interviews

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Spicy New Flavor With Guitarist Dave Navarro
by B. Love
The University Reporter - January 1996

Dave Navarro changed my life. While this may strike some as an overly melodramatic statement, and others may regard it as too intensely personal to qualify as professional journalism, it is the truth nonetheless. As a member of seminal alternarock band Jane's Addiction, Navarro and his famous cohorts--frontman extraordinare Perry Farrell, drummer Stephen Perkins, and bassist Eric Avery--created a psychedelic soundtrack for the movie that is my life. Their 1988 show was one of the first I attended with the woman who is now my wife, their music was a common spiritual bond among all of my friends, and I even played "Summertime Rolls" at my wedding. The moment I learned that the end of that band was nigh was a crushing one, but I have followed each member's subsequent career moves equally closely.

When it was announced that Navarro was to be the next in a long line of Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarists, I was surprised and impressed in equal parts, because, as a longtime RHCP fan who always believed that their best work was yet to come, the Flea/Navarro groove potential was a near-orgasmic concept. Needless to say, the group's latest release, One Hot Minute, proved Navarro to be just what the band needed; his melodic, psychedelic textures helped to round out the group's trademark percussive, sharp-edged sound, making the record the group's biggest critical success to date. As the band's world tour to support the new album was temporarily put on hold (drummer Chad Smith broke his wrist playing baseball), Dave took some time to talk with us about his new band, their new album, and what it's like to be a member of not one, but two of the biggest rock 'n roll bands of the past decade.

UR: I just wanted to start off by telling you what a huge fan of yours I am. Jane's Addiction is probably my all-time favorite band, and the work you guys did really had a profound effect on my life. I've followed everything you've done, from the Deconstruction project on up through the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I just wanted to let you know how much you'd influenced me through your music.

Dave: Thanks man, that's really cool.

UR: I wanted to begin by asking a little about your pre-Jane's Addiction musical experiences. What made you first want to start playing the guitar?

Dave: Um...well, a bunch of different things. My cousin, Dan Navarro, who is also an accomplished musician in his own right, was a guitar player, and he was just a guy that I kind of looked up to-- sort of a role model in my life. I would say that that, combined with my love for Jimi Hendrix, was what started it. I was kind of a skateboarder when I was a kid, and I was at a skate park when I was like 10 years old or something, and they were playing Hendrix--I think it was "Voodoo Chile"--over the intercom, and I heard it and I was like, that's what I want to do. I pretty much gave everything else up so to speak.

UR: It seems like he was the impetus for a lot of people to pick up that instrument.

Dave: Yeah, I would imagine so. I think to this day he remains the greatest there ever was and probably the greatest that will ever be. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it.

UR: You're probably right (although Dave's no slacker himself). You were quoted when you were with JA as saying that you pretty much never practiced on guitar; is that still the case?

Dave: Well, you know, that depends on your definition of practice. Me? I spend a lot of time playing guitar, which I guess is practice, but I don't sit there and go over scales and try to become incredibly fast and become technically skilled. That stuff doesn't really interest me. So that's what I meant.

UR: Right. So you're not really on that Joe Satriani/Steve Vai sort of trip...

Dave: No. When I was a lot younger those kinds of guitar players intrigued me--I was fascinated with the technique and stuff--but when I got a little older I became a little bit more interested in the music than the talent. The talent that I was interested in came from song writing and the accompaniment and the contributions to the song rather than the skill and the technique behind the instrument.

UR: Yeah, same here. I also read that you influenced musically by some things that sort of surprised me; things like Love & Rockets and Bauhaus that were really the focus of my teenage years as well. What other sorts of things were influencing you musically in your pre-Jane's days?

Dave: Everything from Bauhaus and Love & Rockets to Jimi Hendrix and a lot of classical music. I even listened to some heavy metal from time to time. When I was a lot younger, I kind of didn't get into the punk thing, because like I said, when I was younger I was more interested in the skill behind the playing, and in punk I didn't find that there was much skill behind the playing.

UR: Yeah, punk was just a lot of spirit.

Dave: Right. So I turned to metal, where I still got that aggression and that energy, but also got the skill. So there was skill, aggression, and energy; never mind that the aesthetic was retarded, but...(Laughter) My love for that kind of music was very short-lived.

UR: Mine too. Speaking of Love & Rockets, I know that the first time I ever really heard of Jane's Addiction was the 1987 Tour you guys did opening up for them. What was that like for you, not only touring with a band you looked up to, but also sort of being in the national spotlight for the first time?

Dave: It really depended on the city we were in. I can remember we'd open up for them in some cities and people would throw things at us, and that was not fun. But at the same time, it was an incredible learning experience to see how the road worked and how we were and how we held up. We learned a lot, and we spent a lot of time together as a band--which in retrospect probably wasn't the greatest idea--but getting to hang out with your idols for several months was a pretty incredible thing. We did end up actually playing with Love & Rockets, which was pretty cool. They came out and played with us at a couple of shows, and I actually got to hear them do "Bela Lugosi's Dead" at a sound check one day.

UR: Oh man, that's awesome. I'm a huge fan of those guys. I even like their Tones On Tail stuff, which I guess not a lot of people know about.

Dave: Yeah, I like it too. They're living out here now. I run into Daniel (Ash) all the time, because he and I go to the same motorcycle mechanic. We have that bond.

UR: That's cool. Jane's Addiction were really the first band to break out of the alternative underground and become a huge mainstream success. What do you think the effect of the movement you guys sort of got rolling where now "alternative" has become sort of absorbed by the mainstream? Is that a good or a bad thing?

Dave: I know that people consider it a bad thing in the sense that a lot of the kids today want their music to be their own and to have their own scene, but at the same time I think it's kind of cool that music is getting to a point where there are no limits. It's getting to a point where even the most obscure music can reach anybody.

UR: Right. It seems like radio is getting less afraid to try new things than they were back in the hair-metal days of the late '80's when you guys were coming up.

Dave: Yeah, I agree with that. You know, there's two ways to look at it; one way is to look at it is that, okay, alternative has become mainstream and where's our scene and where's our underground? I miss the underground, and I miss having my own cool little scene, but at the same time, if cool music can reach a kid living out in the middle of nowhere, that's great too. I think that the idea is to get your art across to people, and if that's what's happening now, I don't have a problem with that.

UR: Yeah, I agree with you there. It's cool, not only that the kids have access to it, but that the performers are actually able to make a career out of it and make some money without having to sacrifice artistic integrity.

Dave: Right.

UR: I have to ask what role the drugs that some of the members of Jane's Addiction were into at the time had in the eventual dissolution of the band?

Dave: A small, but important role. Ya know, I don't really want to get into that. We broke up for many different reasons; drugs was one of them, personality differences was one of them, and creative differences was another, and when you put all of these differences and problems together you have what seems to be an overwhelming huge singular problem. In retrospect, it was a number of things. I've admitted in the past that drugs played an integral part of it, but at the same time, I wouldn't blame it just on that...At the time, our bass player, Eric Avery, was several years off drugs, (drummer) Steve Perkins never really had a drug problem, and I'm not gonna speak for anybody else. I definitely had a problem, but I was still able to show up and perform and...step up to the plate so to speak.

UR: Right. I know that by the time that the Lollapalooza tour had started, everyone pretty much knew that the end was coming. What was it like going out on that tour knowing that this was the end of the band you had dedicated the last several years of your life to?

Dave: I didn't think about it that way--there was no point. I was just doing what I was doing and enjoying it. That Lollapalooza tour was incredible, even going right up to the last show. The very last show we did was in Hawaii, and we all knew that it was our last show, and I think that we were all kind of ready for it to be that and ready to go on to other things. It's like, when it's time to move, it's time to move, and you can't really sit there and worry about it; you've just gotta hope for the best for the future. At the last show, Perry (Farrell) came up to me and he gave me a kiss right on the face and said, "Good luck, man. I love you," and I said "I love you too, man. Good luck," and then we did the show.

UR: Yeah, one of the last shows you guys did was in Atlanta, and although I'd seen the band 3 or 4 times before that, that was really a special show for me as well because, as a huge fan, I knew that that was the last time I'd ever see Jane's Addiction. It was such an incredible show, and I don't think I'll ever see another concert that will move me in that way again.

Dave: That's good to know, man.

UR: I wanted to ask you what your relationships were like with other JA members. I know that Stephen played on a track on the new Chili's album, and I'm obviously familiar with Deconstruction. Are you all on decent terms in general?

Dave: Yeah, I'm on decent terms with everybody. Flea and I went and jammed with the guys from Porno For Pyros, because he has a relationship with them and so do I of course, and I think some of it's gonna end up on their new album, but I'm not sure. (I interrupt with an almost-orgasmic "Oh my god!") We all love each other, it's just that we're all doing different things now, and I think that's cool. I love Porno For Pyros and I love Perry and I love Stephen and... Eric is still a great friend. That Deconstruction album was just a project, and we did what we'd come to do, but when it came right down to it, I don't think Eric was as interested in touring as I was. Right about that time was when the Chili Peppers offer came up again--because they had asked me once before--and I didn't really see a reason not to take it.

UR: Getting to the Chili Peppers, when you were in JA, did you know much about the band?

Dave: Not a whole lot. I knew that they were great musicians and I knew that they were more or less--for lack of a better word--a "fuck" kind of band, and I knew that they had a tendency to be kind of silly at times, but I knew the guys as people more than I knew their band. We were friends, we hung out in the same circles, and we'd done shows together in L.A. It was kind of a natural thing when it happened actually, because we were all L.A.-based, and we've all known about each other and respected each other for many years.

UR: Well, one thing I've always wondered is why you initially turned the band down when they first asked you to join, but then changed your mind later...

Dave: Because we weren't done recording the Deconstruction album yet. There were two reasons; the Deconstruction record hadn't been completed, and they wanted me to basically pack up, rehearse their songs, and then go on Lollapalooza II with them. First of all, I had just done Lollapalooza I, and secondly, if I was gonna join this band, I wanted to be a contributing member. I didn't want to go out on tour and be a hired hand and play their old songs. Do you know what I mean?

UR: Yeah, I can understand that.

Dave: I mean, I love their old songs and now I love playing them, but I still wouldn't have felt as much a part of it.

UR: I'm sure that you've been asked this question before, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist slot is somewhat akin to the drummer in Spinal Tap (i.e. they never last very long). Did you have any concerns about stepping into that legacy?

Dave: (Very succinctly) Why? No.

UR: Okay, I just wondered because you're like--what, guitarist number seven now? That's kind of an unusual thing for a band to go through, don't you think?

Dave: Yes, but this is my third band, so who knows? It can go either way, ya know what I mean? I don't know how long I'm gonna be in this band, and I don't know if I'm gonna do another record with them. I mean, who knows? I could leave on my own, I could get fired, I could die, but to pay attention to past history would not be focusing on the future. I can't afford to spend my life worrying about things that I can't do anything about, rather than the things that I can do something about. That's what I look at, ya know?

UR: I don't know if this is a sore spot, but I know that you and Flea did some session work before the album's release, including Alanis Morissette's hit single, "You Oughta Know;" how did that come about, and what are your feelings about it now?

Dave: (Sounding almost defensive) I don't really have any feelings about it, I just went down and did the work. A friend of mine was producing that track, and he asked me if I would play guitar on it, and I said yeah, and he asked Flea if he wanted to play bass on it, and he said sure, and since Flea and I love to play together, we just went down and had some fun and knocked it out in a couple of hours. I think that she's a great singer.

UR: Did you expect that the song would become as huge as it did?

Dave: No, I don't expect anything, ever.

UR: Getting back to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, what sort of process did you guys go through to sort of bond on a personal level and integrate you into the renownedly tight-knit group?

Dave: We just spent a lot of time together. We went to Hawaii and spent a lot of time there. We did a lot of extracurricular activities, such as scuba diving and motorcycling and just hanging out, ya know? We just took our time in making this record; we didn't rush it. The vibe is that they are a family type unit and I feel a part of that family, but at the same time, I'm kind of a loner no matter what. I've got my personal "blood" family and I'm still kind of a loner from them, and now I've got musical family, and I'm still kind of a loner there. So it really wasn't that difficult for me.

UR: Have you always been kind of a loner by nature?

Dave: Pretty much...

UR: Do you think that some of the guys having that common past of beating what can be a pretty debilitating drug addiction helped the group to bond?

Dave: I think that, initially, the concept of that helped, but I think that further down the line, the common bond between humans became more important. The thing is that, sure, there is that common thread, but by the time I joined this band we'd all been off drugs for a number of years, so we've all become new people in the process. But there is that sort of love and understanding between each other that I guess helps.

UR: Yeah. Getting back to your guitar work, you definitely have a very distinctive guitar sound, and I was wondering what you thought that "voice" that you have brought to the group.

Dave: (Matter-of-factly) I can't answer that. I don't like to talk about what I've done. Do you know what I mean? (Almost apologetic) I think that I can't answer that without sounding arrogant. Does that make sense?

UR: (Surprised by his obviously genuine concern) Okay! That's totally cool. So how do you feel about the way One Hot Minute turned out now that you've had some time with it?

Dave: In some ways I really love it and in other ways I really hate it, but I think that that's the nature of any artist with their work. There are some songs on there that I'm not hugely proud of, and there are others that I'm tremendously proud of, ya know?

UR: Just for the record, would you mind telling us some of the ones you're tremendously proud of?

Dave: I'm tremendously proud of "Warped" and "My Friends," "One Big Mob," and "Transcending."

UR: Yeah, those are all damn good tracks. Another one of my favorites is "Aeroplane;" that's a great tune. My favorite is probably "My Friends," though, because it's such a great, moving, emotional song.

Dave: Yeah, I love that song. It's probably the most song-structured song I've ever worked on, in terms of verse/chorus/verse/chorus. I've never done a song like that before, so I kind of dig it for that reason.

UR: Really? Okay...What was it like to work with (producer) Rick Rubin? Dave: He's cool. He's like a fifth member. He's more our friend than our producer.

UR: Did you guys live together this time while you were recording?

Dave: No, but those guys have obviously worked together in the past, and I've been friends with Rick for many years, and Rick is somebody who we hang out with even when we're not working.

UR: Cool. He's always been one of the people in the industry that I've admired the most. A lot of critics, myself included, have said that the new album sounds a lot darker than much of the band's previous works. Do you think that's true, and, if so, why?

Dave: Yeah, I think that's a fair assessment. I mean, they lost John Frusciante (the guitarist on Blood Sugar Sex Magik who left the band unexpectedly) and River Phoenix (who the band was close with) passed away, and I personally have gone through some difficult times in recent years, and I think that any artist that remains true to his heart can only create what is going on in his life.

UR: That's true; that's a good point. You're widely considered to be one of the sexiest men in rock 'n roll. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are generally considered a sex-driven band, but have typically been associated with more testosterone-fueled jock rock, whereas you bring a sort of romantic sensuality to the group. Do you feel comfortable being considered such a sex symbol?

Dave: (Laughs) Not really, but then I don't really feel like I am a sex symbol. I wouldn't really feel comfortable in that role.

UR: Well, let me tell you, when I told my friends at the various record labels that I was gonna be doing this interview, practically every female said something about how sexy you were. In fact, some friends of mine at Geffen told me to tell you that you are a "babe."

Dave: (Laughs) Well, that's really sweet, and it's nice to be thought of that way, but I don't really see it.

UR: A lot of people want to know about the kiss between you and Anthony at the end of the "Warped" video, but as a fan of Jane's Addiction, I remember the more graphic kisses on the Soul Kiss Fan Video. Is that just a conscious attempt to change the way that people perceive the band?

Dave: You want to know what it is? That's not a gay thing or a bisexual thing or a sexual thing at all, that's just basically pushing the envelope.

UR: Okay, fair enough. You guys wrote the songs for One Hot Minute a good while ago: Have you written any new songs since then, and what do you think the band's future direction will be?

Dave: We've come up with some new ideas, but we haven't really developed them into songs yet. As for our future direction, I can't really say what that will be, or even if I'll stick around for another album. We're just going to go out on this tour and see what happens...