In the 1990s, Perry Farrell established himself as a visionary, thanks to his enormous success as frontman for groundbreaking alternative rock band Jane’s Addiction and as the creator of the seminal music festival Lollapalooza. Farrell has undertaken many other musical projects throughout his career though, and his work a solo artist and as a member of the bands Psi Com and Satellite Party are gathered together on Perry Farrell – The Glitz; The Glamour, an extensive nine vinyl box set that will be released on November 27 via Last Man Music.
Calling from his Los Angeles home, Farrell says it has been many years since he last listened to many of the 68 tracks included on The Glitz; The Glamour. “I’m probably a lot like most musicians: once the recording is done, it’s for the world, and then you move on to the next song,” he says, though he adds that it was a joy to revisit them. “It sounded beautiful, though, when I listened to it in a row. I was really proud.”
Farrell says it took him and his team quite some time to gather all of this music together. “I had a good deal of music, but it was scattered everywhere,” he says, “so we set about to find out where all the music was – in some cases, hidden and forgotten.”
One such “lost” album was Ultra Payloaded, the 2007 debut album from Satellite Party, the band that Farrell formed with his wife, Etty Lau Farrell. It was particularly important for him to include that album on this box set because it hasn’t been available for purchase or on any streaming services. “You couldn’t find it. I’d let a track out on my Twitter or Instagram, and people would go, ‘Where is that music?’”
Ultra Payloaded has special significance for Farrell because it contains the track “Woman in the Window,” for which Farrell had been given a license to use The Doors singer Jim Morrison’s voice for the lead vocals.
“I wrote this beautiful song using Jim’s poetry. I felt so honored,” Farrell says. But then, he says,“I felt that [the record label] had done such a crappy job with the record. Basically what they did is, they shelved it.” He attributes this to a change in the company presidency. “That really, really bothered me. I felt it was a real dishonor to Jim Morrison. That’s why I literally bought the record back from them, told them to screw off, and then held onto it.”
Now, Farrell says, “I don’t feel like I need a major label to qualify myself as a career musician, certainly. I honestly feel that I’m doing so much better now in my career. I’m really enjoying being a modern, contemporary musician today. I don’t work with the same restrictions that we used to [have], nor do I have the same expectations from the music industry. How we get our music out, how we make our music. To me, it’s exciting. It’s much more hands-on and up to you. As far as you want to go, you can go.”
As he approaches this latest phase in his career, Farrell shows that he still has a visionary streak, always seeking out new possibilities and opportunities. “These are different times that we’re living in, and we’re never going to go back,” he says, “so what I try to do is [say], ‘What are the benefits of being a musician today? What can you do that you couldn’t do a long time ago?’”
Besides being able to work outside of the traditional record label system, Farrell also says that the advent of high-quality home recording techniques is another improvement he sees in his and other musicians’ lives. “Most of us pros have studios in our homes – and we have a lot of time on our hands right now,” he says, “[but] we’re not just standing around. They’re excited when you call them up and say, ‘I’ve got a track – do you want to listen to it?’ And they’re always excited to add to it. It’s nice for me because it’s not a band, per se. We’re just writing tracks as friends.
“There’s many benefits to writing as a group,” Farrell continues, “but one of the pitfalls of being in a group is the ego. Musicians always have this great desire to play all over everything – they always feel like, ‘If I’m in a group, I have to be on every part.’ There are benefits to that. You get to hear your favorite player playing on everything. But musicians, they learn over the course of time to not play so much and everywhere. The absence of notes is actually a decision.”
These days, Farrell says, “I get to create space without an ego involved. I lay down vocal lines and then I go back and I listen again and I absolutely deconstruct things. It’s like haiku: only what’s necessary. And that is always the best approach to making music. You have to be as egoless as possible.”
Farrell credits his older siblings for helping him learn to discern good music starting at a very early age. “I was fortunate in that respect,” he says. “My sister loved funk and soul. She turned me on to James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone and George Clinton, Funkadelic, all that. I love that side of music. And then my big brother turned me on to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and The Who. So that was my starting point.”
Initially, Farrell says, he didn’t realize that he could switch from being a fan of music to actually creating it, and he only started to contemplate this as a career after he moved from Florida to Los Angeles as a young man. “It sounds funny, but I felt that I had the frame for it,” he says. “I was a skinny guy – I could be maybe a frontman. But you had to have talent. I knew I could dance around and make people laugh – but then of course comes the voice.”
When he was 21 years old, Farrell began teaching himself how to be a lead vocalist. “I found a cheap rehearsal studio, and I brought in a tape of [David Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of] Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and I sang to that tape,” he says. “Then I realized what it would really take to be a singer, and how great David Bowie’s voice really was, and how hard it was to stay in tune and to write.” From there, Farrell says, “I bought myself a little mixer with a headphone and a microphone, and I started writing songs and singing a cappella.”
At the time, Farrell was “Living in this basement in Laurel Canyon [in L.A.]. Literally, I had the maid’s chamber, where the washing machine was in my room. People would come down and do laundry, and I would be a little bit surprised because I had headphones on and I was singing my heart out.” He laughs at the memory. “Sometimes the laundry machine would overflow with suds that would fill my bedroom.”
Farrell has come a long way from those early days: he is widely regarded as one of the most recognizable and successful singers in alternative rock, a genre he is often credited as helping to popularize. The Glitz; The Glamour includes tracks from his pre-Jane’s Addiction band, Psi Com, as well as the work he’s been doing for the past 20 years, giving fans a much fuller view of his four-decade career.
Even with his legacy firmly established, though, Farrell says he never stops working at his craft, and he urges other musicians to do the same. “You have to practice,” he says. “Practice and practice and practice – and you get better and better. I’m still getting better. I practice every day, and I’m recording every day.” His fans in Los Angeles should take note: “I practice when I walk my dogs,” he says with a laugh. “If you ever hear me out in the air somewhere, it’s probably me walking dogs!”