Chris Chaney of Jane’s Addiction

When it comes to bands that people love to hate, Jane’s Addiction certainly falls on the list. With two very strong personalities at the forefront of the group – Vocalist Perry Farrell and guitar player Dave Navarro – the haters are given plenty of fodder to jolly roger at the top of their Facebook pages. But Jane’s has held strong and despite some separation times and a few member changes over the years, they have continued to put out some good music, most notably their iconic double-punch of Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual.
With their recent tenure on the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar tour last month, fans were treated to some oldies but goodies like “Mountain Song,” “Been Caught Stealing” and “Three Days” but not so much of the crazy theatrics. Letting the music do the talking, Farrell, Navarro, drummer Steve Perkins and bass player Chris Chaney kicked it into gear and just rocked.

A week after their performance in the heat of Phoenix last month, Chris Chaney gave me a call to talk about being the “reserved guy” of the band, what it was like stepping into Eric Avery’s bass shoes, handling the whirlwind of Alanis Morissette’s almost instantaneous shot to fame, and working with the great Joe Satriani. A complete self-professed music geek, Chaney excitedly admits, “I have a record player and I also have the CD player and an MP3 player all in the same spot.” But yet on stage, he hangs to the back: “I just do my gig. I don’t like being in the limelight or near the spotlight. I like to just do my thing.”

How did you like playing in the heat of Phoenix?

Hot, hot, hot, hot Phoenix. Not as bad as Dallas, though.

How bad was it in Dallas?

Probably about 100 degrees but humid (laughs)

What were some special memories you have of playing on the Uproar tour besides the heat?

Well, outside of the tour, I had a couple really nice ones. Going river rafting for the first time. My dad lives out in the Boulder area so Steve Perkins, the drummer, and I went on a river rafting trip. I had never done that before, and I didn’t fall out (laughs). I always loved going to Chicago, walking down by the lakefront, Navy Pier. I grew up in San Francisco, in that area, so obviously it’s not on the ocean but it’s on a huge lake like an ocean. And there’s great food.

I just like the community of the tour, really. That would be one of the highlights. Big festivals, you get to meet a lot of new people and it was really great going out with Alice. I’m friends with all those guys and I thought it was a good feeling. You know, we joked about how it could have been billed as “Alice N Jane’s” (laughs). I can’t think of like one moment but I think the reason I brought up Denver and the river rafting is cause it might have been our best show of the tour.

chaneyWhy?                               

I don’t know, just the stars kind of aligned where everyone just had a really great night. You know, we are a high energy intense band and we played big sheds on this tour, and as a bass player some of them have that big kind of canopy over where the low end gets trapped in there and it can be a bit of a nightmare to get like the point of the bass tone across. Do you know what I mean? Like the subs on the stage, just the rumble, and I’m playing pretty intricate fast bass lines so the cave in those venues can take like five seconds for one note and is still ringing out so when you’re playing stuff that is a little more intricate or fast, those venues can sometimes just be a bit of a challenge. I would have myself cranked in the monitors and night to night it would vary. But Denver, everything sounded great, everyone had a great show.

With the newer bands that were playing during the day, did you know any of them or had heard any of them play before?

Yeah, I’m friends with Marco Mendoza of the Dead Daisies. I’ve known Duff over the years as well, Walking Papers. Those would be the only two other bass players that I knew on the tour on the other stage. And it was great, great to see those guys. Unfortunately, I got to see them barely at all on the tour because of our schedule. A few days I’d get to the venue from an overnight drive bright and early but for the most part we would show up practically when the first stage was done. The first stage went until about 6:00 and then the main stage started at 6:00 and it was Circa Survive, Coheed & Cambria and us, then Alice. So I didn’t get to see a whole lot of the first stage, unfortunately.

What does Jane’s Addiction have planned for the rest of the year?

Well, in the Jane’s world, we’re taking the next two weeks or so off and I think around the second week of October, like the 12th of October, we’re flying down to South America and we’re doing a festival. We’re shutting down one stage and Muse is the headliner on the other. That’s in Buenos Aires. Then we’re doing a show in Santiago and then going up to Bogota. I’ve actually been to Santiago and Buenos Aires several times and I just love it down there. The crowds are amazing. But I’ve never been to Bogota and that’s the last of that quick little run. It’s just a week, only three shows. Then I’m back for a few days and then we’re doing one show here in the LA area before we do Jimmy Kimmel and the band is getting a star in Hollywood. That’s at the end of the month. But I’m going to be back in DC, Dave and I play in a side-project called Camp Freddy. We’re doing a gig at the 9:30 Club in DC and then doing a charity gig up in New York, like in between our LA show and then the Kimmel/Hollywood star day. So October has all of a sudden gotten sort of busy (laughs).

But there’s nothing after that. We’ve done New Year’s gigs the last several years, like really the last four years. I think we’ve done three years in Aspen, then last year we took a break from playing the Belly Up in Aspen and went to the East Coast. I think we actually did three shows, one in DC and we played Terminal 5 in New York and then did a show at the House Of Blues in Jersey, actually on New Year’s. That was last year. I know we’ve been offered to go to Aspen and I think you could possibly do the Belly Up in San Diego. I’m not sure what we’re doing though. But it’s so funny, I have two kids and a wife and every New Year’s I’m working (laughs). And if it’s not Jane’s it might be Camp Freddy or another project. Musicians work on holidays.

Eric Avery’s bass lines are very distinguished. When you came into the band, how did you go about putting your own touch and your own personality on songs such as “Mountain Song?”

I started playing with Jane’s on the Strays record in 2002. Steve Perkins called me but about a week prior to going into the studio to record Strays, he asked if I’d be in to doing some shows. The first couple shows we did were festivals in Europe, like Redding and Leeds. I grew up playing electric bass with my fingers and playing upright and I’d dabbled playing with a pick. But I was always a fan of Jane’s Addiction and of Eric’s bass lines and his playing. When I played with Alanis Morissette in the nineties, the drummer, who is now the drummer in the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins, a very good friend of mine, we would play the “Mountain Song” or “Three Days” or “Up The Beach.” We’d play some of the classic, I almost want to say “nursery rhyme bass lines,” like very hooky. I would play those way back then and that was in the mid-nineties. Obviously, the band had been around and broken up quite a bit prior to that.

But my approach is to just honor what he did. Obviously I’m not Eric, my tone is going to be different, the way I play with a pick is different, but it really inspired me when I first got the gig and it was like an ass kicker to get my pick chops in shape cause Eric was 99% a pick player. He played a lot of guitar as well so I just wanted to honor those songs. I didn’t want to start off with a pick then drop it and go to fingers once the song got rolling, you know. And now I’m very comfortable playing with a pick.

What was the most difficult song to learn from the catalog?

I would probably say “Three Days” just for the arrangement of it; the length, the arrangement of the song. You know the song has a lot of ebbs and flows, ups and downs dynamically; timing wise, it really speeds up and slows down; and just really adapting to how Stephen and Dave play it and making sure that we’re all one. I feel very comfortable playing everything these days but that would probably be one of the bigger challenges. As a musician, you don’t want to be in your head. You want to be listening to everything that’s happening around you and reacting to that; making sure that you’re not thinking too much about anything rather than just letting the music happen and absorbing what’s going on around you.

When you play live, we’re playing a set number of songs. Say we have twenty songs to choose from. We’re playing them night after night on the tour so you get very comfortable and it’s almost like the Eagles syndrome. They have to play “Hotel California” for the rest of their career at every show. You can deviate away from the way you do it and probably piss off the fans; make a trippy version of the song or change it up just cause you’re tired of playing it. I’m the foundation of the house or hotel or whatever we’re dealing in. I come from the bottom up. I always aim to do better at every gig. It’s a new gig and without a solid foundation you can’t build the rest of the house. I’m equally comfortable playing a lot of different styles of music. I love old James Brown where the bass lines can be incredibly repetitive. Then skip over into Motown where you’ve got like James Jamerson really adding more of a jazz approach to it and the bass lines go all over the place, but still keep the fundamental song in place. I don’t know if that answered your question (laughs)

Speaking of jazz, you went to the Berklee College Of Music, correct?

Yeah, I went there for about two and a half years and I didn’t graduate. I left.

What was your hardest class and why?

Oh, probably some of the more advanced Theory classes. I don’t want to say I have a good ear but I can hear something and be able to learn it. But analyzing it, understanding what this chord is in relationship to the key, or if the song modulates and moves to another tonal center (laughs). I’m getting all Jazz on you. But just really understanding Theory, how it applies to music, to everyday life, on a gig or on a session. As a lifer, it doesn’t matter whether I’m playing a little club or playing a big arena, whatever it is, I’m going to have the same intensity. I just put my heart and soul into what I do and I try not to sound like the mathematician. Cause you can take all that knowledge and it’s just words, like there are gigs that are like reading a Dr Seuss book and there are gigs that are like trying to read a dictionary or a thesaurus where you just have so many options. I would say that would be more in the Jazz realm where you’re just improvising. And Jane’s Addiction is not a gig where I’m improvising. I’m playing my role and playing the songs and the songs are what they are. That’s what the people love and that’s what I love. But at the same time when I’m not with Jane’s Addiction, I step out and do a wide variety of other musical endeavors from studio work to film work, records, gigs with other musicians in different styles. They all require commitment at the same level but just in a different genre.

JanesAddiction-2012-01

What was it like producing somebody like Ben Taylor?

Oh God, working with Ben was amazing. I worked with him and did some writing with him but yeah, he comes from a long line. I remember working and staying on Martha’s Vineyard, doing some work out there, and I ended up playing on a Carly Simon record, his mom, and everyone on her side and everyone on his side is a musician. Like this long line of amazingly talented musicians so I see where he gets it. Working with him was amazing. He was a newer artist at the time, hadn’t been playing as long, obviously, as now but just a very inspired and dedicated songwriter.

Who was the first real rock star that you ever met?

Hmm, is Madonna a rock star? (laughs) God, maybe someone not really a rock star but an influence, might be someone like Stanley Clarke. When I was in high school, I saw Stanley Clarke and saw some mind-boggling musicianship and players so maybe someone like that. I mean, I can’t remember the first but I remember one of the most shocking moments for me was when I was playing with Alanis in 1995 and her career took off so quickly and we were playing the MTV Music Awards and you know we went from driving in a van to like pulling up to the Letterman show still in the van like a month or two later (laughs). But when we did that show, I was looking out at the empty seats, cause we were doing the soundcheck, and all the nametags were so mind-boggling for me. It was like the front row was literally like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Prince, Sting; it was like a who’s who of people that everyone grew up with. So I was very nervous and that was even before we had to hit the stage for the real thing (laughs)

How did you stay grounded during the Alanis whirlwind?

God, I don’t know if I did. I mean, I am grounded but I had my ups and downs. Whenever you do a tour, and that was a nineteen month tour, so at a certain point you sort of hit your wall. Like another three month tour? (laughs) Twelve more weeks? We just finished a year. So it was tough but to keep my sanity, I work out, do some meditation, yoga, but I wasn’t doing much of that then though. Back then I was partying a lot more. A lot of gin and tonics (laughs). The hangover helper.

What are your earliest memories of music?

In the house. My dad and mom both had, as I like to call it, good taste in music. My dad had Dark Side Of The Moon, The Wall. My mom had The Beatles and the Stones records and Stevie Wonder. I remember Songs In The Key Of Life playing; even the Bee Gees (laughs). The Gibbs were like the second biggest songwriters on the planet. Unreal. So those would be some of the earliest memories for me musically and to this day I’m still a huge fan of everyone I just named.

When did you know you wanted to make this full time? When did that seed get planted?

I started playing when I was twelve and I always loved music and I really had a connection to the bass and the role it had in the song. You don’t realize how powerful the bass is. It’s sometimes called the most powerful instrument in the band cause the drums can be playing a groove and the guitar can be playing some rhythms or a riff but it’s not until the bass comes in that it just fills the room. So you have so much power and most people don’t realize that unless they actually play the bass or have done a little more homework into the role of it.

But it would be in high school. I was lucky in that I had both of my parents supporting me. They weren’t musicians, they listened to a lot of music and loved music, but they never steered me off the course, you know. And just like anybody, I didn’t just start off and get a great gig. I had to pay the dues (laughs). I had a job doing schleppy stuff. And I was teaching bass, which I still have a few guys I give lessons to on occasion. I just love it and I want to pass on the knowledge that I’ve learned over the years and advice. I’m still open to learning. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface myself.

So what are some of your goals and dreams that you want to fulfill as a musician?

I have two kids and spending more time working with them. They both are talented musicians. My daughter has already played Carnegie Hall on cello and sang in the National Children’s Choir. And my son plays violin and he plays drums and I want to do some recording with them. I love jamming with them. It’s unbelievable. My son just turned ten, while I was actually away on this Uproar tour, and my daughter is twelve. My wife called me from home while I was on the road and said, “Oh yeah, they went downstairs and just started playing this new Katy Perry song, ‘Roar.’” My son can play like “Back In Black” by AC/DC, all of that to classical music to whatever you want to call it, current Top 100 pop. They’re like me, they’re very open-minded. If it’s got a good groove, a good melody, I’m sold. So we’re doing some stuff with them in the near future. I’ve been very busy so I almost need to marinate for a little while and think about the next steps, you know.

I have some side projects. With Camp Freddy, I play with Taylor Hawkins and we have a band called the Coattail Riders. It’s a little dormant right now cause he’s doing a lot more with the Foo Fighters. But I have a studio at my house and it’s been collecting dust for the last two months. We had to move out of our house for the last three months. We had a little water damage and had to get everything fixed. But everything is back to normal, actually better than it was prior, but I just got home yesterday and my wife calls it re-entry, when you come home after a tour where I just need to sort of acclimate back into home life, take the kids to school, stuff that you’re not obviously doing on the road, and just gather my thoughts and head forward. I got a message yesterday from Beck’s manager to go do literally a show with Beck tomorrow night and Thursday night and rehearsal is today and rehearsal yesterday right after I landed and I just had a couple other things going on this week and I couldn’t pull it off. But I had done a show with him earlier in the summer.

You were on Joe Satriani’s latest album, Unstoppable Momentum.

Yeah, that was earlier in the year. That was great. I was very fortunate to get a call to do some recording with him. A great keyboardist and all-around multi-instrumentalist named Mike Keneally, who had played with Frank Zappa forever, and then the drummer, one of my favorites of all time, named Vinnie Colaiuta, who plays with Jeff Beck and countless other amazing musicians, we went up to Skywalker Ranch, up in the Bay area, for about two weeks and we just cut a song or two a day. Joe is a prolific musician and incredibly cool and it was a lot of fun. I really enjoy sometimes stepping out of LA to do a project like that. It’s not that often. These days with record labels’ budgets being what they are, a lot of people are on independent labels or doing it just sort of homegrown themselves. So it happens, more or less, in the home studios or studios in LA like Eastwest or Henson or Conway or Oceanway. In the fifties, there was like over fifty major studios working all the time. Just because of what is happening in the music industry it has just morphed into something different but I actually really love the process in the studio.

satriani

But we’re seeing a lot of that old school analog recording coming back more and more because people want that vinyl sound again.

Yeah, I think it’s not only just the sound to me so much, as unfortunately it gets compressed right down to an MP3, but nothing beats doing that analog approach. Slash called me to do a record with him a couple years ago and it was with one of my favorite producers, Eric Valentine, and he called me and said, “We’re going to do the whole record to two inch tape machine.” And I think not only did it sound better, significantly better, but the most important thing, and it’s a lost art more and more these days, is knowing how to really play your instrument, you really want to nail your performance.

These days on Pro Tools, a lot of the next generation musicians, not that there aren’t amazing musicians or tons coming out every day, but in general, people have gotten very reliable or dependent on the technology to fix their indiscrepancies or bad notes or bad rhythm, you know what I mean. You can just snip a bar from here and put it there, tighten up this, or if you’ve played a wrong note you can go through Melodyne and make it the right note. With all the different plug-ins, you can basically take imperfection and make perfection and a lot of times it’s imperfection that resonates the most and that’s one of my issues with acoustic music or rock music these days is it doesn’t have the same character as when if you listen to rock bands in the seventies or even the eighties, even into the nineties, the sound is just thicker cause it’s not so perfect. Now, it’s got a homogenized sound; not all of it but in general. The majority are not doing it to tape. Doing it to tape is a little bit of a lost art. All of the old school engineers are very comfortable in that, and new as well, but not in the same way. It’s just not in the budget. Tape is expensive and more time consuming. And time is money, you know what I mean.

And there’s no dynamics, especially when you’re talking about like classical or Jazz, you don’t get that in an MP3. You lose those dynamics and I think it was George Massenburg, who was the inventor of parametric EQ, talks about digital distortion that’s inherent on MP3’s and it’s a sound the body repulses but is buried in there and there’s a difference. You can sit there, and I have a really nice stereo system and a record player, and CDs actually sound really great but MP3’s just don’t. And people will argue and say that the human ear can’t tell the difference but it’s a feeling. I can hear the difference. It takes more work, a lot more work (laughs). It’s the land of convenience now. Ten thousand records in the palm of your hand.

chaney3Bass players and drummers have a special connection and are the foundation of any band. What is your relationship like working with Stephen?

I think of us as one when we’re playing. He’s got such a unique voice on the drums, very different than say somebody who is more like what I call a pocket player. Like playing a backbeat, the way Steven plays is he has this real kind of eclectic style and he’s great at reacting and he comes up with very unique grooves. I just sort of adapt. I try to really listen to everything he is playing cause it really does start there. It starts with the drums. Then you have the bass to build the cake. Like I said earlier, it’s just really having big ears and open heart, open mind, to what is happening and knowing how to fill in and react to that but at the same time you’re doing that, you’re not overthinking anything so you’re not too in your head. I don’t know, it’s just a guttural thing. I think it also is experience and time – time spent on the instrument, time spent in the practice room, time spent on the stage, in rehearsals. Just all of it. But he’s got such a unique drum style that it’s very inspiring so it’s easy for me to connect with him, play and come up with a groove.

We know that Perry is a wild and crazy guy on stage. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done on stage?

The craziest thing I’ve ever done is probably had too much to drink (laughs). I never really did anything, that’s the thing. I’m a pretty reserved guy, I think, for the most part. I didn’t screw up the gig but I definitely was in my head going, “I can’t believe I’m on stage right now playing songs in front of thousands of people while I’m shitfaced.” (laughs)

Is that where the auto-pilot comes into play?

Yeah and I’m not proud of that so that’s definitely what I would call a lowlight, not a highlight (laughs). But I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t OD’d, I’m not a guy who got heavy into drugs and all that. I’ve gotten drunk a few times. I’ll have a few drinks sometimes to ease the tension, have a beer or something. But I’m not that guy who is pushing the limits of substance abuse ever. I’m not that wild and crazy guy. I just haven’t gone down that road.

Is that why you think you have survived the craziness of the music business? Because your personality is that way?

Yeah, I had good parents. I had a good strong family and I think a healthy upbringing. And you don’t even realize it when you’re in it cause you’re a kid and you just think everyone else is like that. But when I talk with friends now and we compare and I hear how they grew up, I was very fortunate. My parents were married for forty-three years. They were solid.

janes addiction strays

Were your feelings hurt when they didn’t ask you, at the beginning, to play on Great Escape Artist?

Oh no, no, no. We broke up after the Strays tour, whenever that was, around 2003, and Dave called me before they got back together with Eric that Jane’s was going to be honored with some kind of a lifetime achievement award for the band back in like 2009, somewhere around there maybe, and Dave had called and said, “Hey, I don’t want you to be offended but we’re getting back together with Eric.” I’m in town and I’m happy to be in town working and sleeping in my own bed and being with my family. Like I said, I have kids and it’s hard to leave them. So I didn’t really take offense to it.

I’ve been friends with Duff McKagan for years. In fact, Duff called me and was asking me questions about some of the bass lines. Even when Eric got back in the band, I remember him calling me one day, “Hey, what’s that chord I’m playing on ‘No One’s Leaving?’” (laughs) Cause he hadn’t played it since probably the early nineties, you know. So Eric called me one day. I was actually recording on the Chris Isaak Show with Glen Campbell and I get this call from Eric Avery. And I ended up playing upright bass on Eric’s solo record, Help Wanted. So for me, it’s all love. I’ve shared the stage with Duff playing guitar, Duff playing bass. After Great Escape came out and we were down in South America, I got a text from Dave Sitek saying, “Dude, I watched the live version of ‘End To The Lies’ and it sounds awesome.” No, there’s only love. I live in the now, in the present.

But people love to tear you guys down.

Yeah, in a band like Jane’s Addiction, their first two records are iconic records and a bunch of those songs were written before Dave and Perkins were even in the band. I mean, “Mountain Song,” “Jane Says.” Those songs were written before those guys were even in the band. And those bass lines, that’s what’s so identifiable about the band so the press is going to be like, “If he’s not in the band, it’s not Jane’s Addiction.” I mean, who cares, whatever. Music is music. I just have fun playing. I’m not going to overanalyze because that’s a negative place to go. And the only place to end up is like (moaning), “Oh, I’m not the original guy.” Whatever. But there’s always going to be that.

Dave seems to catch the brunt of the criticism.

Dave is one of the most naturally gifted musicians I’ve ever had the chance to share a stage with and to share time with and to work with period. He is just amazing, an incredible guitar player. If Dave practiced like twelve hours a day, he’d probably be the best guitarist on Earth (laughs). He’s already pretty unbelievable. I don’t want him any better (laughs).

 

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