In the eyes of the cultural mainstream (and most of the music business), 1980s Los Angeles was simply a sea of spandex, a synthetic breeding ground for cookie-cutter hair-metal hopefuls vying to be the next Ratt, Poison or Warrant.
But the music of Jane's Addiction reflected a much different reality. Like the Doors two decades earlier, the band — vocalist Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins — drew upon the darker, druggier and more exotic aspects of the City of Angels to create songs that were both viscerally immediate and shrouded in poetic mystery. Jane's Addiction rocked hard, as well (harder than many of their Sunset Strip contemporaries, in fact), but they did so while mixing elements of funk, goth and world music into the equation, resulting in a deeply personal sound that struck a resounding chord with alternative music fans of the late Eighties and early Nineties.
"We had really bizarre influences," Navarro reflects. "The Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, Bauhaus, Van Halen and Rush were all part of our sound. Eric Avery always had this funky thing to his bass playing, but he was also into classical music, or straight-up punk or arty outsider rock. And Perry was listening to a lot of reggae, zydeco and world music; he wasn't listening to the radio at all. And then you put us all on the streets of Los Angeles... for many years, we interacted with Spanish-speaking people more than English-speaking people, because that's who we copped drugs from."
"I was really fascinated with Santerían art," remembers Farrell, "and I would go to all these Santería stores in L.A. and buy things. Santería is a religion, and I did not really practice the religion, but I was very inspired by the colors and the rituals, as you can see on the album cover of Ritual de lo Habitual, which I created. We did a series of shows at the John Anson Ford Theater [in April 1989], a little outdoor theater in Hollywood, and I dressed the entire theater in Santería-type art. We called the shows "Ritual de lo Habitual" — the ritual of the habitual. The name stuck, and we brought it into and onto the record."
Ritual de lo Habitual, the band's second studio album (and third overall), still represents the ultimate expression of Jane's Addiction's unique musical and lyrical vision. Released 25 years ago, on August 21st, 1990, the record contained some of the band's catchiest songs — like "Stop!" and the dog-bark-assisted "Been Caught Stealing," both of which reached Number One on the Modern Rock charts — as well as such enduring epics as "Then She Did…" and "Three Days." Produced by Dave Jerden, who had also helmed the band's 1988 studio debut, Nothing's Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual reached Number 19 on the Billboard Top 200, and went on to sell over 2 million records in the U.S. alone.
"The majority of those songs were written before even Nothing's Shocking was recorded," Navarro remembers. "We would be playing 'Ain't No Right,' 'Stop!' and 'No One's Leaving' during the Nothing's Shocking days — we had those songs in the can already, including 'Three Days.' And by the time we got to recording this album, playing them was second nature."
"I had saved the best songs that we had written for our second [studio] album," Farrell explains, "because I didn't want people to think that this was a 'sophomore slump.' Songs like 'Three Days' and 'Then She Did…' — these are very sophisticated songs, you know? As far as I was concerned, 'Three Days' was our 'Stairway to Heaven.' But we were at the peak of our powers as a band, so I felt that this was our time to really come out and blast people with sonic sounds that they would groove to for the rest of their lives."
Making the record was far from seamless, however, thanks to the drug problems of several Jane's members and the dysfunctional communication that perpetually plagued the band. "Back in those days, it was hard to get us in a room and have us all be 'present' — it always seemed like somebody was having a 'rough day,'" Navarro laughs. "It's not like we were all fucked up, and everybody always did their job, but sometimes, it was really difficult for us to all get in the same headspace. Eric, Perry and I were all dealing with the same demons at different times and not talking to each other about it, which was really weird. So in certain ways, there was this level of secrecy and being at odds with each other, and in other ways, there was this sense of understanding and unspoken knowledge. All of which really made for a bizarre dynamic."
Still, it somehow all came together on Ritual de lo Habitual, an album which helped push alternative rock into the mainstream a year before Nirvana's Nevermind, and which continues to cast a massive shadow over the rock landscape 25 years later. "That was a quarter century ago, which is pretty hard to stomach when you put it that way — so let's stop putting it that way," Navarro laughs. "But one of the things I really loved about those days, and the four of us working together back then, was that all four of us had extremely different sensibilities, and we kind of all fought for our space and our voice. In my opinion, all four of those spaces and voices were aligned on that record, more so than anywhere else. And I think lyrically, across the board, this record has some of Perry's most brilliant writing."
"If you ask me, I think it's one of the greatest records of all time," Farrell giggles. "That record is so beautiful and great to me, because it's given me material that I can do for the rest of my life. I can do songs like 'Three Days,' 'Stop!' or 'Been Caught Stealing' around the world, and I will be welcomed, and I will be celebrated, and I will get hugs and kisses."
In honor of the 25th anniversary of Ritual de lo Habitual's release, Farrell and Navarro took Rolling Stone on a track-by-track walk through the album's nine songs.
Perry Farrell: "Stop!" was inspired by [the 1982 documentary] Koyaanisqatsi, which showed how mankind has gotten so out of control. "The world is loaded/It's lit to pop/And nobody is gonna stop…" The world is going faster and faster; we're chopping down all the trees and overrunning the planet, and I just have to go "Stop!" But nobody's gonna stop!
Dave Navarro: That song was primarily written in the warehouse of a clothing store in Venice, California called NaNa's — which, back in the late Eighties, was one of the only punk-rock clothing stores in Los Angeles. We rehearsed in the warehouse where they kept all the boots and shoes, so it was wall-to-wall Doc Martens and creepers, and every variation of punk-rock shoe and clothing, all around us in this dingy little warehouse.
One of my favorite moments in the track is the half-time breakdown, the "water will run" part. Most of our songs shifted gears quite often, and that one really just kind of downshifts in a very physical way, almost like dropping your car into second gear — you can really feel it slow down, but you still hear the revving of the engine.
"No One's Leaving"
Farrell: My big sister, Paulette, she's eight years older than me. My sister just loved black people, and black music. I got my first love of funk and soul from her; when I was a kid, she gave me records by James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Little Richard, artists like that. She got kicked out of the house by the time she was 15 years old; she started to hang out with black guys and go to the black clubs in New York to listen to music. She was dating a black fellow, and they were living in a park, in a car, and she was not allowed in the house. But when my father and stepmother would leave, I would let her and her boyfriend into the house; we would hang out, eat the food out of the refrigerator, and we would listen to music and just love each other. This song's really an ode to her — she might have been kicked out of the house, but no one's leaving, you know?
Navarro: On Nothing's Shocking, we had an almost "white-boy funk" sound from track to track, and I think that "No One's Leaving" was one of those songs that was still emulating that with the bass, while the rest of the band was going in a different direction from it, which made it work and be less obvious. And when you layer that funky element with an almost Led Zeppelin IV sensibility, like on this track, it creates this whole other monster. And then there's an outro bit at the end, which was weirdly inspired by a Van Halen instrumental called "Tora! Tora!" I think Stephen Perkins and I were messing around with that in rehearsal, and then we flipped it around and fucked it up a bit, and just tacked it on there, and it ended up working really well. That was our weird metalhead personality poking through.
"Ain't No Right"
Navarro: We were playing "Ain't No Right" since 1986. That's another one of those songs that was very bass-and-drums oriented — the guitar could drop out, and it would still be ripping your head off. So, my job was very easy; I just had an incredible rhythm section on that track that would mow down everything in its path, and I could just paint little drips of color on top of it like a Jackson Pollock, you know? Another thing I love about that track, apart from the sonic onslaught, is the lyrical content — Perry's speaking on a very personal and profound level, lyrically. I think we just laid down a pretty aggressive tribal bed for him to read a poem over.
Farrell: I think what you have to do in life is to strike a happy balance. That's something Tim Leary told me, and he stuck to it; he was all about balance and harmony. That's what that song was about. I like to get in danger, because I kind of always figure that I can get out of danger — and there's nothing better than the feeling of getting out of danger. But the only way of getting that feeling is to get in danger! This world today is all about that. The young people today, sometimes I call them the Red Bull Generation — these cats, the crazy shit that they do and film themselves doing, it's all about "Ain't No Right." It's like, "Why would you do something like that?" Because there ain't no wrong, and there ain't no right — that's why!
Farrell: There's a cat that I wrote a lot of songs about, and I'm not going to say his name, because I don't want him to ever know — but I have had struggles with this cat for most of my adult life. "Obvious" was written about him. This guy is always criticizing me; there's always something wrong that I'm doing. But to me, this guy is a very obvious person — everything he does, I can see where he's coming from. And I always keep him at a distance, because he's always going to try to bring me down. He thinks he knows me, but he doesn't. What I'm saying in this song is, "I'm not going to allow you to know me, because you would abuse my heart if I were allow you to truly know me. But I know you, because I study you."
Navarro: That's one of those tracks where we played around with layering and texture and overdubbing a little bit more than usual — there's just a lot of stuff going on. Perry played the piano on it. He found a register that worked, and played in that register, but wasn't necessarily playing musically crafted notes. So throughout the track, you can hear all kinds of notes that are completely out of tune and not musically accurate, but it works. And it kind of creates that sloppy, Harry Connick Jr.–style piano thrashing that's in line with the track. That song, to me, was the closest we sounded to being from outer space.
"Been Caught Stealing"
Farrell: Do you know what a Pennsy Pinky is? They were rubber balls that we used to use to play stickball when I was a kid. You'd get a broom handle or a mop handle as your bat, and then for the ball, you'd use a Pennsy Pinky, which were these rubber balls made out of pink eraser. So I was stealing these Pennsy Pinkys. There was a candy store on the corner by my house in Queens, and I would go there all the time; I thought I was pretty good at stealing, but a guy caught me stone cold while I was taking a Pennsy Pinky. I guess I got in trouble, but that was the only time I ever got caught stealing.
I got really into stealing when I got older, and I started getting really stupid about it — I would go to, like, some old mining town in Arizona and steal little things out of the gift shop. But my karma started catching up with me; I started getting things ripped off from me, myself. I would be like, "I can't believe they stole that stuff from me! Why, Lord, why?" Well, because you're fucking stealing from everybody [laughs]! I finally stopped stealing, because I kept getting my own shit ripped off. That's the only reason I stopped! Karma is so real; I completely believe in it. It's like tax time, you know what I mean? We've all gotta pay taxes, and we've all got to deal with karma. And that's what "Been Caught Stealing" is about.
Navarro: When we were recording the song, I was having a really hard time coming up with a guitar tone that worked. I wanted it to be overdriven and aggressive-sounding, but the nuance in what I was playing wasn't really cutting through all the distortion, because you lose a lot of articulation the more distorted you get. So what we ended up doing was putting a microphone super close to the strings of an unplugged electric guitar, and I recorded it dry a couple of times like that and layered it on top of an overdriven guitar. So we had the overdriven sound and the fuzz from the amp, but we also had the articulation and jangle of the unplugged electric, and Dave Jerden blended those things to create a sound that I've never heard since. It's pretty unique.
We had Perry's dog Venice with us in the studio, and we threw him in the booth and got that dog bark. It's not really a sample — we just recorded Perry's actual dog! I don't know that we thought of it as being that obscure or outrageous; he was just barking in the studio while we were playing that song, and we said, "Oh, that sounds kind of cool; let's put him in there!" And the next thing we know, we're the "dog-barking-song band" [laughs]! It was just like something to make us smirk to each other; I don't think we ever thought it through that people would actually hear it. I know I didn't!
Farrell: I had a very incredible, brief time in my life where I had not one but two girlfriends. I was a young man; I was experiencing things. It was a rite of passage. There I was, in bed, with two beautiful, exotic chicks — my girlfriend Casey [Niccoli], who I lived with, and Xiola [Blue], who came to visit. You can see all of us on the cover of the album. It was so much fun, and it felt so good — and at the age we were, staying up for three days was nothing!
In those days I was listening to a lot of Fela Kuti, and I was thinking that I love the way the cat takes you on this journey. And then, we were all thinking about songs like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," "Dream On" by Aerosmith — those were all big songs when we were in school. So now I had my own band, and it was like, "We have to give out one of that ilk; we've gotta come up with one that's a journey." The subject matter was perfect, the playing was exceptional, and that was all done live in one take in the studio. I said, "This is it — no overdubbing, no chopping! It's done!"
Navarro: I have a vague memory of us all recording it in one take, but my most vivid memory of "Three Days" is of working on it in the rehearsal room with Perry. That song really came together with the two of us staying up all night, just throwing part after part after part on top of each other; I think that we were probably a little chemically accelerated on that one. That, to me, is one of my favorite, favorite songs that we've done. It really tells a great story. It doesn't give a fuck about structure; it doesn't give a fuck about verses and choruses, but every part is memorable — you get lost in it. I grew up on records like Tommy and The Wall and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway — long, crazy, nonsensical stuff that told stories or just took you on a journey, so to make music like that was really satisfying to me. But the difference here is that Perry's not singing about Xanadu or some other mystical land; he's singing about a three-way love affair that went on for three days, high on chemicals, and the ups and downs of that and the psychosis of that. He's speaking about real-life experiences that people can either identify with or fantasize about.
"Then She Did..."
Farrell: My mom took her own life when I was four, and Xiola — who was an incredibly talented artist, and who I loved so much — died of an overdose. "Then She Did..." is speaking about both Xiola and my mom; I sort of saw them as similar people. I saw my mom in her, which is probably why I loved her so much. Years later, I found out that Xiola was my cousin, so maybe I really did see my mom in her.
The song is also about the buildings in New York City. They're not as old as the buildings in Europe, but they're old, man. It's crazy how many people have died in those buildings, and they just pull them out and give the keys to the next couple or family, and in they march and set up house. I was just thinking so much about the societal cycle of life, how people find a place to live, and they sometimes die in the place that they were once living, and then the place becomes a hollow shell for someone else to come in and inhabit.
Navarro: "Three Days" might be my favorite song to play live, but "Then She Did..." is my favorite song that we ever recorded. I really identified with the mood that we captured on that song, and it really highlighted the band's ability to shift gears. It's hard to believe that the band that did this song was the same band that did [Nothing's Shocking's] "Idiots Rule," you know what I mean? That one could be considered like an early Chili Peppers–sounding track, and this one could be considered a goth song.
Farrell: I was thinking a lot about my family, and how dysfunctional it was and how it had crumbled and fallen apart. My big brother was 10 years older than me, and he was my hero when I was a little kid. He had a motorcycle hidden in the backyard under a stack of leaves. And he would take out the motorcycle, put me on his back, and we'd go flying through the neighborhood — no helmet, no nothing. My brother became like a hardcore outlaw biker, part of a motorcycle gang that were badass motherfuckers. A Jewish boy from Queens — and this is what he became! But I always looked up to him. My family used to go up to the Catskills in the summers, when my family was still together, and my brother would hang me from a bridge by my ankles, just to toughen me up — but then he would laugh really hard and hug me. He'd make me slap myself in the face and go, "Why are you hitting yourself?" He'd say, "Hey, Perry, what's this in my pocket?" And then he'd fart in my face and laugh. And I loved it! I would follow him around anywhere I could.
Navarro: Led Zeppelin and the Velvet Underground were two bands that influenced this band in a pretty profound way, and you can hear elements of both on this song. Ronnie Champagne, who was our studio engineer, played bass on "Of Course," because Eric Avery refused to play bass on it. It was very strange, and I believe he has since said that he regretted that decision, but at the time, it was kind of a slap in the face — which was ironic, because that's what Perry was singing about.
Navarro: There's a Bauhaus track, "Hope," which "Classic Girl" has always reminded me of; it was basically the exact same positioning and device on the guitar, just played differently. The tone of the guitar on "Classic Girl" — that chorused-out, washed-out sound — always had a very English goth sound to me, but when the bridge kicked in, it was very Led Zeppelin. What Perry's singing about, and the nature of his voice, made it iconically California. For me, to go from two pretty legendary English bands within the same track, and then keep it in California with that lyric and that voice, made it pretty special.
Farrell: I wrote it about Casey, my girlfriend at the time, but I really wrote it about classic girls. I mean, listen — you can have a funny haircut, you can have a tattoo, you can have a belly piercing. It's all nice, but what I really love is a little turned-up-nose, pouty-lips shyness, you know? A classic girl.
The musicians that I loved in the Seventies, when they would sing a song about a woman, it would be macho and romantic. But in the Nineties, a lot of the songs that were being written were complaining about girls, or guys would sing all hard and gruff, like, "I love you! Blehhhh!!!" And I was like, "Come on, guys — we need to be romantic and macho and calm, and look at women in the classic sense, and sing about love from a romantic angle." You know, celebrate it, and not be afraid of it, and don't scream — girls don't want you to scream at them [laughs]! When I wrote "Classic Girl," I was hoping that people would fall in love to this song, or get married and walk down the aisle to "Classic Girl." The name of the game of life is love. If you can love and be loved, if you can accomplish those things in this lifetime, then you can die happy.