Long before COVID-19 made sheltering in place mandatory, the members of Painted Shield, including Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and singer/songwriter Mason Jennings, composed their self-titled debut album largely apart from each other.
Attribute the solitary process to their hectic schedules more than any foreshadowing of the forced isolation imposed by the pandemic. But once the coronavirus did hit, one small bright side is that it gave the band, which also includes drummer Matt Chamberlain and keyboardist Brittany Davis, time to finish the project that had been six years in the making.
The result is an often intense look at modern life, set to a solid rock beat, with elements of industrial and funk. The album comes out Nov. 27 on Gossard’s revived Loosegroove label, distributed through The Orchard.
Gossard and Jennings chatted with Billboard about the project and why Bob Dylan could play a role in their future.
It’s been six years since the two of you released “Knife Fight,” which is on this album, and “Caught in a Mess.” How did what you envisioned for the project evolve over that time?
Jennings: “Knife Fight” was the first song we did back then and I think we were really happy and kind of surprised by how good it turned out. The version of “Knife Fight” on the upcoming record is slightly different and more evolved than that original version but the basic structure was there. We just kept working on things and being happily surprised that they kept getting better.
Gossard: Not sure either of us had any idea of where this could end up. At each stage we kept deconstructing our process and adding layers. Starting with “Knife Fight” which I wrote music and Mason wrote lyrics for and sang. The most significant layers were including Matt Chamberlain (who played on a few of the original songs sent to Mason, along with Josh Freese ) and also Seattle singer/songwriter Brittany Davis. Brittany’s voice and amazing keys are so vital to the sound of record, and Matt contributed the last two compositions we finished, “I Am Your Country” and “Orphan Ghost.”
How did “Time Machine” come about? The guitar riff is crunchy and industrial at the same time. What was going through your head as you were writing the music?
Gossard: “Time Machine” was a demo that I’ve kicked around for 10 years. It had a few other parts in the original, but over the course of making record we really simplified and broke it open, both arrangement-wise and lyrically. It was the most worked over of all the tracks. John Congleton’s mix was also a huge part of the final version.
The song is about time and the video all about motion. Was the video existing footage or created specifically for the video? What do you want people to get from it at a time when most of us are very still.
Gossard: The “Time Machine” video was created by my partner at Loosegroove, Regan Hagar. He used existing footage. I think it’s entirely his vision for how the song made him feel and also given the constraints of public domain footage. It took a view of the world as our hive in my mind. It’s mesmerizing.
Jennings: The lyrics are mostly a meditation that there is no way to go backwards once something regrettable has happened in your life, once a mistake has been made. To me the video brings that micro concept to the macro when it evokes the climate crisis.
Stone, you would send Mason instrumentals for him to write lyrics and other flourishes. What song surprised you the most when you got it back?
Gossard: We made the record over six years and certain songs stuck out as being slam dunks right off the bat. When he sent “On The Level” it just sounded so natural and optimistic, the melody and the lyric. I love that. Reminds me of riding my BMX bike, listening to Joe Walsh on radio and smoking Columbian pot in 1976.
The music for Painted Shield was recorded completely remotely with none of the four of you ever in the studio at the same time. Knowing what was coming, do you wish you’d found some way to hang out together in person?
Jennings: Yes! That would have been fun. Stone and I have spent a couple days together over the years but I still haven’t met Brittany or Matt is person. I look forward to that day!
Gossard: We are scheming right now about getting together to finish our second record and make some lovely performance videos soon, we hope. Our process with remote recording worked great but yes, we’re desperate to play in same room.
I know all the players on the record. All of them great great musicians and people. Josh Freese, Jeff Fielder, Hans Teuber, Om Johari, Keith Lowe and, of course, Mike [McCready] and Jeff [Ament] from Pearl Jam. So fun to have all these amazing folks part of this recording.
What kind of finishing touches did the album need that you added after the pandemic?
Gossard: The biggest finishing touch was the incredible mix by John Congleton. His busy schedule suddenly cleared up and he was able to really get deep with these mixes. We encouraged him to both play on and be aggressive with mixes. He changed the course of lots of these tracks by pulling stuff out and focusing on the most essential sounds and moods. He is fantastic. Also, the last song we recorded was “I Am Your Country,” which is an incredible Matt Chamberlain composition. His songwriting with me heavily featured on the record. He is knocking all of us out. Big. Ass. Grooves!!
Stone, what kind of musical outlet does Painted Shield provide you that Pearl Jam doesn’t?
Gossard: There is no bigger Influence and foundation in my life then my participation in Pearl Jam. I’m seriously the luckiest musician on planet to be a member and to help create its sound, but I’m always writing and sometimes it’s fun to
play with other people
When you can get on the road, any tour plans for Painted Shield if Matt’s schedule touring with Bob Dylan allows?
Jennings: Yes. We would love that. Maybe some multiple nights in select cities or something? Excited to perform these songs live. There’s a lot of juice and creativity in them that I think would translate well to different interpretations on the stage.
Gossard: I hope Dylan will let Painted Shield open up for him. Can you imaging how fun that would be to play and then watch Dylan every night?