Perry Farrell on the Glitz and Glamor of Being Perry Farrell
“I am entering my third act in life, and I’m going to just give it my best shot,” says founder of Jane's Addiction, Lollapalooza
Perry Farrell may be recognized as the face of ’90s alternative culture, but his relevance hasn’t waned three decades later. Seconds after jumping onto a call with SPIN, the founder of both Lollapalooza and Jane’s Addiction links himself to the newly named Democratic vice presidential candidate.
“Oh shit, on Fox News some talking head misogynist just called Kamala Harris a ‘Lollapalooza for the left and a Woodstock for the woke,’” he says with a cheer. “I love that! We need her. If we’re gonna make a move, now is the time.”
Farrell’s optimism is contagious. Whether discussing November’s election or the global pandemic, he can’t help but remain hopeful. And he wants everyone to feel this way.
“I know there is a lot of sadness. People have died; people are ill; people have lost jobs. But it also is a time when we can regenerate this world and bring new ideas,” he says. “The world has been devastated, so let’s get in there while we have this chance.”
He’s certainly trying to do his part. While live music of late has been more or less reduced to Instagram/Twitch streams and awkward social distancing experiments, Farrell still found a way to bring his annual festival to the masses — albeit minus 120,000 sweaty, compressed bodies. Teaming up with YouTube, he hosted an assortment of artist performances and inspirational discussions. He even reunited his own bands, Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros, the latter of which hadn’t played publicly since 1997.
Farrell is also releasing a retrospective box set, The Glitz; The Glamor (out November 6), collecting his music and art outside of Jane’s and Porno. The package will include vinyl copies of his two solo albums, 2001’s Song Yet To Be Sung and last year’s Kind Heaven; the 2007 Satellite Party LP; the long-lost Psi Com EP; a rarities and b-sides compilation; and perhaps most enticing of all, a book of photographic memoirs.
Turning 60 last year prompted Farrell to make some personal changes — hence we have this reflection on the past 35 years. “I am entering my third act in life, and I’m going to just give it my best shot,” he says. “I want to participate in everything that goes down.”
SPIN: What made the timing right to release a solo career-spanning collection like The Glitz; The Glamor?
Perry Farrell: I have been feeling that for eight or nine years we were going to go into a period like this [pandemic], but more like the apocalypse. So I started the project Kind Heaven, which was supposed to be about crossing the messianic threshold, seeing the Antichrist, having a huge crisis as the world has to fight against forces of stupidity, ignorance and racism, the whole gamut of isms. The timing really is perfect. I did not predict that we’d have something as wild as COVID-19 literally stop the entire globe. For the first time since humans started walking the Earth, we all simultaneously stopped. So if that’s not a signpost, I don’t know what is.
What’s cool about the box set and my lifestyle is that I was never in a hurry to be big or famous. I was always concentrating on doing good work and the message had to be something provocative and stimulating that could be funny or sexy or glamorous, but it had to be full of personality and charisma and wisdom. So I always existed on that plain. I wasn’t great at cataloguing until now. When I hit 60, I shaped and wised up. My new management team just looked at everything I’ve done, and said, “You have six bands, a festival, two other festivals you did, and everything is everywhere. You’re just not together, man.” So they started putting it all together and enjoyed doing it. [With] the craft itself, I always did my own art, produced and performed songs, and there’s that whole live thing. So I’m in really great shape these days.
You’ve included the EP you recorded as Psi Com, your band before Jane’s Addiction. That recording has been out of print basically since its release in 1985.
Because the masters were thrown out! A guy picked them out of the trash and kept them. They offered to pay me at the time, and I really didn’t care. If he took the time to do it, he could keep them. But I think they may have been thrown out of Ethan James’ studio, Radio Tokyo. He had this house on Abbot-Kinney in Venice where he would record porn scores and punk rock groups. For $500 you could record there. That’s the only place that could have had the masters, so maybe it was around when he died they threw out the masters. What’s funny is, this morning, somebody posted a Psi Com song that I don’t have. It’s kind of nice. I don’t have it, but some guy posted it because it’s his favorite Psi Com song. He also had this picture of me performing at the Anti Club on Hollywood Boulevard, which had to be from 1982.
Psi Com were part of the recent Desolation Center documentary, about the legendary gig you played out in the Mojave Desert with Sonic Youth, Redd Kross and Einstürzende Neubauten.
These guys Stuart Swezey and Bruce Licher went out to the desert and found a location and pulled this off. I worked for Stuart’s brother and started doing artwork for Desolation Center, so I built their stages and acted as security, believe it or not, for the Survival Research Laboratories. Mark Pauline had these killer robots who singed the hair off people’s heads when the robots got too close. I mean, what could I do as security? I just backed up. Just even reminiscing about those days is a lot of fun.
What do you remember most about those days in Psi Com?
In one word: freedom. That’s why I say it’s a good thing to take your time when you’re young. Because you don’t have a lot when you’re young, but what you have the most of is freedom. I had that freedom to be creative and freak out and throw crazy parties that are illegal and write maudlin songs about shooting up and having sex and listening to Cocteau Twins on acid. Whatever I felt like. And I think that’s what really attracted people to the music. We all had the common bond of freedom and youth, and we rejected society because we were disenfranchised youth and under the radar, so I wasn’t in a hurry to leave that. But what happened was singing about depressing things started to get me laid because girls were now coming to the shows. I just couldn’t keep it up. I don’t know how Robert Smith does it. I love the Cure and all, but I couldn’t keep doing it for another ten years. I was doing pretty well at the time, which I expected. You get a couple hundred people in a small, punk rock club every weekend, so it started to spin outside of the city.
And then after Psi Com broke up, I found this great, white elephant house on the edge of Silver Lake, on Wilton, which we called the “Wilton Hilton.” That’s where Jane’s Addiction was conceived. [Ed. Note: Also the birthplace of Red Hot Chili Peppers.] We had other groups in that house, so everyone was vying to get into the garage to rehearse. There was all sorts of crazy fun and tragedy in that place. But it’s where we cut our teeth and became a legend.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Jane’s Addiction’s landmark LP Ritual de lo Habitual. After its release, you told Rolling Stone, “I don’t think I’ll better Ritual.” Do you still feel that way?
No, I don’t. I think that I continue to improve as a vocalist and a collaborator. And I think each time I go into a project, I enjoy it more and more and more. It’s kind of like car engineering. I’m not gonna say that ’62 Chevy Nova is my best work, but it’s a classic car that is beautiful and definitely worth having in the garage. But I want to have a Karma now, an electric car that I can floor along Sunset Boulevard.
Both Ritual and its predecessor, Nothing’s Shocking, were censored for showing nudity on the covers. They were well-known examples of that era’s determination to block artistic freedom. How detrimental was that for you as an artist?
Think of all the beautiful paintings throughout the centuries, showing women with their beautiful, milky breasts and big bottoms. In the 1990s they were trying to sweep all of the nudity off the streets. What a ridiculous idea. I learned from experience that the most important thing you can do is put out something you know in your heart is great. That’s why I was okay with them censoring it. My label might have been pissed off, but I would tell them, “I’ll give you a secondary cover, but I’m not going to change this. It’s a beautiful piece of art and I worked really hard on it and I like it.”
Your film Gift was also heavily censored at the time of its release. When was the last time you sat down and watched it?
That’s another one of those moments in time. I put the film out in indie film houses, then put it out on VHS, so it’s just sitting there. You ever go into the countryside and look for a cool car, and find this old jalopy in a barn that you want to fix up? That’s what the movie Gift is right now. I know it’s there, and maybe it’s got cobwebs and there are rats in the floorboards, but one day I’m gonna resurrect it and it’s gonna be so cool.
Jane’s Addiction were such a captivating and transcendent live act. Obviously live music is struggling to exist during the pandemic. How do you think bands can survive this?
I do feel bad for bands out there, but they should keep on practicing and recording. You can do it remotely or in small groups. My team quarantines and social distances, so when we do get together in groups of five or six to make music. We’re not out being fools. We have families and we’re being careful.
You managed to keep Lollapalooza alive this year with Lolla2020.
[The pandemic is] not gonna stop me from thinking and conceiving of new ways to do it. Like what we did with the virtual Lollapalooza. So I’m going to take that and evolve that concept. Let’s say this time next year everyone’s good to go out, but some are reluctant. So we can scale it. Instead of Lollapalooza for 120,000, we do it in selected areas or gardens with social distancing. We can do it all around the city. Hey, man, that could be a pretty cool party too! So, you look at the environment and make an assessment. With the Internet we have the ability to send the message and make it that much fiercer. We were able to go into Afghanistan and Syria with Lollapalooza this way. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to perform like I used to. We are chomping at the bit to do that, but in the meantime we’re writing. I’m writing a song right now with Josh Homme and Taylor Hawkins.
It was great to see you bring both Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros back for Lolla2020. It had been a long time since Porno performed.
I love Porno. Jane’s was great, Porno was great. Touring with Mike Watt, Pete [DiStefano] and Steve [Perkins], I have so many fun, great memories, but also horrific and catastrophic ones too. Got lost at sea, attempted murders, went to jail [laughs]. But still, I wouldn’t trade any of it … Well, maybe I would trade one or two of those times. For the most part, though, it was research for an artist. An artist can only reflect their life, so you have to make sure you have a great life. That’s what was going on in those days. Why would I bring Porno back now? Because for this Lollapalooza cycle we couldn’t perform on a stage, but we could get together as a small collective and project it out to the world. Maybe next year we can do it live for four different countries.
Today’s rock music is really lacking the star power we saw in a lot of bands decades ago. Do you see the spirit and the energy that Jane’s had in any bands right now?
Yeah, there’s this group Starcrawler. [Arrow de Wilde] is like us. In L.A. we have this legacy of shamans, like Jim Morrison and Darby Crash. I like to consider myself as carrying that torch, but I’d like to pass that torch too. I definitely feel that Arrow is one such artist. We did a song with her that is on the box set.
Arrow is close in age to your sons. Do you see them following in dad’s footsteps?
My one son is in a band that sounds like Jane’s and Joy Division, but he also has a rap crew. I listened to some of the rap crew the other day and it was really horrifying. They were talking about kicking girls in the stomach, then spitting down their throats after he beheads them, and I was like, “Oh, my God!” I thought maybe this was a thing and then did some research, and yeah, I discovered Odd Future; Tyler, the Creator; and horrorcore. I was just happy to know that existed. But then I gave my son some advice. I said, “You didn’t put it out yet, as a record, did you?” He said he did. So I said, “Did you put your name on it?” He said he did. So I said, “Dude, I get it. You think it’s funny. But get to work and write some great songs because you never know — 35 years later you could end up with a box set.”