Interview: Dave Navarro Discusses New Jane's Addiction Album, 'The Great Escape Artist'
Back in the late Eighties, Jane’s Addiction burst onto the scene with two massively influential records, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual. Hit singles like “Been Caught Stealing,” “Jane Says” and “Stop!” delivered a unique blend of metal and art rock to the masses and helped set the sonic standard for the alternative Nineties.
But over the years, the band was beset by raging egos, drug abuse and infighting, resulting in a revolving cast of bassists, periodic breakups and one lukewarm studio album, 2003’s Strays. Now the band—which includes founding singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins—has reconvened once again for The Great Escape Artist, an album that by all accounts may return Jane’s to their former glory.
There’s been quite a break since the last Jane’s record. Has your approach to guitar changed in that time?
DAVE NAVARRO Well, as a rock-and-roll, soloing guitar player I’ve pretty much maximized what I can do. I’m not the type of player to sit home and practice scales and work on runs. I love that stuff, but I know myself and I just won't do it. At this point if I’m spending time with a guitar I’d rather write something than work on technique. It’s arguably a downfall for me, but on the flipside it allows me to work on music. I wish I was a shredder that could play everything, but I don’t have the patience. So I guess this time I was more concerned with space, layering and creating beds and atmospheres than soloing techniques.
You do pull out a few gems, though, like the fluid lead on “Underground.”
The truth is that I was really resistant to putting any solos on this record. But [producer] Rich Costey and Perry were both pushing me. So, the solo that ended up on “Underground” was longer than I originally wanted. Basically there’s two times around where I wanted it to end but they forced me to continue into that fast riffing. I guess I felt the initial melody sounded more like something from The Spiders from Mars [David Bowie’s backing band from the early Seventies], especially with the doubled-guitar, Randy Rhoads–style lines. It’s a little dissonant and it works. That said, when we play it live I’ll probably extend that solo even more. I love to solo live, because we’re having a blast onstage and it’s all about the moment.
On “Irresistible Force” your guitar is definitely a focal point, but it’s arranged in such a way that it never takes away from the song.
That song came together in the studio. It’s probably the most disconnected in terms of how it was written, which is strange because it sounds the most like a Jane’s track. I grabbed an acoustic guitar, found a tempo with a click, went into the room with a mic and I just played it. I didn’t write it. I just intuitively came up with all the parts. But I didn’t really know what it was going to turn into, sonically. Then Stephen and Dave Sitek tracked a rhythm to what I played. I had this melody in my head for a keyboard part, which I wanted to sound like an early Joy Division song. So Dave Sitek found a patch that fit. Then we sent it off to Perry as an MP3. The amazing thing about Perry is that he recorded the vocals at his house and sent it back the next day. And that’s what’s on the record. That song pretty much came together in a day’s time.
WATCH THE VIDEO FOR "IRRESISTIBLE FORCE" BELOW:
Have you guys collaborated like that on past records?
No. It’s never been that collective. In fact, on the last record [Strays] nobody was around when I tracked guitars, which I liked back then. But this time, the whole point was to do stuff I don’t normally do. And it turned out great.
A signature element of Jane’s sound is the great rhythmic interplay between Stephen’s drums and your guitars. Can you talk about where those rhythms are coming from?
The tribal thing goes way back for us. One of Stephen’s strengths and weaknesses is that for the life of him he cannot play a simple drumbeat. It’s amazing to me. He cannot play four bars of a drumbeat twice, without it being different. [laughs] He doesn’t want to do a standard drum-time thing, he wants to do something unique. So when the song will call for kick, hat and snare [sequence]. He won’t play the hat or he won’t play the snare, because that’s what everyone would expect him to play. That’s always been our thing. Even on the intro to “Irresistible Force” he’s playing the rhythm on the rim of a snare. I didn’t expect that. So even though a certain song may be crafted and written by me, when Stephen approaches the part…well, that’s what makes the band, the band.
WATCH THE VIDEO FOR "END TO THE LIES" BELOW:
There’s been a lot of press about the contribution from TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek on the album. Now that Sitek’s back with TVOTR, Chris Chaney has been touring with you. Is he in the band now?
I think of Chris as always having been in the band. The only reason he wasn’t on our last tour was because [original bassist] Eric [Avery] came back. I also play with Chris in my cover band Camp Freddy, so we still played together all the time. Anyway, for this album, he was really the glue that brought all these ideas together. Perry and I are both high-register musicians, and not very grounded. Like Stephen with the drums, we never do the same thing twice either. If Perry and I could be in a studio and turn knobs forever, I think we would. Chris is the guy that takes all of our tweaked elements and glues them together.
Seems like the band is in a pretty healthy place.
As far as the internal structure of the band goes, we’ve never been on more solid ground. I think that’s because of the fact that we all have our own interests and lives outside of Jane’s. That actually allows the band to breathe and have more life, because we’re not all sucking from it because it’s the only thing that matters. In a weird way, when you make it the only thing that matters it sucks out some of the life force. Perry’s got his electronic music and DJ stuff. He and Stephen both have families…and I’m pretty psyched I’m the guy who doesn’t. [laughs] It’s just not my thing…but I definitely have a lot of other things to keep me busy.
Also, we’ve never blown up to the point where people would tire of us. We’ve never sold the amount of records as most of the people on your magazine’s cover did. We’ve never been connected to a genre of music, other than alternative, like grunge that blew up and then dissipated. So as a result of that we’ve never gotten enormously successful, and we’ve also taken extended breaks. But the thing is I would rather be moderately successful for a long period of time than hugely successful for a short period of time.