Drummer Stephen Perkins on Jane's Addiction, an Irresistible Force

Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins.
Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins. Miles Chrisinger
In the mid-’80s, the hair/sleaze-metal scene was the toast of Hollywood. Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe were top dogs on a Sunset Strip that had developed a well-earned reputation for decadence and debauchery as people cruised from the Rainbow Bar and Grill to the Whisky a Go-Go to the Body Shop strip club.

But away from that combination of grime and glitz, in downtown L.A., something else was going on: an alternative rock scene that involved the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Nymphs, and Jane’s Addiction.

That last band formed in 1985, with Perry Farrell (vocals), Dave Navarro (guitar), Stephen Perkins (drums) and Eric Avery (bass) finding in each other a shared desire to blur genre boundaries and challenge perceptions. Perkins recalls that off-the-Strip scene as something that people needed.

“X and Minutemen, they went as far as they could, even though it was the fucking best, in my mind,” Perkins says. “Post-punk wasn’t going to go any further; it hit a ceiling. There was a great moment there in ’86 where the Strip was ending at 1 a.m. and Jane’s Addiction was playing the party downtown that started at 2 a.m. Everybody on the Strip was welcome, everybody in the punk scene was welcome, everybody in the art scene was welcome, and we became a band for that, and that’s still imprinted in me when I sit behind a drum set — that attitude.”

Jane’s Addiction released two beloved albums, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, before the band prematurely broke up in 1991. There was a brief reunion in ’97, which saw Chili Peppers man Flea come in on bass, but it didn’t last. However, in 2001 the band re-formed again, this time with Chris Chaney on bass, and the band recorded the underrated Strays album. By 2004, it was over again.

But in 2008, the band seemed to finally got its act together. After a brief flirtation with Guns N' Roses bass player Duff McKagan, Chaney returned and the lineup was cemented, and so it remains. The Great Escape Artist came out in 2011, and things have been rosy ever since. This year is ending with a short mini-tour, which feels celebratory, because the outfit barely played out in 2017.

“To be honest, we only did one show in 2017, so there’s a real need, and the energy is starting to funnel,” says Perkins. “That will make the last shows of the year extra-emotional, and I think that is the best Jane’s Addiction concert, when we connect music and the lyrics and stay in the moment. ‘Mountain Song’ may have been written in 1986, but when you play it and you’re connected with it and it happens, it feels just as fresh to me as a musician as it did then. It’s nice to only have one or two shows under our belt in the last ten or twelve months, because it’s a levy about to break.”

Perkins says that after three decades and despite the many breakups, he, Farrell and Navarro are still extremely close and that they love playing music together.

“It doesn’t feel like a machine or a business or some sort of a cookie cutter,” he says. “We can be fresh with it, and that, to me, is important as an artist. It's tough for any artist to look at the future and create and not sit on the past. That’s what’s great about the members of Jane’s Addiction when we get together to celebrate Jane’s. It is a true, honest interpretation of what’s happening in our lives at that moment. And then we all have separate lives, and separate things brewing and doing. In the early days, we’d spend our separate lives together; all we had was Jane’s. We weren’t married or had other jobs or other ways to let the creativity flow. It was just our instrument. Now we’ve found other ways to let that energy go through us.”

Perkins is fifty years old now, but he has never tired of performing the songs that he wrote with Jane’s Addiction back in the 1980s. He refuses to phone in a performance; this band will never do that. And the fact the group has taken a step back from the industry-standard “record-tour-record-tour" cycle helps with that.

“Bands will make a record every two years and go on tour for eight months and hit every city,” Perkins says. “That’s respectable; I love that — it’s a wonderful life. But there’s also something great about having a band like Jane’s that was so important when I was eighteen, in my direction of music and art, and how I was able to find my own sound because of the band. I still take that idea and work ethic. At the end of the rainbow, if that rainbow is art, there’s something there waiting, and it’s not gold. It’s the satisfaction that you can do it your way.”

Six years after The Great Escape Artist, fans have started itching for new Jane’s Addiction material. Perkins says that if it were up to him, the group would be recording now.

I think we should write ten to fifteen songs, rehearse them, go in a studio, put the mics up, and not overdo it,” he says. “To me, rock and roll, if it still exists, is a bastard child. It's a mistake. That’s my dream for the next project. I don’t know how quickly that would get done, but the dream is still in me. To sit in a room with Perry, Dave and Chris day after day — something beautiful is gonna come out of it. I want more of that feeling. The band makes a rumble, and then we have this great melodic poet over it.”

As for the upcoming show in Denver, smack-bang in the middle of the holidays, Perkins says that Jane’s Addiction is going to, in his exact words, "fucking slay."

“There’s the power of the hard stuff and the dream of our psychedelic tunes, and it all goes together,” he says. “It’s just going to be a fun night. Very exciting and a great way to end the year. It’s been a fucking nuts year, and it’s going to be a little salvation, a little fun. We’re gonna turn on the heat, and I’m gonna really get people jumping up and down, because that’s what I’m there for.”

Jane’s Addiction with Flaural, 8 p.m. Thursday,
December 28, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, 303-832-1874.
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