Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins on Duff McKagan, band future

Perkins says Duff McKagan is a "shot of vitamin B" for Jane's
Perkins says Duff McKagan is a "shot of vitamin B" for Jane's (Image credit: Jared Milgrim/Corbis)

Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins says that the addition of bassist Duff McKagan to the band has given the volatile outfit "fresh energy. We feel really together now, very unified."

Given that, over their 25-year-career, Jane's Addiction have broken up not once but twice, and have seen a number of bass players (Flea, Chris Chaney) fill in during various reunions, "a nice shot of vitamin B," as Perkins describes McKagan, the ex-bassist for Guns N' Roses and apparently still an active member of the equally troubled Velvet Revover, seems like just what Jane's needs as they embark on the making of a new album, their first since 2003's Strays.

That McKagan was joining Jane's Addiction has been the subject of much media speculation during the past few months - even while the group were preparing for a February-March Australian tour with original bassist Eric Avery, who at the beginning of the jaunt was giving signals via Twitter that he might not be long for the band.

As soon as the run ended, word that McKagan was stepping in began to circulate in earnest, and in the last week guitarist Dave Navarro made the worst-kept-secret in rock official: Avery was out yet again, and McKagan was working with the group, not merely as a temp player but a full-time member.

Yesterday, Stephen Perkins sat down with MusicRadar to give us the scoop on how McKagan came to join Jane's Addiction, and he discussed the different dynamic the "rough and tough" bassist was bringing to the new batch of songs the group are setting out to record.

As always, there's lots of drama in the Jane's Addiction camp, huh?

"It's par for the course, really. The tour we did last year was a big success. We played great and everything felt really good. But Eric's decision is Eric's decision. I can't speak for him, but I guess this is something that's been on his mind for a while."

"Moving forward is something we all want to do now, but Eric didn't want to move in the same way" - Stephen Perkins on Eric Avery quitting Jane's Addiction

By that you mean his leaving the band once again?

"Yeah. I can't say we were surprised - it takes a lot to surprise us anymore. But now Duff has come into our lives and it's wonderful. Of course, we've known Duff for quite a while, even going back to his GN'R days. We never viewed Guns N' Roses as competition or anything. Back in the day, Jane's was always hanging out with the Chili Peppers and Fishbone and bands like that, whereas GN'R were a bit more on the Sunset Strip."

Even though you weren't "surprised" at Eric's decision to leave, when did you get the feeling that things weren't right with him and the band?

"You know, you have to go back to the beginning, to '84 and '85. We were four people who came together, we were all very different, we loved different types of music. Nothing about us fit. We didn't dress the same, our record collections couldn't be more different…These are things that can bring people together in very beautiful ways when the situation is lubricated properly; on the other hand, these are the same things that can create friction.

"Jane's Addiction has always dealt with extremes, whether they're musical - our polyrhythmic approach to music, with everybody going in different directions - or the way we work as a band. Moving forward is something we all want to do now, but Eric didn't want to move in the same way.

"I liked playing the old songs on tour, but now it's time to make new music. To do that, the band had to get in a garage or rehearsal studio and get on with it. Perry [Farrell], Dave and I were all on the same page with doing that; Eric wasn't. He didn't feel the same sense of commitment to making new Jane's Addiction music. Obviously, we couldn't force him to do something he doesn't feel, so that's kind of that."

When Eric sat down and said to you guys, "I'm not into this. I'm leaving," did you try to talk to him about what would make him stay? Or did you accept his decision at face value?

"We accepted it. You know, there's a thousand great musicians out there to work with, and in the Jane's circle, there's quite a few that we know personally. I've been very fortunate to work with terrific bass players like Flea and Mike Watt [the latter in Porno For Pyros, Hellride and Banyan]. Flea, to me, was a great match in '97. As a drummer, he was very exciting for me to work with. But he doesn't play with a pick, so to bring him back into Jane's…well, he can't replicate Eric; nobody can.

"It was time for us to move in a different way. We have to evolve, you know? We discussed a few different bass players, but suddenly Duff came into our lives. It was almost like synchronicity. We had a jam or two and it felt great, so we found ourselves all saying, 'OK, why don't we do this?'

"The idea of having Duff in the band struck us as fucking cool. He's a great guy. He plays in his own way. I think it's an interesting hybrid. I don't like to use the word 'flashy,' but Dave and I are inspired by a lot of notes, whereas Duff comes from more of a straightforward punk-rock school of playing. It's a cool clash of styles, I think. We feel really together now as a band, very unified, and there's a lot of fresh energy."

You say that Duff came in and jammed with you guys, but how exactly did that come to be? What was the process of getting him involved?

"Suddenly Duff came into our lives. It was almost like synchronicity. We had a jam or two and it felt great, so we found ourselves all saying, 'OK, why don't we do this?'"

"A lot of things contributed to the process. Dave and Duff have done a lot of shows with Camp Freddy [the side project led by Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum], and they got on well. Last year, I participated in an instructional DVD about how drummers and bass players interact. For some cosmic reason, Duff and I chose each other and we sat in front of the camera and did a couple of things. At the same time, Perry started hanging out with Duff. So like I said, it was synchronicity; it all fell into place without us trying to make it happen. Rather than us looking around for a bass player or taking out ads or something, the obvious choice was right there."

How does this work with Duff living in Seattle? Is he around enough to be a part of the band?

"Oh yeah. He travels back and forth. The work ethic has been fantastic. He's definitely here for us when we need him, no question. He gets in the room with us and works out songs, then he takes tapes home - he's there. He's been a nice shot of vitamin B."

As you said, you have a certain style of playing - it's kind of elastic and very groove-oriented - and Duff definitely comes from a different school of thought. How have you two meshed so far?

"It's been really cool and a lot of fun. Yeah, I'm more of a spastic kind of Keith Moon-type player, and Duff is very rough and tough. There's less notes but he plays with authority. It's like sandpaper on sandpaper, but it's working out fine. He's got great ears and he knows how to hook in with me. We're finding ourselves again, and it's exciting. Even playing older songs like Mountain Song, it feels new again. Duff approaches it more like a rhythm guitar player. It's going to sound different to a lot of people, but maybe they'll appreciate it on a new level. I know we are."

What kind of commitment has Duff offered you guys? There hasn't been any kind of formal announcement from Velvet Revolver as to him 'leaving' per se.

"Well, Duff knows how fragile bands are. But he's in for the ride, I know that."

But has he told you that he's out of Velvet Revolver and he's with Jane's Addiction fully?

"I think he might be getting ready to say something in the column he writes for the Seattle Weekly. I know he's with us. He's one of us. Jane's Addiction is now the four of us: Perry, Dave, Duff and myself. Duff's a full-time member and he's ready to bite off as much as we are. What that ultimately means for the future of Velvet Revolver, I don't know."

Last question: Why not form one giant supergroup? You could call it Jane's Revolver or Velvet Addiction.

"Why not? That's a good question. Yeah, why not?" [laughs]

I mean, you've got the singer, and they've been looking for a front man for two years now.

"Hey, a tour that involves 15 cool musicians or whatever, a celebration of the West Coast…champagne and chandeliers…I like it. I'll talk to William Morris."

Well, just remember where the idea came from!

"No, it was your idea, man. It's documented."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.