With his groundbreaking band Jane’s Addiction and the 1991 launch of the annual Lollapalooza Festival, front man and impresario Perry Farrell helped create, curate and define alternative music in the ’90s. Nearly 30 years later, Farrell remains on the cutting edge, both sonically and conceptually as his new solo album “Kind Heaven” attests.
Now 60, Farrell is trim, articulate and dapper — which isn’t all that far off from where he was decades ago as a rock star still in training. Meeting up with Variety at New York’s Mercer Hotel, he accounted for the nearly 20-year gap between solo projects: while he was busy developing Lollapaloozas around the world, he had the kernel of an idea some seven years ago.
Mysticism and kindness are foundations of Farrell’s life and often, his art. For “Kind Heaven,” he explains, “The concept is a returning messiah. I started thinking, ‘Okay, well, has the messiah returned?’ Some Jewish people believe that Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994] is the messiah, but now he’s gone.” Appropriately enough, he’s sitting less than three miles away from the Williamsburg hub of Brooklyn’s orthodox Jewish population as he speaks. Farrell continues: “The messiah? … Could be Bill Murray. Could be you.”
Lest you think that Farrell has released a faith record, the singer explains that “Kind Heaven” is about a range of topics. One of the first singles, the retro “Pirate Punk Politician,” a nod to his Jane’s past, falls into the protest song category. A clear indictment of the current state of our union, its lyrics proffer, “Ask me a simple question / I’m an information contradiction.”
Kicking off the album is the bubbly “(red, white and blue) Cheerfulness,” written “as if it was the 1960s, 1962,” Farrell elaborates. “The Who and the Beatles were just forming. I wanted that kind of energy, and keep it simple and bouncing and exciting. It’s the young, it’s the youth, and we are planning.”
Closing out “Kind Heaven” is “Let’s All Pray For This World” about the now-hackneyed phrase “thoughts and prayers,” and how it no longer carries any weight. “That’s because it’s insincere, says Farrell. “Insincere prayer gets you nowhere. And I do believe in prayer, because prayer is very close, to me, to song. And I know how songs can change people.”
The album takes its title from a phrase in David McCullough’s 2005 book, 1776. “It’s about the American Revolutionary War. There was a soldier in General Washington’s Army that wrote this letter to his sweetheart: “I might not come back, but we will surely meet up again in kind heaven.”
Produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex) and featuring members of Jane’s (bassist Chris Chaney) and Foo Fighters (drummer Taylor Hawkins), along with vocals from Farrell’s wife Etty, “Kind Heaven” may look to the past but it sounds entirely modern. “Our album was the very first album to ever be mixed in Atmos surround sound,” Farrell boasts. “When you go into a movie theater, obviously, you’re sitting in a surround sound building. But no one has today recorded an album and then mixed it in Atmos.” [The Dolby website explains that Atmos “transports you into the story with moving audio that flows all around you with breathtaking realism.”] “Kind Heaven” is also mixed binaurally and in stereo, and additionally, will serve as “a musical scene-setter for the immersive entertainment destination ‘Kind Heaven,'” set to open at The LINQ Promenade in Las Vegas next year.
Farrell explains of the immersive experience: “I always take it back out to the field or back into the club. I’m like, ‘Can we do this live in other places?’ The unfortunate part is we’re ahead of the curve by two to five years. There are three clubs currently existing in America that have surround sound. But the DJs are catching it now, deadmau5 being the leader, where they’re mixing in surround sound, but it’s electronic.”
Farrell has performed at 12 Coachella festivals to date (as Perry Farrell, Jane’s Addiction, DJ Peretz, Satellite Party, and with Hybrid) so he knows a thing or two about putting up — and changing up — a show for a diverse crowd. “I am everything,” he declares. “I’m an artist, I’m a father, I’m ticklish. All the ishes, and I love everybody.”