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March 1993

 

                    Pearl Jam's label, Epic, in early March 1993, released Brad's [Stone's sideproject] debut album 'Shame'. They mailed out a handful of promotional cassettes. And in March Pearl Jam traveled to San Rafael, California, where, at the Site, a recording compound perched high in the hills outside San Francisco, they would record their much-anticipated second album, Vs, with producer Brendan O'Brien. At Brendan's suggestion they also agreed to mix down every track completely before moving on to the next. The initial week of recording had produced 'Rats', 'Blood', 'Go', (had begun life as an acoustic riff of Dave's) and a slow, potent version of their previously unrecorded stage favorite, 'Leash'. Then the band hit a wall. Eddie disappeared into San Francisco, often sleeping in his truck to preserve his fighting spirit. Kevin Scott, one of the engineers who worked on the album recalled "he felt the studio was a little too nice to really write some of these heavy lyrics that he'd been thinking about". 

                    "He needed to get in the space of his songs. Soon we were back on track", Jeff Ament.

                    "Recording Vs., there was a lot more pressure on Ed. The whole follow-up. I thought we were playing so well as a band that it would take care of itself. Toward the end it got fairly intense. He was having a hard time finishing up the songs; the pressure, and not being comfortable being in such a nice place. We tried to make it as uncomfortable for him as we could. He slept in the freaking sauna", Jeff Ament.

                    "The second record, that was the one I enjoyed making the least. We didn't record it in Seattle, and it was just like being on tour. I just didn't feel comfortable in the place we were at because it was very comfortable. I didn't like that at all", Eddie Vedder.

                    "We were actually there [The Site] for two months. Most of the songs were written before we got there, but we wrote a couple in the studio. We took the approach of recording one song at a time, setting up the room and our gear, getting everything down right, and putting it away before going on to the next song. And that was a great way to do things because in a typical way of recording, you lay down your rhythm tracks, then the guitar tracks, and then the vocals. So by the time it gets to vocals, the drummer's sick of sitting around listening to the same track over and over again, and you can get burned out on it. So the ability to have the whole band involved from start to finish was a great thing, and it kept it fresh for everybody. A lot of bands miss out on that", Dave Abruzzesse.

                    "Because Temple was so easy to do, I figured Ten would be the same, but it wasn't. We had to delve into it much more. It was fine for what it was," he sighs, "but I think we were all kind of tired of it after a while. Not to put it down at all - I love that album - but it's an old album and we'd probably heard it too much. We were all really excited about recording new stuff, and our goal was just to go down to San Francisco and get as many fresh takes as we could", Mike McCready.

                    "When we finally went in to do the new record, I was really looking forward to it, but it wasn't a case of, "Now I get to prove what I can do." It was more a case of looking forward to this band going in and doing something as awesome as making a record. When we first went into the studio, there wasn't any talk of following up a successful record. We just wanted to make songs that represented us. We didn't want to make Pearl Jam Eleven. A lot of the success of the last record did go into the new record, though. I mean, you can't remove yourself from who you are", Dave Abruzzesse.

                    "So much of the album aranged itself once he started singing. We'd come down after rehearsing in the studio with some new ideas, and he'd come down later and we'd play him the tape. And he'd say, right, let's jam on this riff or that section. Maybe originally we'd played four bars of something, and then with Eddie there we could feel it wanted to go twice as long. You could tell when the music wanted to change just by the way he was singing. It was sort of unspoken", Stone Gossard.

                    "Our original plan was to rehearse in the same space for five or six days before we started. So we set up in a semicircle, with the drums in the middle. We started playing and it was feeling really good, so Brendan started putting up mikes, and we ended up cutting three songs: "Rats," "Go," and "Blood" in the first five days. We were looking to get a different drum sound on a couple of songs, so Dave set up in a small tiled room, and Brendon put three mics on the kit. We cut everything live except for some vocal overdubs and lead overdubs. Eddie even kept a few of his (reference) lead vocals: "Blood," "Leash," and "Indifference." We were going for takes where everyone felt good about the groove. On a couple of songs. We sometimes rehearse to a click track, which makes it easier. When you're trying to get four or five instruments to lock into one thing, if the pulse is dead-on there's not much room for error -- either you're playing on it or you're not. Overall I think Dave did an amazing job, and on the average I don't think we did more than four five takes of each tune. We'd play the song two or three times, and if it wasn't happening we'd move on to something else. We got to the point where were getting ahead of Eddie; we were getting a lot of musical ideas, and trying to write lyrics for 20 songs in a month and make them mean something is a pretty intense job. I played my Carruthers SUB-1 on "Daughter" and "Indifference." I had been looking for an electric upright for a while, but I never found one I really liked. Most of then sounded fine plugged in, but I wasn't crazy about how they sounded unamplified. I tried the Carruthers in a music store and bought it -- and I have no complaints. In a rock situation the piezos feed back occasionally, but on the whole our sound man likes it a lot", Jeff Ament.

                    "Your shot," calls Jeff Ament, the group's bassist. He bounces the ball to Vedder, who takes a long outside jumper. It rattles into the basket and rolls away. By the time Ament retrieves the ball, Vedder has already disappeared into the studio. His mind is on a new song, "Rearviewmirror." This is the last day of recording at the Site, and the track's fate hangs in the balance. It's a song about suicide... but it's too "catchy." The choice of studio seemed perfect back in February, when the band decided to record the new album here. This idyllic studio compound in the hills outside the San Francisco offered privacy and focus. Keith Richards had recorded here; his thank-you note to the studio is framed on the living-room wall. This is gorgeous country, where locals look out at the expansive green horizon and say things like "George Lucas owns everything to the left." This is where Pearl Jam would face the challenge of following up Ten, one of the most successful debut albums in rock. There was only one problem. "I fucking hate it here," says Vedder, standing in the cool blue room where he is about to sing. "I've had a hard time." He places the lyric sheet on a stand between two turquoise-green guitars. "How do you make a rock record here? Maybe the old rockers, maybe they love this. Maybe they need the comfort and the relaxation. Maybe they need it to make dinner music." Frustrated, Vedder shakes his head. He pulls at his black T-shirt, uncomfortable in his own skin. A long moment passes. Finally, producer Brendan O'Brien speaks over the intercom. "Ready to give it a shot?"  "Sure," Vedder says quietly, turning his back for the vocal. He slips on headphones, and for a long time the only sound in the room is his tapping foot", Cameron Crowe (Singles Director).

                    "There are two Eddie Vedders. One is quiet, shy, barely audible when he speaks. Loving and loved in return. The other is tortured, a bitter realist, a man capable of pointing out injustice and waging that war on the home front, inside himself. On a warm and windy late-spring day in San Rafael, California, it's easy to see which Eddie Vedder is shooting baskets outside the Site, the recording studio where Pearl Jam are finishing their second album. It is tortured Eddie, the one with the deep crease between his eyebrows", Cameron Crowe (Singles Director).  

                    "Everybody in Pearl Jam wrote a lot, but when we get together,  we write three or four completly new songs anyway. They just come out of jams. As a band we've become better friends, we just hang out together and groove on that: the music follows. We're taking a lot more changes. The more we play together the more we develop our own thing. When we first started playing together, a lot of our riffs were Mother Love Bone type riffs, but I think the more we play together, the more we're finding a confortable medium. There's definitely groovy guitar riffs, and there's some balance to a lot of slower stuff", Stone Gossard.

 

                    The band's creative partner for Vs. was Brendan O'Brien, who, in addition to numerous high-profile mixing and engineering credits, has produced the Black Crowes, Dan Baird, and Stone Temple Pilots. The Atlanta native is a superb roots guitarist in his own right - check out his gripping lead work on Mick Jagger's Wandering Spirit - and his facility, knowledge, and consistently good hands instantly earned Mike McCready's respect. From the start, Pearl Jam and O'Brien agreed to complete mixdowns during the recording process, rather than hedging their sonic bets until all the titles were in.

 

                    "We talked about each song and bounced ideas back and forth about whether we needed a dry sound here or a tight, punchy snare sound there. Sometimes my idea would win out and sometimes his idea would, but either way we both ended up happy. That's not to say we didn't have out moments of coming from different places. [laugh] A lot of it depends on how much give-and -take goes on, and there were definitely times when it was like, "Oh, jeez!" You just try to leave yourself open-minded enough to accept different ideas and maybe something would come up that neither of us had thought of. As far as my playing, on the song "Rats", Brendan really wanted me to open the hi-hat, just let the groove open up and plow through. I'd originally approached the song a lot tighter, more hip-hoppy. But when I opened up and bashed my way through it, I felt it just made the whole song explode more. It actually gave the song a different shape, making the chorus different. Little thing like that can make a big difference. When we were originally working on "Daughter", I did a lot more stuff on the toms. But when we went in to record it, Brendan suggested trying something different, to just use the kick and snare. That was a trip, because we'd already been playing that song for half a year, and I was kind of used to what I was doing. At first I was like, "Well…okay…" so I set up a 26" kick, a snare, and an 18" floor tom, and we just used the room mic's and went for it. It actually brought out a whole new dimension of the song for me, and it felt really fresh to me to play it like that. Live, I kind of mix the two approached together", Dave Abruzzesse.

 

                    "The guy can play every song ever written. He's crazy - a great guitarist and a really good poker player...Personally, I loved it [about the complete mixdowns]. It kept us focused, kept the basic tracks more live, and kept us working", Mike McCready.

                    "It's all about being spontaneous. When we were working on Vs. I had this beautiful old yellow Telecaster, and our producer, Brendan O'Brien, had one that was very similar. We were recording the song "Don't Go On Me," and I threw the guitar up in the air at the end of the take, allowing it to come crashing down on the ground.  Brendan was sitting next to our engineer, Nick DiDia, and he said, "Did he just throw my guitar?  He just threw my guitar, goddammit!"  And I said, "No, it wasn't your guitar.  I'd never do that to you!"  But it made a great sound, and he got it onto the take", Mike McCready.

                    "It made a big difference in terms of the energy of the music. We were just into it more. We were psyched to hear the song and know that when we were done, we'd get to hear the whole song. That's also the way [producer] Brendan O'Brien works. And one of the goals we all had was to just enjoy making a record. I wasn't around for the last record, but I think everybody wanted more out of this one, to be a little more pleased with it, make it a little less of a labor. And Brendan likes to work fast, so he fell in line with what we wanted to do. A lot of it was just letting out parts happen. We didn't get too technical in figuring out exactly what we wanted to do. We just wanted to let it happen and be magical rather then worked-on. So if we did the song and it felt great to everybody, even if there was a part that was a little messed up or we could have been a little tighter on, we'd keep that track and then just fix that part by editing a part in or having someone clean up their part later", Dave Abruzzesse.

                    "There's a great song we recorded for Vs., "Better Man," which ended up on Vitalogy. One of the first rehearsals we did they played it and I said "man, that song's a hit." Eddie just went "uhhh." I immediately knew I'd just the said the wrong thing. We cut it once for Vs., he wanted to give it away to this Greenpeace benefit record, the idea was that the band was going to play and some other singer was going to sing it. I remember saying to the engineer, Nick, "this is one of their best songs and they're going to give it away! Can't happen!" And we went to record it and I'm not going to say we didn't try very hard, but it didn't end up sounding very good. I may have even sabotaged that version but I won't admit to that. It took us to the next record, recording it two more times, before he became comfortable with it because it was such a blatantly great pop song", Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam's long time Producer).

                    "Ed was trying to break up our formula from early on; he immediately realized that getting bigger wasn't necessarily going to make any of us any happier. The song that you thought was going to be really great for the record wouldn't necessarily be the one he'd attach himself to. It would be some sort of third riff or silly little song: All of a sudden that would be the one he'd want to work on. Looking back on it, I can appreciate it, and I sort of resent it. I came into this band writing the majority of the songs, and being in control of the music. But my flavor would have gotten really tired by this point, had it just been my lead all the time", Stone Gossard.

 

                        The recording of Vs., their 2nd album, involved maintaining a go-with-the-moment spontaneity. It meant letting Dave write the first track on the album, and having Stone spend hours alone in a rehearsal room, playing drums, so he could transfer certain grooves to his Les Paul. Mike's fluid improvisations became a more integral part of each song's structure, and the rhythm section was truly cut loose to use their tastes and instincts freely. Shooting for fresh first takes, O'Brien suggested the band set up much as they do live, hoping to pull at least some solos from the heat of the moment.

                        "There were times when we'd look at each other and just think, this sucks. Other times it was amazing. Then there were moments in the middle of a song where you'd ask yourself, "Is this any good, is this really working out?" I think we allowed things to develop in a more natural, band-oriented sort of way, rather than me bringing in a bunch of stuff that was already arranged. For instance, if I had a riff idea, maybe I wouldn't spend as much time trying to finish it as I would have in the past. I would just come in and sort of play it. And I found that by letting everybody jump on board and contribute, ideas popped up just as spontaneously and developed into a final structure as naturally as they would have if I'd just sat at home and did it myself", Stone Gossard.

                    "Some of the stuff on Ten was done that way. Sometimes I'd get frustrated if I couldn't get the whol thing down, so I'd put down three different leads and then comp the best of that. Sure I'd always rather do it straight, but when that doesn't work, I start thinking about it too much and then it really doesn't work. It becomes methodical, and that ruins it for me. A casual vibe was just what was going on while we were recording. We'd screw around at the end of go off into a jam, and we wanted to maintain that", Mike McCready.

                        "In another part of the building, Ament, the band's resident artist, prepares for a group meeting about the new album cover. For months, the unwritten rule had been don't talk about it. Just make the record. Forget about the pressures on the other side of that hill. But now decisions must be made, and the band slowly gathers in the kitchen to look at Ament's ideas. "I've been thinking about windows," Ament says, fighting nerves, passing his artwork ideas to the other members. Ament's distinctive hand-scripted style adorns all the group's T-shirts and record releases. On the table before them is a complex collection of his photos and sketches. "Cool," says Vedder softly, just returned from the studio and still hunched from the emotional vocal. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, the band's guitarists, study the ideas with growing enthusiasm. Buoyed, Ament continues. He likes the idea of contradiction. Conflicting images. The five members kick the concept around until it sticks. Contradiction. There is the lull that follows a winning idea", Cameron Crowe (Singles Director).

                        "So are we talking about 'Daughter' as the first single?" drummer Dave Abbruzzese asks casually. Suddenly, all air leaves the room. The other four members dog pile on Abbruzzese. What single? One meeting at a time! What do you mean, single? Abbruzzese shrugs. Perhaps it's still a little too soon to mention the unmentionable. Soon, the subject returns to the album-cover art. Abbruzzese suggests adding a battered and bolted New York City apartment window to the artwork. The idea is instantly accepted and the meeting ends on an exuberant note. The band disappears to play softball while Brendan O'Brien finishes the mix of "Rearviewmirror." Abbruzzese stays behind, nursing a sore wrist. (He occasionally suffers from carpal-tunnel syndrome, which causes numbness in three of his fingers.) "To me, when I was younger and I heard about a band selling a million records, I thought the band would get together and jump up and down for at least a minute," he says with a wide-open East Texas laugh, "and just go, 'Wow, I can't believe it.' But it doesn't happen that way [in this band]. Me, I flip out. I jump up and down by myself." For Abbruzzese, who co-wrote the album's opening track, "Go," it's sometimes hard to watch his band mates deal with success. "There's a lot of intensity over decisions," he says cheerfully. "And I think it's great. But every once in a while, I wish everyone would just let it go. Make a bad decision!" He looks out at the same green forest Vedder had raged at earlier. "Look at this place! It's paradise", Cameron Crowe (Singles Director).