Perry Farrell – Full Interview with Jane’s Addiction Singer

I recently had the opportunity to interview Perry Farrell, the singer of two amazing  bands in Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros. Perry Farrell was recently in town on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins. I couldn’t fit all of his quotes in this profile for Miami New Times. Here’s the full transcript of the interview as recorded on Friday, October 7, 2022.

When did you fall in love with music?

Perry Farrell: By the time I was three years old I was singing Beatles songs. I’m 64 years old. I have a big brother who is a good ten years older and a big sister who is a good eight years older than I am. We lived in Flushing, Queens back in the sixties. The DJ was Murray the K and cousin Brucie on WABC. They would play the Beatles and they would play the Stones and all the new rock n’ roll, the British Invasion. And of course the great American pop artists from people like Lulu.

You can imagine early sixties pop and I can not only sing all the songs, but I can do all the dances too. The jerk, the hully gully, the fruit, the monkey. I can do all those dances and I can mix up a good cocktail too. So my big brother and sister would let me be the bartender and sometimes entertain their friends when they had a make out party in the basement in Queens.

You spent some of your formative years down here in Miami Beach as well, right?

We moved to Florida, North Miami Beach, in the early ’70’s. Coming from New York in my high school years, fell in love with everyone from Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was the seventies. when disco came in I got myself a second hand leisure suit. I can still remember it was like a brown polyester leisure suit. You needed a suit like that if you wanted to go to the discos. My Dad had a private membership card that he’d lend to me and we’d go to the clubs. Back in those days the way we’d court one another is we’d talk to a young lady and ask her to dance. If you liked each other you kept the conversation going into the night.

Did your Miami Beach time, your disco time, inspire Jane’s Addiction at all when you started the band?

Sure. Every weekend there’d always be a party and there was this band, I think they were called not Status Quo, I’ll get their name. They would play “Freebird”. If you could play “Freebird” you were hired for every party that weekend.  Critical Mass, that’s what their name was. The lead singer was this big fat kid who was just this amazing guitar player. Their big song, the highlight of the night was when they busted out “Freebird”.

Years later when you left for California do you remember what inspired Jane’s Addiction to first get together?

I was actually a runaway kid. Took a Greyhound bus out to California from Florida right after graduation. I had stolen, this is not too nice to admit this, but I stole. My Dad was hanging out with some wiseguys. Back in those days a lot of New Yorkers moved down to Florida. My Dad hung out with everybody. In New York City everyone hangs out with everyone. Wiseguys hung out with diamond brokers. Where was I? What was the question?

What inspired Jane’s Addiction?

Perry Farrell: We loved rock music. Every weekend there was a different group coming to town. We would sneak into the Fillmore, I think it was, the great Bill Graham started a Fillmore down in Florida, down in Miami Beach. They would always leave a second story window open. We’d scale up on the water tray up to the second floor where Bill kept his window open. If one guy could get up there then he would go down and unlock the back and everyone else would come running in, so I got to see all the concerts that came through. I was asking girls to go to concerts on the weekends.

In those days it was Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Cars, Blondie. It was punk rock. Music was so important to us. so important to the kids in my high school. When I got out to California I had no idea I’d be in a band. I just knew that I loved music. We all loved music. I was kind of a wanderer as I tell you. Didn’t have much of a plan. I knew I wanted to come out to California because I knew the waves were bigger than they were in Florida.

You wrote so many great songs. Do you remember what the songwriting process was for all those great Jane’s Addiction songs you wrote thirty plus years ago?

Perry Farrell: It was pretty simple. You write about your own life. You write about what’s going on and you can’t go wrong. Thirty years later, I was just thinking about this, you can name any Jane’s Addiction song and I can tell you what I was thinking about at the time. If you write about your life you can sing from the heart. As a young man for example “1%” was a song that I think about, the gangs, the government they’re no different. that makes me one percent. In other words the status quo out there really never changes. They’re all out for themselves pretty much. Making as much money as they can, they’ll lie, steal, cheat whatever they can to win your vote. They’ll even use fear by pointing at someone else, “Watch out for those guys. Those guys are bad guys. Those guys are immigrants.”

It’s like a popularity contest and things haven’t changed. Today if you look at the midterms at the way the voting system is, it’s no different. they’re trying to demonize immigrants. They’re trying to get as many people on their side and they don’t care if they lie about it. I think if you write about your heart from current events, things really come full circle.  We’re in the same situation as we were in those days.

You look at the ocean and how much I love the ocean. Back in those days how much I want to protect the ocean, so I wrote “Ocean Size”. Again some thirty  odd years later the same thing applies, you know. “I wish I was ocean size/ They can not move you/ No one tries. No one.” You know, the ocean is so big, so wise. I want to be as great as the ocean. and when I come to Florida I get a chance to sing those songs to my high school friends. They all know what I mean. they all know my great regard, my love that I have for the ocean. I try to write songs where the subject matter is timeless.

You were on such a roll with Jane’s Addiction. Those two albums were incredible and you still had a lot left in your reservoir with those Porno for Pyros albums that I love just as much. So why did you stop Jane’s Addiction? You were on such a roll. Why did it end?

Yeah, I mean you know you could say I was a fool. If you look at it purely from the point of I really had something good going here. Why? If it was only about the money then yeah I was definitely a fool. We ended Jane’s Addiction seemingly at our height. The reason I broke up Jane’s was because artistically and as a man I needed more. I had more life experience I wanted. I wasn’t ready to be some rich having made it guy sitting on a couch not taking any chances any more and repeating myself because I had this guaranteed recipe almost. It’s almost like you have this hat that you wear that everybody recognizes you in and you never take it off. To me it’s boring to live life that way.

I was transforming and I’m still transforming. We’re all constantly transforming and that transformation shows up in the music. It shows up in the lyrics and I still have a lot more transforming to do. It’s beautiful to be able to get up there now and sing my songs and know that people know them and can sing along to them and its become a part of their life. It has become a bit of their history as well. They can remember where they were when the record came out and how it sang to them.

I’ve hopefully given some people some knowledge and some understanding of this world and help them get through this world. This world is a dangerous and confusing place and we need allies and we need friends and we need education. So to me I look at the music and yes bands like Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros and even my new project, Heaven After Dark, all these things serve as memories. They also serve to educate and give people hope and inspiration.

I didn’t know about this new project Heaven After Dark. Do you mind talking about it?

Perry Farrell: This is how fun life can be. If you have the courage to say I did it once, I can do it again. I don’t have to fall back on what the world wants. That would just be too boring for me. So Heaven After Dark is a lot more about… You know the songs I wrote for Jane’s Addiction is going on close to 40 years now. Now the sound has changed. The world has changed. gosh, just something like COVID has changed this world. It’ll never be the same. But the songs are written. they’re reacting to what’s going on in the world today. I’m writing a lot more about things that I’ve learned recently, what kind of man I’m becoming. They are a lot more electronic in their composition, in their arrangement.

I use a lot more of modern instruments, the synthesizers. I love what’s happened in dance in the last 20 years. It’s great what dance has done for the world. It is a culture all its own that is constantly changing. As I say instrumentation is constantly changing and being updated. Software changes the sound so I use the latest equipment. I’m also talking about the subjects that affects all of us. So Heaven After Dark is a much more of a global sound.

I work with musicians that are more digital producers. I don’t know if you go to dance parties, but you’re from Florida? Florida knows what’s going on when it comes to dance. how I want to contribute t the dance scene is my forte is my voice, singing and writing lyrics. So I work with great digital composers. They handle the groove. I handle the subject and the singing aspects.

I want to see people singing and dancing on the dance floor. It’s amazing to watch people dancing and almost being entrance by sound. If you add to that subject matter that goes with that trance you’re in, if you put subject that changes your mind, inspires you, gives you wisdom, it’s an intelligent type of party. The great sages would call it a febrenan, not a rave, but they call them febrenans, conscious, intelligent, loving parties. Try to bring the world to peace. Those are the concepts, ideas and subjects I’m writing.

Are you playing these new songs with Jane’s?

No. I like to keep each thing separate. That’s not to say, that I wouldn’t. But you know when Jane’s came to be that was 1984. At that time all we knew was the instrumentation, that Gibson guitar, that Marshall stack. Now the songs I’m writing the equipment is much different. We beat match the songs so you can keep on dancing and being entranced for hours at a time. They can go together, but it’s just a different vibe. You don’t try too hard to mush them together. Luckily for me I’ve got the ability and experience to be in a band, a classic rock band like Jane’s Addiction or Porno for Pyros, but all my years studying and really putting my heart soul time and efforts to create a sound and a new way of throwing a party.

What’s the result of the party? These parties can affect the world and we can use these parties to help heal the world. The world has changed and will never be the same. Just look at it from the distribution of the message, the music, how we used to have to go to a record store and thumb through the bins to find our music. Our process requires very different ways of finding and exploring our music. We look for people we depend on that can create opinions. We want to know what their setlist is, you rummage through their setlist and try to get the right sounds.

The sound might be less aggressive in Heaven After Dark, it’s a much more loving, sensual thing. Jane’s has a lot of aggression that needs to get out. It’s a lot more on the punk rock tip. I just want to leave you with this. I love punk rock. My son is now a punk rock musician, but we as musicians are artists and artists should always be evolving. Always be looking for subjects to do his art. It’s going to look different today than it did in 1984. It’s gong to sound different.

But if you really put your time and heart and soul into it, it’ll be just as exciting. You never want to go to an artist and be like… You know we love Andy Warhol, right? But how many times can you see a picture of Marilyn Monroe in four different shades of color? It’s great that he did it once. Now can you handle it ten more times? After twelve it’s not exciting, it’s not fresh any more. As musicians it’s no different than fine artists.

I consider myself a fine artist. I deal with music as well as video as well as dance. there’s so many wonderful platforms today an artist can work with. You put a show together, you’re talking videos, dancers, there’s software, then there’s the subject matter. Your art can be and should be eternal because mankind has been around for God knows how long and we keep making the same mistakes and occasionally we have these breakthroughs and the artist is there to talk about everything. He’s there to say, “oh you fucked up again.” He’s also there to say, “We can do this. We have to do this. we have to do this now.” That’s why I’m excited to wake up as an artist, as a musician, it’s always a good day. always another day, another chance to put out a message that will inspire or rock another world.

I’ve been such a fan, it has been an honor to talk to you. Mind if I tell you a quick story?

Sure.

I used to live in California. One time I was eating in this Chinese restaurant in Venice, Mao’s Kitchen, I don’t know if it’s still there and you were sitting right next to me. The tables are right next to each other and I wanted to tell you then how much your music has meant to me, but you were eating with your wife and I didn’t want to bug you, so I’m honored I get to tell you that now.

Perry Farrell: Oh man, thank you. I never get tired of hearing, “you’ve helped me understand something”. You know I have my heroes, I’ve had people who if not for them, if not for the things I read, they enlightened me. If it weren’t for them I’d still be that same schmuck walking up the street lost not knowing what to do with no one to help me make sense of it all. So whenever anyone comes up to me and says, “You’ve helped me. You helped me when I was in college and I was that awkward kid.” I feel great because you know I too was that awkward kid. That’s how I know how that feels. So thank you.

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David Rolland

David Rolland edits the Jitney blog. He is the author of the novels Yo-Yo & The End of the Century.