Jane's Addiction front man Perry Farrell talks theatre, inspiration and the wild world of rock 'n' roll.
It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly makes Perry Farrell so fascinating. It could be the fact that he fronts Jane’s Addiction, one of the first alt rock bands to gain mainstream attention in the early 90’s, or his work with the mega festival, Lollapalooza, which he dreamed up after tripping on acid. Or the fact that he is the only person to have ever performed at all twelve Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivals to date? Whatever it is, for over two decades Parry Farrell has been changing the course of music. After releasing Jane’s Addiction’s forth studio album, The Great Escape Artist, the band is set to kick off on an intimate tour across North America that could revolutionize the way concertgoers experience live music.
Playboy.com: The Theatre of the Escapists was quite the project for you to develop. What makes this concert so unique?
Farrell: You title it as a concert but what I’m trying to do is push it as far as I can towards theatre. Obviously the main attraction will be Jane’s Addiction, but instead of playing in amphitheaters across America, we’re going into smaller venues to give more of an intimate tour. I like to think of the venues as also a part of the performance. The architecture and interior decoration that you see in these places really compliments The Great Escape Artists which has a 1920’s surrealist with a twist of Warhol pop feel to it.
So Jane’s Addiction will be doing the concert while immersive theatre that sometimes juts out or engulfs the audience is going on. The performers are at times going to go out into the crowd and the crowd is at times going to come onto the stage.
Playboy.com: I can safely say I haven’t heard of anything like this before. It seems as if every song is a different piece of theatre or, say, an act?
Farrell: In a way, yeah. You know if nothing else it will be music mixed with film but at the very most it will be music mixed with film mixed with theatre performance.
Playboy.com: With a band that has a discography of such iconic songs, how hard is it going to be to create the perfect playlist when you go on such a tour?
Farrell: We have to play our classic songs especially for the people who have never seen us. It may be the first and, you never know, the only time they will ever get to see Jane’s Addiction. They would want to see our classic songs and we love to perform them so we’re bringing those songs with us into The Theatre of the Escapists.
Playboy.com: Creating the perfect atmosphere for music lovers seems to be something you strive for.
Farrell: To be honest with you, there is an off-Broadway Theatre show in New York called Sleep No More. They rented out a couple of floors of a hotel and you would go down to this place with a group of people where you’re all encouraged to walk anywhere you want in the five or so stories of the place. Every room is dressed as some mysterious thing and throughout the entire time you’re there you’re just completely immersed in this theatre. Every once in a while somebody would come running through and do some kind of performance. I loved the experience of immersive theatre, the dancing and the incredibly gorgeous settings but there was no group, no source, and no musical element there. So I came home really inspired by that and really wanted to bring immersive theatre to music and to bring it to the public.
Playboy.com: It seems that this sort of atmosphere is going to bring back the intimacy and importance of what coming together to listen to music is all about.
Farrell: I like the idea of new experiences for people. If you consider rock music the way it’s been played for people the last 40-50 years, it’s been the same. I want to just give a new experience. I don’t want people to go there to stand mindlessly and watch, I want them to be excited to go down to see what it’s all about you know, get them interested in what it looks like and what it feels like. You gotta get these people out of their houses!
Playboy.com: We’re excited that we were able to premiere the explicit version of “Underground.” Was there a reason why you guys made this cut?
Farrell: I never look at ‘explicit’ as something negative. If I had it my way, the explicit version would be the only version. But the sad thing about it is the industry and the way they look at the videos. You have to understand that there is a record company paying for the video that then has to get it played on various stations and sites mostly on the internet nowadays. With places like YouTube and Vimeo censoring, it’s hard. So the various places that the record companies go to get it played are all censoring to the point where, you know you show breasts and it’s a no-go. It’s really sad.
Playboy.com: It’s kind of backwards. If you think of some of the first music videos that came out, like David Bowie’s first two which made a really big ripple in the record industry censorship wise, you would think that we’d be over the small things.
Farrell: Exactly. We have to be aware of these restrictions and now, if we want to release an explicit video we have to look for places that will play them. And I kind of agonized about it. I would get the cuts and say, “what do you mean we can’t show this?”
Playboy.com: Was there stuff that was left out?
Farrell: What we wanted to show was really nothing. To be honest, I wanted to show more blood! The story is about the people of the underground and the underbelly of society and the way that they die and the way that they express themselves sexually and I would get the cuts back and say, “Where’s the blood? I don’t see any blood and no bodies!” There are really no bodies and it really took the punch out of the video. Not having those shots in there, it’s like if Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos were not allowed to show the guys heads being blown off. And honestly, people wouldn’t even really care. That’s what makes those sorts of shows. Zany bloody scenes are famous! I wanted a video like that but of course the record company sort of prohibited me from doing it or the director for going that far. That’s what I really wanted but it ended up that we got a little bit of nice body shots and uh…so yeah, we’ll show it on our site and your site.
Playboy.com: Jane’s Addiction is taking part in a Playboy Key Club contest to play a concert at a fan’s house. Have you guys ever done anything like this before?
Farrell: I’ll tell you a quick story. [Laughs] One time, when I was in Satellite Party, a side project I worked on with my wife, we were used as the prize for a radio giveaway. We would go to these people’s houses and preform in their backyard. It ended up that the person who won was in Boston. So we were in Boston in somebody’s backyard performing and some girl said to Etty that she was a whore. So Etty freaked out and went to punch the girl but she didn’t end up hitting the girl. Instead what happened was the girl’s boyfriend jumped in front of her so Etty ended up socking this guy in the face. After that all hell broke loose in the backyard and we were all yanked out of there. That was the only other time that we have been used as a prize.
Playboy.com: Was there a concert you went to as a child that really stuck with you?
Farrell: When I was in my early 20’s, I might have been like 20 or 21; I went to this show called the US Festival which was put on by Bill Graham and Steve Wozniak who was still partners with Steve Jobs at Apple at the time. This show was out in San Bernardino and I was just starting to become a musician. I had recorded some demos myself just to use as a calling card. I didn’t have a clue or anything, I was actually a waiter. [Laughs] I was waiting tables at the time, that’s what I did for money anyway. But I went to this US Festival and was frying on acid but I had this kind of precognitive feeling that I would one day be doing this very thing which is a pretty big precognitive to have. I remember the show had the Talking Heads, David Bowie, Van Halen, The Kinks and a bunch more groups and it was this huge monster festival and of course years later we got to do Lollapalooza. It was from that feeling that I had and the excitement just to see so many great groups together. That’s what really inspirited me to do Lollapalooza.