For the third installment of the Art of Drums series, Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins spoke. Perkins’ drumming spreads a spectrum with senses. His beats are a choreographed, primal torrent, running poised Arabian cycles of mortar that dive down to the cosmic pelvis of urges. For Jane’s Addiction, he perfectly drives the cadence of their erogeny. Very LA, very frenetic, very ravenous, but always holding it down. Perkins hoists the canopy well behind the erotic, psychedelic hyena brain of Perry Farrell.
What makes a great drummer?
Perkins: When great drummers play, they’re doing yoga, and killing a lion at the same time. You gotta have a quick Sugar Ray Leonard jab. But at the same time you gotta be a ballerina up there.
Looking at these Art of Drum images, it’s like a Rorschach test. Frankie “Kash” Waddy sees a man walking through a door, Matt Sorum sees Jesus in a sailboat. What do you see?
I see jellyfish rising. A face laughing. If I look deeper, I see goblins, and angels. Wings. You’re right, it’s interpretive. Some people might see a missile coming from China. I don’t see that, but someone might. In the images as a whole, I see my personality – hyper, bubbly, bubbly in a good way, like a champagne. I see me being alive. I like to travel around the drum kit. Just because kick, snare, and hi hat sound good on one verse, doesn’t mean I have to play them on the second verse. You can see that in this art, someone who likes to move around, someone who is mobile. And what is mobile in this world, is the ruin of the world, and that’s the fossil fuels, traveling by plane, trains, and automobiles.
What do you think about when you drum?
I think about what happens from below the waist. How do I make people move? I don’t think about mathematical drum parts that make people think, or about extremely fast drum fills that make people go, “Wow.” I’m trying to make people’s asses move. Especially women. If I get guys to move, great. But if I can get girls to feel that beat, that’s what I want. That’s my objective in life, to make people move. Most of those people in my mind should be women. When women dance, their hips move, and their hips are what make babies. As a drummer, that’s what I’m after.
Stephen Perkins/Art of Drums
How did your drumming translate to canvas? How does the sound of a beat modulate to something visually tangible?
It’s like a Rembrandt, like looking at an exact moment in time. Looking at the movement of light in space. It’s like rhythm to me, it’s not where you play the note, it’s where you don’t play the note. I want my drums to sound like an egg rolling down a hill, not a ball. They both get to the bottom, but the egg rolls in different directions and bounces up and down, uniquely. With these images, the story comes from what’s happening, but also from what’s not happening. Like seeing things in clouds. The color and the movement draws you in at first, but then where do you go? It’s the dark spaces where things might be happening. Or look at the image, focus on it, then close your eyes and tell me what you see.
Jane’s Addiction was instrumental in my upbringing as a musical youth.
Thank you. I appreciate you saying that. When we began, we were just expressing our environment, what was around us in 1986, and putting it into music. For us it was an artistic venture, not just a musical venture.
I think Jane’s songs have held up over time.
I think it’s timeless music. It could have come from 1886, 1986, or 2086. If it touches an emotional part in people, and sparks an emotion, those feelings are timeless. To me, it’s important to make music that doesn’t feel dated. Our sound is a combination of four people that were into different types of music, different types of art, we had different friends. We were into different things.
In LA there was the Sunset strip going on parallel to what we were doing. That was Poison, Ratt, Motley Crue, and G ‘N R. Our scene was downtown LA, and it didn’t start until 1 AM, with the Chili Peppers, Fishbone, X, the Dream Syndicate, and Firehose. It was a completely separate type of scene that started later, in a different part of Los Angeles. The stuff on the strip was feeling a little dated even then. But what was going on downtown, with bands like the Chili Peppers and Fishbone, they were pulling from timeless funk, and metal, and ska even.
What is technology doing to music?
It’s an interesting time. You can get an app that throws you slides of Picasso all day, and that can be incredibly stimulating to someone who’s into imagery. Technology can get in the way of creativity, but it's also such a great fucking way to share it. It makes it impossible for musicians to sell records, but it makes it possible to get it out to people so fast. If I finish a song, I can get it out to people immediately, for free, and let them hear it, and that’s what matters.
When is the new Jane’s Addiction album coming out? Whose playing bass?
We just finished recording this week. It’ll probably come out the first week of October. It’s called The Great Escape Artist. Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio helped us write the music. Chris Chaney plays bass for most of it. The first song is up on our SoundCloud. It’s called “Irresistible Force.” I’m excited to put it out and play it.