Pearl Jam have made a long career of raging righteously on the stage and off, supporting a number of charitable endeavors over the years, from environmental organizations to Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, Rock the Vote and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
The latest worthy endeavor guitarist Mike McCready is putting his muscle behind is Seattle’s 30-year-old Treehouse organization, a nonprofit that has helped spur a dramatic increase in high school graduation rates for youth in foster care.
McCready recently spent four hours in a recording studio jamming with five kids from the program, working on the original song “Try So Hard,” which was written and performed by the students along with the guitarist at PJ’s Seattle studio. McCready, who has been involved with Treehouse for over a decade — helping with donation drives and playing benefit concerts — recently answered some email questions for Billboard about the song and the video, which is debuting on PJ’s social media feeds today (Feb. 13).
“I helped the guys shape everything into a working piece of music, but they had the ideas already,” McCready said of the teen musicians: Franky Price, Rickardo Mendiola, Sergio, Joseph and Logan. “Josh Evans who is a really good producer here helped out and everybody from the crew, too. It was an honor to be a part of it. It was really fun.”
The acoustic ballad with a beatboxing backbone features the uplifting verse from Price, “There’s no mistakes to be made/ There’s only room to be great/ Every time you make a move, let it be by your fate/ You’re moving away from days behind/ Be careful don’t lose your mind/ Let it be the reason you have seasons when you know you alright/ I want to be more than alright/ I want to become legendary/ Touching lives among the wise/ I’m becoming a visionary.”
Price and Mendiola wrote the lyrics to the song during the session, with Franky focusing on the verses and Mendiola adding a freestyle and the song’s grabby “Try So Hard” hook, with McCready playing on the finished tune. (Price is a graduate of Treehouse, while the other four are still in foster care and part of the organization’s Graduation Success program and preferred to use just their first names with the exception of Mendiola.)
“Meeting with Mike and being able to have a jam session was awesome. My dream in life is to be able to create music and be able to have people listen to a line and be like, ‘Wow, I’ve been there.,” Price says of the chance to work with the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee in the video. “Once I was in foster care, the dream of becoming a musician became so much more important, and it became the driving force behind what I actually have to say. As a kid in crazy situations like parents who are addicted and being in the system, you feel like you don’t have much of a voice. Treehouse has been like a big brother. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Treehouse.”
McCready says the advice he shared with his young charges was to “keep following their passion and to do it because they love it.” Most importantly, though, he told them to write music for themselves first and then “hope that people will respond to your honesty in terms of the music you’re creating.”
As you might imagine, the experience was transformative for all five of the musicians, with Sergio trying not to freak out about the chance to meet, and jam with, McCready. “I learned that even though he’s popular and he’s a big rock star and everything, he’s just like the rest of all of us,” he explains in the video. “He’s human. He’s fun. He’s smart… It’s awesome. Just seeing him it freaked me out a little because I was so happy.”
Not having a family growing up, Mendiola says music was the thing that helped save him, becoming a friend and a kind of kin, too. “Anytime I’m alone and I’m feeling down, music talks to me. I really did enjoy it, 100 percent. Thumbs up,” he says. Plus, “playing guitar with Mike, oh, it was amazing. There’s nothing else I could say about that. It was fantastic.”
The guitarist says it’s important for the Treehouse kids to believe in their dreams, because sometimes they are the only ones who will. He’s also urged them to have the kind of confidence in themselves to say: “‘I want this dream, and this is how I need to get it. These are the steps I need to take.’ Then hopefully you’ll surround yourself with good organizations like Treehouse and good people that can help you on that way.”
Though he’s jammed with just about everyone you can imagine, McCready called the experience working on “Try So Hard” an “enlightening” one, especially knowing that an organization like Treehouse is there to support them. “That’s kind of the point of being a good human being. I’m proud to know them. It was an honor to be a part of it. It was really fun,” he says. “Everybody should help Treehouse. They’re doing good work for foster kids. The world is so divided, right now. I’m drawn to groups that bring good people together. Maybe that makes the world a little bit better. Let’s please do that.”
Check out the “Try So Hard” video below: