by Gavin Heaney
Music and ocean undulate in waves of energy that crash up the beach and into our minds. This energy is the raw power of nature and according to Perry Farrell, “To harness that power into sound, that’s Jane’s Addiction.”
Jane’s Addiction were the pioneers of alternative hard rock in the late ‘80s. The hard driving punk funk style of singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins unwound rock n’ roll back to its raw and visceral essence. It was like the Pacific Ocean itself grew tired of the inauthenticity and decadence of Hollywood hair metal and pushed forth a tidal wave that washed over the Sunset Strip, washing it clean of saturated and over-produced glam rock to reveal these shiny street urchins of the alternative era.
Farrell, the quintessential SoCal surfer-singer of Jane’s, has always been explicit with this sea change. Two songs from their 1988 album Nothing’s Shocking make these tidal declarations. The lyrics from the song “Ocean Size” proclaim:
I want to be more like the ocean
No talking, all action
And the singular audible word in their colossal instrumental “Up The Beach” is simply, “Home.”
Farrell finds his home here in the Los Angeles basin on the beaches of Venice, Malibu and LA County. He also travels the world performing and surfing legendary spots in Indonesia, Fiji, Hawaii and Mexico. He recently shared how he finds his balance between the sound and fury in the ocean.
“I go to the ocean whenever I need to heal myself or find myself again, and it’s really kept me alive to be honest with you,” Farrell says. “It’s an energy source for healing. Whenever I’m feeling run down or weak, I head straight for the ocean.”
The implicit tidal surges of Dave Navarro’s swelling guitar solos and Eric Avery’s punchy, rolling bass lines provide the melodic aspect of the band’s oceanic magnitude and back up Farrell’s words with action. Songs like “Trip Away” from their 1987 eponymous release and “Stop” from their 1990 classic Ritual De Lo Habitual capture the furious high speed momentum of riding a cresting, plunging hollow wave, then suddenly drop to half-time to reveal the slow long period power that fuels it.
Conversely songs like “Summertime Rolls” (Nothing’s Shocking) and “Three Days” (Ritual De Lo Habitual ) build from slow sparse bass lines into giant walls of powerful ground swell. Like the ocean itself, it is swirling yet motionless and is a source of sacred for Farrell.
“Nature is my church, and California is the perfect place,” he says. “You have the mountains and the ocean. That’s where I go to pray. Some people go to church to pray, but I feel like nature is the place I pray. On a mountain or by the sea, nature speaks to you and balances you.”
Stephen Perkins, the inimitable drummer of Jane’s Addiction, drives the band’s melody and message with his own tempest of wild, syncopated rhythm. His rolling, tribal drumming circles you like an octopus or a multi-armed Hindu god. Though he always aims to service the song, this approach is exactly what the music requires and it’s the epicenter of Jane’s Addiction. He draws on his experiences riding waves at Newport Beach for his ocean inspiration.
“In the ocean there’s this wonderful feeling of your body being free and floating,” Perkins says. “It seems almost superhuman in the ocean. I love having that awakening. Anything is possible in the moment when you’re not in control and Mother Nature is. That kind of experience electrifies you and grounds you, but also lifts you up out of your element.”
Perkins’ thunderous drum attack resounds with the fury of nature’s raw power, only matched by the pure enthusiasm he has for his art. He excitedly proclaims the breaking of the pandemic clouds and the healing for a world just re-opening:
“All the pain and all that suffocating and uncertainty and divisiveness is going to combust! Like the sound of thunder when lightning strikes, it burns all the oxygen and air, and then they slap together and that’s the sound of thunder,” Perkins says. “A thunderous sound of creativity; books and novels, films, talks, concerts and records and collaboration, ‘cause everyone is so hungry and willing to get it on…The time has come!” Jane’s Addiction, in other words, is coming for you. BeachLife will be the band’s first post-pandemic appearance, and they are ready to bring the thunder. BeachLife Festival will kick off September 10 with Jane’s Addiction.
Fell into a sea of grass
And disappeared among the shady blades
Children all ran over me
“You are the one”
The lyrics to Jane’s Addiction’s ineffable, lysergic love song “Summertime Rolls” were written by Farrell while on a picnic. He says festivities, gatherings, hang outs and parties are his research for songs:
“I like to be social and write poetry,” Farrell says. “You find that you can write some really good songs by people getting together to party or socialize. It’s the place to go. When you want to research poetry for your songs, you start by hanging out.”
Farrell’s songwriting process is empirical, capturing the words that evoke emotion. Hanging out at the beach with his friends always paints the perfect backdrop for his writing.
“Yesterday, I was hanging out in Malibu, and we were writing songs,” Farrells says. “Just a group of musicians got together, walked along the beach. For the sunset, we were hanging out by a piano, and the next thing you know, it always happens as musicians, you start writing songs. And it all came from getting together in a social environment. Sometimes you might hear something that will trigger you…That would be a great lyric! And it might come out of somebody else’s mouth. Somebody might be sitting on a picnic blanket, and then lay back and then go, ‘Oh, it feels so good to disappear into the shady blades.’”
Seemingly innocent, random moments amidst friends have birthed some of Farrell’s greatest songwriting and insights, and he is insistent about being prepared to collect these memories for his songs as they happen. Like an artist with his sketchbook ever by his side, he gives this advice mainly as a reminder to himself, but to anyone writing songs, books or poetry:
“Always, always bring something that you can write on when you’re out partying or hanging with your friends,” Farrell says. “Because if you think about it, when people get together, it’s kind of a celebratory sound that should be generated…And what better place to write a song like that, than a social gathering?”
Farrell shaped and co-created Lollapalooza, which became the template for today’s music festivals: a social gathering of music, art and people that is a micro cultural movement in itself. He believes that songs and poetry in particular have healing properties and bring people closer to each other through their expression of inner understanding.
“I kind of wonder if human beings, because of COVID, had a chance to mentally get to know each other better,” Farrell muses. “I’m wondering if reading other people’s poetry isn’t also a link to knowing your neighbors, your loved ones, your family and yourself.”
As Farrell considers words to be social medicine, Stephen Perkins similarly uses his drumming to be the force that draws us closer and unites us.
“Drumming is a social glue, social lubricating oil, and I’ve always done drum circles before the show…if I can, in the parking lot or in the theater lobby,” Perkins says. “I just want to play and make people loosen up. And it’s a responsibility that drummers have. It’s a real joy instrument.”
Additionally, Perkins believes that music serves a great purpose in our community, and musicians and artists have a sacred duty to perform; to include everyone.
“There’s a sense that music brings people together, relaxes you, but it also gives you this rush,” Perkins says. “There’s nothing like music in the world. You see 30,000 people in a field, everyone’s getting along. That’s progress and that’s evolution. That’s music.”
Both Farrell and Perkins are looking forward to performing and to partying at BeachLife Festival. Having toured the world over, Los Angeles is their home turf, and to play their music on the beach is a special kind of homecoming. Perkins will be celebrating his birthday that weekend and is ready to go.
“I really appreciate the chance for Jane’s to go do this and bring people together,” he says.
“I’m foaming to play and get all frothed up and soapy with you! I’ll be turning 54 and celebrating around musicians and onstage and in very familiar territory!”
Also stoking on the BeachLife Festival, Perry Farrell is looking forward to playing with us on and off the stage, and perhaps gathering material for new songs.
“I’m really looking forward to the beach party that we’re going to throw down there. Oh, it’s gonna be beautiful, man,” Farrell said. “I’ve got friends down there. I think I’m going to probably go down a day or two early and maybe catch some waves!”