Special Feature: Pearl Jam
Years ago, songs slated for the next Pearl Jam album would show up live beforehand. But this hasn't happened prior to the two most recent studio albums. Does it have anything to doYears ago, songs slated for the next Pearl Jam album would show up live beforehand. But this hasn't happened prior to the two most recent studio albums. Does it have anything to do with the band's two-year-plan for writing, recording, and touring?
JA: Yeah, I think it's the latter. It has more to do with just us touring, and then taking a break from one another, and kind of rolling in, and writing songs. We talk about that all the time. We've talked about getting 10 new songs together and going out and playing them live, just a 40-minute set or whatever. It's a little strange too, just the fact that they wind up on the Internet, and I think sometimes it ruins the element of surprise of a record. But you know, I remember seeing Van Halen back in '79. They did a warmup tour in Montana before the second record came out. That was awesome [laughs], so...
Were any of the little improvs from the North American shows actual new songs?
JA: Well, the thing that ended up on this DVD [ed. note: the piece has come to be called "Untitled"] is something that got played probably 20 times over the course of touring. That was just Ed playing a repetitive thing and writing lyrics on the spot. I remember hearing the development of those lyrics even as we continued to play that little jam. That was just a little mantra for him to sing when he was in a certain space.
What is the origin of the instrumentals on the DVD bonus footage?
JA: I think those are things from "Binaural." With every record, we've had just had songs that never ended up having lyrics on them. I think these are all from the last session.
Does Pearl Jam ever go back and revisit unfinished ideas from previous writing sessions?
JA: Probably not as much as we should. I definitely have amazing memories of some songs off "Vs." I know there's three totally finished amazing songs that don't have any vocals or lyrics and melodies. There's a couple of things from "No Code" too.
Well, there are definitely a couple of "Holy Grail" Pearl Jam tracks. "Hard To Imagine" was one for awhile.
JA: We recorded it first during "Vs.," then again later on. I think it might have been "No Code." I think that's the version that ended up on [the soundtrack to the film] "Chicago Cab." You know, I'd love to go back through all of that stuff and eventually put all of it on CDs just for me [laughs]. It's hard to access that stuff. A lot of it is on cassettes in a milkcrate or something.
What can you tell us about the unused tracks from "Binaural?" Wasn't there a song of yours that was even mentioned in the fanclub newsletter?
JA: "Sweet Lew," yeah [laughs]. That was a complete song that actually the whole band worked up. I don't know if that will ever come out or not. It really didn't fit the record. I never expected it to be on a record, but I thought it might have been a B-side.
There seems to have been a lack of Pearl Jam studio B-sides in recent years. Any particular reason why?
JA: Right. Well, I know there were a couple of outtakes from this record that we felt so good about, we didn't want to put them out as B-sides. There's a song called "Fatal" that Stone wrote, and a song called "Letter To The Dead" that Ed wrote, that we kind of felt would fit in better as an album track than as a B-side.
Could you describe those songs?
JA: "Fatal" is, you know, a little bit in the "Thin Air"-type of song. "Letter To The Dead" is just a great pop song. Pretty much every record, Ed will write a great pop song. And a lot of times, those songs end up not fitting the record as much, because we haven't really written very many pop records [laughs]. I would imagine that those things will come out at some point. I think there's a handful of songs that we're all bummed out just ended up as a B-side and got forgotten, whether it's "Dead Man," or even "Yellow Ledbetter." They're songs that we feel are really great. Even the "Merkin Ball" EP. It's hard to even find that thing anymore.
I saw that the band revived [the never-before-played B-side] U! Word was you had to go to Napster for it.
JA: Yeah, we did! And we couldn't find a single anywhere that had that on it!
What can you tell us about the B-sides compilation that has been mentioned?
JA: Well, we're definitely compiling stuff. I think probably by the summer we'll make a call whether it'll be just for us, or if the time is right for.. I mean, we're doing a lot of stuff now, so we'll see how everything is. If the recording is strong enough, and there's enough cool stuff on it, and if maybe we can get excited about remixing some versions of things, or maybe even having one or two new songs it. If we can do all that, I think everybody would get more excited about putting it out there.
Do you have any favorite Pearl Jam compilation appearances?
JA: I remember being pretty excited about the "Singles" soundtrack, having two songs on it. Both the Surfrider Foundation records, like "Gremmie Out Of Control." We just had a blast recording that in the studio. And also "The Whale Song," a Jack Irons song, which I love. I think there's a whole bunch that I'm probably not remembering.
Can you talk about the way individual members' songwriting contributions have increased over Pearl Jam's past couple studio albums? You had three songs on "Binaural" ["Nothing As It Seems," "Gods' Dice," and "Sleight Of Hand"] that display a real range of emotion.
JA: Well, I think the rest of us are fortunate to have a lead singer/songwriter who is open to that. And that is huge. It could very easily be Ed coming in with enough material to make a record of mostly his songs, or him collaborating with Stone, which is kind of the core of what we've done. But I mean, ever since I picked up a bass, I've written songs. There was a period there where maybe the wind got taken out of that aspect of playing music. Over the last five or six years, I've been doing it a lot more on my own. "Yield" was the first time I actually brought in a tape and had the balls to play it for everybody. I think the way it works is if you work hard as a musician and a songwriter, I think in this band you get rewarded for it. Everyone will get excited about a track, and we'll work it up. And usually it's the stuff that you'd never expect, which is even more exciting. "Nothing As It Seems" was like a little folk song. When Stone got excited about it, I was like, 'wow, if it had drums on it, and if [guitarist] Mike [McCready] was kind of featured.' All of the sudden it became this whole other thing.
Is it true that "Light Years" was turned inside out from its original structure?
JA: It sounded nothing like what it sounds like now. Mike had a couple of riffs, and Ed really sat down and tried to write to it. He initially had some problems, and one day he came in on his own and had some lyrics that were really heartfelt. He ended up completely rearranging the song. It got played a million different tempos and a million different angles on the drums. That was a hard song; probably more so on Matt's end just because it took so long.
What is the offseason like for Pearl Jam, particularly in the writing process? Do you guys ever convene in small groups or anything like that?
JA: Occasionally. Stone and I have talked about getting together at some point over the next couple of months. Mike is going to come out here at some point and we'll mess around and try to put a few things together. I mean, I love to collaborate in smaller groups. I think you can get a lot done with just two people going back and forth. I feel like I took two, almost three, solid months off [after the tour]. About two weeks ago, I was like, 'I need to get back to work.'
It must be a pretty special occurrence on "day one" of a new album; the first time you're all in a room running through the material.
JA: Yeah, you know, the last couple of records, we've been so excited to see each other. We take it one day at a time just to see if everybody is still excited. There have been times when somebody hasn't been in the zone, and we come back a month later, or whatever. That's the beauty of the position we're in. It allows us the freedom to be flexible, and work when everybody's head is in it. Usually one of us will call the other after a few months and say, 'how are things going? feel like getting together?' Somebody will throw out a date, and that's the starting point. But it is important for us to get away from one another and just not be in the band for four months or five months or however long it takes. It makes it easier to get it all going again.
Could you sketch out rough plan for next year in the life of Pearl Jam?
JA: Actually there isn't one [laughs]. Absolutely no plan.
Well, do you have song ideas at this early date?
JA: Yeah. There are three or four things I'm excited about. I think I would personally like to have 10 things together before we get together. I'll probably mess around. I'll get together with Richard [Stuverud, Ament's collaborator in the group Three Fish] maybe once a month for the next three months, and hopefully that will leave me with 10 Pearl Jam ideas and 20 or 30 other things.
Pearl Jam's next studio album is their last under contract with Epic. What comes next? Has the band ever considered starting its own label?
JA: Oh, definitely. I think we're going to test the market a little bit. But I think the thing we're most excited about is having a day where we're not tied to anything. We don't have a contract with anybody but the record company right now. We don't have one with [manager] Kelly [Curtis], the merchandiser, a touring agent, or anyone. To be at a point, in a day and age of contracts and agreements, where we're absolutely free agents. Whatever we do next, I think we'll want to have a little more freedom to do some different things. Sony has been great in terms of giving us control and letting us do some crazy things. There's a part of us that has a certain allegiance to them. That will be very heavily considered for sure. But it's an exciting time to be a free agent! Music is coming out in a lot of different ways right now.
Do you have some favorite recent bands?
JA: You know, I was just over in Europe, and I picked up a record by a guy named Tom McRae. It's amazing! Tom McRae just has one of those voices. It's beautiful. Sometimes it's like ambient Simon And Garfunkel. And have you heard of Sigur Ros?
JA: I think that record ["Agaetis Byrjun"] is absolutely amazing.
It sounds like they're about to get a large label deal in North America.
JA: They should, man. That record is one of the coolest records last year.
What did you think of [Radiohead's] "Kid A?"
JA: I liked it a lot. I think the climate was right for them to do something like this. I think with "OK Computer," they were a band on the verge of being huge. I think it's cool they threw a little curveball out there. It's an incredibly melodic record. I think the only thing I miss is real lyrics. And I miss some of Jonny [Greenwood]'s guitar stuff. But they're a cool band. Hopefully they just stay together and keep making music.
Have you heard any of the other Pearl Jam members' side stuff? What about Stone's album [under the name Bay Leaf]?
JA: Yeah. I've actually heard the whole thing. It sounds like songs that Stone has brought in for demos over the last few years. Some of the songs are three or four years old. I'm pretty excited about it. I don't think he knows what he's going to do with it yet. It's pretty cool. As far as Mike goes, he's been doing some stuff with Nancy Wilson, and he wrote some stuff with Ozzy [Osbourne]. I think more than anybody it's more critical for Mike to be continuing playing. It's what he loves and what he knows best.
How about the [Matt Cameron and ex-Monster Magnet member John McBain's] Wellwater Conspiracy?
JA: They're a cool duo, you know? I hope they go out and play some more shows. I saw John on the street the other day. They may do some shows in Europe. I think it's a matter of them both having families. And Matt had a pretty huge year last year [laughs].
What are your thoughts on Napster?
JA: I think Napster is great. I think the whole Internet needs to have maybe some rules in place, you know? I think Napster should have to pay artists. It shouldn't be anything obscene, but there should be some sort of licensing fee. But I think it's a great format, to be able to turn on your computer and find weird songs. It's incredible. I hope they can work something out. The thing is, over the last year, Napster is making a lot of money through advertising and investors. One person should not make all that money off such a huge catalog of music. It's unethical.