By most people’s standards, Perry Farrell has lived around 20 lives. Now aged 62 but looking impossibly youthful and fresh-faced, the enigmatic icon has been a linchpin of alt rock for 35 years, most famously as the flamboyant frontman of rock/funk revolutionaries Jane’s Addiction and founder and visionary behind the veteran US festival Lollapalooza.
Having spent lockdown scouring his own vaults, the singer is gearing up to release box set, ‘Perry Farrell – The Glitz; The Glamour’, a 68-track retrospective that explores his career outside of Jane’s Addiction and his Porno For Pyros, Perry’s other band, who rose from the ashes when Jane’s disbanded in 1991.
We called one of rock’s most characterful idols at his LA home to look back at his unique and storied career.
Hello Perry! How have you been doing during the pandemic?
“I’ve been running in the morning on the beach. I was in deep sand and I decided to sprint. It’s been a while since I sprinted, you know. I do love to be near the coast. Now I’m hearing things, though. My wife was telling me there’s all these toxic waste barrels buried in the ocean all the way out to Santa Catalina Island southwest of LA]. So I decided rather than getting into it, I would jog by it.”
Aren’t you an avid surfer?
“Not for a long time. I had neck surgery so I can’t go. [I’ve got] two new discs. It’s going pretty good; it’s not perfect. But I would wake up every morning with a headache so I don’t have that any more.’
You only released your latest solo album, ‘Kind Heaven’, last year. Did you plan to release this box set and collection so soon afterwards, or did the pandemic escalate matters?
“Absolutely. The world was going so fast. It seemed like there was a lack of craftsmanship. People didn’t have time to really sit down, be creative and take their time. I don’t want to call it a benefit [of the pandemic], but you might as well benefit from the situation you’re in. We’re in a very sad situation in that we can’t even cross each other’s paths without worrying you’re going to kill me. That’s really heavy, right? While we’re here in our homes, I’ve just decided to become a cottage industry.
“And I enjoy it. I really feel like, if I was surfing, I’m right in the tube right now. I can make music anytime I want, with whoever I want. I saw through the pandemic that the world really loves music. It really can come to their aid. How much TV can you watch and how many times can you look at your cell phone?”
Your first job was in construction and then you designed jewellery when you first moved to LA in the early 1980s. Do you ever sit and think it all could have been so different?
“Honestly, my life is exciting to the point that I don’t look backwards that often. Most of the time I’m looking forward and I like what I see. I never thought about it until now, but I guess if you look back too much, it’s probably because it was a time you were happy and now you’re not. Luckily my life is exciting to the point I’m mostly looking to make sure that what’s coming next is really great.”
What has it been like to look back over your career for ‘Perry Farrell – The Glitz; The Glamour’?
“At first, I cried a lot. I was very fragile. I have boxes of pictures, real photos – that was my era. I showed my team the pictures and I would tell a story to the picture, and they were like, ‘You gotta put that out – your memoirs’. So I started to write them and I was losing my mind for about maybe two or three months out of the writing process. But I wrote through it, so there’s some passionate writing in there.”
Why was it painful?
“I don’t have that much more time left here on Earth…”
Yes you do!
“Not that much. Even if you think about 20 years, it isn’t that much…”
You played Glastonbury with Porno For Pyros in 1993. Did you have a good time?
“I was dating this girl (who, by the way, Robert Plant ended up dating after me – sloppy seconds from me). She was my drug dealer’s daughter, but she was of age and she was a model. Very white hair, blonde hair, natural.” This was when AIDS first started and the mother thought that I had contracted AIDS; she said she’d heard that I was spreading it. That can get real hot. It got all the way back to the LA Health Department and they made a public announcement to find me and bring me in because I was giving people AIDS.”
This is all a real story! That’s why when you can see on the ‘Ritual’ album [Jane’s’ 1991 classic ‘Ritual De Lo Habitual] cover that there’s a positive test on the album cover. It’s a little-known fact, but I was also tripping at that time making this test positive because it was on my mind.”
Anyway, back to Glastonbury…
“I showed up shortly after that escapade at Glastonbury and I really liked this girl. It was very embarrassing to me that her mother wouldn’t let me see her because I had this disease I didn’t have. I only remember that show so well because for the first 20 minutes I was just saying, “Suffer you fucks! Suffer you cunts! Suffer you fucks!” because I was really hurt inside. I let it out I wanted people to know what I was feeling. I let it go for a good, long time; could have been 10 minutes. Gibby Haynes from Butthole Surfers was there and when I got off the stage I looked at him like, ‘I don’t know what I just did’ and he looked at me like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you’?!”
In an early interview, you said you lost your creativity after signing with Warner Brothers in 1987. Were you disappointed by your experience with a major label?
“No, I [re-]gained my creativity pretty quickly with those guys. What I was saying was, I realised that when you have a message and you’re trying to speak it to people, you want it to be funny and creative, but you don’t want to pander for people to like you. I like being where I’m at right now – I’ve always tried to get back to where was when I first started, when I wasn’t expecting to make the whole world buy my product. [I didn’t want] to dilute my message or clean up my message. That always bothered me.
“I had the wild dream of being able to sing about whatever you want, put out whatever image you want and not have to be held accountable. In that time, Warner Brothers were good people. That was the hey-day of the music industry.”
You’ve included the tracks you recorded with your first band, Psi Com, in this boxset. Why was that very British post-punk sound an inspiration to you?
“I was hanging with the musicians and the musicians always had great records. I was fortunate to meet up with the LA underground at that time, it was 1982 and I was 21, or I might have been 23, when Psi Com were doing super interesting parties with Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten, Meat Puppets and Minutemen. We loved Joy Division and The Cure. Wire was another group that we loved; The Fall, Two Tone. There were some great groups…”
I feel like you’ve been your happiest as a solo artist, rather than a member of a band. Did being in a band stifle you?
“I think about that often and what I’ve concluded is, it’s all really great feathers to have in your cap. I love when I get together with Jane’s and we rock out. When you’re trying to move four people at the same time at all times, it’s very cumbersome. I do like living the way I live now, which is I call friends up and say, ‘I’ve got this track I want you to listen to it.’ Then they want to play on it and we just split up the publishing and let it rip.”
You released your debut solo album ‘Song Yet to Be Sung’ in 2001. Was that a turning point for you, when you discovered that sense of freedom?
“It was beautiful. It took me three-and-a-half-years in total to produce that record and put it out. Through that time, I was studying electronic music production – all the drums are hand-played but electronically. That’s how I really love to be with music. You don’t know where it’s going but you feel happy to be on that ride because you know it’s a good journey.”
Was Satellite Party [the collective Perry formed with his wife Etty Lau in 2004] a way for you to be collaborative without having to officially join a band?
“Yes. I was thinking about [Satellite Party] this morning. We have a song on that record [the band’s only release, 2007’s ‘Ultra Payloaded’] called ‘Insanity Rains’ and the chorus is “We are drunk with power / Join our rowdy parade. Break out your umbrellas today …. Insanity Rains!’.
“I was reading last night about Joseph Wang, who’s one of the most influential young people in the world and a youth protestor from Hong Kong. He started a movement called the Umbrella Movement. They carry umbrellas around with them because you can put an umbrella against tear gas, you can stop water hosing. I wrote that song about a protest, but the umbrella movement hadn’t started yet. That’s why I was thinking about that song: I thought to myself, ‘I wish I could give him a song to help him.’ That’s what I’m thinking of doing.”
You’ve been vocal for years on climate change and environmental issues. Where do you think we are now, what are your fears and your hopes on the issues today?
“I was disappointed. Look what we could have done in the last four years and look what we did. It’s awful. But I feel Joe Biden and Kamala Harris understand that this is not about a nation. You have to start thinking like a globalist. We’ve got to get it through our heads. The atmosphere is making us sick and it’s not cool. I’ve heard Biden speak on if and he understands that it’s the smartest thing to do for everybody. Everybody benefits by thinking this way. Nobody benefits by thinking the other way.”
At the time when you released your solo debut, you said it would be a shame if you were only remembered for Jane’s Addiction – do you still feel that way?
“I always want to be a punk and go, ‘Naaaah – no Jane’s!’, but Jane’s is a very important part of my life. I was listening to the record ‘The Great Escape Artist’ [Jane’s Addiction’s 2011 comeback album] and I really liked it. I thought to myself, if I get back together with those guys, I’d like to do that material. There’s some good songs on it.”
Jane’s Addiction reunited for Lolla2020, Lollapalooza’s virtual 2020 festival, earlier this year. Do you have a good relationship with the guys these days?
“Yeah it’s pretty good now. We hardly ever speak to each other or see each other, but this time – for the first time because we’ve been away from each other for quite a while so now – when I see them they finally look older. Because I haven’t been around, I’m like, ‘Oh man!’ But you know, I look older too…”
– Perry Farrell’s retrospective boxset ‘The Glitz; The Glamour’ was due for release on November 27, but due to the coronavirus pandemic has been delayed until January 22 2020