Guitar World - April 1998

Still Alive

By Hélène Schilders

                    Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard emerge from seclusion with a new album- and much to say about their war with Ticketmaster and their distaste for the press. When asked why he's decided to make himself available to the press after more than two years of studious avoidance, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder allows himself some nervous laughter before answering, "It gets boring talking to the same old friends from Seattle." His lighthearted reply notwithstanding, the media-shy Vedder clearly has more than casual chit-chat in mind. The very issue of the band's apparent distaste for the media, for example. Then there's the now celebrated struggle between Pearl Jam's David and the wicked Ticketmaster Goliath. And there is an entirely more mundane matter: Vedder and guitarist Stone Gossard are, in fact, actively promoting the recent release of Yield, Pearl Jam's strongest album since 1993's VS., and an ambitious 40-date tour of the U.S. later this year. "We're excited about the new record and we're excited about the prospect of other people hearing it," says Gossard. "Doing press can be a part of building awareness. We haven't done it in a long time, so it's a way of doing something different." Gossard cautions, however, that Pearl Jam's new accessibility may be short-lived. "This is as much an experiment for us as it is business," he says. "We decided that we were gonna do some press again. We didn't say that we were gonna do it for the rest of our lives. Collectively, we thought, 'Okay, we'll try it.' Maybe it's the last time we'll ever do it."

GW: You've made plans to tour the United States. Here's the obivious question: Will you continue to boycott Ticketmaster?

SG: So far we haven't worked with Ticketmaster. [In an effort to keep ticket prices below $20 for their 1994 summer tour, Pearl Jam challenged Ticketmaster concerning what the band felt were unjust service fees. Since then, Pearl Jam has toured without using the ticket agency.] Although we just did some Rolling Stones dates that were Ticketmaster shows.

EV: Yeah, but those weren't our shows, techinically, so we really couldn't tell the Stones what to do. But generally, we will try to avoid using them. We've talked about it a little bit. We might make an exception if there was one city that we haven't played for three or five years...

SG: Philadelphia, for instance. It's very diffcult to do shows there without using Ticketmaster, and it's one of our favorite paces to play. So there's always a possibility that we might do a Ticketmaster show there. But we will do everything in our power to not work with Ticketmaster, and we're certainly not gonna have a tour sponsored by them.

GW: It is generally perceived that you've lost the battle with them.

EV: We haven't lost anything because we've learned from the experience. There's no way that we, personally, could have lost. It wasn't a chess game. It was basically a case of our trying to be responsible to the people who come to see the shows, in the same spirit as us making sure that we have a good barricade, to seeing to it that the T-shirts are sold at reasonable prices. Basically, it's showing respect to the fans. And, it's safe to say, a lot of these people- those who either run Ticketmaster or the arenas, or the promoters- haven't attended a show as a regular concert-goer in years. And that's for the record.

GW: But wouldn't you have liked to break up Ticketmaster's monopoly?

SG: We weren't trying to break their monopoly. The United States government was investigating Ticketmaster to see whether they were, in fact, a monopoly. They asked us to come testify, based on our experiences. So we turned into the poster boys for this struggle, because the media said: Pearl Jam has this fight with Ticketmaster. We never had any lawsuit or took any legal action against Ticketmaster as Pearl Jam. The U.S. government did; we just testified. Ticketmaster will charge an extra five dollars for a ten dollar, sold-out Jon Spencer Blues Explosion concert, or they'll charge someone three dollars to get into the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., which is supposed to be free. Or they'll add an extra five to six dollars to a 20-dollar Pearl Jam ticket, because we're selling our tickets cheap and they know we're gonna sell-out.

GW: Ultimately, the U.S. government dropped the investigation. Does this disturb you?


SG: It's not over. There are a lot more ticketing companies out there now, and we certainly have many options in a lot of cities where we can tour. We can definately go out and do a non-Ticketmaster tour. For us to play all the cities that we really like to play, we'd probably have to do a Ticketmaster show or two, but that's a small price to pay for the fact that we can really go out and do almost an entire U.S. tour without having to deal with them. Maybe at some point...you never know when a seed you plat might blossom into something worthwhile. So as far as assessing the overall impact of the whole thing, we'll see what it is when we're done being a band.

GW: You've been criticized a lot for your actions vis-a-vis Ticketmaster- some say you caused your fans to suffer.


SG: Sure. We probably deserved some of that. Ticketmaster wasn't the only reason why we weren't touring. There were other reasons within the band. Our own self-imposed seclusion, or whatever it was, was an element of that too.

GW: Why did you choose seclusion?


EV: We were just moving too fast.

GW: How is it that you survived and all those other big grunge names didn't?


SG: That's the big question. You can explore that, and any of those questions for 45 minutes.

GW: What does it take to survive?


EV: Part of survival is not killing yourself.


SG: Not doing any press, not doing any videos and not touring totally helped us survive.


EV: What were we doing? We were playing music. That's what you do together as a band. That's the one activity you do as a band- not all of these peripheral things that not only take away your focus, but suceed only in kinda giving you a weird sense of self.

GW: So your "seclusion" helped you to stay focused?


EV: Yes.


SG: We needed the time off. When we started out, we would do anything: five days of press, three videos and then tour for 200 days. If you give in to the record company, they'll have you working from dawn until dusk. And if you don't know any better, you'll just go: "Okay, that's what we do." But after a while we started falling apart, and at some point we said, "Fuck 'em, we're not gonna do anything, how do you like that?" But in time, we got to this point where we had to let all of that stuff go and give in to the realization that we still wanted to play music and make records together. It's like we're coming out of that storm a little bit, and we can start picking and choosing the thing we like to do about being in the media and playing shows. What kind of shows and tours would we enjoy? What would our schedule be like if we could make it anything we wanted it to be? Keeping a low profile actually helped us realize that you don't have to play the game all the time to be a good band.

GW: MAny of your fans felt that your decision to avoid touring or doing any press meant that you'd turn your back on them.


SG: Not at all. We made a record every year, basically. There are definitely a lot of great bands that have a gone a few years without touring. We have gone two or three years without major extensive touring, and we'll probably never do major extensive touring again. We're gonna do 40 dates in the U.S. this year.

GW: Earlier, I asked how it was that you survived while so much of Seattle died-


EV: That's not even a real question for me, because all those people are still making music. [Former Nirvana bassist] Chris Novoselic has a band, [former Soundgarden vocalist] Chris Cornell is making music and so are [former Soundgarden drummer] Matt Cameron and [former Soundgarden bassist] Ben Shepperd. They're not gone. They're still making music, and if Santa Clause is not dressed as grunge, because it's no longer the popular thing, then that's good, that's fine. I'm glad that part of it died.


SG: I think any musical movement is only gonna have so much play with the media- you're only gonna be able to explore any given musical phenomenon or enigma so much. Seattle just got so explored that peple are tired of hearing about it. It's over in terms of the media. In terms of the individuals that are making the music, Seattle is ffilled with plenty of rocks under which interesting music can still be found. But the chances of that having the same kind of impact in the near future is pretty unlikely. There's too much scrutiny.

GW: What has the hype done to and for Seattle?


SG: Who knows.


EV: For people who are involved in music, it probably enlightened everyone as to how ridiculous things can get.

GW: When I heard Yield, I was surprised that you didn't follow through on the world-beat explorations that characterize No Code. Yield, to me, sounds less focused, more searching.


EV: [surprised] Wow!


SG: More searching than the last one?


EV: Well, I guess there are no general themes. The process on this one was more like, "Here's a song, do you like it? Sure I like it, let's put it on the record. Okay, here's another one, you like this one? Yeah, this one seems pretty good. Okay, let's put this one on." That was our process. But, on the other hand, I don't think we've *ever* sat down and gone, "What kind of record are we gonna make?" In the past, our *modus operandi* has been, we want this record to be better than the last one... [laughs]


SG: Or I want to play better, or I want to hear the drums in a better way, or I want the performances to be be tighter or more cohesive. But as far as the kind of record we're going to make? We just write songs, and when you run out of money, you mix.


GW: No Code struck me as being introverted, experimental...


SG: People say that No Code wasn't like a rock record. The big comment you'd hear over and over again was "experimental record." But then you hear "Habit" and "Hail Hail" and "Lukin", and those songs are totally rock. But I see a lot of continuity between No Code and Yield. Listen to the drums on "Who You Are" from No Code. I don't think Yield's "Given To Fly" would be the song it is without our having made "Who You Are" the year before. There are definitely are some experimental arrangements on the new record. And I think "Sometimes" has a very bizzare arrangement in terms of how it comes and goes. "Wish List" is a liitle bit more straight ahead, but it's also weird in its own way. Or listen to the bridge in "No Way," or the fact that we use some loops on this record.

GW: This record is not like Ten, and it isn't like No Code. It's something in between- it's as if you didn't know which direction to go in.


SG: I think it's more balanced in terms of our knowing what we do well and what's familiar, and also in terms of taking exploratory chances. I think if all we had done was try to explore territory that we'd never gone to before, it would be a very frustrating record to listen to.

GW: There's nothing wrong with that.


EV: That's right.


SG: No, there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but from my perspective, when you hear a band and you know what they can do collectively, you want them to do some of what they do naturally. But at the same time you want them to take chances. So I think this record is a really great combination of those things.


GW: Eddie, to many, you're the voice of the Nineties...


EV: It's written above my bed.

GW: Could the fact that so many of your fans have grown up and left you asking yourself where the band should go now?


EV: I've never bought into that from the word go. Everything is still the same.

GW: You've given many interviews in the past in which you said you hated superstardom. Are you any nore comfortable with that now?


EV: Yeah. It's gotten a lot better. But it's kind of hypocritical to complain about stuff via the media. But, truthfully, I don't know, I wouldn't mind if this was the last interview I ever did. I don't mind talking. It feels normal, but I really don't care about participating in the media at all, besides putting out records. I don't care if my photo ever gets taken again.

GW: No Code didn't sell well. Was that the reason you chose to do press again?


EV: If that was the case... The fact that it didn't sell well really balanced things out a little better. It's been a great, great year. We make music because we want to. And we don't have to make it to sell. I'm thrilled with what No Code did, it's fine. Any band would be happy with those sales.

GW: You've said that those sales gave you "the chance to be normal again."


EV: Yes, so...?


SG: [interrupts] I looked at those sales and went, Maybe that record wasn't as good as it could've been; maybe we didn't really work on that record as hard as we could have.


EV: [annoyed] Or maybe we weren't wagging our asses on TV as much as other people, and that's why their records are selling. If that's how you sell records, those people can do that. That's how I feel. I'm not gonna keep up with that kind of shit. I'd rather have my dignity.

GW: It almost looked as if you guys were trying to sabotage your success.


EV: Not really. It just happened naturally, which is great. [laughs]


SG: I think we could've played better on No Code, could have sounded better; I think we could have written better songs in some ways. I always want to play better and sound better. That's just me. Any other person in the band will give you a different opinion about what they care about. The fact that the record wasn't as widely accepted as our other record made me go, "I'm gonna do better this time, I'm gonna write better songs, I'm gonna demo more things and have more ideas to choose from."

GW: You were frustrated that it didn't sell well.


SG: It didn't frustrate me. Living through a record that was perceived by the media as selling poorly was a good thing for this band to experience. If No Code has sold only eight million copies, we'd probably be humming on this record and playing ukuleles.

GW: It's interesting that where No Code's relatively poor sales led you, Stone, to wonder whether or not it was as good as it might have been, Eddie says that it gave him peace of mind.


SG: Well, we both appreciated it. But for different reasons. It made me want to do more, while he appreciated it because it allowed him to step away.


EV: He realized that- I didn't have to say anything.

GW: In November 1996, Rolling Stone ran a clearly unflattering cover story which portrayed you as ambitious and calculating. How did you react to that?


EV: I didn't read it.

GW: I'm sure other people told you about it.


EV: Not even that. I just read letters that my friends wrote in my defense. We were in Istanbul.

GW: Even Courtney Love defended you.


EV: Yeah, so I thought, "My God, it must really be bad." Three weeks ago I read it off the computer. I don't know, it was kinda funny. Just kinda funny.

GW: Rolling Stone implied that you've always wanted to be famous, a notion that contrasts sharply with the things you've said in past interviews.


EV: I think there's a difference between wanting to be famous and wanting to be successful working in the arts. What does successful mean? It means being able to make art for your living or participating in art. That would be great, as long as I don't have to go back to another job or that midinght shift. I worked hard to get to that point. And I'm so glad I did. My life is just unbelievable sometimes, how it's turned out. Boy, do i ever get to make art and get paid for it. And have experiences. Now I don't even care anymore about getting paid. I'm so fortunate that way. Now, beyond getting to do this for a living, I'm actually able to share with my peers. Like Ron Wood in the living room the other night, playinh "Havana Moon" or aomething. And some other friends. This is great, this sis about music im it's purest sense. All these things happened because we worked really hard. Everyone has worked really hard. And things like the cover of Time magazine, any of those things, that's not what you think about as you are working really hard, struggling.

GW: And you don't think Ron Wood is playing with you because you've been on the cover of Time?


EV: No, I don't think he knows about any of that stuff. Time, on Ron Wood's table? I don't think so. Besides, that cover was back in 1993.

 

[Back] [Mainpage]