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Jane's Addiction: Breaking With A Turbulent Past

Oct 23, 2011
Originally published on October 23, 2011 7:19 pm

Jane's Addiction defined the Los Angeles rock scene of the late 1980s, and by the beginning of the next decade, the band had become famous worldwide. But almost as soon as they'd gained the world's attention, Jane's Addiction split up.

Modest reunions have taken place since then. This month, three of the four original members are back with a new album, The Great Escape Artist. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, who grew up listening to Jane's Addiction, spoke to the group's leader, Perry Farrell.

"I'm always trying to escape my past, to a degree," Farrell says. "My head's always in the future. I've been asked recently how I feel when I listen to the old material, and I tell people that I never listen to the old material."

Farrell says he doesn't spend much time worrying about his band's legacy. "Like everybody, I'm just kind of walking through life half-amazed and half-confused," he says. "I don't really think much about what my wake is."

But he is proud, he says, of the way his music managed to break through in the early '90s. "At that time, it was a very stale scene that we were faced with. It was basically hair metal. And it was arena rock — but the arena rock had gotten very stale as far as I was concerned," he says. "We brought the alternative to that."

Farrell says the group worked on The Great Escape Artist for a year and that he didn't listen to the tracks once they were produced. "When you're in the studio, you're working so hard, around the clock," he says. "You need a break from it. It's kind of like a lover that you need a break from because you've been in the room with them for too long."

"Lyrically, Jane's is always autobiographical," Farrell says. "As the lyricist, I always make sure it's true stories. I find that, when listening to other people's true stories — their testimonies — that's really where you'll find the passion, and the insight and the depth of a person's soul."

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Time now for music. And if you happened to be hanging around the music scene in L.A. in the late 1980s, you'd inevitably come across this band's music spilling out of open car windows, or shaking the walls of rock clubs.


JANE'S ADDICTION: (Singing) Coming down the mountain...

RAZ: Jane's Addiction didn't just redefine the L.A. rock scene in the late 1980s. The band had a huge influence on alternative music, all behind its lead singer, Perry Farrell.

PERRY FARRELL: We were able to break through - then, a very sluggish and stale scene. It was basically hair metal. And it was, you know, arena rock. So we went and brought the alternative to that.

RAZ: But almost as soon as they'd gain the world's attention, Jane's Addiction split up in 1991. That same year, Nirvana would cruise through the wake left by Perry Farrell and his band.


JANE'S ADDICTION: (Singing) Oh, I am a proud man and...

RAZ: Modest reunions have taken place since then. But now, three of the four original members of Jane's Addiction are back with a brand-new record.


RAZ: This is "Underground," a track from Jane's Addiction's new record, "The Great Escape Artist."

FARRELL: I wanted to set my, you know, sails for places unknown with this record. But I come to find that in the end, there's no place like home. And Jane's Addiction is an underground phenomenon. We've never been a pop group, and I don't know if we ever will be.


RAZ: You and your band mates sometimes had challenging relationships - fair to say, I think.

FARRELL: That's very fair. That's very kind, actually.

RAZ: Sometimes the discord even spilled out onto the stage, public fights and so on. What is it like to reunite now, now that you've all got other lives? You've grown up, you've got kids and...

FARRELL: Yeah. Well, it is fantastic because there's something innately wonderful about making up. It's forgiveness. And it's not just the act of being forgiven - that feels good. But actually forgiving other people feels almost as good; maybe even feels better, in a way. Today, I'm a much more mature person. I'm able to appreciate my life and those around me that's, you know, surround me and enhance, and make my life better. And that includes Jane's Addiction and the players.

And so it feels better than the first time around because back in those days, you know, we were all very immature, and we did not know how to handle everything that came upon us. You know, we, within a five-year period, created Lollapalooza. And the world changed, as you point out. You know, we broke down and broke the walls of music. And the new place where we were, it was like we were entering into a portal. We had no appreciation for each other, and we had no appreciation for our circumstances. And now, we do. So it is great. And I'm so glad that we had a second chance.


JANE'S ADDICTION: (Singing) We didn't know that it would blow up with such might. The stars are even brighter contrasted by the night. Sent out the shockwaves, filled up the outer space. Even the ghost came to the late, late, late show. Watch us play.

RAZ: I want to ask you about Lollapalooza, the concert series that you started back in 1991 - which I had the pleasure of going to that year. You always made a point of inviting hip-hop artists to perform right alongside the big alternative bands of the day. These days, no one would bat an eye at something like that. That's just normal, that kind of collaboration. But in 1991, those two audiences were very separate. What was your guiding philosophy when you set it up?

FARRELL: Well, I tried to look at it like my record collection, so I didn't bat an eye. And it was kind of a dangerous environment back in those days, to go out and listen to hip hop if you were a white kid. I remember - I actually was pretty afraid because the gangs in Los Angeles would just kind of move through the crowd. And man, they would just start knocking people out. And I remember thinking, man, I just - I got to get back against the wall here. Maybe they're not going to hit me. But I thought it would be a great environment to introduce the hip-hop artists to the Lollapalooza audience. They really loved it, and it was a smash.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Perry Farrell from the band Jane's Addiction. They've reunited for the new record "The Great Escape Artist." On this new record, there is a song called "Twisted Tales," and it seems to hint at your childhood. You sing: I had no mother, felt no trust. And for people who know about your life, your mother committed suicide when you were just 3 years old. Is this song about you?

FARRELL: Well, lyrically, Jane's is always autobiographical. I have to go and bring back these great stories. So it's my time to kind of live it up - or in some cases, live it down. But either way, I always make sure that it's true stories because I find that that's really, where you'll find the passion and the insight and the depth of a person's soul.


JANE'S ADDICTION: (Singing) I had no mother, I felt no trust. No family structures, yes I've been busted. I laid my bed out in my backseat. Under the stars is where I would eat. Sometimes I got lucky...

RAZ: You, of course, struggled with addiction. So did other members of the band. I mean, some would be amazed that you made it through all that.

FARRELL: Yeah, I know. They all say - that old adage, I'm lucky to be alive, so are we all. I mean, I'm so thankful for my life. I love my life. I loved my life as it was, but it didn't have my family. Now, my ambition - as well as, you know, producing great music for people to listen to and love, and play again and again and again - I want to be a great father. I want that holiday card. I want to be that guy with a great family. I really do. Like that, to me, I'm as ambitious in being a dedicated husband as I am anything else.

RAZ: You've got two boys, right?

FARRELL: I have two boys, yeah.

RAZ: Which I have to say, for most of us Jane's fans, it's pretty crazy that Perry Farrell is a dad.

FARRELL: I feel that they're going to be really mature. Like, I'm taking them down to Occupy Wall Street. We've got, you know, big cardboard signs that we made, and we're going to go and do their first protest. I think that I'm raising some really great young men that have no respect for their dad. And I wish they did, but maybe that'll come later.


RAZ: That's Perry Farrell. He is the lead singer for Jane's Addiction. They're back with a new album. It's called "The Great Escape Artist." You can hear a few tracks at our web site, nprmusic.org. Perry Farrell, thank you so much. It's been great to have you on.

FARRELL: Oh, thanks. It's been great.


JANE'S ADDICTION: (Singing) Welcome to the world, welcome to the aching world, a wonderful world of broken people...

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Check out our weekly podcast, the best of WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You can find it at iTunes or npr.org/weekendatc. We post a new episode every Sunday night. We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.