From Musician magazine, June '94...
Range of Addictions by Chuck Crisafulli
Porno for Pyros frontman and master of Lollapalooza Perry Farrell strolls onto the balcony of a Venice Beach coffee house flashing a cracked smile and swigging from a bottle. The flamboyant rocker is dressed down in simple casual garb, while his close-cropped hair accentuates his piercing eyes and dramatic features.
"I'm running on raspberry iced tea today," he says by way of introduction. "This stuff is incredible."
Farrell is famous for his moods, among other things, and today his mein seems decidedly mellow. He's here to help celebrate the release of a new record and a reunion with his band. No, not Porno for Pyros, his current ensemble, who are otherwise at work finishing their second record. And certainly not the members of Farrell's previous powerhouse, Jane's Addiction. Perry's come to see the guys who backed him up when he made his first splash in the clubs of Los Angeles a decade ago, the members of Psi Com.
Farrell makes his entrance just as drummer Aaron Sherer is explaining that he and guitarist Vince Duran did not, in fact, end the band back in 1985 by becoming Hare Krishnas. Sherer, Duran and bassist Kelly Wheeler haven't been in touch with each other for years, and none of them have seen Farrell since they attended some of the earliest Jane's gigs. But as the singer spies his former mates, his smile warms and widens. Celebratory hugs are exchanged, and the group's energy immediately kicks up.
Farrell's always been a fascinating focal point onstage, and up close, his star presence doesn't dim. He ushers everyone inside to a cushioned alcove where the old days can be hashed over more comfortably. There, alternately appearing as a weathered wise man, a lysergic shaman and a mischievous preschooler, Farrell holds court to his chums' delight.
Psi Com had a brief but exciting moment of glory in the midst of the mercurial mid-'80s Hollywood scene. The quartet played nearly as many loft parties as they did proper gigs, and their touring plans never got past the "everybody in the station wagon" stage. But at a time when Wham! and "We Are the World" were sitting high on the charts, when glam-metallers were squinching into their first pairs of spandex trousers and punk rock was coughing its death rattle, Psi Com make some distinctive, powerfully original music that, if nothing else, served as an excellent warm-up for Mr. Farrell's further endeavors.
"We were a smash success as far as I was concerned," he declares. "It wasn't a question of getting signed to a label, because that wasn't even a possibility in those days. What was important was that we were recognized among our peers. I saw our name in the LA Weekly as one 'one of the best new bands in the city,' and I was completely thrilled. I'd tune in the college radio stations just to hear our name get mentioned in the club listings. And, playing at the Anti-Club..."
The group held together for about three years. In 1985, a couple of months before they split up, they decided to rent out a recording studio for a weekend. They cut a five-track EP and self-released 1500 copies on their own Mohini label. Thanks to negligible distribution and a poor pressing job that left nearly half the EPs unplayably warped, this music has been virtually unheard ever since. Recently, however, Triple X Records re-released the EP after managing the considerable task of recovering the master tapes, ultimately discovered in a closet at the home of a sister of one of the members of Savage Republic. (Don't ask.)
The long-last session holds up well. Icy washes of reverb betray the influence of art-punk heroes like the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but the snaky songcrafting and emotive playing on tunes like "Ho Ka Hey" and "Human Condition" clearly foreshadow the tribal thunder that made Jane's Addiction so potent. The guys act somewhat surprised that this particular piece of the past has resurfaced, and rather amused that their first decent record deal arrived nine years after Psi Com's demise.
Nonetheless, everyone seems to have fond memories of the time. "We dovetailed perfectly for a while in terms of philosophy, creativity and music," recalls the soft-spoken Sherer. "Nothing too mystical, but the parts added up to something bigger, which is exactly what the people are after when they play in bands."
"We didn't think too much about what we were doing, but we put in a lot of hours," says Wheeler. "We were living Psi Com. Perry and I were also roommates in this house full of artists and punk rockers. People were always coming and going and you didn't know if they were friends or if they were stealing something."
Farrell nearly sparks with nervous energy, but he's clearly in a happy mood. "You're all invited to the Lollapalooza this year," he says.
"There's going to be another one?" asks Wheeler.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Farrell smirks.
The traveling alterna-fest is in its fourth year; this year's tentative lineup includes Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys, the Breeders, Nick Cave, George Clinton, A Tribe Called Quest and, heading up the second stage entertainment, black-clad country legend Johnny Cash. Last summer's show collected criticism for delivering diminished entertainment value, but Farrell insists that this year's event will capture some of the tour's original excitement. He says that one of the differences is that he's had the time to become a take-charge organizer again.
"I'm very hands-on for this one," he explains. "Last year I was trying to get Porno off the ground and had the least amount of fingers on the Lollapalooza. This year, I think we're going to have the best show yet. It's going to be well thought out."
Wheeler says he's had a great time at previous Lollapaloozas, and will be happy to take up Farrell on his invitation.
"Sure, I'll get you in," Farrell assures. "But you may still have to stand in line for a drink bracelet."
Farrell created Lollapalooza in 1990 as a way to do something creative during what he knew would be Jane's Addiction's final tour. Since then, putting together a yearly festival of engaging music, tasty foods, provocative politics and eclectic attractions has become as much a passion for Farrell as his music-making. The challenge of keeping the concept fresh remains a pleasure.
"I'm very proud of the shows. It's work that's never really finished. Just when people think it's turned into a formula, we'll pull out a brand new formula, like we're doing this year. If it was so easy to put together a show like this, there'd be lots of concerts like it. But there's only 'it,' and it's going to get better and better."
"At first it was hard to get anything done, because nobody believed in the idea. Now that we're up to the fourth, if I say I want it to be booked into the Brazilian rain forest, a team of people gets right to work on that."
Some critics point to that kind of teamwork as one of the flaws, and charge that what started as a celebration of the underground has quickly turned into just another smoothly run, big-ticket rock show. Negative press doesn't faze Farrell, mostly because he never sees it.
"I've never read a Lollapalooza review. I don't need to read about the shows after the fact to figure out if they were a success or not. And if I know something didn't go well, I don't want to hear about it from somebody else, because it already bothers me. A long time ago I read a one-line negative review of a Jane's show and I felt so hurt and so upset that I just decided not to worry about reading the stuff anymore."
Lollapalooza '94 is still a hazy piece of the future; what's brought Psi Com together is the past. As the atmosphere loosens, the stories begin to fly.
Farrell says he became involved with the band when he answered a "drummer wanted" ad that mentioned Joy Division, U2 and the Psychedelic Furs as influences. He was invited to an audition, where it was hoped he could replace a drum machine. By the end of that meeting, the drum machine was still running and Farrell was the singer.
Eventually Sherer filled the drum slot. "He saw an ad and called for an audition," Farrell remembers. "I talked to him and I liked the music he was into, but I asked about his fashion. He said he had a feather in his ear, and that was good enough for me."
"I told him I had kind of a mohawk," the drummer laughs, "and he said, 'Cool, me too. What color's yours?'"
As a trio, Psi Com scored their first big gig as the opening slot at a bash in the middle of the desert with Sonic Youth, Redd Kross and the Meat Puppets. Just before the show, Kelly Wheeler decided to join the group when they offered to buy him a bass.
"I knew Kelly didn't have time to learn the parts, but we did a lot of improvising, so I thought it would work out all right," Farrell recalls. "What I remember about that show is being on mushrooms and having all this sand kick up around us. I just got stuck in this pocket onstage, spouting off like an idiot. I thought, 'Damn, this was our big chance in front of all these people and we blew it.' I was crying behind a rock after we played. It turned out it didn't matter what I'd done because everyone in the crowd was on acid."
Farrell's fierce, somewhat demented showmanship became an early trademark of the band's performances, although Sherer says he often got so involved in the music that he didn't notice anything unusual happening onstage.
"People would come up to me after the gig and say, 'Is Perry okay?' I was never sure what they were talking about because I'd shut my eyes and be in a different world."
"I remember Aaron playing so hard he'd fall off his stool," laughs Farrell. "But that was the only way we knew to play."
The singer's intensely physical performances were usually a spontaneous reaction to the music, but he admits that occasionally his antics were calculated. "One of the club-owners was a real schmuck who had ripped off other bands. I was angry that we had ended up with a gig at his place, so I decided to make sure that we'd never get asked back. At the end of the set I jumped off the stage and slid all the way down the bar. Unfortunately, after the show the schmuck came up with a big smile and said, 'You guys were great!'"
That wasn't the only tactic of Farrell's that backfired. His early dabblings in the darker powers of the spirit may have cost Psi Com a bass amp.
"Oh God, I never told you guys this," he says excitedly. "I wanted our first big show at the Troubadour to be strong, and I had some black magic books, because we were into everything weird and spiritual back then. I decided to put a spell on our performance. I opened a book and did some little thing with candles and prayers the night before. Then, at the gig, we started playing and the bass amp immediately blew up. I never touched that book again."
Psi Com took its music seriously, but wasn't too concerned with strategies for rock 'n' roll success - they were happy to take gigs at house parties, Mexican restaurants, Filipino weddings. They did sign on with a hard-working manager, albeit one with peculiar credentials.
"She was a prostitute," Farrell explains. "She didn't know what the hell she was doing in the music business, but she could get us money fast. She'd been at one of our shows and liked us and said, 'I'll invest.'"
Band photos were taken at a Sears on "Picture Day," where the group put on their finest rock duds and got in line with grade-schoolers in clip-on ties and party dresses. As Farrell fans might suspect, the singer was always concerned that the members of Psi Com project a unique look.
"Perry was our hair stylist," says Wheeler. "The first thing he did when I joined the band was cut my hair off."
"We always had communal snip-and-cut sessions before our gigs," Sherer notes.
Farrell smiles and shakes his head. "I had my mohawk and then I had this braid growing with a bell at the end - what a spazz. But that braid helped out in Jane's, because when I got sick of it and tried to undo it after not washing it for a year, there were all these weird-looking dreads happening. I stuck with the dreads. The rest is history," he adds with a laugh.
"The funny thing is, I look at kids today and think, 'They're silly - why do they put so much effort into what they look like?' Then I stop and think - I'm the guy that used to have a bell on a braid with silver things weaved in to the sides of my head. I cut the toes of my shoes off to have the steel plate showing. And I did it all because I wanted to be accepted. I kept hoping that some girl at the Anti-Club would think I was cute."
When the group finally decided it was time to document their work, they pooled together the money for a weekend of all-night recording sessions. "It was funny," remembers Farrell, "because our engineer was also making soundtracks for dirty movies in his back room: Johnny Deep or something. It was kind of creepy to see him sitting at the board with this strange smile on his face."
Psi Com bashed out five of their strongest tracks, and Farrell says that "Xiola" features a moment of epiphany in his vocal development. "I'd never really sung the way I did on that one before. I thought that, for the sake of the recorded version, I'd scream as loud and hard as I could. I started screeching on some high notes, and that's where you can actually hear my real voice being born."
The band sold their record out of the back of their station wagon after gigs. "We thought it was doing will because we got a few people outside of relatives to buy it," says Farrell.
"I remember a pretty good EP release party at Club Lingerie," says Wheeler. "And after that we had some of our best gigs. But by September, there was no more band."
The players began to drift in separate directions; eventually Avery and Farrell joined up with guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins to form Jane's Addiction.
"The guys in Jane's hated each other after two months," says Farrell with a scowl. "But we were signed within four months. We didn't want to break up whatever chemistry we had, so we ended up together for six years."
The singer says there's no mystery as to what brought about the end of his second band. "Publishing was the death of Jane's. It was a bad standoff. They wanted to split the publishing evenly, which is fine if the songwriting is even. But it was my work. You're lucky if you write one memorable song in your lifetime. Songwriting isn't something to carve up democratically. There's an art to it, and it takes a lot of time, even when it looks simple."
Tension and ill will became an unworkable distraction for Farrell. "It inhibited the progress of the band. In Porno, I can holler and say, 'Shit! What are you doing?' Everything's open and we make progress. When you're afraid to say anything to the people in your own band, it's hard to make music."
After an afternoon of reminiscences, the four rediscovered friends prepare to head their separate ways. As another round of hugs and handshakes ensues, Farrell has some final words about Psi Com: "The end of our chapter was right around the end of the scene we were part of. Shortly after we broke up, D. Boon died, Savage Republic broke up, and Patrick Mata went over to England and broke up Kommunity FK. TSOL started dressing up. A year later, Guns N' Roses were everywhere, and it was cool to pay-to-play in the clubs. Penelope Spheeris started teasing her hair, and it was all over."
"But it's funny how things come back around. The guys in Porno really like the Psi Com stuff. They asked if we could play some of the songs. I told them it was nice to ask - but I'm not sure what the words are anymore," he smiles. "I used to just pull out the thesaurus and wing it."
A guy named Adam had this to say about the number 23 in PC's artwork...
Definitely explored in Wilson's Illuminatus Trilogy (see Appendix Tzaddi: 23 Skidoo and the reference to the Crowley chpt of the same name in the Book of Lies).
Also ties in with the rule of 5's (note 2+3=5) and the cool idea that the human mind will see order/patterns/coincidences even when they are not really there.
Re: Psi Com and 23
Perry has a Crowley-esque joke (for examples of Crowley humour, check out the fabulously funny and profound "Book of Lies") in the Psi Com packaging. There is a picture of an open hand with 23 written on it, below which is scrawled "Greedy was the begger(sic)". The number 23 is actually written on a palm. It is a sly reference to P(s)alm 23: The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want etc. Perry is jesting with the idea that G_d will provide all we want/need without any effort on our parts. That is, if Psalm 23 is taken literally (which Perry is probably only jokingly doing) it says we should let things totally take care of themselves- G_d will provide. The beggar, in asking for his needs (ie. trying to make something happen for himself), is thus not trusting in G_d. He is (greedily) asking for more than he is divinely given! This is a very subtle joke and shows what sort of brilliant mind Perry has. I would say that the man is a true Genius.
I would also say that Perry has had his share of lysergic-25: the fast-track to "hot-rodding your head" as Wilson would put it. Magick and drugs are both really fast ways of getting smarter and Perry has obviously availed himself of both. I'm glad though that he seems to have taken what he needed from them and then transcended them rather than being enslaved.
excerpt from Viva Los Angeles II liner notes, 1990