Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
More than a decade after Pearl Jam attained stardom amid the Seattle-driven modern rock explosion, Eddie Vedder is quick to point out why the creative process continues to inspire him. "We have five songwriters," he says with a proud smile. "The band has really become a vehicle for everyone to offer up their songs, have very adept musicians play them, and have a very good communication with those players. That's why I can see us going on for a long while!"
To be sure, Pearl Jam is one of the few bands standing from Seattle's golden era, having emerged with its dignity and sense of purpose intact. And judging by the sound of its seventh Epic studio album, "Riot Act," the quintet is more energized than ever. Anticipation for the set, due Nov. 12, has been driven by the out-of-the-box success of the waltz-tempoed first single "I Am Mine," which went top-10 on both the Billboard Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts.
"Riot Act," the follow-up to 2000's "Binaural," bulges with a host of showcases for Pearl Jam's signature rock power, from the tense, psychedelic opener "Can't Keep," the unhinged guitar assaults "Get Right" and "Save You," and the propulsively melodic "Green Disease" and "Cropduster." Elsewhere, "Thumbing My Way" and the gorgeously bittersweet closer "All or None" reveal the band's deft dynamic touch, trading power chords for acoustic strumming and Hammond B3 organ flourishes.
The album also finds the group realizing its collective creativity to an often stunning degree, with myriad songs that find little basis in any prior Pearl Jam album. "You Are," penned by drummer Matt Cameron, is a monster of jagged guitar outbursts fed through a drum machine and welded to a gritty groove, while bassist Jeff Ament's "helphelp" careens from sweetly sung verses to maniacal choruses and an even more intense instrumental breakdown.
Guitarist Stone Gossard says band members revel in taking their individual song ideas to new and unusual places. "When somebody has a clear idea what a song is going to be, inevitably the band will say, 'Well, I don't know. Let's try something else,'" he says with a laugh. "Instead it will be some riff you've played three times. You just wrote it this morning and don't even care about it, but everyone will say, 'That's killer! Let's do that!' The process of letting go is constant in this band. Sometimes you have to."
The sessions got an extra boost of experimentation thanks to the presence of keyboardist Kenneth "Boom" Gaspar, whom Vedder met and quickly began collaborating with last year in the midst of a surfing trip to a remote Hawaiian island. One of their songs, "Love Boat Captain," serves as the set's emotional centerpiece, as it reaches out to the families of the nine fans who were killed after a crowd surge during Pearl Jam's June 30, 2000, set at Denmark's Roskilde Festival.
When it came time to write lyrics, focusing more on the bigger picture -- love, loss, and the struggle to make a difference -- eased Vedder into the prospect of commenting directly on such tragedies as Roskilde or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "You start feeling like, 'What do I have to say? What is my opinion?'" Vedder muses, taking a long drag from an American Spirit cigarette. "Then I realized I did have an opinion. Not only did I have one, but I felt like it was formed by processing a lot of information and having good influences."
Cameron says "I Am Mine," which debuted last October at the annual Bridge School benefit (Neil Young holds the event for the school, which assists special-needs students) outside San Francisco, was a key starting point. "It has all the elements this band is known for: strong lyrics, strong hook, and a good sense of melody." Guitarist Mike McCready adds, "It's kind of a positive affirmation of what to do with one's life. I'm born and I die, but in between that, I can do whatever I want or have a strong opinion about something."
Pearl Jam will perform two consecutive days, Nov. 14 and 15, on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman, regroup for at least one charity benefit in Seattle (which, as previously reported, will take place Dec. 8), and then hit Australia and Japan after the first of the year. A stateside tour begins in mid-spring.
As it did with 72 complete shows from the "Binaural" tour, the band will make authorized soundboard recordings of each upcoming concert available at retail; the live CDs will be offered to the 35,000 members of Ten Club at a substantially reduced price. Ten Club head Tim Bierman says the band is hoping to have a full show streaming on pearljam.com "as quickly as humanly possible" and in fans' hands much faster than before.
Pearl Jam has already pondered such envelope-pushing maneuvers as making its entire live archive available to fans or touring smaller venues armed only with brand-new songs. But with "Riot Act" garnering strong early buzz, Gossard reminds that pushing forward is still the band's top priority: "What keeps us from doing those things is simply our hunger to make new records." Ament concludes: "When I'm writing little songs at home, it's great to know the band will eventually elevate this music in ways I've never even envisioned."
Excerpted from the Nov. 2, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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