And what I would like to see in five years – I would like to see Chicago itself really, really flower, you know. I mean that location, if you look at it from a satellite, gosh, what potential that has to grow. And when I say that, I mean I’ve been to festivals that have been around now for a number of years and what I feel is sometimes they have reached their zenith, because nothing changes about the festival itself. But, with Chicago there’s a potential to even develop and flower it, so it’s exciting. We haven’t really hit the walls with it yet.