As Pearl Jam's blockbuster 1991 debut, "Ten," gets a re-release on March 24 so deluxe that it would be fairer to call it a complete reimagining, the veteran Seattle band's bassist and co-founder Jeff Ament sat down with Billboard to talk about what went into the four extras-laden editions of the 12-times platinum album. He also took a trip down the long road of memory lane back to the days when the quintet's "Alive," "Even Flow" and "Jeremy" dominated radio and singer Eddie Vedder swung Tarzan-like from the rafters of clubs and amphitheaters from Los Angeles to London.
Each of the four versions of the "Ten" reissue includes a digitally remastered version of the original album as well as a completely new remix of the set by longtime producer Brendan O'Brien. The O'Brien disc also includes six previously unreleased songs from the era: early versions of "Breath" and "State of Love and Trust," "Brother" (with vocals, not the instrumental version from the 2003 rarities collection "Lost Dogs"), "Just a Girl," "Evil Little Goat" and "2,000 Mile Blues," a Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired jam with improvised vocals from Vedder.
The "Legacy" edition of "Ten" adds a DVD of Pearl Jam's previously unreleased 1992 performance on "MTV Unplugged," including a never-aired version of "Oceans." But the package that has sent hardcore fans into a tizzy is the two-CD, one DVD, four LP "Super Deluxe Edition." The linen-covered, slip-cased clamshell box includes a replica of "Momma-Son," the audition demo tape Vedder sent to Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard in 1990 to land the job in Pearl Jam, the previously unreleased Sept. 20, 1992, concert at Seattle's Magnuson Park on two vinyl LPs, a replica of Vedder's composition notebook packed with notes and photos and assorted stickers and other memorabilia from the "Ten" era.
When you guys started conceptualizing this project, what were some of the things you wanted to make sure were included?
Jeff Ament: There were definitely some politics with the art department at Sony at the time, so the cover didn't turn out the way we intended. It was a pinker shade of red than what we intended (laughs). Also, when we started making records with Brendan, we sort of realized how we wanted to sound. We knew the first record maybe didn't sound like the band that we were. It didn't sound direct enough and was maybe over-mixed and a tad bit wet for our tastes. When we were mixing "Ten," we were pulling stuff off of it, which is hard to believe. I think those things made me want to make it the way we intended. It's one of those things: if we would have known then what we know now, what sort of record would it be? In the process of digging through things and deciding we'd put some special things and surprises together, we found a lot of stuff. We found boxes and boxes of journals and tour itineraries that had stuff written on them. It was a pretty cool thing to do. I didn't know it at the time, but when you take pictures and write little comments about shows, it facilitates your memory. It helps you remember what was going on at the time. I don't think any of us had thought much about what happened 18 years ago since. This is one of the first times I've really looked back on the band, because typically we've been so busy moving forward. It felt like a good time. It felt like there was enough separation between what had happened then. We all have a sense of humor about it, which 10 years ago I don't think we would have had as much of.
Would you say the willingness to include the original demo tape speaks to that?
Yeah. When I found it and played it, I wasn't sure if it was appropriate for it to come out, to be honest. My first instinct was, this is pretty personal and done before we knew each other. Then when Ed listened to it, he just laughed. He was like, 'Wow. I was kind of out there.' So that was a great sign, that he was willing. It made me feel more willing to put a lot of those personal things out there and be done with it a little bit. In some ways, it will probably make it subconsciously easier to move forward by getting this out there and letting go, just because it was such a huge record and such a crazy time.
Were there things you just couldn't do for the most deluxe version?
The things that ended up in the journal, that's probably a tenth of what we had laying out on the table. We put the stuff that we thought best told the story. It gives you an inside glimpse into what we were going through and doing with our pens in the downtime. There's a page from something I did about how we wanted to do this very idealistic approach to merchandising. It's kind of funny, but it's pretty right on. It's kind of what we've done, and it was funny to see that. I didn't remember us even thinking that way back then, but we were. It's interesting to think we were a very idealistic band at that time, and we actually pulled a lot of it off.
I imagine you guys were confident the fan base would snap up the deluxe version very quickly. Does it feel like an approach you'll limit to special things like this? Or would you consider putting out a new album with all these bells and whistles?
Probably not to this extent. Except for that first record, for me, I feel like on every record, we overextended ourselves with the sorts of packages we put out. With "Vitalogy," that package cut into about 30 to 40% of our royalties, because the manufacturing wasn't set up to do what we wanted. On "Vs.," we did an ecopack, which they don't do anymore. It preceded the digipak. It was us trying to take plastic out of the package and make it more like a record; to make it feel like you were opening something up and something inside would reveal itself. It would be big enough to be a substantial piece of art, and it wouldn't be in a jewel case. We hated those from the very beginning, because they were breakable. The spines would break, the cases would crack and you couldn't close them. Subsequent reissues won't be to the extent of what we did with "Ten." I haven't started digging through those boxes yet, but I can only think of a handful of things I'd like to re-do on any of those records. That would be more mix or sound things.
"MTV Unplugged" has never been out before. Had you seen this in years?
No. I don't think I'd seen it since it came out. It was a little bit before things got nuts. When we heard about it, we were actually in Europe for the second time. It was the day after we played this show in Zurich. We showed up at this club and the stage was about as big as our normal drum riser. We looked at it and wondered how we could play a show in there and fit all our gear in. Somebody said, we don't we play an acoustic show? There were some people from the label there, and they got us some acoustic guitars. We'd probably played 70 or 80 shows as a band on that record at that point, so it was a really refreshing take on things. The audience sang the songs back to us, because we had a little teeny PA. The next day, [manager] Kelly [Curtis] called and said we had an offer to do "MTV Unplugged." And we were like, we just did it! Had they called a week ago we wouldn't have known if we could have pulled it off. But in Zurich, it seemed like it was all right musically. I think this was one of the first "MTV Unplugged." We had very little experience as an acoustic band at that point, so part of us wished we could do it over. Nirvana did theirs a couple of years later and obviously spent some time on it. We literally got off the plane from Europe, spent all day in a cavernous sound studio in New York and did the show that night. It was just kind of what it was. That's part of the reason we didn't want it released on a big level. If we did one now, we could actually do it properly. But it's appropriate for it to come out with this stuff. It's pretty powerful, and Ed's singing great. Yet, it's kind of naïve, which is kind of awesome.
And because you weren't putting out new videos then, all those songs got broadcast separately, and divorced of their context in the show. For a lot of people I think it was the first time they'd seen you perform in any form.
We look crazy young. The first time I saw it, I was like, holy shit! I guess that was 18 years ago.
"Drop in the Park" was another key moment in the band's history. It's pretty well established that it was a nightmare to set up.
It was supposed to be held at Gas Works Park initially, more in the city, near Lake Union. The city has always had a big disconnect with what was going on here musically. The mayor, Greg Nichols, recently came out and said he was reaching out to the music community to be more a part of the arts movement, and they'd put money into these programs. I was like, it's 20 years too late! At that time, they really didn't want to have anything to do with what was going on in the town musically. I remember having dinner with Paul Schell, who was the mayor at the time, maybe two or three years after the show. He was incredibly condescending when we talked about how much money the whole movement brought into the city. He just thought we were ridiculous for talking about that. It felt good to finally do the show, but it was a little anti-climactic. We were really, really excited to put on the show initially, but it took six months or something for us to finally figure out a way to do it. Most of it was us kind of giving in to the fears the city had about what was going to happen at this "grunge concert." All we wanted to do was put on a free show for the town.