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Jane’s Addiction

An interview with drummer Stephen Perkins

Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrel and Stephen Perkins, on the cover of Max Ink Mar/2012 CD: The Great Escape Artist
Record Label: Capitol Records
Artist's Facebook
by Dan "EJ" Schneiderman
March 2012

In 1985, the Los Angeles music scene was mostly hair metal bands trying to make it to super stardom. But a little known underground scene was being born with original bands playing new alternative music. One of those bands was Jane’s Addiction. Today, over 25 years later, Jane’s is still pumping out great music with an L.A. vibe. With their new album The Great Escape Artist finally out, and tons of 2012 tour dates booked, I spoke with Jane’s Addiction’s drummer, Stephen Perkins, about the new CD and tour and other good stuff.

Maximum Ink: Hi Stephen, my name is EJ, I’m with Maximum Ink Music Magazine and Maxinkradio, how are you doing today?
Stephen Perkins: I feel great man, it’s been a really good day,  I’ve got a 2 year old son, so I’ve spent the whole day with him, and now I’m on my way to rehearsal with the boys.

MI: What is the meaning behind the title The Great Escape Artist?
SP: It’s a personal thing like everybody, it really, with all the bullshit, no matter what year you look at, 2012 or 1812 there is always bullshit in the way of enjoying yourself. And what are we here for, I think we are here for art and sex. Let Jane’s Addiction be your art and sex, escape with us. Get away from everything else you’re fucking dealing with, put on this record, just like when we used to put on Sgt Peppers record, or I used to put on Physical Graffiti, which I still do and just get away from it all, let the music take you. Don’t let it do it 30 seconds at a time, go away for a half hour.

MI: The new tour is described by Perry as “an orgy of musical and visual delights”, can you explain what that means and what people should expect at a Jane’s show on this tour?
SP: Lets go word for word here, orgy you know, nothing wrong with that. We have always been a very visual band. Even back at our very first show back in late ‘85 early ‘86, we put together 12 motorcycle choppers in front of the stage. We had a guy playing pornos while we served corn dogs, we called it “Sunny Porn Dogs”. We rented a laser light show from a company in Hollywood and spent all our money on that. And that was our very first show, so we were always determined to give a great live show be it the songs were written, they were rehearsed. The band is tight, now we are on stage, what are you gonna do?  I think that is where we are at now, we feel like there is such a great opportunity to put great visuals to the new songs and the old catalog. It’s an experience that I would want to see, so I think that is really where we are at. I think a great band live even if its The Who live at Leeds with nothing but a white light on them, that could be the greatest show of your life. I saw Roger Waters last year do The Wall, wow, fuckin’ sick,  I’m still thinking about it. So there is something to be said about both of those. How do you have that dangerous, incredible power from a great live rock band, but then again get serious, because you can, and people love visual candy. Get serious with your live show as far as, what are you going to do with lights and video, and possibly any kind of entertainment that might be going on during the show and I think that’s the way we’re looking at it. It’s gonna be different, we have the first leg of theaters, and from there we might change the way we do things. But theaters really help us open our minds and how to approach the night. Because just by walking into a cool theater, you know, there’s not a band playing, it’s just a cool theater. It’s a nice experience just the architecture and the vibe. So we take that kind of experience for us, and what do we want to do with it. Now we’re Jane’s Addiction, we’re not only manic punk, but we’re psychedelic folk. We have a lot to offer in our eclectic type of catalog, so let’s pick from it and kind of bring something kind of different to the show. If we’re playing in England in front of 20,000 people between the Deftones and the Chili Peppers we have a certain type of set. But if we’re going out on a theater tour, and we have 2 hour sound checks where we can get our shit together, the lets do something magical.

MI: What is the difference between touring now and touring back in the late 80’s when you guys first started touring?
SP: Wow, that’s hilarious, because in the very early days, literally I was the responsible one. I had the map, so if it wasn’t for me, we would have never played the gig in Utah. Put it that way. There’s definitely something beautiful about that young band sketching America with their bus and their van and their RV camper. It can be some of the best days of your life as far as it’s a boys club out there, you’re having a great time. But for the guys, we only got one hotel room, me and Perry shared a bed and Dave and Eric shared a bed. So that was brutal. The first time we had our camper, I thought we were heroes, ya know, we had an RV. We all had somewhat of a bed separate of each other. But two weeks into that RV and you want to get the hell off that thing. The truth is, the fun of getting on stage with your best friends is always there. That’s really what touring is about, the rest of it you really gotta figure out what to do with your time. That’s why a lot of people get into trouble on tour. To me, the best kind of touring is when you get to a town, you go absorb it. If they are famous for a beach, get down there. If they got a fuckin’ cool building everyone talks about, go check it out. If there is a little area where all the punk rockers hang out, go there. I’d rather do all that on tour then sit in my hotel room. Unless I’m completely exhausted and I need some sleep, otherwise I get out there. That to me is pretty fun because, how many times are you gonna be in Myrtle Beach? How many times are you gonna make it out to Manley Beach in Australia? You gotta think about every day being your last, you’re in the middle of this new city, ya know, new restaurants, new people, that to me is exciting. And that really plays with my environment, if I have a great day, I’m gonna have a great show. If it’s a really kick ass day walking the streets of Rome, dude I’m gonna play my ass off that night for those Romans. But if I’m having a really crap day, we’re driving from North Carolina, Raleigh to Charlotte and we’re in a storm ya know, it’s gonna go right into my show. So I think touring to me is really kinda living in the moment, enjoying each others company, if you can because you are with each other all day long, and really finding your own rhythm. What’s your rhythm out there, is it all about playing, is it all about partying, is it all about meeting people? It’s all about everything for me, just get it all in there.

MI: You’re last album Strays came out in 2003, its now 2012, did that long break give you inspiration for the new CD?
SP: Well it’s funny because we make a record every 10 years and there is a lot of living that goes down in between those records and a lot of changing between everyone’s social and personal lives. Back in ‘85 and ‘86, we had different record collections and different friends and different circles we ran with, and that still holds true. We’re really just people and that what makes an eclectic band. That’s why I think its difficult sometimes to make decisions in the band cause we all see things differently. But it also makes things so exciting, and very unusual as an art piece because we are so different from each other. But the fact is when we make records we know we have to fight off and keep chewing until it’s done. If it’s a month, if it’s 6 months or if it’s a year, Me, Dave and Perry are committed to making a great record. The last 10 years have been really wonderful still for everybody and their personal lives and career. But what has really kinda inspired the new record was the line up changes over the last year were pretty dramatic. We had Eric Avery, the original bass player, for 50 shows. And then we did some music in the studio and it wasn’t the right feel for everybody. I think Eric realized he’s really gonna have to really commit to this to make it right. So Me, Dave and Perry were ready for that commitment.

So then he disappeared and we got lucky and freaky and disoriented and hooked up with Duff McKagen from Velvet Revolver and GnR. Duff was in the band for 6 months and did a lot of shows in Europe with us and a handful in Los Angeles. We wrote maybe 10 or 15 tunes with him. He saw also what Eric saw, was that the commitment to Jane’s Addiction is definitely for Dave, Perry and Stephen. Duff has got other bands and other commitments and other things that are really flying, for him to say “yea I want to make a Jane’s Addiction record if it takes a month or a year, I’m up for it” I don’t think he was ready for that.

But I think the greatest thing for the record was when we met Dave Sitek, he’s the guitar player for TV On The Radio. Dave came down with keyboards, drum machines, turntables, basses, guitars and amps. Me and the two Dave’s , Navarro and Sitek, we spent about 3 months together just finding a noise, without Perry. Just fuckin’ making noise, not writing songs, not worrying where the bridge fits, and how many times the verse goes. Lets just find a new sound, lets get noisy. I gotta thank Dave Sitek for taking time out of his life, to say what I was saying about the other two guys, its a commitment and he committed, and he saw it through. It was different, Me, Perry and Dave have old habits, we made a change. So that was really, not only the life experience of 10 years apart, together and apart, and all the shit that we do, but meeting a new cat that threw a wrench into the scene, that was exciting. Dave Sitek was exciting for me as a drummer because lets just say he knows what hes doing when it comes to drum machines. He can lay down a beat that will blow your mind within 5 seconds and make it sound real sexy and dirty. All the sudden what you thought was a polished drum machine, you’re hearing something that is funky as anything you’ve ever heard come outta the beater. This cat knows how to work the machinery, so that’s really exciting because I’ve always had my right foot in the acoustical and I thought my left toe was electrical. But I’m an acoustical tribal drummer at heart. Some drummers are total 50/50 and some lean heavy on electronic, everyone’s got their own place. I never wanted to fake it or be trenched, so I didn’t just go there because everyone else did. I wanted to feel it and know what I was doing and Dave Sitek opened that door for me. Dave Sitek opened the door for a full frequency mix of what you would get in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, compared to what you are getting now with the lows from the sub, the highs and the very high, the keyboard can put on a little rinky dinky hi hat sound that you would never get from a real hi hat. So all these different high frequency low frequency full frequency ideas are coming out of a drum machine that a drum set can’t handle unless you got a fuckin’ 40 piece Terry Bozzio kit. So it was definitely something that turned me on, all the different ideas he had especially being a drummer. I would lay down some epic tribal, Perkins like, beats and he’d go “that’s fuckin’ sick, but let me write a beat from the same bass line on my drum machine, and show you what I would do.” I would be like “oh fuck, I never thought of it that way. Let’s do a hybrid or let me try to rip you off and see what I come up with and just see what happens” That’s just how we rubbed off on each other. That to me, as a drummer, was exciting to have another idea, another rhythmic brain in the room. Because Dave, Perry and even all the other bass players can sit on the drum kit and play killer beats, but not to many guys come in with a drum machine.

MI: With such a new and original sound on The Great Escape Artist, how does Jane’s Addiction continuously stay ahead of regular mainstream music that is out today?
SP: Well basically what I feel like with Jane’s, like I said, we’re all into different things, you know I love Metallica, but I got a feeling they got the same record collections, all four of them. I don’t have the same records as Perry, and Perry nor Dave etc. So we’re all bringing different things to the table and we all hear things very differently. That conversation opens up a new sound. My music without the fellas sounds a certain way, it doesn’t sound like Jane’s, same with Perry’s and Dave’s. But when we get together it does, there’s a chemistry, there’s a chemical reaction that happens when we’re together that really sounds like Jane’s Addiction. But then again, what are we gonna do that’s new, what can we do that sounds like the old days. Then you start feeling like “well that worked then, but why do it now? So fuck we can do that, we can always go back to that, it’s there, now let’s move forward. If we need that, we can put that moment in, it’s there, we can get to it, its a no brainer.” Using our brains, what can we come up with and really step on the pedal as far as ideas. Yea, that’s why it takes 10 years for us to make a fuckin’ record. So there’s a lot to go down. It’s like “yea, we can go down to the studio tonight and make a song, but would it be remarkable, crazy new Jane’s Addiction.” Maybe, but possibly not because you only have 12 hours. To really make it great, I always thought the Beatles were amazing, because they did 25 versions of Penny Lane, that’s why its epic, maybe the other versions were great and stand the test of time, but they ended up with the version we know, and that’s why they got there. Sometimes we do that as a band, we’ll do a great version and the next day we’ll start from scratch and go different tempo, different arrangement but the same song, now what.

Purchase The Great Escape Artist on Amazon.com
Download The Great Escape Artist on Amazon.com

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