Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard Talks Brad, PJ & More
On a sunny Friday afternoon (Aug. 20) in a quiet corner of Manhattan's downtown-cool Tribeca neighborhood, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard sat down to chat about the tour and years-in-the-making new album, "Best Friends?," by his long-running other band, the soulful, funky quartet Brad; about Pearl Jam's upcoming plans, 20th anniversary and ritual-like live show; and about the early stages of PJ making a follow up to last year's No. 1 album "Backspacer." As topics ranged from Soundgarden's reunion to Brad's openness to commercial partnerships, the easy-going, ever-ready to play Gossard kept coming back to one theme that seems to be the key to to his musical longevity: it's all about the long-term relationships.
Brad did some shows last week to celebrate the release of "Best Friends?". How did they go?
We did [Seattle radio station] KEXP and it's always a thrill anytime they asks you do do something because KEXP is the coolest in my mind. They really have done a fantastic job of showing how radio can be amazing. So I'm always encouraged when they have been optimistic about stuff Pearl Jam has done or stuff that Brad's done. It always makes me say, "Yes! We're doing something right."
Well, the Seattle press particularly has been pretty strong champions of Pearl Jam in the 2000's. They have really supported all of your projects.
I think we've just stayed on course in a way that's maybe encouraged people and surprised people. And I think there's more that we can do. We could be more challenging and more interesting. We'll continue to try. We're always trying to steer towards [a place] where it combines into something greater than its individual parts. It's the same thing with Brad.
You mention process. With Brad, the obvious question is why did you take so long to release this album? It was recorded in 2003.
For whatever reason, it just fell by the wayside after we recorded it. I think [drummer] Regan [Hagar] and I started picking it back up maybe a couple of years later. I started going back in and editing and adding some guitars, falling in love with it again. But still the process rolled on and [singer] Shawn [Smith] was really focused on some stuff that he was doing and Regan was focused on stuff that he was doing. I was totally focused on Pearl Jam, and recording my own music. And then it comes around again and all of the sudden you realize it's been seven years and you still do have this record. You listen to it and go, "wow, this is pretty good."
It was released on Pearl Jam's own label, Monkeywrench Records, which sounds like an easy decision.
[We thought] maybe we can do it through Monkeywrench because they just did Ed [Vedder]'s solo record and that seemed to work pretty well. It's an opportunity that we can kind of put this record out without having a huge amount of pressure. Those are the steps that kind of got us re-energized. And then you're like, 'wow we've got four records.' We have a little sound that's kind of original, we have a thing. So there's some real pride that comes back and so the next thing you know we're going to go out and do shows.
I'm really looking forward to interpreting this new [Brad] material and going back and relearning old songs that we've maybe never even played before, really showcasing what Brad's sound is. It started pretty naturally, I mean it was in '91, '92, so when everyone was going heavy we were going super mellow.
Any band that can exist for 17, 18 years is probably doing something right. And on the Brad record you've got the extended musical family doing cameos: Kevin Wood, brother of pre-Pearl Jam band Mother Love Bone's late frontman Andy Wood, appears, as does Lonnie Marshall, who was signed to your Loosegroove Records in the mid-90s.
I am fascinated by that aspect of being in bands and how time can strengthen your bonds; how that exaggerates the emotion of the music. It's powerful because people are witnessing not just songs, but the relationships of how those songs and people came together. It's a lot of old, old relationships at the end of the day. I have a fetish for them, I think [laughs].
You and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament have been playing together for 25, 26 years. It's always the same family.
It's the same old motherf*ckin' group of guys. [laughs]
Back in April, you played the closest thing possible to a Mother Love Bone reunion, and it started out as a Brad show. What was that like? It happened right around the 20th anniversary of Andy Wood's passing.
A big part of it was thinking about Andy Wood and that how much his history has sort of touched on all of us. [Brad's] Shawn and Regan made an incredible record called "From The North." It's a really special record of Andy's lyrics with Kevin's songs and recombined with Shawn singing. Andy's influence is definitely something I think about all the time.
That show coming together grew out of the feeling of trying to bring together, just for one event, what everyone's been working on. It was a little bit of Hank Khoir, which is folks I've been playing with. It was a chance for Jeff Ament and I and [Mother Love Bone's] Bruce [Fairweather] and Greg [Gilmore] to play together with Shawn singing Andy's words, which was just beautiful. It was also a chance for Brad to get together and play, a chance for Satchel to express themselves. I've learned a lot from Satchel records, being challenged by those and thinking, 'man I'm uptight I need to get into Satchel a little bit more.' They are not afraid to have chaos ensue. And the same thing with Pearl Jam, when it gets to pure chaos sometimes its just a relief. You can completely let of of any sort of preconceived notion of what it's supposed to be; it clears your mind.
In terms of Brad, you're about to tour opening for Band of Horses. Did that arise from Band Of Horses opening for Pearl Jam this spring?
They could have taken a number of bands out so the fact that they said they want to go out with [Brad] I'm hoping is because they're into it. I think they were appreciative of the tour they did with [Pearl Jam]. I'm hoping that Brad can kind of do for their show what they did for Pearl Jam. Shawn hasn't played in arenas really, and his voice through a big PA is going to really fill it up in a way that's going to surprise people. I think we're going to raise our game a little bit from where we were.
Are you planning more Brad shows?
Within the Band of Horses dates, we're going to be in New York in the midst of it. There're like four days off where they're playing Austin City Limits. I think we're going to be here [in New York], [plus] maybe something in Jersey and some radio stuff, and maybe even a tv show or something. That's the plan.
What about the West Coast?
That'll be the next thing; maybe having some meetings about getting some Brad music placed. We're really interested and we'd love to collaborate [with] companies, whether they're record companies or movies or products that we think are we like or love.
Products? Really? Commercials?
Yeah, if it was the right thing Brad definitely would sell a song to co-promote a product particularly if we could put our product in there too, if we could advertise for our record. Certainly like if the Nissan Leaf wanted to use a Brad song... or there's lots of things that I could think of that would be appropriate. If somebody loves Brad so much they offer us a bunch of money, Brad is gonna take it guaranteed. [laughs] But it would have to be the right thing.
That's a little surprising to hear from a member of Pearl Jam.
You know, Pearl Jam can afford to not do that, which is great. It makes me happy that we've gotten into a position of being able to do that. But that's not the reality for most bands. And in Brad, pretty much everybody is scrapping to pay the rent. So if the opportunity came and it was the right product we would definitely do that.
Some people think that the music industry will move away completely from big record companies and have a lot more to do with strategic partnerships, finding placements on TV shows and things like that. It's interesting to hear that from you.
The future is going to be live shows and the bands' connection to its fans and then collaborative opportunities. That could be advertising, that could be movies, that could playing a sporting event. Whatever they are, it's not just you. You can't get anywhere just by yourself, you've got to have people that are supportive and believe in it. So sometimes that takes somebody buying in, saying, 'yeah, I believe in it enough to put my money where my mouth is.' Brad is looking for those opportunities and I think that as we get out there more and more people will particularly recognize Shawn's abilities with a lyric and emotion. He's a voice that's been undervalued.
Is there any new Brad music afoot?
We just had a recording session a month ago where we recorded five or six new kind of things. We actually recorded a new song when we did an iTunes session. It's called "Criminal," and it just came out of nowhere.
Since the last Brad record came out, I think most of you have become dads. Has that influenced what you're writing about or how the band works? How Pearl Jam works?
For sure. I've got a three-and-half-year-old. "Believe In Yourself" is a song that Shawn has said to me that he wrote it while his son Henry was still in the womb. Parenthood and having kids puts you in touch with a whole other sort of sensitivity which is nothing but good. You feel more than you ever felt. You feel that vulnerability but at the same time you wouldn't trade it for anything. [And before that,] "Every Whisper," a Brad song wrote I all the lyrics for, was all about my nephew, Lucas. I've hung out with him since he was a brand new baby and he's a shredding skateboarder now. You can't help but have your children and your family be part of what you dream about when you dream up a song.
We were talking about 1990 earlier. Pearl Jam is about to turn 20, do you have anything special going on for the band's birthday on Oct. 22? Any shows?
The only thing we've got going on in October is Bridge School which is really special. That's all I've heard about. That's always amazing. So that's our 20th anniversary, which is fitting. It's perfect; not too blown up. It's not about us, it about all those kids that are on stage with you and about Neil Young and his commitment.
Are there big plans for next year?
I think we'll tour. [But] I don't know what we'll do yet. I really love it right now. We're kinda just pointing and shooting a little bit. Ed [Vedder] will kind of have a vision of what he wants to do next and usually it's just perfect. It's a couple three weeks here and a couple three weeks there. We'll probably get down to South America again I hope. It's going to be fun.
Does Pearl Jam have any plans to record?
The band has been talking. We were actually talking about trying to get in before Bridge School but I think this Band Of Horses [tour] with Brad is going to make that harder to do. But the band is definitely going to get together probably without Ed and start to hammer out some more demos and get some stuff to the point where he can hear. So no plans, but no rush. But I'll be ready to go whenever everybody calls me.
Do you think you might release the next record through a similar deal to the one you did with Target?
We have no idea how we're going to release our next record so there's no talk at least amongst the band in terms of where do we want to go with it. We did an experiment with Target, I think there was some success that we had with that. But we want to keep trying to challenge the norm in terms of what would be interesting and what might work better. I'm not sure what that would be yet.
Worldwide, I'm sure we'll probably try to go with a major again. I'm not sure, but my gut feeling is that trying to cut all the deals that you need to cut in every territory might be more work than we're ready to take on. In America, I think we kind of experiment a little bit more with what are the different ways you can get music out there. So I bet we try something new. Potentially, we could partner with Target again if the deal is right and circumstances are right.
[Target] said it was an exclusive deal but they can call it whatever they want, we were definitely selling records at our site, through iTunes, and through indie stores. But if they got out of it what they wanted to, they certainly paid us a nice amount of money for our record. It was a one-record deal for far more money than any major label ever paid us. As far as partners go or working with a big corp, whether it was Sony corp or PolyGram, they were by far the most generous and the most easy to work with because they felt like they were getting a good deal.
Pearl Jam's drummer Matt Cameron was previously Soundgarden's drummer. What are your thoughts on Soundgarden reuniting and Matt getting back into that?
I'm looking forward to seeing some more Soundgarden shows. I hope that that's part of the mix of next year. Matt getting out there and playing some dates with Soundgarden would make the world so happy. They're crushing and the songs are so great. You can tell they are so reverential music and they're playing with conviction. It just shows you how different bands make the same drummer play in different ways.
It's amazing to think that Pearl Jam and Soundgarden shared a bill on Lollapalooza in 1992, and here we are 18 years later and Pearl Jam has been going strong all along.
It's so great that it's still going on, isn't it? 'Just stick together, don't break up' : that's the advice we got from [U2's manager] Paul McGuinness. That's what he told [PJ manager] Kelly Curtis, he said, "That's all you gotta do." [laughs] It is easier said than done. It's certainly worked out for them.
Well you as well.
You get so much more out of not breaking up. We have these relationships that nobody has to decide who they're going with. There's so much you get out of everybody keeping the focus on moving forward as opposed to dividing.
I've noticed over the last year or so the live show has stepped up another level too: you're playing more songs in the same amount of time and the songs that you're choosing are from all over the map. It's amazing. Was that a conscious decision?
Ed [Vedder] writes the setlist for the most part. But it's a process. He's very thoughtful and I think his setlists are getting better and better, less predictable and more challenging. It's let's play two or three we can go out there and hit them with and really understand that we're really locked in, but then let's try this one we've only played it twice ever. Or never.
I think we're getting better. I think we're breathing more, we have more gratitude and just general appreciation for how special it all is. And I think going into a show, that just elevates [the] music and elevates your sensistivity to each other. And people pick up on that immediately.
If the mood is there, all of the sudden it becomes dreamlike and you can just let go and not think about it. I could hand this guitar... Any one could do this. And with how much singing goes on these days at the shows too, the diversity of Ed's lyrics and all of his different stories, you get whole rooms all [makes cheering sound], all chanting all those words at the same time. It's like, sh*t starts to happen. People start to experience that event not because we're up there doing that but it turns into some kind of ritual.
Over the last year, the crowd has clearly been even more energized and receptive than Pearl Jam crowds always are.
It was different. We felt that too. It's been ongoing. We are more aware that we're getting better and I think it's this time in our career. Everybody's a little older. Like I said, there's this gratitude where we all just can't believe that we get to do this and get to continue to do it. So it builds, it builds on itself.