They helped invent alt-rock as we know it then split up in a haze of crack smoke, heroin abuse and recriminations, but along the way Jane's Addiction made some great records. Perry Farrell reminisces with Rock Sound...
In 1991, the year, according to Sonic Youth, "that punk broke", Jane's Addiction broke up. While all around them bands were being feted as 'alternative' merely for wearing plaid shirts, the band who had practically invented the idea of alt-rock were on the scrap-heap. Although Kurt Cobain was quick to credit Jane's Addiction as an influence on Nirvana, most critics ignored them in favour of the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.
"That definitely hurt my feelings," admits Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell now, "because I felt that I was very instrumental in creating that."
This may be immodest but it's true. With the touring festival Lollapalooza that he created he brought many of the early alt-rock stalwarts together for the first time and, even before that, Jane's Addiction's hyper-intelligent, hedonistic, rebellious approach to music had proved a huge inspiration to a new generation of bands.
The story started at the end of the 70s when New York Jewish boy Peretz Bernstein went to LA to study, fell into the punk and goth scenes, and then changed his name to make a laboured pun on the word 'peripheral'.
"I always loved music," he says. "I always looked up to people like David Bowie and Mick Jagger as far as frontmen and I always thought they were unique creatures. They were sculpted, created to be frontmen - just their torso and the way they moved and their stature and everything else. I kind of felt in my heart that I had that stature. I was framed right to be a singer and now all I had to do was develop the talent to actually sing!"
After forming a goth band, Psi Com, he then formed a new band with Eric Avery, Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins. Right from the start they were determined to shock the LA club scene out of its complacency and their delinquent lifestyle was almost as important as the music.
"It was very important," Perry says. "There were moments there when that was detrimental. There was one particular time when I thought, 'I'm using drugs to be controversial too much'. I thought that my karma would catch me and it did."
The drug use created huge strains within the band as heroin addiction took hold and some members struggled to break free.
"I was doing an MTV interview once," remembers Perry, "and they were asking me all about drugs and I was saying how great drugs were and I said, 'Hey, look, I've got a new haircut, don't I look like the devil?' With that stuff, as my grandmother would say, 'It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt'. I got hurt. I got to a point where I couldn't sing at all unless I had a hit of crack before I went on."
They never did things the easy way. Their debut was an eponymous live album and as they followed it with major label debut 'Nothing's Shocking' and then 'Ritual De Lo Habitual', the tensions in the band were getting too big to ignore. With 91's Lollapallooza serving as a farewell tour they split up and Perry formed another band, Porno For Pyros. Even when they'd all been into drugs he says the band never really 'partied' together.
"I'd rather have sex on the drugs than be with a bunch of people talking gibberish looking down at a spoon waiting for their turn you know?" he says. "I'd rather just say, 'This is all mine', and be with a partner and just have sex all day and all night."
That wasn't quite the end, though. In 03 they reformed to make one more album, 'Strays'.
"The last record was difficult for me in that I had to give up more leadership," Perry says. "I thought, 'Maybe I should be more democratic. They've earned the right to have more opinions, I suppose. They've been in the game as long as I have'. So I was open to other people's musical ideas. I wasn't thrilled but so be it. Sometimes you have to bend. If there's only so much room you have to bend and make room. That's what I did."
It may have been the right choice morally, but as the stark contrast between Perry's brilliant new Satellite Party album and the rest of the band's work as The Panic Channel shows, it was perhaps the wrong one artistically. Nevertheless, whatever they do in the future, Jane's Addiction will always stand up as one of alt-rock's true revolutionaries.
Contemporaries: Butthole Surfers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pixies, Violent Femmes, Dinosaur Jr
Influenced: Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine
Did You Know? Jane's Addiction were named after Perry Farrell's one-time flatmate Jane who was a heroin addict.
The Look: Bare-chested surf dudes who went on an acid trip and never came back.
The Sound: Perry Farrell once described it as "Bad Brains meets Duke Ellington", but in reality it was a highly intense, dramatic, jerky form of rock 'n' roll.
Where Did They Go Wrong?: According to Dave Navarro they broke up and got back together four times, but the rampant drug abuse within the band and their very different personalities meant they were never a long-term prospect.
Where Did They Go Right?: At a time when American rock music was becoming increasingly conservative they brought back the spirit of 60s subversion filtered through 70s punk and, with their classic album 'Ritual De Lo Habitual', they paved the way for Nirvana and the whole 'alternative nation'.
Where Do I Start?: There's last year's best of 'Up From The Catacombs', or you might just want to buy 'Ritual De Lo Habitual'.
What Are They Doing Now?: Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and one-time member Chris Chaney have formed a slightly crap new band, The Panic Channel. Perry Farrell has formed the brilliant Satellite Party.
Top Tracks To DOwnload:
1. 'Been Caught Stealing' from 'Ritual De Lo Habitual'
2. 'Stop!' from 'Ritual De Lo Habitual'
3. 'Just Because' from 'Strays'
4. 'Jane Says' from 'Nothing's Shocking'
5. 'Classic Girl' from 'Ritual De Lo Habitual'
Satellite Party's album 'Ultra Payloaded' is out on June 04 on Columbia. The Panic Channel's album '(ONe)' is out now on Capitol.