Living Colour Singer, Dinosaur Jr. Drummer and Jane's Addiction Drummer Discuss Teaming Up for Lollapalooza-like Tour


  • Karsten Staiger
  • Living Colour
Very few alternative/indie bands survived the ’80s (and then the ‘90s) intact. Three survivors – Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr. and Living Colour — have teamed up to play five shows this month, including a stop here at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on Saturday, July 23. Each act has experienced its ups and downs but after breaking up and subsequently reforming, the bands have embarked on yet another phase of their careers. In separate phone interviews, we spoke to Living Colour singer Corey Glover, Dinosaur Jr. drummer Murph and Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins about their respective bands.

Dinosaur Jr. - LEVI WALTON
  • Levi Walton
  • Dinosaur Jr.
When the band first formed in the ‘80s, what was the alternative rock scene like?
There was an alternative scene; there’s always been an alternative scene. But how it was represented was different. There was always a scene. And there was even a black rock scene. It didn’t see the light out day, but it was out there. CBGB’s was always a bastion for it. There was always a place you could go hear this kind of stuff. It just never poked its head above ground.
Murph: We formed in 1985. There was a lot of punk that was happening. There was the Boston scene and D.C. and New York. It was a different time. It was transitioning. Drum machines were coming in. Radio was Top 40 and all classic rock. You didn’t hear Nirvana or Alice in Chains. It was Steve Miller, Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd on every station.
Perkins: In 1985, I graduated high school. For the three or four years before that, I was a Tommy Lee and Motley Crue fanatic. I would go to every show that happened on the Strip even though I was still in high school. By the time Jane’s started, the Strip was coming to an end but we were a downtown band with the Chili Peppers, Fishbone, X and Firehose. We started at midnight and 1 a.m. Those bands on the Strip ended at midnight. There wasn’t much of a separation. We would see the guys from GNR and Faster Pussycat and Bullet Boys at our shows. It was a great scene

Did you set out to do something different from what everyone else was doing?
No. [Our music scene] was woefully misrepresented. We just wanted there to be a place that we could fit in and that bands like us could fit in. We thought they should.
Murph: Not really. [Singer-guitarist] J. [Mascis] and [bassist] Lou [Barlow] had this band Deep Wound that I was a big fan of. Dinosaur Jr. was an extension or an afterthought of Deep Wound. J. wanted to do country punk or something. That’s how Dinosaur formed. J. switched from drums to guitar and Lou switched from guitar to bass. They recruited me to play drums. J. had dabbled in playing guitar, but he was really a drummer. That’s where he put his time. He’s good at picking stuff up. He’s kind of a musical prodigy. It made sense he would do that.
Perkins: Our early sound was influenced by Fishbone and Chili Peppers. We were doing some hard funk, even taking the Firehose idea to make it our own. Me and [guitarist Dave] Navarro were so young, and we were really into Slayer and Metallica but bassist Eric [Avery] and singer Perry [Farrell] were into Siouxsie and Echo and the Bunnymen. They brought this sense of dark songwriting to me and Dave and we still wanted to be flashy players like Van Halen. It was a perfect time. The post-punk scene in L.A. wasn’t going any further. There was a moment when the sound when we joined up was remarkable. It felt like something fresh. Lyrically, I had never heard poems like that. It brought an awareness to the scene. There was so much money being thrown at the bands on the strip. We didn’t want that. We just wanted to quit our day jobs and make art. 

How surprised were you when you had some commercial success?
We were very surprised. We didn’t expect it to be like it was. We took it as it came.
Murph: Yeah. In the '80s not a lot was happening and then we did the tour with Sonic Youth and that’s when things blew up. We were getting offers from labels and promoters. Around 1992 is when things really took off. We signed to Sire, which was part of Warners. That’s when things really took off. The '90s were explosive for music in general. Nirvana broke the doors open, and there was all kinds of stuff going on. Sonic Youth has led the underground art noise movement, and they helped spearhead the whole thing and started their own movement. They broke ground for a lot of bands.
Perkins: We knew we were good and we knew the music moved people, so it wasn’t a surprise. We had something back then that many bands today don’t have. We had a good record label. Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker told us to write songs and they would promote us. They said they’d put us on every bus stop and on the wall at Tower Records. Everyone would know who we are. We were cradled by these great guys. We had a booking agent that got us on the Love and Rockets tour and we did 30 shows with Iggy. We did these great tours. It was a perfect storm. The time was right as the Strip was ending and the post-punk thing fizzled. Everything was happening at Geffen. GNR was massive. Warner Bros. wasn’t that pushy. They wanted us to do art. They just wanted to push it out there. As it started to grow, we knew we deserved it. We wanted to be an art band and we wanted to get big just like Talking Heads got big. It’s funny when you look back at the time and what was going on and how everyone looked in GNR videos and you see the guys trying to figure out who they were. We were lucky. Me and Dave were just 17. Perry was 25 and Eric was 23. You have to hand it to those guys for guiding us. I do remember showing up in Dallas and I heard Pigs in Zen in a car. I didn’t realize we were being played in Dallas. It felt like were making an imprint, like a little pebble in a soft flat lake. The ripples would finally get to the shore.

At one point, the group disbanded. What factors led to that?
Burnout. We’d go on the road for a couple of years, come home and make a record and go on the road and come home and make a record and go on the road. It was like, “Jesus Christ, can we go to sleep now?” We were tired. We were tired of what we were doing and tired of each other.
Murph: There was a lot of tension between the three of us but especially with Lou who wanted to find his own voice and become a singer-songwriter. J. wasn’t really into that. J. is kind of the boss and wants to be the head guy. It just mounted to the point that J. didn’t want to play anymore. I stayed on with J. until the end of 93 because J. was started to do more solo stuff and it just seemed like it was time.
Perkins: When we couldn’t continue, we realized we couldn’t fake it. If we didn’t feel it, it would have been a fraud. Looking back on it, I might have said, “Take a break but don’t break up.” But it worked out and we’re still together. If we had been together the whole time, it might not be like that. 

What’s it been like since the group reformed?
In the greater scheme of things, we weren’t apart for very long. It seemed like we were always in each other’s lives in some way, shape or form. [Drummer] Will [Calhoun] and [bassist] Doug [Wimbish] had started their own band. I would sit in with them. [Guitarist] Vernon [Reid] had his own band. We were never apart from each other. It was different when we reformed. We didn’t have the comfort of having a huge conglomerate of a record label. We had been out of the scene for a very long time. It was a different dynamic that we had to adjust to. When we got back together, we stressed putting our individual spin on what was out there.
Murph: Much better. We couldn’t have reformed until we buried the hatchet. Now everyone has kids, except for me, so it’s a whole different vibe. There’s still tension, but that’s normal if you’re working and spending every day together.
Perkins: Me and Dave, we crack up because we’re old high school buddies. Perry and I have so many funny stories from our past. The bass lines that Eric Avery wrote are wonderful but Chris Chaney has been in the band longer. He’s the key component. Me, Dave and Perry are wild. It’s hard to say what we have in common as far as our connection goes, but Chris is the glue. He really is. Like any marriage or friendship, it needs to be pliable. You need to be able to change.

Is today’s alternative rock fan more fickle?
I don’t think so. The live music scene is still thriving, which is a testament to some of these bands. We did Lollapalooza 25 years ago. We did the first one. It’s still going strong, albeit it’s not traveling around the country although this tour hearkens back to that idea. There’s Coachella and Bonnaroo. These things are huge. There are people willing to travel long distances to see bands they like or even bands they don’t know. There’s an openness now.
Murph: It’s weird. Because of the Internet, there is so much more out there, and you have to weed through the good and bad bands. There are the kids who are market fed everything. And then, there are the kids who know everything about the bands they like. It’s a different thing. You didn’t have all those options. It’s more quantity over quality. Now, with iTunes and all that stuff, labels want to sign artists for one year deals and drop them because they can make x amount of money. When we were doing it, there were still labels and the attitude was leftover from the ‘70s. You grow with a band and sign a five or six year record deal. You help nurture a band. It’s transformed into this product world. It’s good and bad. It gives people who wouldn’t have a voice a chance to get out there but it’s quantity over quality. It’s like Walmart. You can find everything you need, but it’s fricking Walmart.
Perkins: There is that classic feeling of something you found that’s yours and you can go deep into it. I don’t know if that still exists. I’m almost 50 now and my head is in a different spot. What I really want from the music lover is to have that romance for the art form. It’s the highest art form. You can’t get 100,000 people jumping up and down except at a rock show. It happens all around the world. That passion is there. People love getting together and dancing together and listening to music. That homegrown feeling of sharing your love for a band is gone. When Jane’s Addiction and Warner Bros. said go for it, it gave us so much room to create. The audience loved that. I love the art of making a record and people don’t have 45 minutes to listen to 8 or 10 songs. I understand that because it’s a different time. I love the challenge as a musician to come up with this great piece of music and play it in sequence, like we’re doing with Ritual de Lo Habitual. The fans know every moment and lyric and it’s fun to have that. 

Is the shredding guitar hero becoming a dying breed?
You’d be surprised. There are a bunch of kids — and I’m not saying that because I’m an old man — who are 10 or 12 years old who are amazing guitar players. That gives me some hope but it also makes me see that there are people out there who want to hear music and real expressions from people, whether it be a band or a singer or a songwriter or a guitar player.  
Murph: Guitar heroes today incorporate other kinds of technology, or they interface different kinds of sounds. You find guitar players doing innovative stuff but it isn’t traditional. Their guitar playing has morphed into a Midi/synth thing. Robert Fripp was one of the early pioneers. He used Frippertronics and would interface that. It’s progressed. With the DJ thing, it’s morphed into all that. It’s a mix of everything. But you still find guys out there who are pioneers doing their thing.
Perkins: It can happen, but the music doesn’t really call for it. When it happens, you scratch your head and think, “Is that possible?” Jimmy Page changed everything and then Eddie Van Halen changed everything and then we had to wait years to see what would happen. It’s rare, but it can happen. One hundred years ago, everyone had a piano. Then, it was a saxophone. Now, it’s an iPad. It’s the same person but just a different machine. I’ve been playing with Dave since I was a kid. I love his guitar riffs. That’s what I hear when I hear a song. I love a great guitar player. There’s a need for it but I’m not saying that I need to hear a solo when I hear music today. 

Talk about the new material that you’re working on.
Several years ago, we did a show at the Apollo for the 100th anniversary of [blues guitarist] Robert Johnson. We were playing all this blues music. There hasn’t been a modern, urban blues guitar record in the past few year, so we wanted to do that. We wanted to take that idea and run with it. As we were in the studio working on it, certain ideas came up from the idea and run with it. As we were in the studio working, ideas blossomed out of the idea of taking urban blues and deconstructing it and then reconstructing it in our own image. There are lots of things that are left of center [on the forthcoming album] and other things that are strictly in our wheelhouse. There are some blues tunes in there and some hip-hop stuff with our own interpretation of that kind of thing.
Murph: We hadn’t done a record in almost three years [prior to the forthcoming Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not]. We just set a recording date. J. didn’t have a lot of songs but he works better under pressure. We started reworking an old Witch tune he had and that started the process. Then, he just started churning out ideas. Lou and I would be learning or tracking parts of one song while J. was in the other room tracking the next song and then it was done after two months. We’re not the traditional band where we sit around and jam out ideas. J. disappears and then comes back with a demo. You’re like, “Oh wow. What’s this?” It’s up to the three of us to interpret that demo or track.

Talk about what the three bands on the tour have in common?
We’re sole survivors. You’re talking about people having loyalty to bands. These three bands have had real loyalty to what they’ve done. Jane’s has got that and Dinosaur Jr. Thanks to perseverance and a little bit of luck, we are all still around. That’s a testament to something.
Murph: Mainly, we were from that era. Perry Farrell started Lollapalooza. That was his baby. This is like a reunion. We were one of the early bands. Living Colour was part of that era too. All three bands put on a really good show, but we’re all kind of different too.
Perkins: It’s going to be epic. We love playing with other great musicians. When you play with guys that, it gets competitive and brings out the best in you. 

Jane’s Addiction, Living Colour, Dinosaur Jr., 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore St., 216-241-5555. Tickets: $37.50-$64.50,

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