Imagine a chart like the ones you’ve seen depicting human evolution—only instead of a procession with a monkey in the back and a homo sapiens in the front, there is a line of late-20th-century musicians making the transition from glam metal to alternative rock.
If such a chart existed, Jane’s Addiction would be standing near the front of the line, just ahead of Guns N’ Roses. With counterculture anthems like “Mountain Song,” “Stop” and “Been Caught Stealing,” Jane’s gave ’80s audiences a raucous heads-up that heavy rock was shedding its big hair and walking upright toward a more organic ethos. Soon after, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers would release their breakthrough albums on the same day—Sept. 24, 1991—thus heralding the extinction of the wild-maned, leopard-skin-clad rock wielder of the ’80s.
The albums that Jane’s Addiction has released over the years might be outnumbered by the bassists who have played in the band (including members of said Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses), but by keeping its body of work lean, the group has maintained a near-perfect track record. In support of its fourth studio album, last year’s genuinely impressive The Great Escape Artist, Jane’s appears at the Santa Cruz Civic on Wednesday, Oct. 17. GT took this opportunity to pick drummer Stephen Perkins’ brain about the days when his band helped rock let its hair down, as well as his views on the music of the present day. In conversation, he displayed the same unflagging, go-for-it enthusiasm that makes his drumming a vital element of the Jane’s Addiction sound.
GOOD TIMES: When an iconic band like Jane’s Addiction makes a new album, is there a feeling that you need to be very careful to do justice to your legacy?
STEPHEN PERKINS: Exactly. Yeah. There has to be a sense of abandonment, like, “Who cares? We’re just makin’ music.” That’s gotta be there, or it just doesn’t feel right. But then there’s also that challenge: “Is this the next Jane’s?” We might need to put two months into one song to really make it [worthy]. And that’s what we found out on the new record: We had to spend a year on the damn thing! I could have gone in and said, “Here’s something I worked on last night.” “Cool.” But when you think about “Stop” or “Been Caught Stealing” or any of the songs that make you think of the Jane’s Addiction catalog, there was so much time spent on crafting them, playing ’em live, editing ’em, practicing ’em in front of people in our little room at two in the morning. You gotta have all that blood and guts to really make your next Jane’s record.
At the time that this band took off, glam metal was still big. How did an against-the-grain group like Jane’s Addiction build a following in L.A.?
Well, the Sunset Strip was hot and happening, but that scene ended at midnight. Our scene started in downtown L.A. at 1 or 2 in the morning, when the Strip was done. Actually, those cats would come by, because we were the after-show; we were the late-night party, you know? Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns and all those cats were at the Jane’s shows, but we weren’t especially at their shows, because their shows were starting at 10:30 at The Roxy, and we were still just preparing for the night at that point. Our scene was Chili Peppers, Fishbone … Firehose was there, and Henry Rollins was around. Me and [guitarist] Dave [Navarro] were actually bringing some of that Sunset Strip, flamboyant, “Look how I play so fast” vibe, and [bassist] Eric [Avery] and [vocalist] Perry [Farrell] were like, “Let’s quiet it down and make it about the song.” So, what was happening in L.A. was almost happening inside the band: There was the late night thing, which was Goth and post-punk, and then there was the earlier night thing that was like the Strip. There was a sense where both of those crowds were very hungry for what Jane’s was delivering. The cats that saw Fishbone and Chilis weren’t getting long-ass guitar solos; the guys that were checking out GN’R and Ratt were not getting unusually funky rhythm sections. Jane’s had both. And then you had the look and the lyrics. Perry’s lyrics, to me, were just a step beyond whatever was going on in the Chili Peppers or Fishbone or the metal scene. All that kind of combined, and the timing was right.
What are your thoughts on the state of music today?
I’m a big fan of Mute Math. It’s like a digestible Mars Volta! Young kids playing their hearts out. I don’t mind seeing somebody go onstage and press Play on a spacebar. It’s cool; it might even get more people in the audience moving than a rock band. But I’m a player; I’m a musician; I’m a craftsman. I’m not opposed to the electric world of technology watching over us, but there still has to be that hands-on-frets, personality thing. Nowadays the amount of beats that are out there for young cats to get influenced by is just awesome: not just Neil Peart and Gene Krupa, but some freak writing beats on an iPad that no drummer can possibly do with his limbs! And then a drummer hears that and tries to do that with his limbs, and it becomes something new. So there is growth.
Do you see Jane’s Addiction as having a special place in music history?
Well, the Pumpkins, the Seattle scene and the alternative birth—if you consider those flowers of music, I think Jane’s Addiction is the soil, the fertilizer. We’re the shit! We’re basically just like Iggy and the Stooges in 1969; people claim ’77 is [the beginning of] the punk movement. We didn’t sell 10 million records, but what we did is: We sold a million records to a million artists! Not 10 million businessmen, CPAs, doctors and lawyers. So when you hear Tom Morello, Billy Corgan or Dave Grohl bring up Jane’s Addiction, they’re not bullshitting; that’s really what they grew up on. Even if they were the same age as us! Playing like that and writing like that was not work; it seemed easy. And it wasn’t fake. I think that philosophy definitely made an influence on the world. If you take a little bit of blue dye and put it in a cup of water, the whole cup turns blue. You don’t need much to change a whole bathtub of water—just a drop of color. So, I think we were that little drop.
Jane’s Addiction plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $56.50/adv, $59.50/day of show. For more information, call 420-5260.