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The Interview: Perry Farrell

By Sarah Dahnke in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 12, 2006 4:25PM

Listen up Chicago, Perry Farrell wants you to get moisturized this summer.


He knows how hot it was last summer when you guys were out in Grant Park sweating your balls off while you pushed your way to the front of the south main stage in order to get an up-close view of Dashboard Confessional. Ok, maybe that wasn't you. Maybe you were just hanging out in the back waiting for Digable Planets to play. Either way, this year Perry’s got your back and wants to make sure you and all of your friends don’t melt away when you come to probably the biggest party he’s ever thrown.

Just in case you have missed Chicagoist’s ongoing summer music festival coverage, let us fill you in. Perry is bringing Lollapalooza back to Chicago for a second year running, and this time the festival will be larger, take up more space and encompass acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, The Flaming Lips and Death Cab for Cutie.

Chicagoist thanked our lucky stars when Mr. Farrell agreed to hang out and talk with us about our local music scene, why he chose Chicago to host Lollapalooza for a second year in a row and how to host a “big beautiful party” on city land with corporate sponsors in the dead of summer without really pissing a lot of people off.

Image via Static Multimedia

Chicagoist: Lollapalooza is coming back to Grant Park this year. What made you decide to return to this destination?
Perry: There’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of building. We are actually doubling ourselves in size this year. The location itself is just an incredible spot. Chicago itself if is sort of a crossroads of America - especially the airport. The city itself is just an absolute gem. It’s laid out beautifully. The architecture is amazing. The skyline is gorgeous. Our location is right at the base of the lake there and very, very close to downtown. The idea of having the people who attend and fill up the clubs and the bars and the nightclubs and still be able to walk or take a short cab ride down to the festival makes it an ideal location.

Chicagoist: What other cities had you considered?
Perry: We looked at the entire country, believe it or not. We decided on Chicago after doing research all around the country. That was our favorite spot.

Chicagoist: You used to call Lollapalooza a “lifestyle festival” when it was touring around the country. Do you think you may be returning to that model any time? Are you set in the destination festival model?
Perry: Well, essentially we are about lifestyle, and we have to reflect what is going on in life around us. And it makes sense for us to become destination because for the past few years, the whole concept of traveling festivals has been very dry. The business model of them is very dry, and it doesn’t allow you to bring in those “lifestyle elements.” So for the time being we are definitely excited and feel very, very good about being in Chicago. But you can never rule anything out with Lollapalooza because we always develop and take our calculated risk. Because as I say “lifestyle,” who knows? Life may change, and maybe touring might be in the cards for the future.

Chicagoist: On your blog on you were talking about how record numbers of people are buying tickets and attending summer music festivals such as Coachella and Bonaroo, but you also mentioned that live shows, especially traveling festivals, have experienced a dry spell with attendance in the past few years. What do you think has changed lately to get people excited about live music again?

Perry: Well the festivals where people are coming out in record numbers are destination festivals. The tours haven’t really recovered. Honestly, for the most part, there is a potential with touring, but I think it has a lot to do with corporate America buying into the music industry and especially the touring aspects of the industry. And it’s tough, but as far as musicians go, there’s really not a lot of money in record sales. So they make their money on touring. So they put themselves in the public to put together great shows and have them at cool venues, but it is very difficult because you have a corporate grip on those shows. And those guys are all about the bottom dollar.
To me it’s a ritual. It’s a party. You’re planning a party. Because it’s become a business in this day and age a lot of times these groups come through, and it really doesn’t feel much like a party. But I’m trying to keep it where it belongs. You’re coming out to enjoy yourself. You’re coming to a beautiful, big party. The atmosphere has to be in line with that philosophy, and the things that you are presenting to people have to be in line with that philosophy. You can’t look at it like “asses in seats,” which in these days is what it has become in a large part.

Chicagoist: How do you make that synergy happen between producing a large festival and having corporate sponsors? For example, you guys are being sponsored by Bud Light. How do you make that party atmosphere still happen without making it a place where you are bombarded by advertising?

Perry: Look, the way in this day and age that you do it is put your own money up and find your own location. That was very difficult, but we were successful and found what I thought was the best location in the country. And as far as Bud Light, let’s start with them if you want to. Bud Light is a beer, and beer is always welcome at parties - at least my parties anyway. And there are restrictions on what Bud Light can and can’t do. They’re basically buying one of the stages, and that’s a good thing. They’re supplying a stage for us, and they don’t have anything to say about what happens on the ground. They can’t tell me what art I can have, what musicians I can have … They’re just helping us to build the party, and I think they are a party product that is very necessary to the party. So they are fine in my book.

Chicagoist: In regards to Chicago, some of your big-name headliners are Chicago-based artists like Wilco or Common or Kanye West. Did you feel like it was important to book them because of the Chicago aspect of the festival? Are they people that you would be looking at regardless?
Perry: We would definitely be looking at them regardless, but it doesn’t hurt to have the hometown fans and favorites there. We wanted to have Kanye and Common and Wilco as well as Ween and Poi Dog Pondering. These groups are really credible, and what’s beautiful about Chicago is the diversity. You wanna bring some of that local flavor to the party. Chicago is in a way hosting this as well as me.
I always find that it saves money when you do things regionally or locally. I mean the artists have a fixed price that they demand. But what I mean is when you do things regionally or locally, you save money with shipping and having to schlep people around.

Chicagoist: But it gets really hot in Chicago in the summer!

Perry: I know, but you’re breezy! You’re the windy city.

Chicagoist: One of the major statements people made about the festival last year is that it was so hot. But you scheduled the festival for the beginning of August again. How do you make sure people are able to really enjoy themselves without melting away?

Perry: Well, I can’t exactly control the weather, but what I can do is find ways to save the weather. This year we’re going to be really careful to make sure people are moisturized. There will be lots of places where you can get out of the sun. We’re actually looking to build a couple of places where you can be misted and stay out of the sun for a short time before having to get out to the main stages in the field again.
But you know, it’s only really hot for a few hours then it gets to be beautiful in the evening because it was so hot during the day. And we did reach and break records last year, so hopefully that isn’t going to happen again. We have twice as many trees this year, too!

Chicagoist: What other sorts of things did you learn as a result of doing a destination festival last year, especially at Grant Park? Is there anything you’re looking to improve this year?
Perry: Well I think we can probably do a better job with sound separation because we have more room now. So we can more than likely keep sound bleed from occurring, at least from main stages because they are going to be so separated this year. When looking at the overall layout and design of the festival, we’re also looking at ways to do nice things for the artists in the backstage area. I will tell you, we ran a really tight ship and a very successful tour last year. And when I say successful I’m coming from the point of the view of the audience and the artists themselves. Everybody had a good time. And we got a chance to really work hand in hand with the city and do some good work there.
We’re going to be back in Chicago at the end of this month, and we’re going to see what they did with the money we contributed to the city’s Parks and Recreations department. I think they’re going to open up an area of the park that will allow handicapped people to experience and enjoy the park.

Chicagoist: You also wrote in your blog that you really wanted your band Satellite Party to play this year. Do you know if is going to happen?
Perry: I’m wrapping up my mixes right now. They should be done at the end of this month, and I’m getting incredible feedback. The only stipulation is that I wanted to have product out and be on tour immediately after Lollapalooza. It looks like we’re getting close, but with these kinds of things you never want to rush them. I always strive for excellence. I think we’re looking good, and as you know, we are dying to play this year. But I don’t want to get out there unless everything is in place. I really want to have a great presentation this year. Plus we have room for a few other acts, and we plan on announcing some as it gets closer to the festival.

Chicagoist: How close to the festival will you be making those announcements?
Perry: Well I like to spread them out because it gives people a little spike in attention to the festival. Probably next month we’ll announce another name or two then in the coming months we’ll announce more. We have at least one or two big names left to announce.