Jane's Addiction hasn't had it easy these last few years, as plans for the band's first new album since 2003 have been repeatedly sidelined by delays and the abrupt exits of bassists Eric Avery and Duff McKagan. Singer-ringmaster Perry Farrell describes the wait as excruciating. “It's definitely like, as Brian Wilson puts it: The dry hump,” he tells Rolling Stone. “We're waiting and waiting and waiting to release this record. It's like watching something that you really want. You become an animal. Your desire grows and grows.”
The years in limbo finally come to an end this summer, when Jane's Addiction releases The Great Escape Artist, drawing from about 20 potential songs now in progress at a Los Angeles studio. “While I'm recording, it's going through my head more and more: Really sing it, man, really sing it,” says Farrell, 51. “We're not just gliding through this.”
Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins are reaching beyond the Zeppelin-sized swirl of 1988's Nothing's Shocking and 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual to a modern, forward-looking sound with the help of Dave Sitek from the Brooklyn art-rockers TV On the Radio. Sitek is collaborating as songwriter and fill-in bassist on the album. “He's like a scientist, and he's not afraid of making a monster,” says Farrell. “It just keeps getting gnarlier and gnarlier.”
Produced by Rich Costey (Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol), the final album will be edited to a tight 45 minutes, but potential songs include the “twisted” ballad “Splash A Little Water On It” and the torrid rocker “The Irresistible Force Met the Immovable Object,” which imagines the Big Bang Theory as a “cosmic sexual exploit,” says Farrell. A track called “Broken People” examines the public spectacle of celebrity meltdowns.
Navarro says The Great Escape Artist is “not a typical rock record,” and may not include the kind of epic guitar solos and power-chords of early Jane's Addiction records. “A lot of it is really hypnotic. We're getting back into using a lot of space and having a lot of air. The music that I listen to and love isn't necessarily rock-oriented anymore,” explains Navarro, 43, who is playing guitars, synths and occasional bass at the sessions. “There is a beauty in simplicity that I'm really embracing. To me, that's an evolution as an artist.”
The band's evolving sound comes after several false starts. In 2008, Jane's reunited with founding bassist Avery for the first time since the original band's 1991 breakup, but he quit again after a busy year of touring and some recording sessions produced by Trent Reznor. His replacement was McKagan (Guns N Roses, Velvet Revolver), which seemed like a masterstroke until he also quit after just six months of live gigs and songwriting work.
“He wasn't really comfortable hanging with us,” says Farrell. “We thought it was a good idea, but it ended up that we annoyed him.”
Songs written with McKagan might still make the final album, including the rocker “Soulmate,” though dramatically reworked with Sitek. “We had probably 15 songs, and then he pulled out and we went into a little bit of a tailspin. It was a drag, man,” Farrell recalls of McKagan's exit. “Some of the guys in the group said, screw it – they didn't want to use any of the material we had written with Duff because they were so pissed off. I said, 'Don't be mad at the material, because we have some good things there.'”
Sitek has declined the band's invitations to tour this year as live bassist with the Los Angeles alt-rock trailblazers, so when the album is finally done, Jane's Addiction will begin searching for a bass-player one more time. “My head's not in that place right now. There's no lack of great musicians out there,” insists Navarro. “The prospects are good. I am super-inspired and enthusiastic about what we're doing right now -- probably more so than I have been in a decade.”