May 30, 2016: Pearl Jam has been putting on one of the biggest tours of
the year, in which they celebrate the 25th anniversary of their debut
breakthrough album Ten.
Due to the renewed interest in that classic rock album, our writer Brad
Balfour has decided to dust off this iconic interview which he did with
the band while they originally toured to promote the album in 1992. It
is particularly of historical relevance since lead singer Eddie Vedder
has severely limited his interviews over the years. The story originally
ran as the cover story of CREEM Vol.1 Num. 9 in August, 1992.)
"WELCOME TO OMAHA!
Food items not found on the "GOD" aisle must be
returned to the Jesus rack immediately. All violators of the Lord's
biblical shopping commandment will be forever cast into eternal
damnation." - Eric Johnson, Tour Manager, Pearl Jam, on napkin 1992
Eddie Vedder perches under the shading maple in
front of the University of Colorado's Glenn Miller Ballroom where Pearl
Jam will be playing tonight. "I'm just a midwife for the music," he says
with a slightly puzzled look. The band's scruffy-maned singer glazes
over when something reflective strikes him. But it's not the possessed
look he has when he explodes on stage.
Adds the enshagged singer, "I can't really take
credit for a lot of this because it's this in-between thing where I'm
just focusing on this space; where it's just the music coming through
and I'm feeling these words, not thinking about how my voice sounds or
the technique that goes behind it. So I'm letting myself go to push this
Letting go is what Vedder is all about.
Cresting on waves of energy, he leaps into the audience, riding on
shoulders until he gets handed back to the scrim like the surfer he's
been. Back in San Diego, where he was hanging before the call came
from Seattle, he would hit the beach after working all night and cruise
on the cold 8:30AM water, riding the waves like his life depended on it.
But now Pearl Jam's lead singer slips into the
pensive track as he talks about his life. Later that night, working
the tougher-than-nails Grateful Dead-bred Boulder crowd into a typical
Pearl-Jammed frenzy, Vedder proves his worth. Live is where Pearl Jam
honed itself; experience, skill and vision sharpened to a stiletto
pointed to the throat – Eddie's throat. When Vedder rages, his eyes
gloss and his head shakes with an almost pained passion, So involved
with the music, this compact vocalist isn't conscious of what he's
doing. "The best shows are the ones I don't remember at all."
The meditative mode isn't unusual for Vedder.
In fact he appears more comfortable with the repose of introspection
than the bust out rave of the mislabeled metallic vision that Pearl Jam
Nonetheless, joining forces with founders
guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, and bolstered by the
blazing guitar of Mike McCready – with the recent added drumming of Dave
Abbruzzese – has made this team's first outing more than a testing
ground. While the albumTenkicks
with all the glistening power of joyous holy noise, their live
performance ratifies this compressed celebration of grunge and melody.
A history of public trauma behind them, and a
maturity rare for a band with such a debut charging out from the
starting gate, make this LP all the more appreciated. From the
atmospheric instrumental snippet which opens the eleven track CD,
through the hits "Alive" and "Even Flow," to the final cut, "Release,"
the album possesses an oxygenated mix of the kind of changes that Led
Zeppelin was famous for, and a mysticism in line with the Blue Oyster
Cult spiritually infused metal rants (witness "Cities On Flame With Rock
Now with the Lollapalooza tour kicking in this
June, both the pressure and the glory rides on Pearl Jam. Scrutiny falls
on them as one of the key teams while the Perry Farrell-borne
extravaganza wends it's way through large venues on
a make-it-or-break-it summer. Like last summer, the tour hails a
political rightness – booths trumpet causes while the entire
event espouses the notion that the generation these bands belong to
still retains values that weren't destroyed by the Reagan/Bush years.
The vets of Pearl Jam really define a youth
subculture – where it's at now – with a rejection of values seen from
Like their peers, this crew veers towards 30
(Jeff, the oldest, is 29; Dave is the youngest at 23) and are looking
for things to believe in. Flannel-shirt imagery and teen rebellion
alternate without cynicism, adopting a lot of the idealism of the
Sixties, shared with an authenticity and organic sense of proper
behavior for today.
"The only way to make it work is to make
yourself more openminded," says Ament. "We push things a bit in this
band. At the same time, we don't lock ourselves into doing things a
certain way or always doing it from certain angles. Hopefully everyone's
recreating their way to make music and deal with each other – that's
what's gonna keep it fresh."
Eddie has been preparing for this opportunity
for a long time as well. His strength as a persona and artist lies in
his skill at catharsis and his ability to control the moments in which
he acts upon it. "Right now my environment is changing daily,"
he proclaims assuredly. "Ultimately you have to take control, and what I
fought for since I left home at an early age was control of myself.
Probably, as soon as I realize I have it, I'll just lose my mind
As he speaks, his hands go to his face like a
meditating monk. In his reverie, he is approached by an attractive young
woman; University of Colorado blonde, fresh faced, unshaven legged.
"Are you Eddie from Pearl Jam, really?"
"Yeah," he says in his lighter than Mahogany
husk (not unlike Matt Dillon's voice, without quite the same mumble.)
Before she can respond Vedder adds, "We're in
the middle of an interview. Why don't you go join your friends and
I'll come by if I've got the time."
Talk continues past the start of sound check. A
roadie stands before him. "It's time."
"Wait just a minute," the enflanneled Vedder
Standing by the stair rail are the girl and her
friends. He's promised to stop by and he does.
Earlier in the day, Eddie rang road manager
Eric Johnson's room. Vedder's not going to join the group interview.
It's not his style to talk within the standard rock interview situation.
He'll meet later. Just as Pearl Jam itself sets its own
agenda professionally, so does he. What makes him the conversant
individual also removes him. Similarly, while the whole
interview scenario was set, the band had to be tracked down, not on
Denver's elite downtown hotels but a cheesy Holiday Inn off the highway
Johnson himself represents the band's homespun
ethos. A well-read former writing major, he chose the road instead
of school, but spends time off browsing bookstores. There's talk of
Bukowski and other writers; everybody among the Pearl Jam gang is into
Lunch commences at the Harvest, Boulder's
premier natural foods restaurant. Orders go around for all the
requisite veggie stuff. The group decides on Mexican cuisine –
vegetarian enchiladas and taco salads. Given the rock star mythology
of gastronomical indulgences for junk food and fatty red meat, it's a
pleasant change of pace.
But then Seattle is known for rock and idealism
still reigning while the edge remains. The ensemble formed by Gossard and
Ament, Green River, was the progenitor of the Sub Pop label's grunge
sound so infamously established world round by the surprise success of
past labelmate Nirvana. After River released an LP and EP, the quartet
dissolved. Then came Mother Love Bone, so widely perceived as Seattle's
logical extension of the grunge core into the metal underground. To
some, it was a betrayal of the Seattle scene, but with lead singer
Andrew Wood's heroin O.D., they weren't left with much other
than mourning and rage.
The next project, Temple of the Dog – a semi
tribute/purge in collaboration with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and
Matt Cameron – brought them together with guitarist McCready, who rages
supreme with Buck Dharma (Blue Oyster Cult's legendary lead guitarist)
influences, and was tapped for the beginnings of Pearl Jam. Hard-gained
experience is transformed into a dynamic for this band to realize its
"After Andrew's death was definitely an intense
time, at least on my end," Ament states with lurching emphasis. "When
you've spent over two years of your life just overcoming different
things and getting to the point [where] we're gonna go out and just play
shows – that's all we wanted to do – then suddenly Andrew dies and it
ends. I had a lot of anger initially."
"That was a learning experience," Stone agrees.
"There wasn't a lot of touring, or opportunity to really enjoy being in
a band. Dealing with being on a major label for the first time and new
people who had their two-bits worth to say; not able to go out on tour,
waiting for nearly two years and thinking you're on a major – that kind
of pressure kind of fucked us up."
Here's a band which kicks with fury, but not
self destruction; they've seen the death pallor and lived through loss
and tragedy. Poised for ultimate success, Wood is a consistent symbol of
rock demise. Unlike peers such as GN'R's Axl Rose, Pearl Jam doesn't
glorify or present rock as a decadent exercise, but an acceleration of
the contemplative into electric overdrive. Not a group for death
worshippers – though certainly caught in their own murk and ambivalences
– Vedder's ambitious lyrics and the Gossard / Ament / McCready moody
melodies forge a bond.
It's no secret that the Seattle scene – caught
up in its own rock mythos – has had its share of drug casualties.
Various members of its rock establishment toy with their share of hard
drugs while this crew now clearly veers away from them.
Nonetheless, the scene has bred a major rock
development on its own terms. Says Stone later in the tour bus, "The
Seattle scene was ignored for so long we developed our own rock culture
and nobody thought about or expected such success."
They're all riffing on the same chords that
Vedder strums on – with tones of introspection and insight. Gossard's
got the leader's air; Ament's the insightful gadfly; McCready is the
real chord freak, and Abruzzese adds a humor while being a
Adds Stone, "Just being thrown in that
atmosphere every night, I think that we developed on the road in a way
without being consciously aware of it. It is not based on doing it the
way you were when you normally put A and B together; we weren't thinking
about being famous or thinking about being anything. It's like...you
liked the way the guy plays; you feel you can get along with him, and
you go along with it. We all kind of went along with it [and] made a
decision to make a record after only being a band for three months; to
go out on the road right after that, and we made a decision to do a live
version of the video just to keep things fresh and moving forward."
Eddie is, in a sense, their discovery, their
creation. They've bonded with him in order to form something
different, something durable.
Recalls Vedder, "So the next thing I knew, I
flew up to Seattle, and I just remember the coolest thing playing
'Alive.' That was the first thing we played together. We were in this
little basement of this art gallery – so the vibe was really cool – and
here were these guys, and I finally had this music I felt I like, there
was something about the music, to write the way that I do."
Eddie is probably most hard nosed about his
aversions; he doesn't subscribe to that self-destructive punk ethic. "To
some people, a punk ethic would be just getting sloshed before, during,
and after the show, staying up all night and shooting heroin. But to me,
it's more punk to be in control, strong enough and able to do things
with your body that you wouldn't be able to do if you were weak, or weak
of spirit as well."
And no matter how much they should play the
moronic rockers stumbling along the ramparts like Axl Rose after a
binge, bassist Jeff Ament can't help but speak in deft revelatory tones
about heroes rich in both bile and intellectual revolt as Robert Anton
Wilson and Aleister Crowley (in the line with other Crowley fans like
Jimmy Page and Daryl Hall). Such intellectual ferment is rife among this
band. But so is a love of pure pop rock from Matthew Sweet to the more
edgy Neil Young (they cover "Rocking in the Free World") and various
icons of the classic rock generation, such as Aerosmith and David
"So much has happened so quickly it doesn't
seem real, so I don't put much in it. I don't," Vedder says adamantly.
"We just found out we sold a million records... It doesn't matter; it
doesn't change how you look at music, or how I'm going to play tonight.
Getting a gold record was cool for about two-and-a-half minutes, [but]
tonight we're playing for people I care about.
"My mind is in these songs, it doesn't changeMEtowards
these songs at all. What changes is how other people look at you.
It changes how everyone else thinks. The media and critics are going to
come down on the second record and dissect it. The fact that I've been
open about emotions and real life this whole time, maybe that's why it
has sold a few records. I can't care about any of that stuff though, so
I hope people have a field day – I really don't give a fuck."
We'll see where success takes them, but at the
moment, money hasn't changed them. Of course, as Ed says, "We
haven't seen the money yet."
So far, so good.
PEARL JAM'S CLASSIC SINGLE "ALIVE" ON VIDEO!