Pearl Jam Scores First No. 1 On Billboard 200 In 13 Years

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (right) and Stone Gossard live in Los Angeles 2006.

Kathy Davis

"Backspacer,"


Pearl Jam Frontman Eddie Vedder

The new album, "Backspacer," seems especially personal.

I guess we end up being conduits for whatever's around us. You don't really think about it while it's happening, but then you look back on this group of songs and that seems to come out. You write a song, you look to the sky, and it somehow comes out. It's no surprise that it's representative of the atmosphere. I do think there are things in there that are universal.

It has an optimism you don't always hear from Pearl Jam.

Well, it's tempered with some of the saddest stuff we've ever written too (laughs). There's some optimism that just came out, but there's the other side of it too. It's just the natural balance of things.

You are speaking so honestly. "The End" is almost uncomfortable.

You know, I'll admit that even I felt some impact myself listening to it back the first time, and not even really knowing where it came from. A lot of the songs on this record were ones I just tried to get out of the way of, without self-editing. It made it easier. That was the one thing I realized while putting together that boxed set [of the band's 1991 debut album, "Ten"]. We had to revisit some things to approve the content. It was interesting to hear that when we were just starting out, I just didn't edit that much. Whatever I wrote or the way I sang it the first time was the way it ended up being. Over the years, you get the luxury of taking more time and really refining and going through many different versions.

On the last record, there was a song ["Comatose"] that started out being called "Crapshoot Rapture." There must have been literally 20 different, almost complete lyrics for that. The more options you have, the more you can confuse the issue. Early on, we didn't have as many options. You made a record and made it quick. We kind of went back to that. Even if we have the luxury, why indulge if it's just going to create confusion?

Do any of the "Backspacer" songs originate from "Into the Wild"-era writing?

Everything I contributed is from the last few months. "Just Breathe" uses the first chord from an instrumental called "Tuolumne." There was a lyric or something that hit me, and I picked up the guitar and played that chord. I thought, well, I'll just go with it and make something different out of it. It was a shorter song, and then I wrote a bridge to it while the other guys were working on something else. It was like our own little Brill Building at the warehouse. I ran in and wrote the bridge, which became the chorus, because [producer] Brendan O'Brien heard it that way. That's an example of letting Brendan hear things objectively and following him whatever way he wanted to take it. We weren't that malleable 10 years ago and all the years previous. You'd write something and say, "Well, no, this is how I want it done." One of the things as you get older is that you welcome others' input. You don't feel like you have to prove yourself.

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