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Dave Navarro

Jane's Addiction

"Guitar playing is a gift. It’s something I got into when I was 7 years old... just learning three simple chords led me on a journey that would forever change my life.” Watch as guitarist Dave Navarro dives into his early inspirations, his creative process, and how he gets his signature tone with Ernie Ball strings.

Transcript

Dave Navarro:
Guitar playing is a gift. It's something I got into when I was I think seven years old. I was inspired by my cousin Dan Navarro, who's a singer songwriter. I expressed an interest in playing guitar and he showed me some chords and that was probably one of the most profound gifts I've ever received from anyone. Just learning three simple chords led me on a journey that forever changed my life.

Dave Navarro:
My parents had me play piano. I was very young. I went to piano lessons and so I understood melody, I understood music, I understood it theoretically, but there was something about the piano that didn't resonate with me personally. When I was seven or eight years old and I learned a few guitar chords, I was able to take the musical knowledge that I had been given by my parents on the piano and transpose that understanding to the guitar neck. And so what started off as three cords that I had to look at the chart every time I wanted it to play one became second nature. I ended up at a very remedial place and really got most of my education in terms of music theory as it were from records.

Dave Navarro:
Emotionally speaking, I can easily write down how I'm feeling in a very literal sense. I can tell someone how I'm feeling in a very literal sense. I can lyrically do that in a song, but when it's a soundscape that you're creating to express what's going on inside of you, I mean sometimes there aren't words to express the multitude of feelings that we have as human beings. To be able to create a soundscape and have that translate to the listener, it's the ability to describe the undescribable.

Dave Navarro:
I think I first started playing Ernie Ball strings, maybe I had to be about 10 years old. And this was back in the day when I couldn't just go buy a pack of strings. I had to wait until one broke and bring that string into the store. I didn't know what they were called or that they were numbered. I didn't really get that and say, "Sir, I broke this string. I'd like another." They had an electric guitar wall in the back with a couple of amps and every day after school they would let me in there and plug in a guitar and play with it and it's like they got this 10 year old kid learning how to play guitar in the back of the store. So they sold me single strings and that's when I bought my first Ernie Ball strings and they used to give them to me too, which was very kind.

Dave Navarro:
I'm not the most practice oriented guitarist as I've said, if I'm feeling inspired, I pick it up and it's always interesting because when I'm inspired and I go to pick up my instrument, there's always a little bit of a learning curve. It's kind of like getting back on a bike that you haven't ridden for six months. You kind of like, "Oh yeah, this is how it goes." And then you can start cruising.

Dave Navarro:
To be honest with you, when it comes to music and guitar playing in general, I go in and out of being interested with it. I will go through six months when I'm obsessed with David Gilmore and it's all David Gilmore, David Gilmore, all the time, Pink Floyd, David Gilmore. And I'll be playing Pink Floyd songs. I'll be learning David Gilmore briefs and then I'll burn out on it and then I won't want to hear music of any kind for a very long time.

Dave Navarro:
And then I'll either have a memory of something or a feeling or be introduced to something new and then all of a sudden I become obsessed with that. So I think that my education in terms of listening to records and being inspired by different people, I must go through a crash course on that artist. And I think that intuitively somehow finds its way into my playing. And even if it doesn't find its way into my particular style, the emotion is there. I don't try to necessarily play like other people, but I try to convey the same emotions that I identify with.

Dave Navarro:
Well, for me when it comes to writing music, there has to be a motivating factor behind it. I'm not one of these guys, I know people that pick up their instruments and they write every day no matter what. And that's their ethic and I admire that and I wish I had that to a degree. For me, I have to be going through something or feeling something and need the outlet? So in a strange way it's really become a therapeutic tool for me in just terms of self-care, self-healing. And if I need to express, I pick up the instruments.

Dave Navarro:
Sometimes it's really aggressive, sometimes it's really introspective. I think that's one of the reasons why Jane's Addiction was such a perfect band for me because we covered such a wide range of the human condition and we are all motivated by emotion and feeling and even the dynamics within the band in terms of whether we're getting along, whether or not we weren't. Those elements really contributed to my formative years as a guitar player.

Dave Navarro:
My interests as far as guitarists that I adore are completely bipolar. One end of the spectrum, I'm super into Steve Vai. I think he's one of the best guitar players to pick up the instrument. And on the other end of the spectrum, I'm into Junior Kimbrough, who's I just that old blues just down and dirty guitar style. And I'm also interested in a lot of the English players like Daniel Ash, Robert Smith, that approach to the guitar. Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine is another guy just like the creation sound that they're making, whether it's technical or effected or overdubbed, whatever it is. Those are the things that I brought into my playing that profoundly affected me.

Dave Navarro:
I love Steely Dan. I love Rush. I love Steve Vai of Al Di Meola. I love Jimmy Hendricks, Jimmy Page the great, Steve Gilmore Pink Floyd. But I also love the Germs. I also love X. I also love Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus. People that were kind of in art bands that taught themselves how to play joy division. I mean, there's really not a whole lot of technique going on there, but there's feeling and idea and originality. Anybody can play a Peter Hook line, but unless you're Peter Hook playing that line, it's not going to sound the same. And that's the thing that I think is the mark of a great musician, is knowing who's behind the strings.

Dave Navarro:
I'm a massive art collector and I'm a massive vinyl collector. And I think that there's certainly a connection there. I mean we're talking about art forms or genres of art, visual arts and audio arts that are gifts to the world that are open to interpretation that can feel different every time you see it or look at it. And I know that some of my favorite artists currently were inspired by some of the music I came up with. I think that the tie in for me is that I'm inspired by the visual arts to put what I see into my music and into my plan. And there really is a serious connection, as different as the two are, the same side of the brains are being activated in terms of the creative process. And I just loved the fact that everybody has a different reaction. And I think that there's a real correlation there.

Dave Navarro:
The art that I tend to collect to the artists that I tend to love the most are as varied as the music that I like. And in some ways it really does lend itself to my approach to music in the sense that you're looking at your Vermeer's and you're looking at your Rembrandts and you're looking at Michael Angelo and you're thinking about the technique and how much you have to understand about painting an artistry to pull off those techniques.

Dave Navarro:
And then in the same breath, you're talking about artists, street artists, a lot of graffiti artists, where it's much more about the immediate sensation and how the image strikes you, especially the stencil artists. Certain graffiti artists are masters with can control. And the way that they put their tags down are works of art with technique, without a doubt. But if you're looking at something like Banksy or Warhol where it's an image and it's either been stenciled or screen printed and it's just bam, it's quick and it's fast in your face.

Dave Navarro:
That's what I get from music. So Jane's Addiction really tries to have a nice blend of those two things. To have the marriage between some technique and chops for sure. Proficiency on the instrument, you got to know what you're doing, but you have to be willing to abandon that to get the fucked up in your face, emotion across. As a guitar player approaching the instrument, I pay attention to a lot of mistakes and I think a lot of musicians talk about that. A mistake that you make in the studio or live can eventually become the seed to grow your next masterpiece.

Dave Navarro:
As far as inspiring moments that make this such a great, wonderful tool for me is that they're never ending and they're always opening themselves up. So there's no particular moment that's the best. And that's what's magical about it. Sometimes it's sitting in my office playing guitar by myself and just being really inspired about what's happening, a sound that's happening. And then there are times where it's a sense of total abandon live on stage where it's just such second nature. You're not even thinking about what you're doing yet you're doing it. And that's a kind of transcendence and freedom that comes from playing music.

Dave Navarro:
It can be a moment where you and another band member catch eyes and you have that look like, "We're killing it tonight, or we're doing this, or we're blessed enough that we get to do this." Have that moment. There's also the creative moment where there's writing a song or working on something that you're struggling with, and finally making that connection where like, this is how it should go. That's what's clicking. And that's an exciting moment. There's also the moment in the studio when you're experimenting and finding tones and working on different tracks, and when you finally nail it and you play it back, and the lights are dim and everybody's standing up and you're listening back to what you guys made together, that's indescribably wonderful. So the myriad of blessings that come along with the ability to play music are countless.

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