Perry Farrell Q&A: Lollapalooza Headliners, Building a Festival Lineup & More (Video)

Paul Familetti
Perry Farrell

"Eminem really takes care of all the aspects — he assaults every sense up there," says the festival mastermind.

Starting this Friday, as they have every year since 2005, bands and fans will make the pilgrimage to Chicago's Grant Park to attend Lollapalooza. Started in 1991 as the vision of Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, Lolla changed the face of the music world and helped demonstrate the viability of wide-ranging festivals. Lollapalooza was the precursor to Warped, Coachella and every alternative music festival that goes on today.

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Last week, Billboard sat down with Farrell at his home for a lengthy interview. In this portion of our conversation, held over duck tacos and micheladas, Farrell takes us through the 2014 Lollapalooza lineup and shares the story of how he first bonded with Kings of Leon, who will close out this year's festival.

EDM is always a big part of Lollapalooza. Who are you excited about on that front?
This year we've got Krewella, Calvin Harris and the big boy, Skrillex. I like him. I think in the last five years he did something to music. He moved the Richter scale a little bit.

You've also got Eminem headlining. He put on a great show at Lolla in 2011.

That's what I say. Today, for musicians, where it's at is if you're no good live, you're no good. It's difficult, but the difficulty is in getting money and stature, so you can put on a better show. You start with just your instruments and a small stage, then you learn how to play to an audience with your instrument, and then from there you start to conceptualize with technology, so what can we do now more? Obviously we have video. On the live tip, we can also bring in dancers, guest artists; guest appearances can happen on this stage, those are always great. The reason I'm saying this is Eminem really takes care of all the aspects; he assaults every sense up there. He considers and tries to play to every sense.

Take us through the other headliners.
Kings of Leon, Outkast, Skrillex, Arctic Monkeys. Kings of Leon are cool kids; they're brothers; they don't punch each other on stage, but they kind of get mad at each other. I think that their songs are tight and compact. Caleb [Followill] has a good voice. I think it's really suited for the radio. And he's humble, [which] wasn't always the case. They started out pretty humble and quiet as human beings. I remember we had them on Lolla in 2003 and they were opening. And every Friday I would have these plates and wines brought in; it was the Sabbath. So every Friday night I had a buddy who could get illegal cheeses, unpasteurized, delivered to wherever we were. So we had cheese and wines and olives, just kind of what I'm doing now, and I'd invite all the musicians.

That is just awesome, by the way, because no one pictures backstage at Lolla all these illegal cheeses. You picture drugs, not Denmark Roquefort.
That's right. It's better than what you could get in the shopping mall. It was basically my dressing room and they'd come in and it would just be real quiet, and then years later I saw Caleb in New York and he thanked me. He said, "I want to thank you for putting us on Lollapalooza; it helped us a lot." When you're good, you're good; no one can stop you, you have to be determined, that's it. But he is a good guy.

How involved are you on the day-to-day in the lineup?
Less and less. You know how it works: you have agents, there are only so many agents that cover alternative and hip-hop and the type of music that fits for Lollapalooza. They're the same ones we've been dealing with for 25 years. Then there are new ones, but they slide in there comfortably. You don't just call yourself an agent and have yourself a bunch of groups; it takes years and years to accumulate, establish relationships with people. It's a political position as far as the music industry. So these guys might have Pearl Jam, but they might have somebody else, and that's who you'll end up seeing on the bottom of the lineup often. Is there favoritism? Definitely, but it's a little bit more honest than in politics, where if you don't want an oil barge in your backyard that's a tough fight.

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But these guys, their ears are tried and true; they have been doing this for years. When they take a new group, it comes from a good source. There's also the other side of it, which is the street side, who the people want and who the people are listening to, and that is more of a Billboard thing in that Billboard accounts for taste. It literally is counting the taste. Then there are favorites and personal favorites. How you put a lineup together is one of those things where there are variables always. You're calculating economics, you're calculating [if] these guys are available, but who the hell do they think they are? That's gone on to bite bands in the ass, because they thought they were bigger than they are. So that's how this lineup was put together.

So what is your involvement in putting together the lineup?
Occasionally there will be a tug-of-war for an act. I'll have make a phone call, say please, and I do that. But these guys all know by now who's playing already next year and where. The thing for me — what I enjoy doing these days — is master strokes, like, "We need to go international." And seeing that and helping that come to fruition.

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