“What’s beautiful about life is not always winning,” Perry Farrell says. “It’s getting knocked down and getting back up and then winning. Sometimes, that can be even sweeter.”
Farrell, it should be noted, has not lacked for winning moments in 2022. The 63-year-old musician recently saw Lollapalooza through another massively successful multi-day stand in Chicago (not to mention Stockholm, Paris, Buenos Aires and other far-flung locales); conceived, executed and performed at, along with his wife, Etty Lau Farrell, a recurring L.A.-based “immersive theater” experience named Heaven After Dark that he hopes to take international; and unexpectedly reunited his mid-‘90s outfit, Porno for Pyros, for their first full shows in more than 25 years.
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The piece that has been missing from this winning puzzle is Jane’s Addiction, the L.A. band that, with the shamanistic Farrell at the helm, played a key role in shepherding alternative rock into the mainstream in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and that famously broke up (for the first time, at least) after headlining the inaugural Lollapalooza festival in 1991. Jane’s has regrouped to record and tour numerous times over the years, and remains a hot live ticket and festival headliner. But save for a few scattered fest appearances in 2020 and 2021 they’ve been mostly dormant — until now.
The band has kicked off a fall North American arena tour, “Spirits on Fire,” with another icon of the alternative era, the Smashing Pumpkins. While the two acts share plenty of history – the Pumpkins headlined the 1994 Lollapalooza festival, for one – in those days they seemed to be situated, musically and perhaps even spiritually, in distinct corners of the alt-rock universe, with Jane’s geared more toward punk, goth and arty exotica, the Pumpkins prog, classic rock and angsty metal.
Nowadays, they perhaps have more in common – imposing legacies, bulletproof catalogs, and a devotion to big, bombastic shows. “Jane’s, our whole thing is pageantry and explosiveness and drama and art,” Farrell says. “And Billy [Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins front man] there’s lights and costume and video… it’s a performance that’s not just musical, it’s visceral.” The tour, he continues, “is a return to real, spirited human beings performing, as opposed to, you know, everything’s just up on the Jumbotron, or the band gives you nothing and they go out there with a fucking T-shirt on.”
Smashing Pumpkins, which currently features three of the band’s four original members – Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin – have marked the “Spirits on “Fire tour with the announcement of a new record, “ATUM,” a 33-track “rock opera in three acts” intended to hearken back to grandiloquent efforts like 1995’s sprawling “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”
For Jane’s Addiction, these shows arrive as the band faces a personal inflection point: a re-embrace of what had seemed to be an out-of-reach past, and a tentative first step toward an unknown future.
Jane’s Addiction’s at the Jane’s Addiction tour rehearsal held at Mates Rehearsal Studios on September 21, 2022 in North Hollywood, California.
The “past” piece is represented by the return of original bassist Eric Avery. A key component of the Jane’s Addiction sound, Avery was the first member to play in the band alongside Farrell in 1985, and it is his insistent, hypnotic bass lines that provide much of the power and thrust to classic tracks like “Mountain Song” and “Whores.” Avery’s history with Jane’s Addiction, and with Farrell in particular, has been marked by tension; he last played with the band for a short stint earlier in the 2000s before departing again in 2010. Over the years, his spot has been filled by everyone from Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea to, in most cases, prolific studio and stage bassist Chris Chaney.
Avery’s path back to Jane’s Addiction began a few years ago, when he and Farrell reconnected on a phone call that, according to the bassist, was brokered by a mutual friend, late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. When Farrell reached out again more recently, he says, “I thought maybe it had something to do with [Hawkins’] death, because we both loved him a lot. I thought maybe he wanted to do a song or something like that for Taylor.”
Instead, the conversation was focused on the future of Jane’s Addiction, and Avery’s place in it. “We had what I considered to be the most meaningful and honest and respectful talk that we’ve had since the Jane’s 1.0 days,” Avery says. “I don’t mean to sound so ‘new age-y’ about it, but it was sort of a healing of a rift.”
That healing, Farrell says, was long overdue. “It’s time. We’re not getting any younger, and I wanted to start working with Eric again before it’s all too late.”
But just as the band, which also includes original members Stephen Perkins (also of Porno for Pyros) on drums and Dave Navarro on guitar, seemed to be making themselves whole once again, they experienced a knock-down. Navarro has been struggling with severe long Covid symptoms since December of 2021; his illness forced Jane’s Addiction to pull out of two festival bills earlier this year, in both cases with Porno for Pyros taking their place. Just as the band were preparing to begin rehearsals for the “Spirits on Fire” tour, Navarro informed them he was still not well enough to join Jane’s Addiction on the road.
Says Farrell, “Dave told us he’s hoping to be back at a certain date [on the tour], but… look, this is very important. Today, you’ve gotta look out for your friends and your family. It’s a tough time to be alive. You have to be thinking smart. When a person doesn’t feel well, you have to be okay with them slowing down for a minute. There’s nothing else you can do.”
“My heart is broken to not have Dave here with us,” Perkins adds. “But I just want my friend to be healthy. And the best thing we can do for him right now is to not interrupt the healing process.”
In the meantime, the show must go on. And for that to happen, Jane’s Addiction, for the first time in their history, had to find a guitar player to step into Navarro’s shoes. For the tour, at least, that guitar player will be Troy Van Leeuwen, a record producer and multi-instrumentalist who has played with the likes of A Perfect Circle, Iggy Pop and, most notably, Queens of the Stone Age. Additionally, Farrell reports that several shows will feature guest guitarists joining the band onstage. These names, however, are still top secret. “I wish I could tell you, but I can’t,” he says. “But they’re guitar peers, shall we say, of Jane’s. Friends first and foremost, but musical allies for sure.”
Regarding Van Leeuwen, he continues, “I would’ve never wanted to go out without Dave. But these days are a time for collaboration. So with Troy, we sat down and talked about stage style and, most importantly, musical style. And we found a common ground.”
“I came at it from the angle of respecting the material and respecting the history, because Dave is such a big presence in the band,” Van Leeuwen says. “Then as we started playing more and more, they all said, ‘Well, do your own thing, too.’ So I have some space to add my flair here and there.”
“We really approached it as, this is an opportunity for Jane’s to have a little bit of a different sound,” Avery says. “A little bit of a different experience.”
Going forward, the Jane’s Addiction experience, in another break from recent operating procedure, will not be confined solely to the stage. The band’s most recent studio album, “The Great Escape Artist,” was released in 2011. But this past August, they reconvened to work on new material, which will also constitute their first recordings with Avery since 1990’s landmark “Ritual de lo Habitual.” The sessions, Farrell says, “actually exceeded expectations. We wrote three songs – one is very, very raw, but there’s two in particular that I love. One’s called ‘True Love,’ and the other one’s called ‘The Imminent Redemption.’ ”
The latter song came about in an unusual, if very 21st-century, manner. The night prior to the band’s first session together, Avery was looking around online and landed on a YouTube video of Perkins giving a drum clinic. He latched onto a solo piece the drummer was demonstrating in 6/8 time, and devised a bass melody off one of the rhythms. The next day, it became the first new music they worked on.
“I started playing it with Stephen, and Perry started singing, and I felt a feeling that I hadn’t felt in many years,” Avery says. “It reminded me of surfing. When you’re paddling for a wave, there’s an inflection point where the wave has you, and you’ve put the effort in and can stop paddling. You just stand up and begin to ride. I thought, wow, we can still plug into this…”
“When you hear what we came up with, it just instantly has that vibe that you hear in things like ‘Mountain Song’ or ‘Whores,’ ” Perkins adds. “It’s dark. It’s cinematic. It’s voodoo. It sounds like us.”
Even so, Farrell stresses there’s still work to be done, as Navarro has yet to add his guitar to the new material. “These songs are hanging,” he says. “Dave hasn’t recorded on them yet, and they’re not going to be completed until he does.”
As for whether there’s a full album in Jane’s Addiction’s future, Perkins, for one, hopes so. “Fuck yeah, that’s all I want,” he says. “Get in a room together, just do it. The last three years been a nightmare for everybody – let’s energize that pain, that fear, that uncertainty, all that shit we went through together. Let’s funnel that into a Jane’s record. That’s my dream.”
At the very least, the music will continue in one form or another. “We’re all on the universal clock, so I’m gonna ride it as long as I live,” Farrell says. “I don’t know what the music’s going to sound like when I’m in my seventies, but I want to give it a go, and I will.”
Calling it quits, he continues, is out of the question. “I don’t ever have to retire,” Farrell says. “I could ask anybody – I could ask Tom Brady, and he would tell you he’s envious of me. Because I can go until I can’t breathe anymore. That’s what’s beautiful about being a musician. You keep moving, and along the way you gain music knowledge, you gain poetic knowledge. You gain political knowledge and spiritual knowledge and universal knowledge. And then you put all of that into your art.”
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