"You can never go back and make something great again. You can make something great now” – an interview with Perry Farrell

With Jane’s Addiction, Perry Farrell set the table for alternative rock’s evolution, lending catharsis a febrile sense of occasion and carnival. He was was brains behind Lollapalooza, the genius who teetered between the debauched and the profound.

As the 90s bore fruit for Jane’s Addiction’s sound, he was the lightning rod at the heart of it. Their sound was a Catherine wheel of invention; if rock had hitherto been straight-hipped with a solid backbeat, Farrell and co made it double-jointed. If it had hitherto been physical, he made it spiritual. But Farrell was never going to sit still in one style, no matter how flexible. After Jane’s Addiction split in 1991, Farrell formed Porno For Pyros, and still he kept pushing.

(Image credit: Walid_Azami)

"You didn’t have to be a commercial sell-out pop anything; you could be just what you wanna be"

Today, Farrell joins us from his California home to talk about his new box-set, The Glitz; The Glamour – a strictly limited edition release of 1,500 numbered units that collects his solo works with a cornucopia of rarities and remixes. The conversation could start at 2001, a few years after Porno For Pyros was shelved, when Farrell began his solo career in earnest. Or it could start at 1983, amid the LA punk underground, when Farrell joined Psi Com as a frontman playing a dark new-wave sound with a sleepless, fidgety energy.

“Back in that time, in the early 80s, the music industry was really solid and exciting and it wasn’t just the major labels,” says Farrell. “You had these indie labels that were coming up, because college radio was a new thing, and if you can hit the college charts you didn’t have to be a commercial sell-out pop anything; you could be just what you wanna be.

“One guy would be hardcore, then another guy might have been punk, slightly different, then another guy might have been goth, and another guy could be glam-rock. We were all friends, and it was like Halloween! You go with your friends but everybody is gonna be dressed different.”

“My dad was infested with mobsters. My family was getting torn apart by it, so I went out to California"

But in finding the through line that connects these projects, you have to start at the beginning. His career? He laughs. It’s his life. Farrell’s origin story as alternative rock’s most charismatic frontmen and aesthetic trailblazer should have equal weight to the quotidian process of making a record. That’s when Farrell’s creative sensibility came together – and it was all about chasing the freedom of the surf, the California sun and the lifestyle.

It was put in motion with the need to leave Miami, Florida, stabbing westwards towards the California coastline.

“My dad was infested with mobsters,” he recalls. “My family was getting torn apart by it, so I went out to California. It was a dream, to go out there and surf those more pristine, bigger, majestic waves, and the California lifestyle! Y’know, reminiscent of groups like the Eagles and the Doors. I wanted to be out there.”

He didn’t quite make it. Not at first. Having stolen some weed from his dad and taking a Greyhound across the country, he ended up hours away from the coast. Still no surf. But him and his friends got a surf trip together destination: Trestles Beach, San Diego. There was no music playing, but when you think about it, the Pacific Ocean swell is a symphony unto itself, and it changed Farrell’s life.

“When I got my feet in the water, and the rush of those waves! The waves were stronger and the water was freezing,” he says. “When it hit my little toes, my icy-cold skinny feet, I was like, ‘Wow, man! Where we were in Miami, it was all sand, what they would call beach break. In California, the ocean was more turbulent and powerful. I paddled out there, freezing to death and scared of the waves, and all these great surfers were out there. I had the time of my life, and I was determined to stay there. Once I got – finally – to the coast, I’m like, ‘I’m moving here no matter what.’ And I did. I stayed, man. That was 40 years ago, maybe even a little more.”

Here, he will talk about the music industry – the practical stuff, the technical stuff, like the potential for ATMOS and surround sound to stake out new frontiers in sound design. But he’ll also talk parenting, the important of life experience, and how wanted to be the next whomever is a creative dead end. Oh, and then there’s collaborating with Jim Morrison from beyond the grave, working as a gigolo, impersonating Jagger, method acting training and a Colgate commercial led to picking up the microphone and fronting a band.

And no matter how bleak this present moment seems for music, if we all somehow hold it together he believes we are on the cusp of a creative revolution.

“I know it looks terrible, but I know where things are going. We musicians don’t know exactly when we will be able to play live but we have been recording, remixing and sharing. Because things are so up in the air, it is time to come up with brand-new ideas. Don’t be in such a rush to return to normalcy. Normalcy? You can never go [back] and make something great again. You can make something great now.”

For more info on The Glitz; The Glamour boxset visit perry-farrell.myshopify.com

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.