Q & A With Dave Navarro
Jane’s Addiction flipped the switch and New York City’s Terminal 5 is electric. Dave Navarro is whaling away on his guitar at breakneck speed on a solo so long that Perry Farrell could take a bathroom break while he plays. But he wouldn’t want to miss this. Navarro’s arms are a blur; he looks like a third base coach waving a player home, but up top he’s not even wincing—it looks effortless, impossibly cool.
Jane’s Addiction has a new album, The Great Escape Artist, coming out, and Navarro is taping Spike TV’s Inkmasters, a tattoo competition akin to Top Chef or Project Runway that’s due to hit the air in January. In his downtime, the heavily tattooed guitarist gave INKED a tour of his tattoos, pointing out the significance of each with his black fingernails (he says they’re painted with a gel that lasts two to three weeks, even through furious guitar playing). “A lot of the things I do are things I did when I was a teenager,” he says. “The comment from my friends and family was, ‘He’s going to grow out of that. He’s going to give up on the rock music and the tattoos and the makeup and the nail polish.’ And I just never did.”
INKED: How did you get your first tattoo?
DAVE NAVARRO: Me and [onetime Jane’s Addiction] bass player Eric Avery were in a bar, getting drunk and talking about tattoos. We were really fascinated with them at that time because it seemed like an underground lifestyle. The drinks just flowed, we got the courage, and we ran over to Bob Roberts’s shop and got them. I was hooked. People asked me, “What are you going to do when you’re an old man?” And the answer was: I’ll be an old man with tattoos.
Do you have a preferred tattoo?
My favorite tattoo is probably my lower back, which says “Constance.” It’s my mom’s name and was done in the early ’90s by Charlie McDonald. It’s more than likely my favorite because of what it stands for as a commemorative piece for my mom, who passed when I was 15. Second to that is probably the portrait of my mom on my rib cage done by Kat Von D. They are similar in nature, and both of those pieces are actually unusual for me because both of them required appointments. Generally speaking, I’m not the artwork-planning type. I prefer spur-of-the-moment tattoos, like, let’s just roll over and get something done right away. I like the instant gratification, hence I have a lot of smaller pieces.
What happens when the right artist isn’t nearby?
I guess my home shop is the Shamrock Social Club for a few reasons. One, it’s up on Sunset [Blvd.] near the Roxy and the Rainbow Room, and I’m up there with Camp Freddy [his cover band] all the time. Mark Mahoney has been doing work on me for years, and everybody is welcome at the Shamrock. But it still has the vibe of that old shop kind of feeling.
What’s your latest tattoo?
I was sitting at lunch with a friend of mine, and I said, “You know what, I want to go get stars tattooed right now.” And we just made a call at the shop: “Who’s working? Does he have any time?” We were in and out of there in half an hour. To me there’s a bunch of different thoughts and reasons why you get tattooed. Sometimes it’s for an aesthetic reason, sometimes it’s because you think an image is cool and you like it a lot. Sometimes there’s meaning behind things, stories and personal experiences you’re trying to commemorate and capture. So being able to just have a feeling and jam over and get something done to commemorate what’s happening in your life at that time is a pretty cool thing to do, and I love it.
You also run the risk of walking away with some shitty tattoos. Some of the shittier tattoos I have go down as my favorites because of the time and the experience, so it’s not about looking perfect. I had an artist once fuck up something really bad and I said, “Wow, dude, you kinda fucked that up.” And he said, “Well, it’s an imperfect art form, it’s all right.” I’ve never had anything lasered. I feel like at some point your body becomes like a walking diary and you’ve got to live with it.
Like the “CE” on your sternum, for former wife Carmen Electra?
I still had that experience; it’s a part of my story and my life, so I celebrate that. I feel that to cover up something would be to deny having gone through it. I had a great time being married to her. That’s my life. And the fact of the matter is, all those elements are things that, as human beings—not to get too spiritual—are collective pieces of who you are today. I probably wouldn’t be who I am today had I not gone through that marriage. I’m not going deny that marriage and then go get it lasered off and get, like, a fucking skull to cover up the scar. A skull means nothing to me. It’s similar to trying to un-ring a bell.
Do you treat your band breaks similar to your romantic breakups?
Not really, because when I break up with a romantic relationship I stay broken up. It certainly is a different thing with Jane’s Addiction. At this point, I know publicly we have parted ways and broken up, but it’s more like we’ve taken long hiatuses. It doesn’t really feel like we’re “back together again,” because after a certain period of time you’re just so connected, whether you want to be or not, that it’s hard to feel as though you’re out for real. So now I actually made a conscious decision to never again say that I’ve quit.
Why now for Jane’s Addiction?
We always intended to try new music, but the timing was just right and we just went for it. We kind of got up and running when we did a tour with Nine Inch Nails a couple years ago. But then our bass player Eric [Avery] left and we worked for a short period of time with Duff McKagen, and then he went to do Loaded, and so we found ourselves with a handful of songs and no bass player. Our producer, Rich Costey, put us in touch with Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio, and we worked out the album and then he went back to his band. Interestingly enough, I had him tattoo a pair of his own glasses on me. It’s a really shitty tattoo, but a guy that I made a record with did it, so that to me was commemorative of the recording process.
How has technology changed the sound of Jane’s Addiction over time?
We’ve embraced some of the newer approaches in terms of electronics and utilizing the computer as an instrument. The studio itself is also an instrument. In a lot of ways, the studio becomes its own player and creative partner. It was a long process and we never really stopped touring as we went, which was pretty cool because we would do live stuff and then come back and hopefully not lose touch of what that live energy feels like when tracking. It’s easy to get blinders on in the studio and just turn knobs and stuff and lose touch of the fact that you’re players.
As the guitarist, what do you see your job as being?
My job is to be a creative contributor to this band. I got to do a lot of work on my own to give the rest of my band 100 percent, which is, you know, more than just getting up and playing songs.
Which of your bands or projects has been your favorite?
Probably Camp Freddy, because it’s so much fun. It’s just five dudes in a cover band and we play with so many other great artists, guest singers, guitar players, and drummers throughout our sets. I’ve had the ability to play with just about everyone I respect in the music business, like Lou Reed and Steven Tyler—people I grew up admiring and real intense musicians of a major caliber. I’ve always learned something from those guys, and at the same time we’re playing songs that we’ve always loved. And it’s not stressful, it’s not about money; it’s just guys playing music they love. You get to be in a cover band for the night with the actual artist of the band you’re covering, which is pretty cool.
Do you think there is a parallel between rock stars and tattoo artists?
I hadn’t thought of that. I would just say that, if anything, the real renowned artists carry mystique with them. Most have seen things, gone through a lot. A lot of legendary tattoo artists have been in prison and came up in the ’50s when things were really taboo and by having a tattoo you admitted to the public eye that you were a criminal. So there’s a mystique and there’s legend attached and the stories these guys tell—stuff you can’t write. I would say there are a lot of musicians, but there are very few rock stars; there are a lot of tattoo artists, but very few have that legendary status, where to have a piece by such an artist is the equivalent to an art collector owning a Picasso.
How did the Wizard of Oz tattoo, the “Surrender Dorothy” on your chest, come to be?
There are so many reasons for it. The word surrender in a lot of ways has some spiritual undertones to it, just like letting things go and letting life be what it’s going to be. With Dorothy, there’s the wicked predator aspect to the phrase, which is kind of fucked up. That movie, apart from having so much legend and history around it—like the whole The Dark Side of the Moon thing—is one of those films that most kids were terrified beyond belief by. It’s not really a kids’ film; most people my age who saw it when they were 6 or 7 were scared to death because it’s fucking scary! It’s traumatizing. And I just kinda went through this phase with it recently where I watched it again as an adult and it just brought back a lot. I think in a lot of ways it’s just kind of a reminder of myself.
The Playboy Bunny on your arm seems thoroughly adult.
I was doing an interview with Hugh Hefner and we got on the subject of the Bunny being a logo that has been tattooed on possibly millions of women. And I asked him if anyone has ever asked [his] permission to get that bunny. And he said, “No, not a single person has asked me if that’s okay.” So I said, “I’d like to be the first person ever to say, ‘Mr. Hefner, do you mind if I get the logo of your company tattooed?’” And he said, “It’d be an honor.” I’m the only one with a Hefner-sanctioned logo tattoo.
Can you explain the holocaust tattoo?
I was sitting on an airplane coming back from Las Vegas and there was an elderly woman sitting next to me. She’s looking down at my arms and she said to me, “I have one, but not by choice.” And I didn’t know what she was talking about. And she rolled up her sleeve and she had a number tattooed on her arm from when she was a child at Auschwitz. She proceeded to tell me about that experience and losing her family, and she was just a small girl at the time. It was really just a profound conversation that gave me a lot of insight into how unimportant all my problems are. I’ve gone through some shit but never anything like that. Here’s this woman sharing with me and putting some fucking perspective on shit. Her name was Rose, and it moved me to a degree where I just wanted to commemorate that day. So I got her initial quote, “I have one, but not by choice,” and then a rose by Mahoney. From time to time in my daily life I’ll be spinning out in my head and I’ll walk by a reflective surface and see it and I’ll be like, Oh, right, okay. I’m actually really grateful for that conversation.