THINK: EXP – “Think: Stephen Perkins” by Eileen Shapiro
Stephen Perkins – known by all as the drummer for Jane’s Addiction, the famously pioneering alternative rock group – has a deep appreciation for music, art and the enormous potential of virtual reality technology. It’s only natural, then, to find him in a unique position as part of the ground-breaking new avant-garde project, THINK:EXP.
“Our goal for THINK: EXP,” he says, “is nothing less than revolutionizing the entertainment industry by bridging the gap between the human spirit and technological innovation with one-of-a-kind live, immersive concert experiences.” Currently experimenting with the songs from Pink Floyd, the Wisdome immersive Art Park in downtown LA, “Beyond the Wall”, offers a futuristic exploration of Pink Floyd’s journey into the realm of virtual reality and artistic evolution via a shared VR experience with mind-blowing visuals, customized 365-degree projections and surround-sound. A 365-degree experience goes beyond just a full circle to actual immersion under a dome.
Another way to describe what Stephen Perkins, Scott Page (saxophonist from Pink Floyd, Supertramp and Toto), Kenny Olson (guitarist of Kid Rock’s T.B.T band, and Norwood Fisher (bassist and founder of LA band Fishbone) — collectively THINK: EXP, have created – is this: imagine the creativity and technology of Disney World transformed into an experience for any and all lovers of music and art.
Like a vacant white canvas, Perkins adds bursts of vibrant and dazzling color to the mystery of THINK: EXP.
All members of THINK:EXP are so excited about the project and with great reason!
I’m excited for the information, the mystery of the band, the project and the movement, so let’s get to it!
It certainly is all of those things – intriguing, exciting, informational and definitely an experiential movement being born.
When you start a band at ages like 12, 15 or 18, you’re living the dream of being creative and getting other people turned on. The business changes as it evolves.
Look back on examples like the Yardbirds, the Stones and The Beatles. They played clubs and did shows and, in the process, they built an audience. That happened 30 or 40 years ago and they just got bigger and bigger.
Today, though, It’s unbelievable what you need to do to be a successful band and to have people put money behind you. Of course, social media is like having a big gig online. The A&R company came to the Troubadour in person, which was packed 25 years ago. Now the just look at your website and your social media numbers. They can instantly see and pay attention to how many people are following you, which gives them the same kind of data they used to get from tracking clubs. It’s a strange world we now live in now!
From my own experience as A&R for TRAX records, I prefer to listen to the music than depend on how often one posts on social media.
That’s what I suspect is the way to go with art and music; someone with a trained and experienced ear and eye can recognize potential. Of course, if five million kids love a particular artist or group, there’s got to be a reason that’s worth checking out! They’re turned on by what they hear and see online; I get it.
But with the decades of solid experience and the THINK: EXP idea – gathering together musicians who are mostly over 50 years old and who’ve pursued the art of music their entire lives with dedication – the romance of playing the instruments in their hand has never faded. That romantic and passionate spirit is still what drives a true musician. Sometimes it can drive him crazy, too, but there is something special about still being able to pursue the creative side of who you were as a youngster … still keeping alive the passionate spirit and ability to create art, even decades later.
It’s tough because there are so many other elements that intersect with music and art these days as an adult. But this band conveys that sense that the youthful side of the creative spark is still so alive in the hearts and minds of its members. “
The replication of Pink Floyd’s music is not what we’re after, but of course we want totally to convey that we know and love the songs and that our attendees are receiving the same authentic dynamic that Pink Floyd is so famous for. But once that’s out of the way — once we’ve done our work as a band of experienced musicians, so to speak – we can move beyond just playing the songs.
Then we make the entire experience fully immersive – for cast members and audience members alike. As soon as I heard that description, I knew exactly what it would be like in the Dome. Immediately I thought, “That means I’ll get to be part of the show and simultaneously enjoy the entirety of the experience.” That was my hope and that’s really what is happening!
Even back in the early Jane’s Addiction days, I wanted to have theater and music and script carefully pre-defined. Our audiences didn’t know what to expect back in the day with audio and visuals. That was Jane’s M.O. and I still feel that spark.
It’s important for these musical opportunities to go hand-in-hand with great new technological opportunities. The combination can be visually stimulating in incredible ways. I love the idea of having aromatherapy, subsonic speakers in the seats and entertainers doing things with in the audience that might be out of the ordinary. Or doing ordinary things in such a surprising context that you wonder why it’s happening.
The use of aromatherapy with wind or light, combined all of the senses being stimulated, is possible now that we got the THINK:EXP diving board to spring off of. Not everything will work the same way in every show. Like any cool project that evolves, you kind of figure out as you gain experience what works and what doesn’t . You edit as you go and you learn to hone in on what’s important. That’s an exciting challenge which is always a good thing to be part of. And even as you chase the goal, you have to keep thinking about how to spread the word.
In 1987 with Jane’s Addiction, when we started dealing with Warner’s, they said, “All you have to do is go into a room and make a record for us. We’ll take care of getting you a great agent, putting up your posters, having you seen at every bus stop, and so on, we’ll get you a great publishing company that will see where to place your songs. We’re working with great people.” That’s the quality standard I got used to.
At first, we thought about signing with Sire where The Replacements and The Pretenders were. A lot of great bands were signed to Sire and the label was a great fit for the Jane’s Addiction’s marketing plan. We wanted to be with Warner’s until we got to the next level, letting Jane’s Addiction be a punk rock band – an art band from LA, doing whatever we could and wanted to.
Scott and I agree that the only way to have this powerful 365-degree idea is to create an immersive, ever-changing organism. The goal is an immersive art park with visual pieces of art everywhere!
I love nature, traveling, doing Switzerland or doing Italy. They all have different styles. I love having that seep into my creative side and coming back out later. That’s what’s so exciting about THINK: EXP. We have all these different brains and minds all pondering the same thing: how do we bring the outside world of an art park indoors? How do we make it feel as though you’re just floating away from reality?
And these days, there’s such a fascination with virtual reality and escape rooms and all these different approaches to free you from your everyday life, cutting your ties with reality and forcing you to get out of the “expected” norms.
Me, I’m very lucky since I never had a real job. I’ve been playing drums my whole life since I was just 17. I’m in a VR world, already. But it’s wonderful seeing people show up and — for lack of a better way to describe it – coming from “9-to-5” jobs. All of a sudden, they’re within the dome and allow themselves to really take off. The dome becomes a stress reliever, an escape from every-day norms. It’s like creative yoga for the band as well as the fans – and even for the team that’s putting on the show, working the lasers, setting up the futon beds and so on. It’s a beautiful team effort.
I believe that you have a project here capable of taking over the globe, musically speaking. Each time you visit another country you’ll need to cater to a different culture and that’s going to be a fun challenge.
Absolutely! In the mirror of our music, everywhere merged into a whole. Some sounds may be from Africa and others from Asia, but they can all work together to tantalize and tickle the silence with unexpected combinations that work together. Pink Floyd is the perfect match for this concept; I’m excited to see where it all goes.
I love Picasso. I can stare at it all day. But what if you bring 400,000 people into it like a Rage Against the Machine project? Adding music does that. So combine the feel of Picasso with the Rage and put it all together. Now you’re staring at it and jumping up and down, feeling all that harnessed energy! So we figure out how to make it all work!
That’s true musicianship, of course, with Norwood, Kenny and Page. It’s supreme. For me that means, you’re LIVING the arrangement as you play it! You’re always safe playing with people who are so good at what they do. It’s like a tennis match. You don’t want to ace the guy, you want to rile him. But you want to have a kickass game and you want to get to the point where the other player is challenging you.
That synergy is what’s good about the band, too. It’s like there’s a tennis game going on among us – a high-powered serve and a strong backhand. The music is powerful in its own right so our challenge is, how do we play with it and make it our own?
There’s also the jumping off point I get from what I feel when I’m looking at something, seeing the same thing the audience sees. It’s a first. Especially for the drummers. The drummer sits way back. I usually see the three butts of the band-members. They’re upfront having eye contact with the audience but none of us ever gets to see what from the audience’s point of view.
But this this is full on! They have eye contact with family and friends and even strangers, sharing moments with others around them. I remember going to see a lot of Dead shows. I once made eye contact with Jerry. I was sure, “Oh, he saw me, I made eye contact with Jerry!” Fuckin’ awesome. I was in his brain for a second while he was playing.
Now I get to have that with the dome experience. It’s not like lights on the band where you can’t see the audience. You can see everybody and the whole room is lit or dark at the same time and at the same level, so I see peoples’ faces and have eye contact with strangers and family and all that.
So now about the art park: I took my son Eden and his classmates. They were running around to the different domes, trying on VR masks, looking into the mirror. That’s what the Wisdome was doing, but it’s possible anywhere. That event was a cool introduction for Eden. He’s seen me on stage in rock shows but this was an introduction to more of a gallery … a museum. I was just an exhibit. It was kind of cool to see this through a bunch of kid’s eyes. We were just one of the exhibits there.
I didn’t think of it that way at the time but, yes, it’s an actual art exhibit with live musicians and a progressive visual experience. Today It’s a business model with everyone scratching their heads. It’s like being pre- Elvis!
Maybe that’s part of the fun of it?
Definitely a surprise – that organic conversation between the audience and the individual team, including the timing of it all. Of course, the narrative can go directly with the lyrics. The beats per minute can be exactly timed with the edits. There’s no real problem with the way it’s been working now. We can knit it together even more tightly and that might only make it better for the audience. There’s a ride at Disneyland where they put you into this harness and lift you off in the air. You’re flying and experience being above Paris, being above Rome.
The Disney World of music, that’s how I’m thinking of it.
Absolutely! Salvador Dali, Walt Disney and the cast that was mixing it all back then. It changed the world forever. Kids from 9 to 90 can enjoy that. I think this is an adult version. Not even adult: it’s just the modern version. My nine-year-old was digging it and so were his parents.
There’s a lot going from the combined effort and it’s all paying off. If you think about it, I’ve started so many bands – young and old, hard and soft, lounge and metal … just playing with different people is good for you. Then once in a while you find someone that says “Holy shit! This is just not playing; this is God!” Not even once in a while, once in a LIFETIME.
As I said at the start of our conversation … it makes you feel like you’re 15, with nothing but music in your life. That’s the goal: letting people experience being part of it.
You also, as one of the facets of THINK:EXP, work with The Harold Robinson Foundation … giving back to the community?
It’s not about money but it’s about a barter system. You give and you get back. We’re trying to help people with the money, spreading the word with Harold Robinson. People are now getting their hands on instruments which they never would have at the camp. We’re keeping people stimulated, changing direction, changing lives.
I’d love to have a student session with Norwood … actually learning the bass, then coming onstage with us at the dome and play a song with us all. Being able to get that to happen makes all the hard work worthwhile. The souls of these young people are so important. Even for the privileged ones. They might be born in the right place and have a lot of money, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll have the right setting to grow up into healthy adults.
I totally agree.
Music and art is what separates us from animals. There’s great organization in our brains … put things together to show and tell. I love hearing historically how changing times also change music and rhythm. I’m ultra-aware of the dynamic potential of music … feeling it as a drummer and then having it set to visuals.
Does your son play drums?
He’s a guitarist and he’s been playing eight months. We did our first gig last week. It’s like taking a girl on the first date. You want to show them something they never did before. We’ve all gone to dinner and watched movies. That’s the way I do it. You’ve heard 1,000 drums in your life but let me show you the way I do it. You might not like it, or you might love it, but I’m going to show you who I am. I’m going to give you an experience.
It’s about the soul. The soul is present — right there in the moment. I want to give my son an awesome day like the one I had when I got to play with Mick Jagger or Lou Reed for the night, or John Fogerty. I’ve played with these guys. I remember how I felt when Jerry Garcia was looking at me. I’ve now had that with my son. We rode our bikes, I changed his diaper nine years ago, we’ve done so much. He’s a soccer player and a guitar player. He’s been going to a French immersion school since he was two, so he also speaks French.
It’s all very inspiring for me. I’m 51 with this new young friend — someone to guide but also to learn from. I look at all of these new young people, this new generation They’ll have to turn saltwater into freshwater … shitty air into good air. That will be their challenge. We’ll have to change the earth, and we’ll need more of those new ideas to keep that ability alive.
Think Floyd by the THINK:EXP supergroup is continuing to hold gigs in a 360º dome with the THINK:EXP and can be seen June 7/8 at the Wisdome in LA. Get your tickets on EventBrite today:
Photos by Billy Hess https://www.billyhess.com