The Billboard Q&A: Eddie Vedder (Part Two)

The Pearl Jam frontman talks at length with Billboard about his soundtrack for the new Sean Penn-directed film "Into the Wild," its impact on his life, the 2008 election and how his creative process c

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Basically, Sean said the only people he'd listen to in this regard are Chris' parents and sister.

I defer to them as well. I thought about them a lot. There's a line in "Guaranteed" that says, "Don't come closer or I'll have to go/Owning me like gravity are places that pull/If ever there was someone to keep me at home/It would be you." That line is for [McCandless' sister, Carine].

Once you get inspired and start cranking out material so fast, is it hard to turn that faucet off? Was there a void left?

Well, no, because then we started living it. We went down to the Grand Canyon and I almost made it to Alaska. I started making choices in my own life. I started living outdoors this summer. It was using that inspiration to do things in my life. When I was working, I was inspired to make the music. That's what I was requested to do. After that, I took the inspiration and put it into my real life and my family life. We spent the summer outdoors. We did some camping. I felt like a real human being.

I've been real fortunate. Music afforded me and the other guys in the group to do things in our lives that got us close to nature, whether it's (Pearl Jam bassist) Jeff (Ament) and his relationship with mountains and snow, or my relationship with oceans and waves. My surfing got blockaded as a young adult when I had to start working (laughs) ... the drugstore jobs, et cetera. In about 1993 or 1994, I realized I'd been afforded the opportunity to get back to the ocean, and that really has been what fueled 80% of my creativity and 95% of my sanity. You know, this project comes out of the blue from a phone call from a friend. In the end, it's a collection of songs that becomes a limb of this body which is the film. To have been involved with something like this on a creative level, it's such a healthy, soul-serving exercise. I'm just a better person from it, if for nothing else than the act of being creative.

If people took the initiative to just create -- write or paint or make music or sing -- on a regular basis, I just think it's such a healthy thing. To do it as a family or do it with friends, it's just so healthy. We don't have the arts programs in the schools anymore. They were the first to go. The only thing I'm guessing at for why this isn't taking place is the amount of people who are watching things like "American Idol" or trash TV. At the end of the day, people come home and want to be brain dead. They're too exhausted from trying to keep up with their kids that they anesthetize themselves. It's like needing food and eating junk food.

One could say that's precisely what fueled what McCandless did -- the fear he would be slipping into that same lifestyle.

Yeah, or the so-called American dream that ends him up clean-cut in a pickup bar with an expense account and a job that might be a 40-year sentence. A 30-year mortgage and a 40-year sentence.

It's cool that in tandem with your stuff, there is the new Pearl Jam DVD. You get a nice glimpse of the band as people as opposed to just straight-up performance footage.

It has a lot to do with the guy who made the film, Danny Clinch. We can forget that he's there. I think the best part of the film to me is the people of Italy. They were a great representation of the people that come see us in general, wherever it is. To me they're like a character in the film, and incredibly well-cast (laughs).

That old guy in the church is classic, when you and Boom go to look at the organ.

Well, it's incredible. It's like throwing a dart at a spinning planet and ending up in this ancient church with ancient organs. One was from 1775, I believe. And he knows Tacoma, which is 20 miles of south of me (laughs). They're very famous for organs. I had no idea. I think he'd been one place in the United States and it turned out it was 20 miles south of me. That's the best part of touring, in a way. Half the time you're too worn down to walk the streets on your time off, but magical things happen on tour.

There's reasons why guys tour and some of it is paying the bills, but you have such an incredible opportunity to interact with the rest of the world. Outside of going on a search for waves, I don't think I've ever gone anywhere without having the excuse of playing. I've never gone to Europe just to go. It's like an addiction. Why would I go if I don't have the opportunity to address 20,000 people in their city (laughs)? I think that might be a problem I should think about. There's other ways of doing it.

Well, speaking of that very thing, we have an important election coming up. Have you guys started to think about how you might add your voice or presence to what will be going on then?

If democracy was a big bus, and you're on board, and you think you have an idea where it should be going, you should combine your voices in the back to tell the driver. At some point, you might have to get your foot on the brakes and take over the wheel. We're talking about hiring a new bus driver. I can't imagine being inactive. But I think everybody should, in whatever ways they can. If we want to protect our Constitution our country as an ideal still have meaning, we're going to have to participate.

Going back to your question, Sean asked me to do this deal and then I came to my senses and said, "I don't think I can do it." But he would write me. Every time, I'd say, "I hate to do this but I just can't. Somebody will do it better." He'd say, "You can, and you will and I'll get you through the big waves." The reason why there was a song is that he just wouldn't take no for an answer. The only thing I wanted to add to the beginning of that answer was that it was an aggressive song (laughs).

Like, "Lukin" aggressive?

Exactly! Kind of L.A. punk scene aggressive, like, "I Can't!" It took that to finally get through to him. In a way, looking back, Sean saw that if I really need to make a point, given certain subject matter, I could do it. That's probably what got me this job (laughs). One last thing I'll say, because I don't think I'm going to do any more interviews about this. The combination of Sean and the story, meaning McCandless himself and the work Jon Krakuer did, and also the performances in the film, the amount of respect I had for those entities was so huge. I'm ready for a break, but I have to say, this offered me an opportunity to get deeper into writing than maybe I had in a while. It was just the most welcome set of demands I've come across in a long time. It ended up to be a great exercise in writing. Our band is going to be better for it and from it, which I'm pretty excited about.

What a great, unexpected result.

We've been doing what we've been doing for a long time. To go outside of those parameters, it's a whole different terrain. It's been such a cool experience. It was interesting. I went to hang out with Sean at the "Charlie Rose" show, and I wound up sitting at the table, which was unexpected. It came on the other night and I was sitting on the floor with a beer and a smoke and it was late. I thought I'd catch it. I'm sitting there watching it and I realized it was the exact place I was sitting on the floor with Sean when we watched the movie.

It really didn't feel like much time had passed. It was interesting to go from sitting on the floor with an ashtray and a six-pack a few months ago to watching us talk about a finished product (laughs) on the TV. It book-ended the whole odyssey. It made it real, in a way. I had to see it on a screen to make it real. I don't remember much of the process because it went real quick and it was real unconscious. I almost don't remember anything of the time of making it. It was a weird way to be notified that it had actually taken place.