Interview – How Perry Farrell’s Quest to Help a Friend Turned Into a Mission to ‘Mend’
Dealing with heartbreak can be tough and when you add in the enforced isolation of a pandemic, it's can be downright devastating. But having good friends sharing their concern and empathy can help in the healing, and that's the starting point for Perry Farrell and his Kind Heaven Orchestra collective and their new song "Mend."
Farrell gathered an all-star lineup of Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins on drums, The Cars' Elliot Easton on guitar and Bon Jovi's David Bryan on keyboards to record the track "Mend" as a way of reaching out to show support during a friend's tough times, but as Farrell tells it, while it started out as a track about a singular friend's hard times, it turned more global in its supportive message as a whole world dealt with difficulties over the past year.
We spoke with Perry Farrell and David Bryan about the collaboration. You can hear "Mend" a little further down in the interview. Check out the chat below.
Perry, I know this is under the Kind Heaven Orchestra banner, but you've got a great lineup here. Can you talk about how you gathered the players for this track and how it came together?
Perry Farrell: Taylor Hawkins and I started working on this song, and I'm sure that David knows this fellow, too. I can't tell you his name unfortunately because he might not want everybody to know who he is. But this is a story about when COVID hit right at the same time he was having marital troubles and his wife eventually moved out with her kids, and he really loves her still and she's a lovely woman herself. I love both of these people; they are both musicians.
But Taylor, we just saw our buddy, and he was so down and out down in the dumps because his kids and his wife had gone out of this house. So, Taylor said, "We've got to write a song to mend his broken heart." So Taylor came over with an acoustic guitar and he said that just the lyric should be to mend his broken heart. I just messed around with that and I did a cut up of the phrase, a turn of lyric, shall we say and ended up on just the word "Mend." So, that's the beginning of it.
We started to record it, and we originally we wanted it to sound like the Allman Brothers. We wanted a real long track that was like "Melissa," one of those long-winded tracks that Greg Allman and Duane Allman might be on. Originally the track was twice as long. But I felt it was too long. I like to have a little bit of structure and then a lot of heart, genius and unexpected turns. The way to get all that into a song is you come up with a loose structure. It's like a jazz thing. You come up with a loose structure, you lay it out and the players. There's two types of players. There's a player that's a structured player and you need those structured players. Then the other guys are the wizards like your Miles Davis or John Coltrane that take the structure and then they're off and you go into these long passages where you just rock it out.
So that's how I like to write songs these days because it allows me to reach out to my friends, like David [Bryan], and just say, "Hey man, I've got this new track and I can hear some really interesting fusion on this and I know that David could say, "All right, then I'm going to break out my part and drop it right here" and he gets it. But the funny thing is, I know that eventually it won't sound like the Allman Brothers at all because we're not the Allman Brothers. So, it'll end up sounding like us, which is great.
Perry Farrell's Kind Heaven Orchestra, "Mend"
David, so how did you two meet?
David Bryan: How we met was actually in New Jersey, the great state, my hometown. I was at the Arts Center or whatever PNC or whatever bank is paying the money for it. But it's like an outdoor amphitheater. Perry was playing there, and my wife is as big a fan as am I and she's like, "Let's go to the show." So I went to the show, and we're at the sound boards and we eventually go down to the front row. I want to see it, but I feel weird being in a band and being in the front row.
Perry Farrell: And from my point of view, I look down into the pit and there's the guy from Bon Jovi with these curly blonde locks and that great smile. I was just like, "Wow." It was so fun to perform in front of you. It was the weirdest experience. But go ahead....
David Bryan: No, it's true. We're unlikely bedfellows I guess in music, but I'm a fan of all kinds of music. So I remember, I looked at you and you were going like this, walking across the stage and took a glance at me. Then you walk two more feet, you look back and you're like, "What the fuck are you doing here?" I’m like, my wife made me do it, wanted me to come all the way to the front, but I feel weird. So, we came backstage and that’s when our friendship started.
But as far as the songwriting, we had talked and then we went out a couple of times and saw each other over a couple of years and then during this pandemic everybody was sitting at home and Perry texted me and said, "Hey, can I talk?" and he said, "Listen, I got this song, and I was wondering if you play on it." I'm like, "Sure, I'd love to play on it. I can do it in my studio and then send you the tracks, you send me the stems then I can record it and send it back."
So, I listened to the song and I was like, "Wow, this is really great. I just started dreaming and imagining and I was like, what, if this had a space funk keyboard sound like a Bowie Scary Monsters or in that kind of world.
Perry Farrell: That was awesome. When I heard it, I felt, yeah, that is so cool. It became the hook. Honestly, when I think about the song, the melody hook in my head is your line.
David Bryan: Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. Because when you're just coming up with stuff usually, you're in a room and you can experiment. And this was like me just going, "Okay, let me work this thing out. Let me send it and hopefully he likes it a little bit and then I'm going to develop it." But I did it the first time.
Perry, I've got to bring this up because I talked to Taylor a couple years ago for the Coattail Riders' album, and I know you're on that as well. But he had talked at the time about Elliot Easton and how much of a Cars fan that he is but that he was unable to get Elliot on that record. So, you're making dreams come true with this collaboration.
Perry Farrell: I think everybody loves The Cars. I don't know anybody who's ever not loved The Cars. I just want to give a little insight on Elliot's part. So Elliot becomes a buddy. He lives out our way. So we get to call him up and say, "We got a new track, you want to come over?" and so he did. When he sat down to record it, Taylor says, "We want this to sound like the Allman Brothers." Elliot was like, "Allman Brothers? Why did you ask me?"
But what is amazing about The Cars is Elliot's guitar. Their guitar players deal with life on many levels and one level is pure inspiration when they play. They don't need anything but an acoustic guitar, and it just comes off gorgeous. But in the modern setting, we have electronics that we could plug into our guitars and you can get a sound and really not even played structured music and you still get what I would consider a song. You can get it with a distortion or a plain. But when Elliott sat down, what's great about Elliott's playing is he's able to combine beautiful playing with pure inspiration.
He's an excellent player and plays just beautifully with no effects. But he also was a master of effects and that's the beauty of The Cars, especially in the guitar area, is that his parts are what I called earlier "structured." In other words, they come back, they repeat, and that structure gets in your head and that becomes the repetitive pattern. Then he can also give you inspiration, too. So, that's why he's a master.
So, anyway when he sat down and Taylor said, "Can you play something like the Allman Brothers?" he started giving us the Allman Brothers. But of course, he couldn't help but becoming Elliot in the end. So, some of the stuff, I didn't use and that's typical. When you record, you just record the shit out of people and then as a producer, you sit, and it's like you have pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But you know that they all fit the cloth that it's cut from, so you know that it's going to work.
But we just asked Elliot out, and I don't want to bother Elliott too much because he's got his own life. He just came in for the afternoon. We all did it. It was at Taylor's house. Then I had to sit and think, "I don't want any of this shit. That sounds like the Allman Brothers."
In the end that's what I'm saying. Like I chopped out any Elliot stuff that was derivative of what it is. The fact is, I want it to sound like something unique. I didn't want people to say, "Oh, that sounds like the Allman Brothers" even if we started there. Because in the end you have to come clean and become yourself. You're on a journey to make sure that song is unique as it stands as a milestone in music. That's the dream. That's the ambition.
You mentioned this song is written about a friend, and while we won't say who it is, can you share if this person heard the song you wrote for them?
Perry Farrell: Okay, well, this person, he knows that we did it because we asked him to perform on it, but he declined. He didn't hear it. We thought to actually go to him and say, "Let's write a track." He was so depressed at that time, and we didn't even hear back so we just assumed it's not a good time to hit him up for something like this.
Let me just say I think it's a pretty cool gesture showing empathy toward this person and it's something we could use in general after the year we've all just gone through. With so much divisiveness over the past year, do you think we'll see music take a more empathetic turn as a great unifier as a result of the events of 2020?
David Bryan: I think music is the great union of all souls. That's what music does. I remember the first time we went to Russia before the wall came down, before politics came in and what music did. I went there to Russia where I couldn't even speak the language where they were the enemy growing up and here we were like "Okay, let's just play it. Let's play and see if music is universal."
Music is; you put a piece of Beethoven down in front of anybody on the planet and that is the universal language in the world and that's what music does. It brings people together.
Look at the beginning of rock. It was Black blues and Elvis took that and didn't just forget about Black people. He was a champion of bringing that together and you look at all those Motown bands. It was half white, half Black bands.
Perry Farrell: Now that was the best, too. Motown, that was as good as you can get.
David Bryan: Music has been inclusive.
Perry, I wanted to ask about the artwork as well, which is very striking. Can you share who created the art for the single and your thoughts on the representation as it fits the song.
Perry Farrell: So, I spoke to a woman by the name of Isk, and she works freelance as a graphic artist but also, she has something that she calls the South Indian Society and South Indian Society is ... I wouldn't call it a club exactly because it's a private society, if you will, of South India, and they put on parties. We've been talking about when Covid ends when Covid quarantine ends, we would get back out in the sunshine and have a party together. But she's an amazing artist.
I went to her with the song. It's called "Mend" and I see a heart, just a heart but maybe the heart has stitches on it, like it was opened up. It was broken but with stitches on a heart, and I thought that would be a good start. So, she came back with that image.
I looked at it and I have since seen similar sketches that came out of either Brighton or Birmingham, there's a place in the U.K., there's a place in Britain where in the late 18th century early 19th century, there's a story of the body snatchers when people were be taken away. Irish immigrants were being snatched and given to this college. There was a college on surgery and they had a surgeon that was a professor that would show the corpses and he would operate on the corpse. There'd be this giant ring of students around them looking down at the corpse and he was getting the corpses underground from people who were landlords of these Irish immigrants.
They would make detailed renderings. I guess, before photography, so they made detailed renderings of the insides of people. I think that was her inspiration because I've seen that. I've seen the drawings and they look just like that. So, I was psyched about it.
David Bryan: I think it's great. I didn't even know that. It's like being a former pre-med student million years ago. In the book, that's what it is. They drew everything out and that's so you can understand it.
Jeanna de Waal + David Bryan, "If" (From Diana: A True Musical Story)
Definitely want to hit on a couple other things you guys are doing at this point. David, I know the Diana musical finally coming is big for you. Looking forward to that coming out and if you could share your involvement in this project and what it was like to build music about this very public figure that we all loved.
David Bryan: Yes, I started in my musical foray of musicals with one called Memphis. It's actually on Amazon Prime. We actually filmed it. In 2010, it came on Broadway. I got the script in 2001 and then it took eight short years to get it to Broadway and it's a painfully long process. But in doing that, my collaborator, Joe Di Pietro, he writes the story, the book it's called. I write all the music and we co-write the lyrics. So, he's not a musician but he and I are co-lyricists. When he writes some four lines down, I can just write a song and then add to it.
So, we had another musical that we were working on that was almost ready for Broadway and then he said to me, "Hey, what about an idea of doing one on Princess Diana because we're both the same age and also, a year younger than Diana would have been" and I was like, "Wow, that's a great idea."
It's such a great subject matter that the world knows. We got to Broadway in three years and it was the same thing, he wrote the story. I wrote all the music and then we collaborated on the lyrics. It was accounting in one way because in real life nobody knows the Royal Family. Our challenge was to get everybody to think. So, we got everybody. I wrote 24 songs for it.
We got it to Broadway. We had nine previews, everything word of mouth was great. We were looking to open up and then the pandemic happened, and I was like, "We're going to shut down New York? They can't do that." "They're going to shut down the world? They can't do that," and as you know, they did. That was March 12. We got shut down with nine previews and then three days later, I was in bed with Coronavirus not sick enough to hospital, but I was sick for like three months. But I'm 100 percent and after that three months, I woke up, I was like, "Well that sucked." But at least I got that out of the way."
We were sitting around and we're like, "What can we do? It was supposed to be two weeks to flatten the curve and 18 months where we definitely have vaccines, and everything is going to be great. So we all put our heads together the creative team and thought what if we could film this for whatever the protocol is that was allowed, go back into the theater and then and put it on Netflix. That's a great idea. We got on zoom calls; we rewrote some stuff that we needed to.
We went into the theater in September. I was sequestered for four weeks or a month and under all these masks, shields and everything, but we got it done and we edited. I worked on the sound to make sure it really rocked. It's like a rock opera and that comes out Oct. 1 on Netflix.
It was announced that we were going to come out in December. But now since New York is open, theaters are open 100 percent, no distancing or anything by Sept. 14, we said, let's come a month earlier. So, Nov. 2 we'll be onstage in front of humans and then Nov. 17, we open up. (Editor's note: Learn more about Diana: The Musical and get tickets here).
Perry Farrell: I want to come to the opening.
David Bryan: You can. I think I might know somebody (laughs).
Perry Farrell: Okay, awesome. I can't wait. That's quite an accomplishment, I tell you.
Lollapalooza 2021 Teaser
And Perry, a lot going on for you this year. Lollapalooza just announced. Jane's Addiction playing some shows and we have the new song from Kind Heaven Orchestra, but will there be more, even with this lineup?
Perry Farrell: Yeah, my future seems bright. I've got Lollapalooza just announced. So, we're getting ready for Chicago first weekend of August.
Within that, I have a retrospective. I think it's an hour and a half, but it'll probably boil down to an hour. It's an Amazon Coda Collection special that we're filming it late July. We might be ready to actually film it. But it's a retrospective of music, and I'm excited about it because I get to do what David Irizarry talked about and describe what he got to do, which is I'm going to get to put a performance on cable.
First, I love the idea of the costumes or wardrobe, getting a budget for a great wardrobe that I could keep around like a freak and then the backdrop. The set that I could create that I could take with me on the road and then all the music and the musicians that I will put together for the special, I could take on the road. I like to multipurpose everything in my life, so doing a television special but then taking that stuff and touring it. That's why I'm smiling.
Kind Heaven is going on and Jane's just got booked some dates and Porno for Pyros is coming back as well. When I say we, I mean the musicians? We've been busy and the Covid quarantine caused us ... I don't want to say it forced us but yes it did forced us to get into our homes, be creative in our minds and then let it out on our recording equipment in our house.
So, we were writing. David, were you just constantly writing when you're at home?
David Bryan: Oh, yeah. My collaborator, Joe Di Pietro, he lives in New York, I'm in Jersey and I have my studio and since he's not a musician and I don't have to worry about him playing an instrument or singing anything, we really probably did 90 percent of our work over Zoom or FaceTime. So I'm used to getting up, get some coffee, get on my sweats, go down to my studio, and create and then turn on the Zoom. So we were ahead of the pandemic.
Perry Farrell: I got to know my boys. I'm not kidding. Like, are you a shitty father? I couldn't tell. I mean, I could. I knew in the back of my mind; I'm not paying attention to these guys. Part of it is that I want them to learn and fail and pick themselves up. It's character building to be less on your own but still as a father you have to guide, and you have to suggest everything, and I wasn't very good at that at all.
But when they're around and I'm around, I thought to myself, "What can we make of these days? You don't want to just sit here, you want to stay active. A human being has to stay active to be vital." If you start to retire, I don't know if I'm going to ever retire. What about you Dave, it just doesn't seem like a good plan?
David Bryan: I can definitely agree with you and my kids are older. They're 26, 27 and twins....
Perry Farrell: Did they look like you?
David Bryan: Yes, they're just as good looking. They're great. But after I was noninfectious and better, they came home because they both are out of work and we spent a lot of time in a good way. I always like to spend time with my kids and this was even more special because it wasn't like, I've got to do this. I've got to get ready for this and I've got to do this. I'm thinking about like, "Okay, why don't we go out to the grill and cook food?"
Perry Farrell: Yeah. When I hear that my buddy, his life at that time was going so shitty. I was just like, "Can you imagine? We escaped by the skin of our teeth because we just locked in on a path. But his path was heartbreaking. That's heartbreaking. So, hence the song.
I'm going to tell you, I started out writing about one person. But through the pandemic, I really wanted everybody that listened to it and this is how songwriters think inevitably, it comes around that the song has to be meaningful to every human being. So, in my mind, I started to expand on my audience, my demographic and I want you to help everyone around the world. We're all suffering through the COVID pandemic. I want the whole world to mend. That's also instilled in the sound and its construction.
David Bryan: Yeah, that's 100 percent, You write a song. That's personal and then it becomes universal. And for me, the "add too" was that I never met Taylor. I met Elliot Easton for a minute when we were both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the same night. So, it was pretty neat to play on a record with him even though I didn't see their faces or wasn't there. I'm emotionally attached to them, was pretty cool.
Perry Farrell: So, you guys were all inducted at the same time?
David Bryan: That was the same year, it was 2018. We got in and The Cars got in.
Perry Farrell: That's so cool. I didn't even know that.
David Bryan: And I grew up on them. I love The Cars man. They had great, great records. Cool keyboards, I mean, there's a lot of that in the computer in the brain just to influence when you listen to that and you go, "Wow, it's so good."
Perry Farrell: My first or my second concert was The Cars. My first definitely was the guys who sing, "Don't Fear the Reaper," you know. So, they came to town. I was in high school in Miami and they came in town and I remember the guy. I've never been to a concert. The guy had a laser beam shooting off of his guitar. Yeah. Gibson, Les Paul and watching it, it dawned on me that all of a sudden, a square rainbow appeared over my head at the concert, and I just thought, "Oh, man, I'm in heaven. Right now, this is the coolest thing that I've ever been part of." I'm not sure if The Cars were on the bill. But I know that year I also saw The Cars and I have to speak to Elliot about that. I hadn't told him that.
David Bryan: Greg Hawkes and just the idea of a rock band with guitars, keyboards was a little different than the Jersey sound, the Springsteen and Jukes stuff that I grew up on. But the Cars was just more of a modern edge. That's really helped me in my world of Bon Jovi and the world of rock 'n' roll was rock bands with cool keyboards.
Perry Farrell: That's the electronic side of the music. It will always elevate a song because it is part of the progress of mankind. So, if you attach yourself to the electronics and the tech side of music, you need the genius. The natural genius of a player could only make it even that much greater. But if you know a kid today can literally turn on a synthesizer and generate a pretty decent sound, if he's clever and patient.
David Bryan: The sounds that I had for "Mend" was a whole four, five keyboards that were put together inside of the computer. Like a saint clavier, cpap all these different keyboards that I had inside it and you mix them together to come up with this new thing. So, that's where you start. That's where it gets really fun.
Perry Farrell: So what happens is everybody's tweaking and refining their frequencies all together, like David was refining and tweaking frequencies to match. It's like, you know, how when two people get together and one's got a New York accent then before you know it, you're talking like that. That’s how it works with the musicians. You have a story and you're starting to tell it. You say something to your friend and then you want to help me tell the stories. So, the frequencies are, we're always tweaking and refining to be able to parry each other and that's the beauty of mixers. That's the beauty of producers is that these guys are constantly sending frequencies so it all makes sense, a musical sense.
Thanks to Perry Farrell and David Bryan for the interview. The new song "Mend" from Perry Farrell's Kind Heaven Orchestra is available here. Keep up with all things Perry Farrell via his website. Bryan also has his own website and you can keep up on his Bon Jovi activities here.