Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Banyan's Roots

By Bill Frost

JANUARY 25, 1999:  Stephen Perkins is the kind of guy you want to hang out with. Even though he comes from one of the most famous bands in the world, there's nary a trace of rock star in him. After talking to him for only a minute, you realize that he lives and breathes music, and couldn't care less about the "other" side of the business.

Most people know that Perkins was the drummer for Jane's Addiction and its sequel, Porno For Pyros. Most drummers revere him as one of the absolute best--the percussion equivalent of a guitar hero. Most folks don't know that he formed the experimental Banyan years ago, and has been performing in the Los Angeles area ever since.

Perkins' Banyan released its self-titled debut on CyberOctave in 1997, with the line-up of Beastie Boys' keyboardist Money Mark, guitarist Nels Cline and bass legend Mike Watt. The new album, Any Time at All--due to be released by CyberOctave Feb. 23--utilizes a wider range of players, but retains a more focused sound: It's jazz, it's rock, it's trip-hop; it's everything but a dull, fusion-oid instrumental recording. Imagine Medeski, Martin & Wood collaborating on a sci-fi soundtrack with Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa--you'll have a good inkling, yet you won't even be close.

Banyan has only performed live in Los Angeles, Memphis and Nashville, but next week, the band will be playing two shows along the Wasatch: Tuesday, Jan 26 at the Zephyr Club, and Friday, Jan. 29 at Steeps in Park City during the wind-down of Sundance Film Festival fever. By pure coincidence, a documentary film of the 1997 Jane's Addiction reunion tour, Three Days, will be screening at the Slamdance Film Festival.

Perkins called from his home in L.A. last Tuesday to talk about Banyan at around 9 a.m.--an ungodly hour for most musicians and writer-types.


CW: You're up pretty early--that's not very rock & roll of you.

Perkins: I'm so not rock & roll [laughs]. I'm just a human trying to enjoy the daylight. A lot of musicians are vampires, I guess. My creativity goes into my drumming, and, late at night, even though there is that adrenaline kick while performing, it's not the same. I still have the best energy during the day.


The new Banyan disc, Any Time at All, is funkier than hell and chock-full of guest musicians--how did you coordinate the recording?

We sure had a funky time making it. There are 25 players on the album. All of the players from L.A. are guys I know--friends of friends and the like. Plus, we had guys from Memphis who were brought in by Dave Aaron, who produced the CD and played clarinet. He's worked with Prince, Madonna and Snoop Dog. On Any Time at All, there's John Frusciante and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nels Cline, Buckethead, Clint Wagner, Martine LeNoble from Porno For Pyros, Mike Watt, Rob Wasserman of Rat Dog, Willie Waldman of the Memphis Horns, Ross Rice ... what other freaks are on there? [laughs] Just a lot of people, OK?


Buckethead, who recorded "Sputnik" with you and Mike Watt on the new CD, is an amazing guitar player who hides his identity by wearing a bucket on his head in public. What is this guy like?

What I like about him is that he's obsessed with the guitar, you can hear it in his chops. It was a great match with him and Watt, who had never met Buckethead before but really wanted to play with him. We three recorded "Sputnik" after hanging out at the house all day. That's the most electric lead guitar on the album. The other guitarists stuck with mostly clean rhythms.


Your previous bands, Jane's Addiction and Porno For Pyros, were all about loud, guitar-heavy rock. Was there a conscious decision to get away from that with Banyan?

My first love growing up was jazz, swing-style music. I was into Gene Krupa, Joe Jones and those guys. Meanwhile, all of my friends were buying guitars and wanting to play AC/DC and Van Halen. There was no one to play a Miles Davis tune with me or anything like that, so I kind of lost touch with that world. So it was exciting to hook up with Willie. He introduced me to different horn players, showing me all the harmonies and phrasings that you can't get with guitars. Then again, with ska and swing happening, it's rare to hear a guitar solo on the radio. Guitarists now are stuck in the same position as drummers were in the '80s with drum machines! [laughs]

We still have to deal with machines. That's why I'm not with Porno For Pyros now: Perry [Farrell] is just into using tape loops these days. There's nothing for me to do. So, when CyberOctave called and said they wanted another Banyan album, I was like, "Great! Let's get going!"


Now that the album is finished, who's going to participate in the live version of Banyan?

Since we're now seriously talking about touring, we may have to put together two different line-ups. For the past 35 shows around L.A., it's been me, Watt, Nels and a variety of keyboardists. When we went to Tennessee, we used Wasserman, Ross and Clint, and it was great, too. We're doing the Utah shows with the second line-up. Watt's going to be busy working on his next record, and Wasserman's got Rat Dog going on. Between the two of them, I always know we'll have a great rhythm section, it's just a matter of who can make it. [laughs] Banyan has played around L.A. for years. I think if you live in an area, it's important to play that area constantly. It's your art, and playing is like showing your art at a gallery every month, you know?


Besides playing, what do you plan on doing while you're here?

Just getting into the whole Sundance party scene and doing a lot of skiing. After Park City, we're going to play in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and go back to L.A. I guess we're doing an exclusive ski-resort tour [laughs].


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