Rip Magazine 12/91
Pearl Jam -- Life After Love Bone
by Jennifer Clay
"It's been a really weird last four days. I've been up all night. This mini-tour thing, the record release after that -- the whole thing seems kind of intense. There are so many mind frames you can go through. There's the business side. There's the spiritual side. The art, the pure form. It's really hard," singer Eddie Vedder muses as we speed down a Seattle interstate to a club where Pearl Jam is rehearsing songs from their debut record, Ten.
Eddie's a novice when it comes to the business side of music and being in a signed band. He admits this is his first interview, and that he isn't very good at it. I beg to differ. Soon, however, he relaxes, and is telling the tale of how a night watchman surfing on the beach in San Diego ended up in Seattle in the amazing new band Pearl Jam.
"Jack [Irons, drummer in Eleven and formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers] sent me three of their songs," Eddie explains. "I had them in my head from the night before at work, and I went surfing and had this amazing day. The whole time I was out there surfing, I had this stuff going through my head -- the music -- and the words going at the same time. I put them down on tape and sent it off.
"I didn't really know what Stone [Gossard, Pearl Jam's guitarist] and Jeff [Ament, bassist] wanted. The music just felt really open to me. Then I thought, 'Wow, the music is really good; maybe I should have paid more attention. Maybe I should have written it down. Maybe I should have really listened to it before I sent it off.'
"It was three songs, like rambling weird stuff. One of them is called 'Alive,' and one of them is called 'Once,' and then one of them was called 'Times of Trouble,' which, actually, Chris [Cornell, Soundgarden] did a version of on the Temple [Of The Dog] record. Mine was called 'Footsteps.' It was the same music, but different words. There are two versions of that floating around. Actually, the whole thing was a three-song mini-opera. Using Stone's music, I set it to this three-act play 'Alive' was the first act, and that has incest and violence. You have to read all this into it. Actually, the violent one was 'Once' -- he goes out and kills people. Then 'Times of Trouble,' or my version, 'Footsteps.' That song sounded like sitting in a jail cell. It's about a guy who was tortured as a child, which is the reason behind him turning into a mass murderer."
Trapped in a car traveling about 55 miles per hour with someone I don't know, in a city I don't know, talking about mass murderers! I hesitatingly ask, "Where did you come up with this idea?"
"Personal experience," Eddie says, laughing. "It's all coming in from all these other sources... stuff that you see. Real life is so much more intense than any movie, any song, any book -- if you join up and see the right performance. It's not something you could buy tickets for. Two nights ago I'm staying in the basement of this art gallery where we rehearse, and I was using the restroom at about three in the morning. I heard these drunks in the back alley. I went to listen through the crack in the door, because I thought I could hear them better. I could actually see through the half-inch clearing. It was more intense than any movie. It was all so real. There was a beginning, middle and end. It was like drugs, violence, all within less than 20 minutes. It was fascinating."
For Eddie, who has worked with the homeless and wrote the song "Even Flow" about the homeless life, the experience was even more intense. "If I could have actually sat in that alcove of the alley with them and had these three beers with them, I would have loved to. But then I wouldn't have seen what I saw."
Eddie's real outlook and frank observations were obviously to the band's liking. The bond was nearly instantaneous for both Stone and Jeff, who were just pulling their lives together after their band Mother Love Bone had collapsed upon the death of their friend and former MLB singer Andy Wood. The founding Pearl Jam members recall their initial reactions to Eddie over coffee in a trendy Seattle cafe.
"We were blown," Stone explains. "He was really the first that had it. We had a few other tapes of singers, but it was always people singing Mother Love Bone songs or trying to be like Andy. When we heard Eddie's tape, it was like, here's a guy who didn't really know anything about Mother Love Bone for the most part. He didn't have any preconceived notions about what it was. He just related to these non-vocal demos that we sent him."
"It was a kind of a sick, disturbed rock opera -- if Nietzsche were to write a rock opera," Jeff says about Eddie's first three songs. "I mean, lyrically, I think he's amazing. I think he's really visual. I think just the fact that he's coming from a completely different place than Andy was coming from, that really appeals to us.
So Eddie went off to Seattle for a busy nine days with Stone, Jeff, guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Dave Krusen. "We rehearsed like crazy for six or seven days," Jeff says. "We were in the studio and recorded everything that we had rehearsed, which was like ten songs. Then we played a show. Within ten days, it was pretty happening. Everybody knew it was the right thing."
Eddie went back home, then came up again about a month later and did the same thing -- rehearsed for a couple weeks and played some more shows with Alice In Chains under the name Mookie Blaylock, an underdog basketball player for the New Jersey Nets. "We didn't think we'd be very good, so we didn't want anyone to know who we were," Stone says, laughing. "We just kinda used his name, and some people actually liked the name. Mookie loved it, by the way. He's a great fan."
"Mookie's kinda out there. He's kinda this cult player," Eddie says.
"Kinda mediocre," Stone cuts in, laughing.
"He's really got to bust his balls out there every night," Eddie continues.
"He's not really good looking; he's just tough," Stone adds.
Might there be a parallel somewhere here?
"There's something about the mediocre sports hero that this band can relate to," Stone says, referring to the volleyball game he and Eddie had played earlier in my visit -- a definite lesson in male bonding and competition. "Just knowing that someday even a regular guy off the street can win the championship, if the team has the right chemistry."
Chemistry in motion and confidence on the rise, the name was changed to Pearl Jam. "Apparently my great grandmother Pearl married some Indian chief," Eddie explains. "And she used to make this peyote jam, Pearl's Jam. It hasn't been passed down, but the idea still stands." And the band was ready.
"We were looking to get a band together right away [after MLB]," Jeff remembers. "We thought it was going to take a lot longer than it did. Once it started to happen, I didn't really want it to stop. I basically told Michael [Goldstone, A&R man] at Epic, 'If you want us on the label this is the schedule of things that have to happen.' We had a schedule of when we wanted to make a record. It was only six or eight weeks after we'd been a band. It was exactly what we didn't do with Mother Love Bone, and that was to actually get some of the spontaneity and freshness of the songs; to get really close to them when they were written. With Mother Love Bone, most of the songs on that record had been written for a year. That's the way a lot of music is made. It's an analytical process, where you try to write a certain kind of song for a certain kind of audience to sell a certain amount of product or records. I think that's not what it's about. I wanted to get back to making a record that was a little bit more raw, with a little more emphasis on getting the intensity.
I think we did that with this record. There are some moments on this record that are pretty incredible. At the same time, I think there's a real looseness about it. I think it properly captured where we were at as a band. I don't think it overextended what we could do. I think it's a real honest record."
Ten -- which happens to be Mookie Blaylock's number -- has eleven songs. The speed with which they were written and recorded doesn't give them a half-assed feel. Rather, it adds to the "real, raw, free" vibe. There are many incredible moments, as in "Why Go," a true story about a teenage friend of Eddie's who was hospitalized after getting caught smoking pot, and "Release," which was written when Stone was playing and tuning up, and the rest of the band was just hitting notes. Eight minutes later the band recorded it on a tape lying around.
A creative and vibrant sense is alive in the somewhat depressing, yet frank songs. The band seems very aware of creating moods, which have been captured on Ten. The sound is not like Mother Love Bone, but more akin to Temple Of The Dog, which Stone, Jeff, Mike and Eddie all worked on with members of Soundgarden.
"This is not Mother Love Bone Part Two! This is a totally different band," Stone says. "Mother Love Bone, in a lot of ways, toward the end especially, was a creatively stifling experience for the people involved. I think that this is the kind of band where we're not letting any ideas die. If anyone has a legitimate musical idea, it at least is coming to the point where we play the song and record it, then make a decision as a band whether we like the song and it's something we're going to continue to play or not. Mother Love Bone did a lot of editing even before the song was written, as far as what we were going to play and what kind of stuff we liked. I feel like this band now is so much more open to new ideas and types of things. It's huge steps away from Mother Love Bone. In that sense, I think similar ideas that we would have had in Mother Love Bone that never came to fruition are actually being finished at this point. The more I play with Eddie, the more I hear how his vocals work, and the more he hears how I write songs, the better we'll get. I think that's what I am even more excited about. There are moments on the record that we have right now that aren't perfect, which is great. That's the kind of record we wanted to make."
Pearl Jam's first year was a busy one. They rehearsed, wrote and recorded a smashing first record; played a few shows; played a lot of basketball and a little volleyball; recorded a song for and had a bit part as Matt Dillon's backup band in Cameron Crowe's new movie, Singles; drank a lot of coffee and swallowed a few Excels, natural Chinese herbs; made some great music; and didn't spend much time wasted.
I'm much more happy in this band than any other band I've been in," Jeff adds. "Everybody does their own thing. Nobody is telling anyone else that they're playing too much or too little. It just sort of falls into place. It's just the way music should be. If there is a band leader writing all the songs and telling everybody what to do, then it's not a band. Then the guy should make studio records. It's the way a lot of bands are run, but not really a lot of bands in Seattle. I think that's a pretty unique thing about what is happening here. Everybody just kind of does what they want to do, and they tell everybody else to fuck off."