Perry Farrell Wants to Take You to 'Heaven' With New Album & Live Experience -- No, Really
Perry Farrell’s role in paving the way for the ascendance of alternative music can’t be overstated. As both the frontman of the acclaimed rock quartet Jane’s Addiction and the founder of Lollapalooza, Farrell blurred the lines between underground and mainstream while also leaving an indelible imprint on the music festival landscape. If you take the eclectic lineups of modern-day festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo for granted, you have Farrell to thank.
On Friday (June 7), Farrell will release Kind Heaven, which is being billed as his second solo album in 18 years -- sort of. Though the new music bears what has become Farrell’s signature blend of alt rock, electronic production, and classical orchestration (spiked with a heady mix of spiritual imagery, exotica, irreverence, and lust), he conceived the album as just one component of a larger vision. The plan is for a revolving cast of musicians to play residencies (more like immersive audio-visual installations) in cities around the world, starting next year with Las Vegas. “We’’ll be entertaining you three-dimensionally, across all senses,” Farrell promises via the album’s official press release.
Farrell recently spoke to Billboard about technology, kindness, wisdom, and his vision for bringing his own slice of heaven to the masses.
Why do you think the mixed-bag festival format didn’t exist in the States the way it had in Europe until you, Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, then-booking agents Marc Geiger and Don Muller, and then-Jane’s Addiction manager Ted Gardner tried it with Lollapalooza?
I think it was a matter of bringing light to things that I knew and they knew were happening. I knew that there were between ten and twenty thousand kids [in each concert market] who were listening to different music than we were getting with corporate pop-rock culture. There was a [viable] subculture. To be 100% honest with you, 80-90% of everything is money-driven, right? So until the music industry saw that “Oh my gosh, there is money in this” they weren’t interested. But I knew that it was there, honestly, because of my friends’ record collections. [Laughs.]
The people that I hung with were pure musicians and intellects and artists. It was always fascinating to me whenever we would visit each other’s apartments, because they had to play their music. That’s how you got to know them, and you would be in awe. I heard bands like Killing Joke, Skinny Puppy, the Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees for the first time that way. I made friends based on the music that they liked. And I had more and more respect for them the deeper and richer their musical knowledge was. So I knew that they were all out there, these [types of] kids.
The record industry was just starting to head in that direction so it also happened to be really good timing. People don’t really buy music today like they used to, but they sure go out to listen to it. I know that they still need it. The music industry is really starting to get it right on the way they distribute music and the way we listen. It was 1991, actually, when the world wide web became an in-home phenomenon. Up until that time, it was only colleges and doctors who were using the internet. But the same year as the first Lollapalooza, people began to buy laptops. So we were starting to spread the information. When the information gets out there, it’s like the genie’s out of the bottle, and the truth isn’t going to be stopped. It’s going to be shared.
You’ve long been optimistic about technology connecting people. We can certainly say a lot of bad things about it, but there’s a sort of mundane marvel that happens all the time: people on the other end of a message typically react to the mood of the sender, not just the words themselves.
Yes. It’s a new form of primitivism that is kind of necessary. People are getting in touch with their raw soul. There are five levels of soul. The highest one is when you literally feel your connection to God. The lowest one is when you just have the instinct to eat and survive. It’s all one big, long connective... not tissue, because tissue is material, but a --
Yeah, a thread. The highest level of soul is the one that I’m aspiring to, which is to know God and and be touched and connect to God first-hand. [Laughs.]
And how do you find that that’s going? How far up the ladder have you gotten?
Well I’m getting there. The first way to do it is to pray. Hence the song “Let’s All Pray For This World” on the new album. That’s where I’m going with that song. I’ll tell ya, I’ve traveled a lot. I love to visit. You can call me a globalist because I want the world to do well -- yes, of course I want America to do well, but I want everyone to do well. That’s really the point.
Well, America can’t do well if everyone else isn’t doing well.
Exactly. If the world pollutes “over there,” the air and the water comes to our shoreline. We’re brothers and we’re sisters. We’re all related, all children of God. I can understand people loving their own race, and they should. I can even understand people wanting to only have pure blood of their race. I myself am a pure Jewish man, but I’m an artist, and so I like the idea of mixed media. [Laughs.] And so I shared my blood with a girl from Hong Kong [spouse Etty Lau Farrell—Ed.] and have beautiful children with her. But there are plenty of Jewish people who don’t want to share their blood with another race. Alright, I’ll give that to them. But what I cannot tolerate is hatred of your brother and sister.
As an artist, I appreciate the diversity in color, culture, music and ideas. Those who cannot, I think their soul is at that bottom level there, where they’re just existing. They’re hungry and they’re living on instict. They’re not really connecting with God. But they can be! Because I’ve been as deluded as the next guy. I like to think of myself as a goodwill ambassador to this world now. I just hit 60. so I’m not a child anymore and I feel like I have an opinion that’s worth hearing.
I like to think that those who don’t get it, it’s just because they’re overwhelmed trying to self-preserve. Their consciousness is kind of [hovering] around their stomach or down by their nuts, man. It’s hard for me to get mad at people because I see what’s going on with them. I’ll always give people room to grow and learn. We really are going in the right direction. It might not happen in our lifetime that we get to see heaven come down to earth, but it’s a possibility.
Your 2001 solo album Song Yet to Be Sung was two months before the World Trade Center disaster. The celebratory tone of the album ended up being a real contrast to all the dread in the air at the time.
That album was [intended to line up with] a mathematical calculation of the [Biblical] celebration of Jubilee. The Israelites were asked to count off in cycles of 7 years, and then on the seventh cycle of seven -- so on the 49th year -- you’re supposed to do these really kind humanitarian gestures, like freeing slaves and foregoing debt. And I thought, “If people would actually do that, the world be in a lot better shape.”
Vegas is an unlikely place to wage a revolution and inspire people to move towards oneness. How will the Kind Heaven show help achieve that?
I realize that I’m going to have people coming off a bus from Omaha that are gonna get off that bus at like 1 o’clock and go over to Kind Heaven. Everybody believes that they’re going to heaven. I mean, some people believe they’re going to hell, but we all want to go to heaven. During the messianic era, supposedly heaven is supposed to come down to earth.
So what I’m trying to do there is recreate that scenario, where we’re living amongst angels. I feel like the angels are really are starting to descend back down and communicate with us. And that’s part of why we’re starting to kind of get smarter. It might be through these seemingly wondrous things that are happening around us like the Internet, like cell phones, like the airplane. It’s also kind of fun to play with the idea of heaven because everybody has their own idea of what heaven is. It’s a fun exercise or art project to try to give everybody a piece of heaven. [Laughs.] That’s the quickest way I can answer.