This Friday, the Sunset Strip Music Festival will honor Jane's Addiction with the Elmer Valentine Award, which celebrates the music and icons that have made an impact on the Strip's legacy.
And on Saturday, the iconic alternative rock band (with Dave Navarro on guitar and Stephen Perkins on drums) will headline the festival, by playing their entire seminal 1989 album Nothing's Shocking in its entirety in the order in which it was recorded, in honor of its 25th anniversary. (they also performed the album in full over the course of two shows at the Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas back in May.)
Jane's career launched with their first live performance at the Roxy in 1985, and the band continues to go strong, reuniting last for new music in 2011 to put out its fourth studio album, the highly lauded The Great Escape Artist. And just last October, the band got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
We caught up with lead singer (and Lollapalooza creator) Perry Farrell on the eve of this latest huge honor to get his reflections on the legacy of the band and of Nothing's Shocking, and also to get his thoughts on the iconic importance of the Strip itself.
YAHOO MUSIC: This is the seventh year of the Sunset Strip Music Festival — what is it about the history of this location that makes it so special to you?
PERRY FARRELL: I think back about all of the great musicians that have gone through Sunset Boulevard — walked across the streets of Sunset Boulevard — and entertained the crowds, the hippies, before the hippies the kind of Rat Pack fellas from the '50s. Sunset Boulevard has been a place of entertainment and eating and commiserating that goes back to the '20s… the days of the speakeasies.
It has such a rich history — not just with music, but with the movie stars that you see up there… the Brown Derby used to be up there. My brother, who's a good 12 years older than I am, would tell me stories about going up on the Strip and seeing the Doors, and Janis [Joplin], and [Jimi] Hendrix, and how the traffic would move at a snail's pace because of all the hippies crossing the street and everything.
And now I actually get to cause the traffic to stop come this weekend when we perform up there. So to me it's got a very rich history of entertainment that we're really proud to be a part of.
Jane's Addiction is getting the Elmer Valentine Award on Friday. What are your thoughts on Jane's Addiction's legacy? If you had to sum up the band's legacy to generations to come (including to your own sons) how would you do that?
To my sons I would say, read Charles Bukowski, read William S. Boroughs and read Jack Kerouac, and you'll see where your dad's coming from. We are in line with these artists, which are the artists that spoke and lived amongst the underground — and the wild lifestyle that the jazz musicians had and then that the rock musicians had. And then people like the punk rockers, like the Darby Crashes of the world that have passed now. They passed the baton on to your dad, and the Jane's Addictions of the world were 25 years ago living on the streets of Los Angeles and entertaining the underground.
We came up from the underground and we still have a career — lucky for us! It's miraculous that we're still around and in better shape than ever. I think that's a real testament to our music and who we are as people. But that's what I would say our legacy is — that we fall in line with those great artists.
What are some of your fondest memories of the Sunset Strip as young artists?
One memory that I do have is the night before we performed at the Roxy for our very first record, I was handing out flyers for the event and up walked Jack Nicholson heading to a place above the Roxy. I didn't know about it in those days, but there was this little kind of speakeasy place that's above the Roxy where he was headed. And I handed him the bill and said, "Man, it would be great if you'd come to the gig." Of course, I'm sure he never made it, but I'll never forget that brief encounter with him.
And the next night, we went to start recording our very first record and I remember cursing out all of the other record executives. Because I knew in my mind we were already signed to Warner Bros., but before I insisted that we do a record on our own — a live record at that. So that people would always know, and could always go back to and listen to who we were and what we sounded like before a major record label took us in.
So I was cursing out all of the record labels and calling them "fat cats," and you know, saying that they could kiss my a--. But I knew all along that we had already been signed so I didn't have to be worried about it.
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Are there any other artists that you're excited to check out at the SSMF festival this weekend?
I wanna see the Birds of Satan. They're friends of mine — Taylor Hawkins [from the Foo Fighters] is the drummer and a great friend of ours. It's his new band, and you don't wanna miss 'em!
I want to talk a little about Nothing's Shocking and its legacy. Were you surprised by the reception to the album back in 1989? And what about now, with how it's held up over 25 years later?
To be honest with you, I was just reminiscing with my wife, who was asking me about it. There was a cat who was doing A&R for us, who was actually a cross-dresser, and he ran this drag queen nightclub in his off time, Dragstrip 66 — Paul Vitagliano, and he's remained a good friend of mine. And my wife was asking me about him, she asked, "Were you really tight with him?" Because they're doing a documentary about Dragstrip 66 now.
And I would go to the club sometimes, and I said to her, "He was the one that first told me that Jane's actually first had a hit on the radio with 'Jane Says,’" because I didn't know, I had no idea.
And there was a time when Paul said to me, "You know, they're playing 'Jane Says' on the radio all the time. He said 'Jane Says' is a hit.” And we'd never played the song live, because it's slow and everything else we played was fast. And he said, "You should play it!" He said, "No man, that's the song that they're playing. That's your hit!" And that's the story, man!
And the first single from Nothing's Shocking was actually "Mountain Song" right?
Yeah, they tried "Had a Dad," which I didn't think was our strongest song, and I didn't think it would ever work. One of the women that was working at Warner Bros. — they had assigned us to her… and Paul was also working the record to radio — and they started playing "Mountain Song" then as well.
What's the experience been like, performing the album again live? Is this the third time now this year, after the Vegas shows, right?
We really don't miss a beat. There's a couple of songs that we usually wouldn't perform — "Had a Dad" being one of them. But it hasn't really been that different for me as far as Jane's shows go because I put everything into every show. I've never held back a moment. I go full tilt. I turn the faucet on and I turn both faucets on full, and that's how it stays for the whole show. But it has been nice that every once in a while, I'll get a trigger of a memory, because performing the songs in the order that they were recorded does trigger certain memories every once in a while.
And it's great the accolades and the response and the love and the adoration that's given to the band now. And I think its time is due. We were always a great band — we were a great band back then and we're better now. We play now better than ever and look better than ever. It's pretty remarkable.
So I'm happy. I'm happy that we stuck around and we lived — and that we lived to tell the tale, you know what I mean.
And I couldn't be happier for all of the success that is being poured upon us now and the thanks and the adoration. I think we're going to be holding on for another 25 years. I think we've got another 25 in us.
When you look back and think about all that you poured into the album, what stands out the most?
When you listen back on Nothing's Shocking, we took a long time, like we always do, to finish it off and create what I like to consider a classic piece of material — a body of music — that is good to listen to for the next 50 years.
Is there anything you can share with your fans that they wouldn't otherwise ever know about the making of Nothing's Shocking? Can you tell me any background on the album cover?
I could say that we were high as kites, but they know that, right? Yeahhhh. I drove every day to work on a motorcycle that would break down. I was living in a storefront that I transformed into an art studio, which is where we shot the Nothing's Shocking album cover. The album cover — the hair that was on fire was rubber cement… I'd pour rubber cement over the structure and light it on fire, run back, and then take the photograph on a tripod. And it was all done in this storefront right on the outskirts of Silver Lake.
And I had a rooster that was living with us that would wake us up at 5 a.m. every morning. And that rooster — we were living in a Mexican neighborhood — that rooster was taken by someone and turned into chicken soup.
What's up next for you creatively? Once you finish with this big honor are you going to be doing more with the band? Or more solo work or DJ work?
All of it. I like to keep it all in there. I'm in good shape these days. I have a project that I'm working on — Kind Heaven [an immersive dance music musical theater project with DJ Joachim Garraud and Farrell's wife Etty] — and we're near to getting our seed money although we're not there yet… but we're close. And that would keep me working on Kind Heaven for the next few years. It's the kind of project that's immersive entertainment and I could come in and out of it at my leisure and still be able to perform with Jane's Addiction around the world.
And I'm beefing up my dance music that I do with my partner, Etty, as well. And we've got another body of work that’s recorded dance music. So we're going to be doing live dance music, Jane's Addiction, and Kind Heaven simultaneously throughout the year. So that's what the plan is!
The Sunset Strip Music Festival (SSMF) is a not for profit festival created in 2008 to promote, preserve and perpetuate the legendary Sunset Strip music experience. Now in its seventh year, the festival has featured performances by established and rising artists including Linkin Park, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, The Smashing Pumpkins, Slash featuring Fergie, Imagine Dragons, Awolnation, The Offspring, Public Enemy, Bad Religion, Kid Cudi, Steve Aoki, LMFAO, Neon Trees, Matt & Kim, among many others. The festival has also raised significant charitable funds through ticket proceeds and sponsor partnerships that have benefitted music education programs, drug and alcohol treatment centers and children’s cancer foundations. The Sunset Strip Business Association is the managing member of the limited liability.
Jane's Addiction headlines on Saturday, Sept. 20, with Empire of the Sun headlining on Sunday, Sept. 21.