RIP Magazine - 10/92
How Sweet It Is!
by S.L. Duff
This summer's Lollapalooza tour features some of the most exciting acts in music, including one Pearl Jam, whose steady rise in popularity [their debut album, Ten, went platinum] reflects the audience's eager acceptance of their thoughtful, hard-driving, sometimes dreamy music. In my mind, Pearl Jam's popularity has a lot to do with their connection with the crowd themselves. At one of the band's recent gigs, at the Hollywood Palladium, a friend of mine was hanging with the crew and noted that PJ guitarist Stone Gossard had difficulty obtaining entrance backstage to his own show. "I'm in the band," didn't sway the security guy who simply replied, "How do I know?" causing my friend to note that Pearl Jam looks more like their fans than just about any other group you can think of. The band-Gossard, vocalist Eddie Vedder, drummer Dave Abbruzzese, lead guitarist Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament-projects a strong vibe of friendship among themselves. Ament refers to his band as a "family." This feeling rolls out from the stage to the pit and beyond, creating an eerie, but comforting unity, at a Peal Jam show, which hopefully carries over into the fans' lives after the group has left the stage, because in these times we all could use a bit of unity, don't ya think? This is not lost on the bands members, as you'll see in this interview, conducted towards the end of their U.S. tour in May of this year. The band wasn't granting many interviews, preferring to let the music do the talking, but since RIP promised to avoid the "How'd you get your name?/ Tell us about Seattle" approach, the guys opened up with some sincere opinions and ideas. The following is just a fraction of the conversations I had, first with bassist Ament and drummer Abbruzzese poolside at their hotel in Ventura, California, and later with vocalist Vedder from his home in Seattle.
RIP: Your record was recorded a full year ago, but some people are just getting into it. How does it hold up for you guys?
JEFF AMENT: In a lot of ways, it doesn't. I think, especially with a first record, that always happens. We were only a band for about three months when we made that record. Dave didn't play on it, so we have a completely different member in the band. I think where we're going musically right now, and how we're playing together, is a completely different place.
RIP: Is there anything that maybe, to you, seems kmd of obvious, but that no one ever touches on; somethmg you d like to talk about that no one ever seems to focus on?
JEFF: The musical end of it. Most people don't want to know what time signature we played a certain song in.
DAVE ABBRUZZESE: What kind of tuning we used, or what kind of bass.
JEFF: Or what Eddies background vocal was in this part, what they did to it, how we EQed it to make it sound that way. Those are things we talk about all the time. We're always thinking production, we're thinking songs, were thinking music, groove.
RIP: I think that's frustrating for a lot of musicians, because the media tends to focus on personalities, and artists tend to focus on craft. People just want to know, Who is he dating? What drugs does he do?
JEFF: It makes sense. Musically, a lot of people, they hear it, and it either gets them off or it doesn't. That's good. On one level that's great, just going with the feeling you get from the music. At the same time I m so fucking sick of talking about myself, where I grew up, what bands I played with that's all past. I'm looking forward to today and tomorrow.
RIP: You guys have a vibe, like a brotherhood. A lot of bands profess, we're a gang; we're all pals, but it sort of comes across a little fake. It seems pretty genuine with you and, to me, that seems like one basis for your popularity beyond the music itself. Do you get that feeling back from the people?
JEFF: Yeah, especially onstage its that way, man. Our whole trip is playing off of each other, really listening to each other. That's what makes great songs; that's what makes great music The ultimate songs work, like, if you just take the drum part out, or you take the bass part out, it sounds like the weirdest, most sideways thing you ever heard; but when you put it all together, its this beautiful thing. That's what's cool. We're just learning about that whole aspect of playing, just creating different vibes of dynamics. Hopefully on the next record we'll explore those extremes even more.
RIP: Since we are talking about unity among yourselves, when you're out traveling around the country, do you see a pretty severe lack of unity in the United States as a whole right now?
DAVE: For sure.
DAVE: Family, community.
RIP: You think it goes all the way down to the family unit?
DAVE: Yeah, that's where it starts. If you have a loss of family, that whole family vibe, then you're not going to understand how to deal with being part of a community, how to deal with your neighbors, your friends.
JEFF: How to deal with anyone. There's so many people just looking out for number one. It's pretty much fuck everybody else.
DAVE: Theres still some places, though, where you walk through a neighborhood and sense that everybody gets together-like somebody's flower bed goes into somebody else's yard. You can tell that those people can get along and talk. But then there's other places where there's big fences up. The neighborhood I lived in in Texas was a small neighborhood, a suburban neighborhood. We had neighbors that lived next door to us all the time I lived with my folks, and I never knew them. I never knew their first names. The only time I ever saw them was when they bitched at me for parking my car in front of their house. I think there's a big lack of community and family and unity, period, in this country; and that's a big root of all the problems that are coming to the surface now.
JEFF: I think a lot of that has to do with racial tensions and the whole educational system collapsing. I mean, if these kids don't have people at home teaching them things, why should the teachers be subjected to having to teach them how to wipe their butts? It's a little hard for me. The only way I've grasped it is from hearing other people tell the story, 'cause I grew up in a pretty tightknit family in a small town in Montana, you know, 800 people. I knew everyone. In a lot of ways I feel like I have a pretty good sense of unity. Everybody knew everybody else and, for the most part, everybody got along.
RIP: Your LP is still climbing the charts, it's still a big deal, and people are still probably asking you tons of questions about it; but it's a year old, and you've had a lot of time to reflect on it. How does it sound to you now?
EDDIE VEDDER: Are you trying to insult me? "It's still climbing up the charts. It's still doing well." You know I'm offended by all that, right?
EDDIE: Well, gosh, I shouldn't be, should l?
RIP: No, you should be proud.
EDDIE: I'm proud of the music, and I'm proud that people are hearing it, and I'm proud that it's doing well, but I wish that "doing well" wasn't selling records, you know what I mean? 'Cause it could be doing well in my opinion and I'd be just as proud of it-if a fhousand people were hearing it, or 10,000 people. Even 100,000 would be nice. That would guarantee us making another record, pretty much. The fact is, if it sells a million records, you can't even grasp that; so I can't say that I'm proud of it, because it doesn't affect my general life. I still live in an apartment that's $500 a month with another person, a roommate. It doesn't change your general living. I guess that if a check comes it could change it, and I don't want it to. That's even more to avoid. It becomes a problem.
RIP: It doesn't have to be. Musicians work toward that and figure, "Well, okay, we've sold a million records We've established that we're not only good artists and good musicians, but that people like what we do." I would think, if anything, it would give you even more control over what you care about most: the music.
EDDIE: And so that's good, and that's what we'll focus on, music. That will be the one good, positive byproduct of this whole thing, the amount of attention. Yeah, that would be correct. Everything else threatens to pull you away from your art.
RIP: So what you're saying is, the record sales and the potential money earned from that can be a big distraction and a big pain in the butt.
EDDIE: And it's not normal. You're talking about people who have lived their lives from paycheck to paycheck; who are going from not knowing where the next thing's coming from to having security. Are they gonna kick back and start relaxing? Is that going to change the music? Of course it will. At the same time, there's people telling you, "Well, you better make sure you sign your own checks, and you better make sure that you count that money daily, because it's yours, and it'll be gone." The thing is, money's not my trip it never has been-and I don't want it to become my trip. If anything, there'll be people who could use a little bit of money who maybe I can help out, or who are struggling and deserve a little break. You mentioned that it kind of legitimizes musicians and their work, the fact that not only did they create this work, but that it sold a lot. There's so many aspects and variables, many of them unexplained, that lend popularity or that connect with people. It's some thing you can't just do. There's no formula. There's some amazing music out there that doesn't get heard, so I don't feel any better about it. But what you said, maybe getting a little bit of leverage to keep your art whole and pure, I guess that'll be the one thing that we work on.
RIP: Are you going to be voting?
EDDIE: I'm going to be voting, yeah, but that's because I've stayed up on these issues and I kind of know what's up It's not about whether I give a fuck who's going to be president, because the president's just a puppet; everybody's gotta understand that. It's more like voting on the local issues and things like that.That's how you're going to make a difference for your own personal lives. If they can't get the pro-choice thing here, in this state of Washington, then it starts to connect to other states. They've set a precedent in Washington, and then it's going to happen there, there and there. That's why I mention voting as being one way of solidifying, of people letting their voice be heard.
RIP: As you guys travel across the county, what strikes you as the biggest problem we have?
EDDiE: Well, there's many problems. The biggest problem is that none of them are being addressed. You've got politicians and that hierarchy of people making decisions, and they're completely removed from any of this, from any of what's going on, from the homeless situation to the job market. They're removed. They come into a city, and they stay in a hotel and get a ride in a nice car, maybe even with an escort, from one place to another, to a dinner with full black ties. They're completely removed.
RIP: Have you ever had an out-of body experience?
EDDIE: Yeah, I just wouldn't know how to explain it.
RIP: Give it a try.
Tell you what, why don't I not. I've actually had a number of them, but the
reason I wouldn't want to talk about them is because to tell you about it over
the phone would be cheapening it. If we were in a coffee shop or, even better,
at a campfire or something like that where we were kind of sharing out-of-body
experiences, then I could really get into it. I'd kind of be !n the moment, and
we'd be in a more magical situation I could use my hands, and you'd see the
magic in my eyes, and you'd understand it more. I do remember one when I was 14.
I was really high, and I was playing this picking pattern on my guitar. I hadn't
been playing guitar that long, and my fingers were just going like a spider on
the strings I was totally removed from myself. I was watching these fingers I
didn't even have control of them-and they were doing this perfect rhythmic
motion. It was totally hypnotic. Right before I came up to Seattle, that was my
theory on writing songs to play one thing over and over and just be hypnotized
by it until it was almost like meditation, where the end of the last note in the
passage fell over into the next one like dominoes. You'd be kind of hypnotized
by this thing; then, when you got really into it and you were somewhere else,
that's when you would open your mouth and see what came out. You were somewhere
else; you weren't "writing a song" You weren't sitting at a desk and
just trying to get out these thoughts. It was something much more organic than