While Nirvana usually get all the credit, it’s high time the true terminators of glam rock received their proper due. More than a year before Nevermind dropped like an anvil, taking grunge mainstream and sending flannel sales skyrocketing, a wild, frenetic avant-rock four-piece from Los Angeles began to accelerate hair metal’s demise.
Jane’s Addiction’s groundbreaking, Dave Jerden-produced sophomore set Ritual de lo habitual was one of the first truly pivotal records of the 1990s, from a band that truly epitomized the weird and wonderful decade. After just one month in stores, the set sold half a million copies, sending label executives scrambling to sign underground independent acts, in the event Ritual wasn’t just a sales fluke for Warner Bros. Records. Soon, David Geffen would hook Nirvana, Epic would ink a deal with Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots landed at Atlantic Records — and within a year, hirsute metal’s day was done.
“Yeah, there may have been some tension…”
As vital as Ritual’s release was to the ensuing alt-rock wave, making the album would prove to be Jane’s Addiction’s undoing. Months of unresolved intra-band strife, unbridled opioid abuse, and creative divisions followed the group from the studio onto the road, and, after headlining frontman Perry Farrell’s inaugural Lollapalooza festival during the summer of 1991, the original lineup called it quits — never to record a single note together again.
“Jane’s was coming apart at the seams,” explains bassist Eric Avery, recalling the tense studio sessions for the mesmerizing LP — released on this day (Aug 21) 30 years ago. “There was this energy that was just sort of there — an energy that made Jane’s great, of course: Was someone going to die? Was someone going to kill another band member? Is this thing going to go away tomorrow? Jane’s always had an element of that, but there never was a lot of overt, explosive drama happening. It was more of a resentment, bubbling beneath the surface, and people not showing up when they were supposed to, in order to avoid seeing certain people.”
“Yeah, there may have been tension,” confirms Ronnie S. Champagne, who engineered both Ritual and its predecessor, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking; he was also Dave Navarro’s guitar tech for Ritual. “It seemed to me like Perry was the guy who was telling everyone what to play. I remember sitting in the control room and Perry’s singing guitar solos to Navarro. Like, ‘No, no, no — that’s not it! It’s like this,’ and he’d sing it out! That was heavy, I had never seen that before.”
The Ritual de lo habitual recording sessions unfolded inside Paramount’s Track Record Studios in North Hollywood. They began in late 1989, almost immediately upon the band’s return to L.A. following months of touring behind Nothing’s Shocking. The lion’s share of Ritual was written before Nothing’s Shocking was even recorded, according to Avery. “The opening bassline for ‘Three Days,’ I wrote when I was in high school,” he says. Speaking to Billboard, Farrell confirms that he purposely held on to several of the songs that close out Ritual, believing they’d have more of an impact on the follow-up.
“I remember thinking, ‘You know, everybody always talks about the sophomore jinx,’” the singer says. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna f–k that sophomore jinx right out of my life with these songs. Because, this first batch of songs [on Nothing’s Shocking], they’re gonna be punchy — it’s like punching through a wall. But then, when you get on the other side of that wall, this record comes.”
The Ritual studio sessions were suspended within a week, Champagne and Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins tell Billboard.
“We did a false start,” Perkins explains. “We started the record, and did a song or two, and then, we took about three weeks off to regroup, if that’s the right way to put it.” Farrell acknowledges the band was using heroin before and while Ritual was being put to tape, but according to Perkins, all four musicians agreed to “kind of clean up” during that three-week break from recording. That was the plan, at least.
“I don’t think we really got there,” admits Perkins, “so we just went back in” and the strung-out sessions resumed. According to Champagne, he caught band members “nodding off in the corner” during some of the Ritual sessions, and he’d yell, “Dude, wake up!” The engineer continues: “Everybody knew what was going on.”
The songs on Ritual were decidedly more progressive than those found on Nothing’s Shocking, with Navarro’s innovative hooks and aggressively paced power chords coupled with Avery’s imposing, accelerative basslines and punctuated by Perkin’s mathematically flawless, tribal drumwork and Farrell’s intense and singular vocals.
Ritual famously begins with the sensual voice of actress Cindyana Santangelo, a woman Farrell says he met “one of the few times I was in rehab.” Santangelo spoke Spanish, Farrell explains, so he asked her if she would recite something for the LP. “I gave her what to say, wrote it down — and honestly, then she had to go to her parents, because she was like, ‘Oh no,’” the singer says. “I said, ‘This is going to be recorded, so make sure that you’re not saying something stupid.’ She came in with a piece of paper that her mom wrote out, and she went into the booth.”
Fans know Santangelo takes a pregnant pause between saying, in Spanish, “We have more influence over your children than you do” and “But we want them.” Farrell says that was not intentional.
“If you listen to her, she’s talking, and then she stops, because she got nervous for a second,” Farrell says, of the unintended pause. “At that point, she looked down at the paper, to read the rest of it.” Adds Perkins: “It was the perfect dramatic pause you couldn’t produce, and it had to happen organically.”
On Ritual, there was a rare authenticity to Farrell’s poetic lyricism, probably because the situations and scenarios he was writing about actually happened, and the individuals he described in his songs actually existed. Take the lyrics for “No One’s Leaving,” in which Farrell urges for racial inclusion by recounting how his sister was disowned by their parents after having a “gorgeous” child with a black man.
“I love that song, especially nowadays, where I’m seeing my nephews, and seeing their reaction to Black Lives Matter and where they’re positioned in music and film,” Farrell tells Billboard. “My nephew, Jeremiah [Alexis Verdecias], is a documentary filmmaker while my other nephew, Cody [Verdecias], he manages producers and does A&R for Atlantic Records. Both of these guys ended up truly being gorgeous.”
Then there is “Of Course,” whose lyrics make mention of Farrell’s brother. “He was a good ten years older, so he would fuck me up, and say things like, ‘Hey Perr, what’s in my back pocket?’ and I’d look, and he’d fart in my face. He was always doing s–t like that. I knew he loved me, but I equated that experience to how we have to eat each other. Like, you love each other, but you know, inevitably, that you’re gonna have to use somebody for food. As graceful as that antelope is, the lion chases it down. I bet you it’s got the same feeling: ‘Oh, I hate to do this. You’re such a beautiful animal, but … it’s time to devour.’”
The klezmer-influenced, violin-heavy “Of Course,” which the band wrote years earlier in an RV while opening for Love and Rockets, is the only track on the album Avery doesn’t play on. Instead, the band had Champagne step in when Avery was unwilling to be part of the recording. “I was kind of always put in that position with most of the records I made,” Champagne explains. “I stepped up, but it was more of a ‘gotta get her done’ vibe. I did have a blast.”
According to Perkins, Champagne “knew what we needed and wanted and was a great bridge to get that done.” Farrell says he can “remember seeing Ronnie in the booth, trying to get down ‘Of Course.’ He’s a strange, ginger-headed Canadian with glasses and he had the bass, and I was struck by the notion that he’s living the fucking rock and roll life right this second!”
Looking back on that moment now, “without any of the baggage of my younger self,” Avery says he regrets not playing on the track. “I was so wrong back then, because I was saying that I didn’t like it, but I really think that was just driven by some petty ego battle of some kind,” the bassist says. “I don’t think I really gave it a fair shake back in 1990, and I can’t remember the exact details of what was happening. But that was coming on the heels of maybe doing ‘Classic Girl’ or something, where I was sort of being told what to play on it. So, at that point, I didn’t feel nearly as much a part of the project of Jane’s Addiction as I did for Nothing’s Shocking.”
“It’s a timeless kind of record.”
Ritual was considered a provocative album when it was released three decades ago, largely because of its bold, ultimately-censored cover art: an elaborate art piece by Farrell, featuring an anatomically correct papier-mâché sculpture, depicting a drug-fueled, 72-hour-long sexual liaison he’d had with two women — a weekend Farrell also chronicles in the lyrics to Ritual’s sixth track, the nearly 11-minute-long “Three Days.”
“That song was kind of Perry’s ode to his love for Xiola [Blue, Farrell’s longtime friend who died from a heroin overdose in 1987] and the relationship that all three of us had,” says Casey Niccoli, Farrell’s girlfriend and muse from 1982 to 1992. “It was about this weekend we all spent together, when I first met her, and we spent these three days together, and we had a romantic … interlude. We had a … thing. She was brilliant, old soul, and she just glowed.”
Recorded live and in one take (“To prove it, listen to the breakdown just before the ‘Erotic Jesus part,’ and I come in on, like, I don’t know, seven or bar seven,” Farrell says), “Three Days” is a roller coaster ride of a song, filled with slow tempos and fast-breaking instrumental onslaughts. “Certainly, the rhythm track was recorded in one take,” Avery tells Billboard. “It was front to back — the rhythm track — for sure. I don’t know if Dave’s original guitar stayed on it, because he was notorious for doing just the craziest pile of overdubs.”
Perkins also remembers recording the track in one take. “You have to be on your toes when you’re playing with somebody who’s in the moment,” he says. “And we never go into repeat. We try to break ground. Even though we might be playing the same song, you still try to be in the moment and react. I think you hear that on Ritual. You hear a band reaching and going for it.”
Perkins, Avery, and Farrell all recall having several unexpected visitors in the control room for the tracking of “Three Days.” “Dave Jerden, I think brought, [Warner Bros. Records president] Lenny Waronker and [influential A&R exec] Roberta Peterson by to watch us record ‘Three Days,’” Perkins says. “You don’t have label guys in the studio very often, but they happened to be there that night. I don’t know if Jerden planned it that way, but [vice president of product management] Steven Baker was there too. Not only were we playing to record, we were looking at the guys that gave us the money.”
Ritual closes out with “Classic Girl,” a powerful, romantic, infectious ballad that Niccoli says was written about her. She also supplied backup vocals for the song’s chorus, she says. And while Farrell, Avery, and Perkins all agree they achieved greatness in the studio in early 1990, they say Ritual may never have been finished if not for the patience and expertise of Jerden.
“He was the grown up in the room for sure, and we needed that to get it done,” Avery says. “He was above all of the interpersonal drama, so he was the steadying force throughout it all. He was amazingly unfazed by anything that happened. I think we really needed that. He was the ballast for the craziness.”
“There is something remarkable about hearing a band live and then trying to capture that and record it and compress it and contain it,” Perkins says. “If you listen to ‘Ain’t No Right,’ he got every moment that we played. Everything was recorded and you can hear it in the mix. We didn’t bury each other. It’s just so powerful and so clean, and Dave Jerden was always very flexible and pliable.”
“It’s a timeless kind of a record,” Farrell says. “At the time, I had this sense that we were doing something grand, and when I listen to it now, I enjoy the subtleties and the different dimensions — the kind of the black holes. It’s just like the universe, it’s nice. One minute, you’re curious and the next, you’re scared shitless and then, the next minute, you’re thrilled.”
Perkins says he thinks Ritual captures both “the energy and the urgency” of Jane’s Addiction, but “then you can hear us take our time with songs like ‘Then She Did’ and ‘Classic Girl,’ and really explore the production side of it. You’ve got all these great live performances, plus these really delicate pieces woven together, and that’s the brilliance of the record, I think.”
“We genuinely believed what we were doing, and I think that that came through back then, and in a way, it still comes through the guys, in all their permeations, I think,” says Avery. “You really are just getting the real person, and Jane’s Addiction really were those things, and Perry was just making what he thought was beautiful. I’m always just really struck by how great it is.”