“You ever get those thoughts, those inspirations, that hit and you just go, ‘Wowww…I can’t believe I just figured something out!’” says Perry Farrell, by way of introduction. “Well, I just figured something out today…”
Typically, when greeted with a conversation-starting “How are you?” most people are inclined to answer with a routine “Fine.” Perhaps an “I’m good.”
But Perry Farrell is not most people.
And so less than 30 seconds into our phone call, Farrell, fresh off a plane from Lollapalooza Paris, and, before that, a plane from Lollapalooza Stockholm (in between, there was a week of rehearsals for the reunited Porno for Pyros), is already getting into the next thing.
This next thing is one that is particularly important to him: a benefit concert to raise funds for the victims of the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, organized by Smashing Pumpkins leader and Chicago native Billy Corgan. The event is scheduled to take place on July 27, one day before Lollapalooza’s annual stand at Chicago’s Grant Park kicks off. Farrell is scheduled to be with Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot on that day, but it was important for him to get involved. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time: gun violence. What is the cause of it, how do you alleviate it…” he says. And so, Farrell “figured something out” with Corgan and has now been added to the lineup.
This is not a surprising turn of events. The tragedy in Highland Park is a particularly specific and devastating example, but Farrell has long employed his music and artistry–really, the entirety of his creativity–as an apparatus to foster awareness, and perhaps raise consciousness, about the world and our place in it.
This has certainly been the case in its best moments with Lollapalooza, which is now a foregone conclusion, but began life as a never-done-before traveling circus of music, art, culture, and politics. Farrell and wife Etty Lau Farrell’s recent creation, Heaven After Dark is an “immersive theater” experience that crams musicians, dancers, street performers, visual artists, DJs, comedians, and creatives of any and all types into small venues (all Los Angeles-based for now, but with “heady designs to take it around the world,” he says). Onlookers get a sensory-overloading evening of “visual and auditory art.”
“What we are about is emerging culture, emerging music,” Farrell says of Heaven After Dark, which recently staged its second show at the Belasco Theater in downtown L.A., with Porno for Pyros headlining. But there’s also greater ideas at play: “I’m looking to transform the world right now,” he continues. “I want to make this a place where God can live amongst us. That’s a very tall order, but it can be done. So what I would like to do is just let the music play, and let the messengers say what they have to say. And we’ll provide the setting for the celebration – a celebration of life in the end days.”
This last statement might come off as somewhat grim, but those that know anything about Farrell also understand that he is, at heart, an eternal optimist. And so, his notion of the “end days” is not quite so bleak. “To me, the end days mean the end of these people that have somewhat polluted and destroyed the world because of self-centeredness and greed and corruption,” Farrell says. “We’ve got to move on, and we are moving on. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean the musicians and the artists and the writers, those of us that are in the arts. We’re following this transformation and we’re reporting on it and we’re singing about it and we’re painting it and we’re drawing it. I want to promote that in a beautiful way, in a creative way. And so, that’s what I’m doing now.”
There’s a lot more that Farrell—who, at 63, is seemingly moving as fast and ambitiously as ever–is doing now. Over the past few years, he has channeled much of his musical activity into the Kind Heaven Orchestra, a loose conglomeration of musicians that rotate around him and Lau Farrell, and which has been joined, at various times, by Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins.
But he has of late also put renewed focus on Porno for Pyros, the group he started in the early ‘90s after the initial dissolution of Jane’s Addiction. In May, the band played their first full show in 26 years at the Welcome to Rockville festival in Daytona Beach, Florida, stepping in at the last minute after Jane’s Addiction dropped off the bill due to guitarist Dave Navarro’s struggle with what Farrell termed in a statement, a “long bout with COVID.” Now, Porno for Pyros is now fully revitalized. In addition to their recent Heaven After Dark performance (which Farrell says was “fantastic”), the group will also be appearing at this week’s Lollapalooza, again in place of Jane’s Addiction.
As for whether Farrell gets something different out of performing with Porno for Pyros than he does from Jane’s Addiction? “Yes,” he affirms. “Porno is slanted more on jazz. That’s a whole other gig. And do I love jazz? Am I crazy for jazz? Yeah, I am. And so am I crazy to play with Porno? I sure am!”
Of course, Farrell is also continuing to play with Jane’s Addiction, which recently announced a fall North American arena tour, Spirits On Fire, with Smashing Pumpkins. While the two bands share plenty of history–Corgan and the Pumpkins headlined the 1994 iteration of Lollapalooza, for one–they’re not necessarily obvious tour mates. But to Farrell, the decision to pair up was a no-brainer.
“The tour was Billy’s idea, he approached us,” Farrell says. “And what I found interesting about Billy’s offer is that we’re going to share production. So I have the ability to make a show that is as grand as his. And I like that a lot. Because there’s something unique about Billy – not only in his music, but in the fact that he puts his time into producing a show that is not just musical, but also visceral. You’re being lit up by lights and video and costuming and all these things. It’s a proper show. I think a lot of people today, they get up there on the stage and they’re just greedy – they don’t want to put out for any of those other things that, I would say, you expect when you’re coming to a concert. Don’t you want see the band up there all sexy, and check out what they’re wearing, and have the lights creating drama? And then, of course, there’s the sound, and the sound’s going to be fantastic at these shows.”
Before these shows happen, however, Farrell also has another undertaking on the docket: recording sessions with each of his musical projects. “As soon as we finish this [Porno for Pyros] Lolla performance, we’re going back home and I’m going to be recording through August,” he confirms. “And that will be for Porno for Pyros, for Kind Heaven Orchestra and for Jane’s Addiction.”
In the case of Jane’s Addiction, these recordings will signal the first music from the band in roughly a decade. And while the creative process within Jane’s today is, unsurprisingly, considerably different than how it was early in their career, the spark is clearly still there. “When I came into this art form, the process for us was it took rehearsing in a garage for two, three years to come up with those songs that we ended up with on our records,” Farrell says. “Now, I don’t have three years to mess around with these guys. I don’t know if in three years I’ll be around, right? But the way recording is today, and with our ability to collaborate in new ways and from long distances via the internet, we can still be creating.”
He continues: “Even though we can’t get together in that garage five times a week, that doesn’t mean we won’t come up with something as good or better as we did back then. I’m expecting to. I’m really counting on us coming up with the best material we’ve ever done.”
In Farrell’s estimation, there’s no reason this can’t be achieved. “If you have the drive and the desire to be great, you just shoot for it,” he says. “If it comes out weird and unique, all the better. That’s what God did. He made everybody unique. And I want to hear your uniqueness. Don’t erase that. Don’t try to fake me out on that. I want to hear that little strange thing that makes you unique.”
That “strange little thing” has certainly been at the heart of each and every one of Farrell’s endeavors, be it Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros and Kind Heaven Orchestra, Lollapalooza and Heaven After Dark or any new inspiration that might yet pop into his head and make him go, “Wowww.”
Like, say, protest folk music.
“You never want to cut yourself off from anything when you’re creating or recording or performing,” Farrell reasons. “And I really want to get into some protest folk right now. I think the world could really use protest folk.
“Now, would protest folk be the greatest thing to hear at a large festival? Maybe not,” he continues. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make it. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear it. You just have to consider where you’re going to be performing, and who you’re going to be performing for, and what your personal desires are for creating and recording and playing. That’s how I like to do it. Because there’s always going to be an appropriate time and place for the sound, you know?”