Interview by Dove ~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~
Courtesy of Rip It Up Magazine
Seattle sunshine blazing off the back-alley cobblestone leading to Pearl Jamâ€™s clubhouse doesnâ€™t shine quite intensely enough to brighten its interior. Neatly labeled cases are shelved to the ceiling, walls are lined with instruments, and unique fixtures adorn each corner of the cozy studio. The couches in the kitchen area are soft from use, and there is not an iota of echo in the air. There is nothing to do in this space but create, and the five members of the mysterious, enigmatic band have done just that over the years. Their new project is a soulful testament to the unification of great minds, innate talent, and social consciousness - beyond the walls that they appeared to build around themselves in the dog and pony show of the music industry.
Often misunderstood and always under the radar, the ideals and personal ethics of Pearl Jam have created more of a buzz than some of the albums they have released in their ten years together. From the much publicized battle with monster corporation Ticketmaster, to their refusal to do videos or extensive promotional appearances for their albums while under contract with Epic Records â€“ Pearl Jam fans have reason to love them wholly, and the media finds reasons to pick them apart.
Dreams Of The Dissident
The group has been out of the spotlight for a couple of years, so it is only natural to fill in the blanks of their rarely publicized, controversial career. After losing the court battle against Ticketmaster, fans wondered why Pearl Jam did not receive more support from other bands that could have easily stood behind them to fight for something that seemingly would have benefited everyone. Eddie Vedderâ€™s silent gaze suggests that he knows whatâ€™s coming, and his slate blue eyes magnify each politely delivered word he speaks. â€œI thought more would come to the table, and at the beginning more of them said they were gonna,â€? he says quietly. â€œWe were asked by the justice department to participate - we didnâ€™t start it ourselves - we were asked by them and a number of other people were asked and initially they said â€˜yeahâ€™ then they kinda pulled back. At the time it had to do with the ticket surcharges â€“ it did have an affect on how tickets were sold, and if nothing else it did kind of awaken people to the fact that there is this disproportionate surcharge placed on every ticket I buy, maybe even a four dollar charge on a five dollar ticket.
â€œI think some changes were made,â€? he continues, â€œbut now I think youâ€™ve got something different â€“ thereâ€™s a company that owns the venues, they own the promoters, and they own the radio stations. Iâ€™m not so nervous about that because of what theyâ€™re going to do to ticket prices because theyâ€™re unchallenged â€“ Iâ€™m more apprehensive about what acts are going to be playing â€“ how can they shape the music that we listen to, the music of our time â€“ and will they shape it to where weâ€™re not listening to anything challenging or anything besides pabulumâ€¦ I dunno. Are they going to support anything controversial? I think that it creates an environment where you could edit and censor what music actually gets out there.â€?
The men of Pearl Jam decided long ago that they did not want to make themselves into a marketing machine. They made choices to stay out of the limelight, and even under a major label recording contract managed to have their way. A certain resentment for being told that they should â€˜know their roleâ€™ as a popular band drove them to pursue a centered balance between business and their art.
â€œIt might have made us implode,â€? explains a cheerful but momentarily serious Mike McCready. â€œRecord sales might have been bigger, but it would have been detrimental to the health of this band.â€? Stone Gossard nods in agreement with his fellow guitarist and continues. â€œHaving gone through it without doing the videos, having made that choice, and then still being here ten years later and being healthier than ever â€“ thatâ€™s empowering. That makes us feel like even if we did make some choices that affected album sales, we did it with the right intentions.â€?
Bassist Jeff Ament smiles coyly; adding that pressure to do videos was the biggest challenge. â€œI think typically our nature is that when people try to show their power against us it just gets us more fired up. That approach usually doesnâ€™t work very well with us.â€? Matt Cameron, the final fit in the bandâ€™s rotation of percussionists, feels that the proactive approach of Pearl Jam in their career is an inspiration. â€œI think if more bands took the lead of this band as far as taking real control, there would be a lot better bands out there. I guess having success enabled this group to take some of the control just because the label knew there would be a certain amount sold every time out, but a lot of bands just kinda bend over when thereâ€™s a record contract around. Thereâ€™s other avenues you can explore than just getting signed.â€?
Jeff quickly adds to Mattâ€™s thoughts, â€œWhen Stone and I were in Mother Love Bone, we were excited to have a deal and we did kinda go along with the program a little bit â€“ and once we had gone through all that, we were like: weâ€™re never gonna fuckin' do that ever again. We spent a crazy amount of money on something that was really not us.â€?
Eddie elaborates upon the statements of his partners. â€œThe only thing thatâ€™s affected with the music really is how many people hear it. Obviously if it was in mass rotation or on MTV more people would hear it â€“ I mean, more people heard â€˜Jeremyâ€™ than â€˜Wishlistâ€™ or â€˜Evolutionâ€™, but we donâ€™t even really think that way. We feel like weâ€™ve put out records on their label that weâ€™re happy with. We respect them for what they do for the most part, we respect what their job is â€“ we donâ€™t go out of our way to aggressively piss them off or anythingâ€“ but it can become more about you as a person than you as a musician.â€?
The group seems settled in the quest for a quiet life. â€œThey say once you put your face on TV and your face on the side of busses then you give up some of your privacy and you give up part of your humanity or whatever,â€? says Eddie intently. â€œIn some ways we took that back. We tried to get some of our anonymity back, and in a way kind of successfully sabotaged our career as far as what people would like out of it from a product standpoint.â€? He laughs slightly and continues. â€œSome more cynical people have said that no one ever chooses to walk away from it, but I feel that we did, and itâ€™s kinda cool. Thereâ€™s all kind of ways you can go as a band, and Iâ€™m happy the way it worked out for us. I love these guys, you know. It extends out to the crew and it extends out to the people who listen in.â€?
Under The Influence
When the topic of purported Pearl Jam knock offs is presented, hackles raise around the room. The media has sneeringly criticized lead singers of Creed, Nickelback, and others as being copycats of Eddie Vedderâ€™s vocal stylings - yet Pearl Jam can remember times when they were not received so lovingly themselves.
â€œWe got accused of being Bad Company, or â€˜not realâ€™ grunge,â€? says Stone. â€œThat kind of stuff was painful to go through, because as a band we were just trying to do something true to ourselves. We did wear our influences on our sleeve, maybe even more so than now, there was a perception that we were doing something that was calculated â€“ but that was a hard experience to go through. Thereâ€™s always gonna be bands who are distinctly, overly influenced by certain bands. You donâ€™t worry about what someone else is doing. We need to just be a good of band as we can be. Weâ€™re still developing what weâ€™re doing, and worrying about what someone else is doing, why somebody else likes it and whether theyâ€™re taking something from somebody else â€“ itâ€™s a waste of time.â€?
Eddieâ€™s eyes widen to the size of saucers and his teeth grind in a sort of disgruntled amusement. â€œIf we agree that itâ€™s derivative of the way I that I would sing â€“ which is really not even my opinion, but I hear it so much from other people, that at a certain point maybe a year ago I started to be just annoyed. Then Iâ€™d hear the songs and I wasnâ€™t really impressed with the songs, and it kind of bumped up my annoyance a little bit more. If I really think about it, itâ€™s really more derivative of the way I was singing on the first record, and I feel like Iâ€™m way beyond that â€“ Iâ€™ve settled into my own throat a little bit to where it really is me. It doesnâ€™t necessarily sound like the way Iâ€™ve been singing for the last few records â€“ I really think Iâ€™ve found my own voice. I think that eventually I think thatâ€™s what those guys will do too. Iâ€™m not too bothered by it really â€“ itâ€™s just other people commenting on it â€“ thinking I wrote some song called â€˜Bitch Witchâ€™ or something,â€? he laughs.
Light Years Ahead
The new album brings lyrical layers of selflessness and concern to the table, while presenting a vibe of pure musical integrity. Shared writing reflects poetically on the mortality of mankind. Eddie contends that he was reserved in speaking out publicly after the 9/11 tragedies, but he definitely has strong feelings about the role of the United States in correlation with the attacks. â€œIt got interesting in the last year, just where you felt like it was going to be seen as unpatriotic or un-American to express any dissent towards the current administration â€“ that was a pretty sensitive time â€“ I feel a little more free to talk now, we werenâ€™t really doing any press at the time. My first instinct was â€˜weâ€™re not the good guyâ€™ â€“ not in all aspects of how we dictate whatâ€™s going on the world being a super power. Could you have said that on September 12th? Itâ€™s been a hard year, but I think at this point weâ€™ve all had our fair share of grieving â€“if a fuckinâ€™ house blows up then you try to figure out why â€“ and how can we keep this from happening again? Iâ€™ve said it before â€“ when Bush addressed the nation and said it was because people in other countries donâ€™t like it because we have our freedom, thatâ€™s just a non-acceptable answer.â€?
With regard to the world-view that shines through on the new album, Stone thoughtfully expresses the bandâ€™s conceptual approach. â€œI think that any kind of self awareness thinking about the big picture is pretty much a negative. I think a natural creative process is about losing that self-awareness. I think all that stuffâ€™s a distraction. Itâ€™s a reality that you hear about and you go through, and I think the people who are good at it are the ones who can block that stuff out and keep going back to that same energy that they found when they first started playing music â€“ sort of that magical feeling within yourself that you can connect with some energy and create a connection that feels spiritually significant.â€?
All of the members have worked with other groups, but Matt lets it be known that there is something special for him with Pearl Jam. â€œWith this group I think Iâ€™m bringing a lot to the table â€“ songs, musical approaches â€“ it just seems like itâ€™s a really good fit. As a musician you just try to bring your strongest stuff forward in each situation. Iâ€™ve known these guys for a long time so it wasnâ€™t like I came in blank or anything. I was friends with all these guys and that helps. It kinda clicked more so than the last one because I really wanted this to be the best that it could be, and I really put my head down and worked on this one â€“ not to say that I didnâ€™t work on the last one â€“ but this one just really felt like a band.â€?
Breaking The Code
No matter what their critics say, Pearl Jam will continue to do things at their own pace, in their own way. They make it clear that they sincerely appreciate their fans, but they are hoping that if new fans come around it will be in appreciation of the music, and not because they were force-fed by the mighty marketing machine. â€œIf they get it great,â€? says Eddie calmly. â€œIf they donâ€™t, we just canâ€™t think about it too much â€“ how to market to a certain demographic. Weâ€™re just not capable of doing that. As soon as thereâ€™s any kind of that talk, it feels tooâ€¦â€? he pauses and stumbles over a few thoughts.
â€œBasically weâ€™re doing some interviews through the press just so that people will know that we have a record [coming] out, and thatâ€™s enough. If theyâ€™re interested, if they hear about it from their friend, if they wanna make copies of it and give it to their friends, great â€“ if it gets out that way then fine. I just feel like thereâ€™s some kind of natural way that it might reach a few people. Weâ€™re only comfortable doing a certain amount to get it out there. It takes a lot to keep up with the marketed bands â€“ and we just canâ€™t do it. It changes us as people to participate in that manner.
â€œI think if anything a young woman that might be listening to Britney Spears now â€“ theyâ€™re listening to music. Just like I listened to the Jackson 5 â€“ I went from Jackson 5 to James Brown to Sly and the Family Stone to Bob Dylan to The Beatles to The Who to The Ramones to Sonic Youth to Fugazi â€“ you kind of grow and mature, and your tastes go with it. Maybe at some point down the line someone whoâ€™s listening to the marketed pop music of today might stumble upon some of the ideas expressed on this record, and thatâ€™s great.â€?
Considering the combined influences, shared experiences, vast array of tastes, depth of perception, and genuine affection for each other, it is no wonder that Pearl Jam has morphed into a cohesive team. Five men have weathered a storm in their career together, and are riding into the sunset of their recording contract on a natural high. A future after the bonds of legal documents attempting to dictate their art is not a topic of conversation, but silent smiles assure that there will be life after the big top.