The jazz of Jane’s Addiction

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First Posted: 8/5/2013

When the average listener turns up Jane’s Addiction, they may not hear the jazz influences buried within, but Stephen Perkins interprets each beat much differently.

To Perkins, the groundbreaking alternative rock group is the very definition of jazz, so when The Weekender caught up with the drummer before his band kicks off the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival on Aug. 9 at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, he delved into that influence, why the band and its music has lasted through its various public breakups, and the artistic process.

THE WEEKENDER: How has jazz played a role in Jane’s Addiction’s sound?

STEPHEN PERKINS: Well, it’s pretty serious because Jane’s Addiction, to me, it’s always been four guys that are into four different things. Back when the band started, me and (guitarist Dave) Navarro…were into hotshot metal – we wanted to show off our chops. (Former bassist) Eric (Avery) and (singer) Perry (Farrell) were into Joy Division…less showy, but more drama, let’s say. That was the marriage of the early Jane’s Addiction. Me and Dave were into the metal…and Perry and Eric saying, “Let’s write some songs that really have some depth.” That’s the sound of the first record.

If you look at us and you kind of just break it down, Navarro is more into industrial, Nine Inch Nails… I’m more into Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead where it’s organic and the music breathes and heaves and hoes. Perry is into dance music, four-on-the-floor. We all, even now, are into different things. And in a sense, that is jazz, you know? Bringing these different elements and making music together.

In the sense of jazz, in the spirit of improvising, pulling from the moment, being in the moment, “Mountain Song” was written in ’86 when I was 17. Playing “Mountain Song” now at 46, what does it mean? How do I take my day’s experience, my life’s experience, and make the song relevant at that moment?

W: And these songs seem to have real staying power. You still hear them often on radio and TV today.

SP: To me, a great song is timeless. The lyrics, the sound, and of course production is going to date us all. That just happens because of the technology, but the melody, what’s behind it, the spirit, the spirit of the song I think can be timeless.

The music actually dictates how I live, for better or for worse. You put a fast song on and you find yourself driving fast. So I appreciate the power of music and I also…can respect bands that have done it every year for 30 years – Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc. – but Jane’s could never do that. We did four records in 30 years because if it’s not completely authentic and really real, it doesn’t really make sense to spend your time doing art that’s just for the cash flow. That’s not what art is. I could work at Guitar Center and sell cymbals if I want to just make money – I want to make the art and music. I think that’s the key to Jane’s Addiction, for better or for worse. The work ethic ebbs and flows, but it’s because of the love of art that it does that.

W: You’ve played in many other bands and side projects. When you’re working on Jane’s Addiction material, is your creative process different?

SP: Absolutely. As a drummer, my bass player list has been just epic. I’m just so honored (to have worked with) Rob Wasserman, Tony Franklin, Les Claypool, Flea, Martyn (LeNoble), Mike Watt, Chris Chaney, Eric Avery – I’ve just been very fortunate to have these really important musicians that have something to say, not just playing a part, and everybody is a different combination on Navarro and me since we were 13, 14 playing, so I can’t even explain how that feels. That’s just the perfect matchup of a puzzle.

That’s the challenge Jane’s Addiction always has to me, to make something great and not just, “OK, next!” I love the hip-hop world because they produce 20 songs a day and maybe one of them is going to change the world, but they don’t care – they just keep rockin’. I dig it, but Jane’s Addiction couldn’t do that… If it feels wrong, then we’re not going to write a song that day. There’s no reason to, especially if we only do three records, four records in 30 years. OK, maybe we wasted $800 on the studio and $500 on the engineer, but was it a waste if we put something out sh—ty? Now that’s a real waste.

W: Are you working on anything currently, or are you taking that process one day at a time?

SP: I would say both. There’s music that we have that I would love to go back and listen to and then tie the shoelace tight and get it back together, but then again put those asleep and figure out where we are today and everything we’ve been through in the last over six months personally and bring that to the table and write new stuff. I think it can go either way. There’s definitely a lot of music left inside of us.