Interview - Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction

"The good thing about Jane's Addiction is when we do it, we mean it."

Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction
Janette Pellegrini/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment

Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins has been honing his chops since that landmark rock band formed in 1985. He’s never been shy to share his gift with others, contributing to camps for the disabled and putting on drum clinics across the country. Now he’s serving as a guest mentor at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas, July 31-Aug. 3.

 

Personal expression via percussion

“… (T)here is a beautiful sense of learning, in a way, not how to play but how to approach an instrument or what you do with your time,” he says of his teaching methods.

“I can learn the exact notes that John Bonham played, but I’ll never sound like him. Because everyone feels different. Everyone’s got a different attitude on the drum set, and they play differently. … If you’re professional or amateur, fantastically gifted and you don’t need to practice, or if you have to practice all day to get there, it really makes no difference. It’s really a personal expression. And I can put on a hat and it looks horrible, and (Dave) Navarro can put it on and it looks cool.”

Perkins, guitarist Navarro, front man Perry Farrell and original bassist Eric Avery all brought divergent yet harmonious vibes to Jane’s back in the mid-’80s through 1991. Their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality on 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking resonated with many who’d go on to lead music revolutions themselves. Recently, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins attended a 25th anniversary gig of that funk-psych album and reminisced about the influence Perkins’ posse had on him.

 

Shock rock

The drummer and daddy to a 4-year-old son has similar reverence for the anniversary shows, which will include a stop at Chicago’s Riot Fest in September.

Nothing’s Shocking reminds me of a great social time in my life and for everybody in L.A. and that hang, that great hang,” Perkins says.

“And then recording the record. The Chili Peppers and Fishbone came down and recorded on ‘Idiots Rule.’ We were in a studio down the hall from DJ Bonebreak and John from X, and he was recording his percussion marimba record, so the X guys were there. I was 19, and what a time to have a bucket of money from Warner Bros.”

Perkins expresses his gratitude for his success with Jane’s and the fact that they don’t need to go on endless tours to sustain themselves. He notes that the breaks his band allotted themselves (between 1991 and 1997, and again until 2001) contributed to their longevity and lasting friendships.

“Not that I envy Metallica or Chili Peppers, but I respect that they made 12 or 13 records, or 15 records,” he says of Jane’s peers. “They started before us, both those bands, and they’re still making records. That’s badass. That’s a hard-working business.”

 

Mad camp

Jane’s Addiction’s catalog includes the double-platinum 1990 album Ritual de lo Habitual and two post-millennial releases: Strays in 2003 and The Great Escape Artist in 2011. But those gaps were populated with tons of Jane’s-adjacent activity: Farrell and Perkins played together in Porno for Pyros, and the latter moonlights in the experimental free-for-all Banyan.

And that’s just a tiny glimpse into what the Los Angeles quartet sunk its teeth into.

Perkins says that he loves to soak up all of what life has to offer, whether it’s taking his son to the zoo, traveling with Jane’s Addiction or helping aspiring drummers to do their thing.

“That’s what I think I can contribute to this Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp is my stories about not how to play but how to control the drum set or your instrument and what it means to be the master,” he says. “And you know, really, the instrument’s your master, and you’re the master of where it drives. You’re not the Ferrari. You need the Ferrari to go fast. You’re steering.”