Been Caught Healing: An Interview with Perry Farrell
Perry Farrell already saved rock from the tyranny of hair metal. Now he’s back to save the world.
In a five-star hotel in West London Perry Farrell, one-time front man of Jane’s Addiction and founder of the Lollapalooza Empire, eats a late breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. As he eats he plays us a selection of tracks from the first album by his new band Satellite Party. It’s a remarkable project. Perry’s at the helm, aided by ex-Extreme uber-widdler Nuno Bettencourt and taking in contributions from Flea, New Order’s Peter Hook and, incredibly, considering he’s been dead for 35 years, Jim Morrison.
As Perry picks his favourites he gently dances around the room, plate in hand, singing along more often than not. He’s a picture of cultured relaxation. Until Etty, Perry’s glamorous and charming wife, hooks up her laptop and announces that Satellite Party’s AOL page, the exclusive distribution point for the album’s first single, is displaying a picture of Jane’s Addiction.
“I don’t care if it’s five in the morning in Los Angeles,” barks Perry, insistent that someone responsible fixes the error immediately, if not sooner. “ Call him now! I’m standing next to Dave Navarro. I hate Dave Navarro.”
“Now, now,” smiles Etty, “You don’t hate Dave Navarro.”
“No,” grins Perry, “I hate Dave Navarro.”
Even though he’s genuinely pissed off, you can hear the laughter in his voice. Perry is far too smart to miss the irony of the rock star demanding his manager get out of bed and sort out the problems. And anyway, he has bigger things to worry about than his forthcoming release. Because Perry has become an active representative of Global Cool, an organisation leading the fight against global warming. As we drive from the hotel to the offices of Sony BMG, it’s clear where his priorities lie.
How did Satellite Party hook up with Global Cool?
Like many of the greatest romances, it happened very casually at a chance meeting. Some friends of mine brought a few people from Global Cool to the studio where we were mixing six months ago. Maybe even less time than that. We haven’t known each other all that long. I would say it was almost like lust at first sight because our project really surrounds the idea of changing the world through offering solutions. The major problem that we face now is global warming. They came just to say hello and see if I would give my support and maybe do a show for them at some time in the future. Then they heard the story of Satellite Party, and specifically that song with Jim Morrison ["Woman in the Window"].
How did you get that old vocal track with Jim Morrison? That must have been worth a lot of money.
I’m an old friend of The Doors so there are obviously still a few gems in the vault. I don’t think they were up for auctioning it. I asked if I could possibly work with the material and the good news is the song is here and being put to great use. If you really think about the power of the song it can make you laugh with delight.
We were able to go to 10 Downing Street to speak and present the song to the Prime Minister. There were speakers that were much more informed and articulate than I, but I had that song. That’s an amazing notion that this song has the potential to go to the highest places in political office around the world.
How did you get invited to a meeting with the Prime Minister?
It happened very fast. I was only informed that I’d be going there to deliver this song two or three weeks ago. I must admit, I was not that excited specifically to be invited there but I was excited about the song being able to get us there. Therefore they’d be listening to the message. And above that, they’d appreciate the music. And the message within the music.
Are you optimistic about the solutions we need to prevent massive climate change?
It goes beyond optimism. I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt. So I don’t have any reservations and I’m fully inspired to go forward. There is a problem at hand that we’ll solve. But at least everyone can agree now that there is a problem. That’s step one. And it’s out of the way. Step two is the remedies and step three is the healing. So now these scientists, these politicians, these industrialists, these artists have all come together in a room in Downing Street. I know they’d been having meetings, but they never invited the art community. That’s what they were missing because the art community represent culture. And this is the missing facet to this puzzle. Politicians can help. Industrialists can help. But really there must be a change in the culture. We must have a demand for products that are produced differently and we must demand our energy to come from a different source. When the culture creates that demand, the industry will supply it, the politicians will ensure that this swift stream of energy happens.
Are there enough artists committed to the cause to make it crossover to the general culture?
We have, to be realistic, a ten-year plan. It’s not as easy as I’m describing in that we’re not all one new order yet. Not to say that I want one new order -- that’s a very ominous phrase. I like to look at it more like we’re a global village. To me, a village is a place where we help to raise each other’s children and we look at each other as neighbours and we all gather together to celebrate. A new world order to me implies some guy who’s going to be ordering people. But I love New Order, the group.
What I mean is, I can conserve as much energy as I possibly can, but then there are millionaires flying in private jets and driving Hummers. Me turning off lights isn’t making that much of a difference.
Just keep optimistic. I was in a room with the richest men in the world and the most powerful men in the world and the most brilliant scientists. They were all there together because they cared and are making plans. This Hummer is a crappy idea. We’re going to get rid of the Hummer.
Here’s how we’ll convince Hummer drivers. We’ll stop manufacturing them. We’ll manufacture something that’s made out of carbon fibre and is thousands of pounds lighter. Because it’s lighter you won’t need steel and the combustion engine and fossil fuel. You use hydrogen. Hydrogen will give you a good long drive before you have to refill it and the engine is much lighter. You’re reducing your carbon emissions. If we all demand it we’re saying, "we’re not going to buy your Hummer. Anybody who buys a Hummer sucks". That’s like a guy with a mullet. No one has mullets any more. The reason being it’s not in fashion. You don’t want to feel like you’re out of fashion. So people are going to not drive Hummers because they’ll feel like a goofball. And there’s not going to be any place for them to get gas because we’re all going to be using hydrogen fuel stations. So they’re going to feel inadequate. We don’t want to feel inadequate. We want to feel sexy. Industry is going to follow the culture. Just like when alternative music was formulated there was hair metal. No one wanted to feel goofy and awkward and feel like their spandex pants are making people laugh.
Well you did it with music, why can’t you do it for the planet?
Exactly. Industry follows culture. MTV followed alternative music. And in this case we add another facet to it -- politics. Politics only follows industry. Let’s face it, it’s privatised self-interest the causes the political climate to change. If we can get industry to move our way, politics will move our way. It’s an upside down world we’re about to enter. And here’s the best part of this revolution that will be televised, everyone will prosper. Jobs will be created. We’re entering a golden age for the history of mankind. We’re about to go to the doctor and he’s a great specialist and he’s gonna help you.
I can tell from the way you’re speaking that this crusade has energised you.
I’m an artist and I make music and I like to make parties. I’m a bit like a doctor because I make people’s souls feel good. Now, being able to be a part of this movement is much greater because the subtle energy of the earth and plants and animals. They can’t really thank you but I feel them so much. Well, dogs wag immediately. They let you know you’ve done well. To be able to make that all feel good, the subtle energy of the globe is a greater accomplishment than only making people happy. It’s so much grander and more majestic than just doing my career. It’s so much more inspiring.
Your history as an independent musician and thinker must have helped. People know that you’re not just selling something when you speak. You’ve always done the non-commercial thing. Like breaking up Jane’s Addiction twice.
I didn’t break Jane’s Addiction up the second time around. I was the one who tried to hang in there. The first time I was so miserable. Back in the day in the '90s I didn’t care to be a part of popular culture at all. I was very comfortable in my hole in my dark places. I had no faith that mankind would ever do anything right for itself. I was very pessimistic. I wrote the song Stop to say no one’s going to stop. The only thing that will continue to run will be water. We will eventually destroy ourselves. That was my attitude then. So it summed it up. And, I must tell you; I enjoyed being a drug addict. I didn’t want the pressure of having to be accountable to people. I was selfish and self-centred. Happily so. Now I’ve grown up. I have children and I began to socialise as a result of having a lovely woman who brought me into the light and took me outside. I got myself together and I began to meet people who I found delightful. I began to experience the world again like I did when I was very young. I started to go to the ocean and surf again, and go to the mountain and snowboard, and play with my children and met artisans and forward-thinkers. I got caught up and swept into their enthusiasm. So now, here we are. I’ve just met Prime Minister Blair and I’ll be working with him now.
The point I’m trying to make, I think, is you couldn’t do that if you were Dave Navarro.
He drives a Hummer. He honestly does.”
Why do people drive Hummers?
It could be because they have small penises. I’m speculating. To me it’s an awful look. We should just put stickers on them saying "I am completely unnecessary". We’ll make stickers and vandalise Hummers. There are people who set fire to Hummer dealerships. I think that’s terribly wrong [injected with a hefty tone of sarcasm]. However, it does sound pretty hilarious. The irony is they come from war. These people love to invest their money in killing. It comes from a dirty, polluted stream. I would like to put the military to work for parties. Could you imagine the air show? Explosions are exciting.
There does seem to be an anti-environmental stand taken by certain areas of the American right. They quote that bit of the bible where it says I have given you all the fruits of the earth. Personalities like Anne Coulter have a real anti-recycling vibe.
She might as well say "I’m an idiot. If you need a fool, here I am". Nature is a complete recycling event. Seasons demonstrate recycling. That is nature’s way. It’ll never go wrong. We, who think we’re so smart, and sit there on Fox and don’t believe in recycling are basically saying, "nature does it wrong". What a foolish statement that is. She should be ashamed of herself.