When we conjure Dave Navarro the first image that comes to mind is the bare-chested guitar hero shouldering some electric instrument and pounding out big rock riffs. But the acoustic guitar has long been an integral part of what Navarro does and dates back to the first live self-titled Jane's Addiction record and even includes Dave's own Trust No One solo album. So when Epiphone built him his own Dave Navarro Signature guitar it certainly made a lot of sense. The guitarist took some time out from recording a new Jane's Addiction record to talk about the guitar. Confronted with an onslaught of interviews, he proved to be a real trooper in answering the same questions ad nauseum.
UG: Hopefully I won't be asking you the same questions you've been asked 18 times in a row.
Dave Navarro: That would be amazing!
I'm gonna try, man. It was interesting that your new Dave Navarro Signature Epiphone is an acoustic/electric. Do you use acoustic/electrics in the studio?
Well, in the studio they're always all-acoustic guitars. One of the things that was pretty important to me with this guitar was I wanted something that I could use in a live setting that had electronics in it. It's a pretty vital part of Jane's Addiction and our performances and certainly closing out every set with Jane Says you want a pretty dependable acoustic guitar that sounds good and looks good and plays well and certainly one that you can control from the instrument itself. Because as you probably know getting acoustics to sound great in a festival setting without a soundcheck is no easy task. Or even in a small club with the monitor systems, I mean you have feedback issues and all kinds of potential problems and gremlins lurking within the electronics of the house. So it was pretty important for me to have an instrument that I could control because there's nothin' worse than being the guy sitting on stage that everybody's looking over at like going, What the hell is that noise? And you've just started the song and you've got five minutes of making that noise to get through. So this guitar offers you a solution when all else fails.
What is that acoustic guitar tone you're looking for? Did it come from listening to Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page? What is the Dave Navarro acoustic guitar sound?
I'm an electric guitar player, I love electric guitar, but the acoustic guitar to me is an entire band within itself. The acoustic guitar to me is its own [thing.] It's a percussive instrument; a lot of people don't really think of it that way but it is. It's a percussive instrument; your right arm is rhythmic; it creates the percussiveness built into what you're playing just about every time. And, uh, what's important to me is all those things you outlined. In a Zeppelin context, one of the things growing up listening to Jimmy Page was when he would break out the acoustic stuff, it would just come across as other worldly to me. And so certainly that's something that I look to achieve. You talk about Townshend and some of his rhythmic stuff and using it in the studio in creative ways to add punctuation to electric rhythm tracks. Or to add a top end or a kind of a shimmer behind a rhythm track, there's really no other way to do it other than to double with an acoustic part sometimes in a different register or a different voicing. Let those high strings ring out and kind of poke through.
And though people may not think about it but the acoustic guitar has always been a big part of what Jane's Addiction does.
Jane's Addiction has always celebrated the instrument whether it's a straight up acoustic song or whether it's a rock song that incorporates acoustics and goes into acoustic breaks. It's just such a great way to shift gears. Especially if you listen to something like and I hate to go back and date myself but if you go to Nothing's Shocking and listen to Ocean Size, which is probably one of our more aggressive songs, the thing starts with acoustic guitar and breaks down to acoustic guitar twice within the song. And it's just such a great tool for a dynamic gearshift within the studio that I love.
There was also the Jane Says track from Nothing's Special which you touched on before as being the band's closer in concert. So the acoustic guitar has been a major part of what the band did from the outset. Was this an unspoken thing that you came in with your acoustic guitar and it just became part of Jane's' sound or was it a conscious choice to make that texture part of the sound?
What's weird about Janes especially in the early days is that we would go through phases of gravitating towards stylistic choices that were definitely not in at the times when we were gravitating towards them. I can say there was about a six-month window where Perry and I had this house like out in, god, I don't even know where it was but it was in some like really foresty suburb of LA. And we just kind of sat around and like cooked fish and smoked weed and made acoustic music and got really into some kind of bizarre hippie sub-culture. This sounds weird but the whole environment was kind of like if there was such a thing as a positive Manson family [laughs.] Instead of killing people we were writing songs.
What was some of the music that came out of that period?
There's a song called Slow Divers [from Kettle Whistle] which is arguably one of our more hippie-dippie numbers you can find and that song came out of there. And that was just him and me sittin' around the pool like I said, eatin' healthy clean food. I think we both kind of, that was the time we were like, OK, we're gonna get clean off of the heroin and only smoke weed and let's play acoustic music. It was a good time and even though we moved through that phase and didn't stay with that way of life, the experience stayed with us and it became an inherent part of the band. The use of acoustics for us is pretty important in terms of songwriting. I mean we spent a lot of time sitting around writing acoustically before we'd even pick up the electric stuff.
A lot of Jane's music does get written acoustically first?
Yeah; we spend time on the couch and Perry is singing out without a microphone; Stephen on bongos; acoustic bass and acoustic guitar. Really paying attention to the lyrics and the melody and paying attention to what each other is playing and then we'll adjust when we get up on the big stage. That has become a real important aspect for us as a band and I don't think that we would be where we're at and I don't think we would have the body of work we have without the acoustic.
As you mentioned the acoustic has been a part of the Jane's repertoire since the beginning. It was there on I Would For You from the Jane's Addiction live album and it was even a part of your solo record, Trust No One, on a song like Rexall. Have you fine-tuned that process of recording acoustics in the studio?
It's interesting. On the new record like I said earlier, I spent some with producer Rich Costey and I did some rhythm tracks that I thought were pretty aggressive and pretty cool sounding. But the voice of the chord structure that I was playing wasn't ringing out enough so I took the new Epiphone and miked it up and just doubled the rhythms to kind of get that sparkle and that top end; that right-hand articulation happening. And so I've been doing a lot of that in the studio.
Have you gotten better at doing that?
As far as recording with acoustics getting better? One of the things that I've come to love and an interesting thing is the intro of Ocean Size, the guitar I was using was so squeaky and the strings were so [noisy] that anytime you moved your hand, the squeak was so incredibly that I punched each chord.
"In the studio they're always all-acoustic guitars."
Did you really?
Yeah; each chord was punched on that guitar. But then in the same breath if you listen to Jane Says very carefully, you hear like this kind of jangling sound. And what that is is the bracelets I was wearing on my right hand getting picked up in the mic. But what I've come to love, I've come to love those tiny, nuancey imperfections tracking acoustic guitar. To me they lend a lot of character you know? You're so used to everything being perfect and chopped and Pro Tooled nowadays and there's so much copied and pasted parts happening, it's just the way music's being made. That when there's a moment like that, we leave it and now I'm really starting to enjoy the lack of forgiveness that you get when tracking with an acoustic.
All the fret noises and the squeaks changing from chords?
Now let's not get crazy [laughs.] Not all of it. Even if it's not something that interferes with the song, yeah, absolutely, we like to leave it. Cause it's an element, a character that's just unusual and my favorite records, that stuff's all over em.
What are some of those records?
Well the ones I grew up to. God, when I think about Pink Floyd for instance and Gilmour's use of acoustic. Especially if you listen to that album like Animals, is it Dogs that starts with the acoustic? Chinkachinka chink achinkachinnka [sings rhythm.] Yeah, I mean, where that song goes sonically is pretty unbelievable in terms of just like the sonic soundscapes that are being created there that are starting and being basically moved along by his right hand on acoustic guitar. You know? And that's a huge inspiration to me. And like I said, it depends on what's being played but someone could pick up an acoustic guitar and stay in the first position down there and play a song and it's like, OK, that's a cute little beach number you're playing. But once they really get like experimental with the voicings and the strings that are resonating and ringing out, you really create an entirely new dimension that your best electric guitar player can't do.
Along those same lines, your acoustic playing has really informed your electric playing in terms of your right-hand rhythmic approach to the electric and even down to the tones you create on electric that have a very clean, almost acoustic quality to them. Does that make sense?
It does. In fact there's maybe a couple reasons for that: one, as I told you, a lot of the songs are written acoustically and the second, being the only guitar player in the band, I've gotta cover a lot of ground and I've got to fill up a lot of space sometimes. And sometimes I've got to leave a lot of space depending on the song so I've had to focus on the right hand more than the left in a lot of ways. You can certainly hear that in my soloing [laughs.] My left hand has the box sound but my right hand can do anything.
You sometimes don't think of Jane's Addiction as a trio because there are so many guitar parts going on in a lot of the songs.
Yeah, well, that's the thing is like live I've gotta be naked out there trying to do my best to cover all this stuff so you better bet that goddamn well that in the studio I'm gonna be puttin' 500 guitars on everything. But you know I feel like it's not my job to reproduce the record; the record is one thing and live is another and of my great escape clauses is listening to bootlegs of Zeppelin on an off night. And just go, Well, you know, see it's OK, Led Zeppelin they're doin' it so I guess it's not that big a deal. It's just kinda that Page school: this is the record and this is what I'm doin' in the studio and live it is what it is. And we're fuckin' rockin' it out anyway.
Any feelings about the Live Voodoo DVD that came out a while ago?
It's a bittersweet recording for me because it's the last recording that anybody can ever see with Eric Avery. It's nice to have that documented but it's also bittersweet because it's the last visual recording of the band with Eric Avery. To be honest with you, I haven't sat through the whole thing. I don't know. Once I get off tour with the band, the last thing I do is sit and home and watch the show back. I'm kinda ready to see something else. You know what I mean? I've got a season of Dexter to catch up on so the Live Voodoo DVD is probably pretty far down in my cue.
"One of the things that was pretty important to me with this guitar was I wanted something that I could use in a live setting that had electronics in it."
How are the sessions going for the new Jane's album? The band hasn't recorded together since the Strays album back in 2003.
Yeah, it's going really good. It's really hard to describe something that no one can hear.
The best job I can do is to say that we are staying within the parameters of Jane's Addiction which are no parameters and each song is its own thing. At times you wonder if they're all gonna fit on the same record and then you think, But [with] Jane's Addiction they shouldn't feel like they should be on the same record. If one thing is that diverse from the last? Then we're doin' something right. And we're just experimenting a lot with different sounds and different instrumentation. And I'm actually kind of trying to approach my guitar playing on this record in a lot simpler of a way than I ever have. I think it's time. My favorite guitar players from the 80s are probably the simplest players around there and I'm pretty inspired by them right now.
It must be an incredible honor for you to have Epiphone give you your own Signature guitar.
I never honestly would have imagined [it.] When I heard, uh, what's that fuckin' Page acoustic thing?
White Summer exactly. I never would have imagined when I heard White Summer for the first time that someday I was gonna have my own acoustic Epiphone. Like, you know, this is a dream come true.
I hope this wasn't a copy of every other interview you've done today.
There's no secret why you guys are the number one site because you know how to ask the questions that people want to talk about.
Thank you so much.
Alright, buddy. Cheers.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"I'm an electric guitar player, I love electric guitar, but the acoustic guitar to me is an entire band within itself."