Jane’s Addiction Singer Looks Back at the Legacy of 1988’s ‘Nothing’s Shocking’

Concert Preview

click to enlarge Jane's Addiction performing in Cleveland in 2012. - Joe Kleon
Joe Kleon
Jane's Addiction performing in Cleveland in 2012.
When Jane’s Addiction played at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in 2012, singer Perry Farrell stripped down to a tank top and cracked a joke about being “older.” But he certainly didn’t appear it. While not as buff as guitarist Dave Navarro, who performed shirtless for most of the set, Farrell still looked to be as fit as any athlete. The band gave its all during a vigorous 90-minute set. For the current tour, which comes to House of Blues next week, the group is performing 1988's Nothing’s Shocking in its entirety. The album helped break the doors down for alternative rock groups and turned Farrell into a ringleader for a generation reacting against the hair metal and commercial pop of the ’80s. Farrell recently spoke about that legacy in a phone interview from a New York tour stop.

What was it like going back to Nothing’s Shocking?
We started doing it on the 25th anniversary. We wanted to do it just a few times, maybe as many as like three times. We got an overwhelming feedback from our audience. They wanted us to come to their area. We obliged them. We’ve been busy working on things but Jane’s is our first born so to speak and we want to pay attention to it and honor it so that’s why we’re heading to Cleveland.

What’s the experience of playing those songs 25 years later been like?
Things have changed. You have kids, you get married. You’re looking good. Your career is going well and have a house and you’re meeting parents of kids who are in school with your kids. You become a different guy. I tried to guide myself so I have a place in my heart for Jane’s and that time period, however, I’m not trying to become a cliché of myself. That would be cowardly. So I’ve gotten into the great outdoors and snowboarding and skateboarding and surfing and bike riding. They’re healthy but they’re dangerous still. I want to keep my wits about me to raise children. Jane’s is this dangerous beast that has grown up and lived to tell the tale. I go into it like that. For those who were there, it’s a treat. For those who weren’t there, they get to witness the beast in a live state. That’s who I go into it. I figure, show up, look in their eyes and deliver. I feel the band has grown and gotten better over the years. I’m proud to go up there and sing those songs and deliver those songs to people. You look at today’s groups and I think we stack up. We’re doing a great honor to music and those who are there to see the show. I think we’re giving them something of great value. It might be of a time past, but it was an incredible time and it was a seminal time. And it was authentic and genuine.

Do you think it’s an album that represents Los Angeles in the 1980s?
Even more than Los Angeles, it represents the music world. We were tangling with people like Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cult and all them cats that come out of Lollapalooza like Henry Rollins and the Butthole Surfers and Ice-T. I remember him singing about “cop killa.” We were tangling with all them cats. We were in the center of it. We were at the epicenter of music in that era and that time period and Nine Inch Nails comes up and they’re watching and making music and chiming in. There aren’t many groups left that you could point to or that you could listen to that you can still go out and see now. We’re one of them.

What was your reaction when the album didn’t sell well initially?
I’ve always been a little depressed when it comes to career but I’m reminded by my wife that if I hadn’t been singing about having a ménage a trois and heroine, I might have gotten more popular. I made my bed. When she puts it that way, I’m good with it because I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You re-recorded "Jane Says" and "Pig's in Zen," which had come out prior to the release of the album, for Nothing’s Shocking. What did you differently with those songs?
We’re an interesting band in that we have the craziest kind of twists and turns. We’re this crazy amalgamation of jazz and other music. We can jazz off our own tunes and we do it every time we perform. I haven’t listened to Nothing’s Shocking for 25 years but when I get into it, I start to twist it and turn it for my own happiness and my own joy of making music so it’s not a recital. It’s a get down fucking expression session. The same with the other cats. I’ll notice that [drummer Stephen] Perkins will throw a half time on a spot and really fucking shine it and really dig it and Dave will hear what I’m singing in and groove on something. The songs are constantly evolving and it’s not boring for me so I figure if it’s not boring for me, it’s got to be exciting for a crowd to witness, Last night we performed in Brooklyn, I shouted out “live music.” We are fucking doing it and laying it down right then and there and it’s awesome and fierce and powerful and everybody is riding on that sonic wave.

What inspired the steel drums on “Jane Says”?
Steve has a thousand drums all over his house. When we were writing it, he might have kidded around with a kettle drum. I can remember him playing that. He had a brother who died. His brother was a Deadhead. He had a thousand tapes of the Dead so Steve had all these drums. He had hand drums and folk drums. When we were writing it, one of the members wanted it to be acoustic guitar and me singing. I thought it was okay but I dug what Steve was doing. His last name is Perkins and he’s perky. This lilt was coming from the chordal structure and lyrics and it wasn’t sarcastic but it threw a juxtaposition. We were just grooving calypso style.

How have you changed as a vocalist?
The thing about my approach to my vocals is unique. I began creating loops. It wasn’t just delay that I was using. I was coming from the era of Andrew Eldritch from Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division and the Cure. I loved those cats. I was hanging out with musicians that today they call the Silverlake hipsters. This was before they were around when I had my first band Psi Com. I started to pick up delay units just to treat the voice. I started to experiment with several things. Optically, I was using a smoke machine with a foot pedal. I would do a verse and then hit you with a smoke machine with my foot. I started to think I should do things with my foot to treat my voice. I had a guy build me a system of a series of patches. I would go from a delay to a stop and a hold on it. What ended up happening that I was doing live looping. I had an old unit that was an Ibanez DM 1000. It allows you to use a knob. Once I had the loop established, I would use the knob as if it were a fretless instrument. I don’t click it into anything; it’s a sweep. I start to sing and use the loop. I solo the loop. There are two solos going on — a guitar solo and a vocal solo that is a loop. That is something that is my contribution as a vocalist. I continue to develop that side of thing. The other side is the raw talent of singing. I’ve never sung better or sounded better. I have complete control of my voice. I’ve been invited to teach at Ivy League schools. I’ve taught at schools before but I think I have valuable things to teach singers in terms of controlling their voice and things that they can do production-wise and recording-wise to get notes that other people can’t get. Most notes that other people can’t get, I can get em.

I first saw the band in 1987. I think you were experimenting more with feedback from the monitor then.
That gets dangerous now that we play festivals. I used to carry my own small monitor so I could jam it. When that gets out of control, it will blow your eardrums out. I gave up on that one. Funny enough, last night after our show, I heard that Genesis P-Orridge was playing next door. We went over to see my friend Genesis and listen to his strange avant garde brand of his music. My wife, who is 16 years my junior, didn’t know who Genesis was. She was asking me what kind of music it was. She didn’t understand. It was funny because it sounds like a record is playing but there’s no needle. I told her, “I assure you that this has been planned and this is the effect that he’s looking.”

How did you come to take on a role outside the band as a ringleader of sorts for the Alternative Nation?
I love it first and foremost because it allows me every year to see new young musicians and their slant on making music. Music will always evolve. It centers on technology. It began as a tribal affair and a ritual and once electronics got involved, it started to go haywire and went into amazing places. Every year, I get to hear new musicians and see them and meet them as well as the classics. I’m going in all directions and it gives me a good feeling to be in the thick of it all and in the midst of music every year. Classic musicians don’t have a Lollapalooza. Time goes on, and they’re out of touch with what’s going on musically. I have this beautiful luxury called Lollapalooza. Every year, I get to touch base with the sound. I’m not out of touch. I’m absolutely in touch. Yes, when Jane’s did come in at the time of Nothing’s Shocking, there was a great upheaval and a revolution in music. The sound of it was beginning to change. Punk threw a demolition ball at music and shook things up. The fallout was alternative. Punk broke things and deconstructed things. We had to now reassemble it and we were giving you alternative angles. It was a very exciting time. It wasn’t just one look. It was a lot of different looks. There was rockabilly and Goth and punk and straight edge. And then there was Genesis and his dark electronic stuff and Ministry and they’re rocking but using electronics. [the New York disco club] Paradise Garage is opening up. There were so many genres and it was very exciting. You can’t identity all of it at once because it’s simply an alternative to what was there previously. I’m proud to be from that era and it’s given me longevity as a human being and as a musician and as an artist. It’s given me longevity. That’s where I’m at.

Jane’s Addiction, 8 p.m. Thursday, May 21, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $75-$125, houseofblues.com. 
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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