Live without a net
Stephen Perkins lives and breathes drums – a cascade of tribal beats and congas greets callers who reach the voicemail of his cellphone. Through his career with Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros and numerous guest spots with No Doubt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Sheryl Crow and Rage Against The Machine, Perkins has acquired the status of legend among drummers and percussionists. But perhaps closest to his heart is his own project Banyan, which eschews traditional song structures in favor of extended improvisation that includes all genres.”The real Banyan trip is getting high quality players doing it live without a net – if you get the right players and improv, there’ll be no trainwreck,” Perkins says in between soundchecks. “In theory, it’s jazz because we all take solos, but the feeling is punk, and the pulse is a rock thing.”Perkins combines his primal, tribal rock drumming with instrumental virtuosos of all types; in the past he’s been joined by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and bassist Flea, and Mike Watt, Nels Cline, Rob Wasserman, Mark Nishita and Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore have all contributed to past albums and performances. For his trip out to Colorado, Perkisn will jam with Karl Denson guitarist Brian Jordan, bassist Tony Franklin and longtime trumpet player Willie Waldman.”Everyone’s experience is a lot different from mine, and they all have something different to bring to the plate,” Perkins says. “All of us have different record collections – I’m into rock, some are into hard jazz. It’s really about pulling your own personality into the music. My favorite players aren’t the best technical players – they’re the ones that have the most personality.”
Banyan has no vocals, but is assisted by painter Norton Wisdom, who paints onstage to reflect the mood of the song with a wet-erase board. Willie Waldman often takes the part of vocalist with his mellow, melodic trumpet parts.”I’ve always wanted to play with a harder band, so when Stephen came to me looking for a trumpet player instead of a vocalist, I loved it,” Waldman says. “It’s real fun playing bebop on top of jazz, funk and punk.”Perkins vibes off of the lack of a singer; it gives the instruments room to breathe and step into their own.”My wife thinks my best drumming is with Banyan, because there’s no song or singer,” he says. “With a singer, I want to support the lyrics and I have to hold back a bit, but without it I can step on the gas and really enjoy the drum attitude.”Perkins and company play a completely improvised set – though Banyan has three albums to its credit, Perkins prefers to feel out the vibe and rock a set from the hip.
“It’s so exciting for me to pull from the environment – I’m going to give back, whether it’s the crowd, the natural environment, everything,” he says. “I’m hopefully going to sound different when I play in Manhattan versus Wyoming. Some bands won’t make it up there, but once you’re up there you’re glad you made it. Banyan pulls over and plays those shows.” Perkins spent time in Methods of Mayhem with Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, and while they shared musical ambitions, their individual approach to the environment was different.”We’d just played Glastonbury, and on the way back the bus passed Stonehenge, and it was just gorgeous, so I stopped the bus and got out,” Perkins remembers. “Meanwhile, the bus driver starts honking and Tommy’s yelling, ‘what’re you doing, it’s a bunch of rocks – let’s get to London.’ That’s his approach, which works for him, but for Banyan, we would’ve set up right there and played an acoustic show.”Banyan has stopped in Colorado and fed off the scenery and the attitude many times in the past.”We’re almost locals around here – I love skiing and mountain biking, but the people are what make it,” he says. “Banyan’s 10 years old but still fresh as hell. We’re ready to rock and have fun and make people dance. We really enjoy the attitude of the people who live out there – they go out and get it all night.”
Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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