Backspacer Is Here – Celebrate With Us!

by Kathy Davis on September 20, 2009

The chattiness of  Pearl Jam with regard to getting the word out about Backspacer is beyond heavenly!  One can hardly stay ahead of the endless tide of fabulous interview bits and bobs that have splashed down on the interwebs.  And the upcoming Spin Magazine feature?  I’m like Homer Simpson with a donut.  Here are a few chunks of chat with our boys as we celebrate the release of studio album number nine, Backspacer.

Mike speaks to MTV:   Mr. Mike McCready spoke to MTV at Outside Lands, and they put up two more lovely clips. First, Mike talks a bit about the naming of “Backspacer”:

When Pearl Jam released their most recent album in 2006, they left it self-titled, as if to suggest that they were getting back to their roots. The new album, which comes out on Sunday (September 20) exclusively at Target stores, will carry the title Backspacer. Does that mean the band is on some sort of retreat, looking to erase the past few years? 

Actually, as guitarist Mike McCready explained to MTV News, the origin of the title is a lot simpler. “[Eddie Vedder] got the initial idea from these 1930s typewriters that he collects and writes his lyrics on. There’s a key on it that says ‘Backspacer,’ ” he said. “Now it says ‘Backspace,’ I believe. But that’s where he got that.”

That’s not to say that McCready doesn’t take another, deeper meaning away from the record’s title. “I think it’s also about looking over your life, from when you’re a kid all the way up until now. There will be some artwork that will show you what I’m talking about.”

The artwork in question comes courtesy of cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, the man behind acerbic political comic strip “This Modern World.” Pearl Jam even made the art a part of the build-up for the album, sprinkling parts of the record’s cover across various sites on the Internet and leaving fans to find all nine components in a sort of online scavenger hunt. Ultimately, McCready promises the art will inform the songs themselves. “Some young thought processes turn into art forms on the record,” he said.


Here, Mike talks to MTV about  Backspacer outtakes potentially seeing the light of day in six months or so: 

Pearl Jam’s Backspacer, which just got its exclusive release at Target stores on Sunday, is a lean, 11-track album that focuses less on the group’s penchant for long live jams and more on intense, three-minute garage-rock tunes. In the age of epic double albums and never-ending streams of bonus tracks, it seems unusual for a rock act to keep it so efficient. That’s not to say they took a more casual approach this time around — they kept things tight on purpose.

“We had about 17 to 20 ideas going into this project, and when we had 11 about finished, [producer] Brendan [O'Brien] and [frontman] Ed [Vedder] sat down and said, ‘This looks like a really good record,’ ” guitarist Mike McCready told MTV News. “[Guitarist] Stone [Gossard] had been talking about wanting to have a record that was shorter and more concise, and I think we achieved that.”

The inspiration to keep the album concise came mostly from their urge to capture the vibe of albums they loved growing up. “It hearkens back to our favorite records,” McCready explained. “Aerosmith’s Rocks had nine songs; all the old Van Halen albums had eight or nine songs. I’m dating myself, but those are really good records to me, and you don’t have to have a lot of stuff on them.”

So, will those other songs that didn’t make the cut get banished to the bottom of the group’s B-sides pile? Not quite. In fact, they’ve got big plans for those too. “We still have other songs that are out there that are from this session that we may do something with in about six months,” McCready said. 

Matt and Jeff talk to the Toronto Star  Kickin’ it backstage at the Molson Amphitheatre when the Pearl Jams played there in August, Mssrs. Cameron and Ament spoke to Nick Krewen of the Toronto Star. The original article can be found here.

Backspacer, the new album out today from Seattle rock icons Pearl Jam, finds the band in a dramatically different headspace.

Oh, the aggressive energy crackling of the speakers from such fist-pumping sonic blasters as “The Fixer,” “Got Some” and “Supersonic,” is vintage Pearl Jam, all right; a blazing scramble of electric guitars and driving beats fuelled by the high-octane chemistry of Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron fused as one.

But if you’re expecting the socio-political punch of a “World Wide Suicide” or an “Even Flow,” those types of topics are conspicuously absent on the 11-song, 36-minute Backspacer.

Instead, singer Vedder – perhaps inspired by his recent soundtrack solo foray for the Sean Penn film Into the Wild – has dialed back the lyrical politics, favouring words that are big-picture philosophical, personally romantic (“I’m a lucky man to count on both hands/ the ones I love”) and, in songs such as “Just Breathe” and “Force of Nature” – dare we say it – optimistic.

In fact, the band’s ninth studio effort (or 94th overall album, if you include compilations and officially released live CDs) portrays Pearl Jam in a surprisingly sunny and grateful mood, according to bass player Ament and drummer Cameron. Life – the music, the shows, band relationships and time spent with family – is peachy.

“I really think so,” says Cameron, 46, relaxing on a Molson Amphitheatre green-room couch with Ament before last month’s sold-out concert. “Most of us have families, and that’s been a godsend for a lot of us, because a lot of times when you’re in a successful group, you can get kind of narcissistic and just think about yourself all the time.

“It’s nice to let that go and think about your kids. And I think it can have a really positive effect on your overall outlook on life, you know?”

Adds Ament: “We can still bring it live the way that we did when we were young to some degree, so we’re in that sweet spot right now.”

Since they’re no longer on a U.S. label, the band also enjoys artistic and marketing carte blanche. This has led to a controversial retail agreement to stock physical copies of Backspacer exclusively in the U.S. with Target. (In Canada, Backspacer is on Universal Music Canada with no retail exclusions.)

Creatively, this sense of freedom was further invigorated by the return to the production chair of the Grammy-winning Brendan O’Brien for the first time since 1998′s Yield.

It was O’Brien who helped Pearl Jam engage in a practice apparently absent from previous releases: preparation.

“We’ve always known what Brendan’s strengths were, how he likes to make records, and in talking to him early on, we decided we wanted to have the songs together before we went into the studio this time,” says Ament, 46, one of Pearl Jam’s co-founding members with Vedder and guitarists Gossard and McCready.

“So consequently we made the record really, really fast. We had the basic tracks down the first 10 or 11 days. Then it was up to Brendan and Ed to work their magic and kind of finish the songs off – and they did that really quick, too.

“It made for a more concise, less fatty record – a great way to make records,” Ament says, beaming. Ament said that O’Brien’s objective was simple. “He said he wanted to make the best Pearl Jam record that we’d made up to that point.” Cameron said O’Brien also served as the catalyst for gathering band instrumentalists at Ament’s Montana homestead prior to Vedder setting foot in the studio.

“One of his ideas was to get together in the writing stage a bit before Ed was brought into the fold. We wrote a lot of instrumental music we eventually finished up with Ed.

“It was a really great way to work. On the last record (2006′s Pearl Jam), we had a lot of music that Ed tried to write lyrics for, and I think that might have overtaxed him to a certain degree. This time, everything was super focused.”

The quick and confident execution on Backspacer spurred Vedder’s own spontaneity, notably on “The Fixer,” the rousing single that both fans and radio stations have embraced.

“I think he really trusted his first instinct,” says Cameron. “If Ed came in and we were working on a song, he would go right up to the mic and I remember, with both `The Fixer’ and `Got Some,’ those lyrics came instantly …

“I think that’s probably a lot of the reason the record’s so positive. When he started singing `The Fixer,’ we thought, `Man, this is going to be something special.’ You just knew.”

Ament says Pearl Jam, which has sold more than 30 million records, started to build toward this artistic crescendo with the arrival of Cameron as a full-time contributor for 2000′s Binaural. “When Matt started to make a lot of the songs his own, he loosened up and we started to trust each other more.

“That to me was the first time, maybe even ever, that it really felt great on stage. And I think this is the first record we’ve made where I felt like everybody was really pumped. So, in some ways, it really has all come together right now – live, making records.

“We’re already talking about making the next record, and how stoked we are. And we’re making it with Brendan obviously – although he doesn’t know it yet.”

Speaking of Brendan O’Brien, the producer spoke to Paste Magazine in a piece entitled “All Those Yesterdays” that talks about Pearl Jam evolution and the making of Backspacer.   This was a featured part of Paste’s “Pearl Jam takeover” the weekend of Sept. 18-20, 2009 – next THE WORLD..wait..they did that… Paste’s Austin L. Ray conducted the interview.

“…make no mistake: I don’t think any of us had any other thoughts other than making the very best possible record we could. We want people to like it. I’m speaking for myself and I’m pretty sure I’m speaking for them; we want people to go get it. I don’t think anyone’s taking that for granted.”

Brendan O’Brien is a record producer. He’s actually kind of a big deal, as far as record producers go. If you’ve listened to alternative rock in the last 20 years, chances are you’ve heard his work. His credits including a veritable laundry list of monster acts, from Stone Temple Pilots to Bruce Springsteen, Mastodon to AC/DC, Incubus to Rage Against the Machine. But a band he’s worked with as much as any is Pearl Jam. Returning to the studio with Eddie Vedder and Co. for the first time in 11 years, O’Brien produced the band’s latest, Backspacer. And when Paste rang him up recently to talk about the album, he was taking a break from working on the new My Chemical Romance in Los Angeles. Busy guy.

Paste: When did Pearl Jam first get in contact with you about working on Backspacer?
Brendan O’Brien: I guess we started talking about a year before we actually started recording. But a little before that, we got a song for a movie, the Who cover ["Love, Reign o'er Me" for the movie Reign Over Me], and we had a blast. We’d known each other for years and we had such a great time doing it, we were like, “Why don’t we just get back together and make a record?” They’ve kind of gone their own way the last 10 years, and it’s been all good. So yeah, we just started talking about it. That was it, really.

Paste: Like you said, it has been a little while since you guys have worked together. When you got back in the studio, was it awkward at all, or…
O’Brien: No, no, no. Not even a little bit. We worked together for quite a while before that, and I think for a while they just wanted to do things on their own. At this point, they were ready to be, for lack of a better word, “produced” again. It was actually awesome. We all worked very hard, but I think I can speak for all of us in that we all had a great time doing it.

Paste: Is there any way for you to compare or contrast it to previous records you worked on together?
O’Brien: Oh, yeah. [laughs] I would say the first records we worked on, I was very proud of them, and they were great, but at that time, we were all in a different place. There was probably more tension back in those days. A lot had to do with the position they were in, and Eddie in particular; there was a lot of stress in their lives. That provided stress toward me, just because of our position. It was a different time. We made four records together, and we did quite well and we had a great time, but I would say it was harder then just because they were in a different headspace and maybe I was still learning my craft a little bit. It was a very singular goal this time. I would say we… I keep saying “great time,” don’t I?

Paste: Well, that’s obviously what it was, and I think it even comes through on the record. It sounds more lighthearted, and I would imagine that for you as a producer and they as a band, you’re both more established and there’s probably a lot less pressure on you both. You guys can do what you want a little bit more.
O’Brien: Well, I think we’ve all established ourselves and we’ve all done what we wanted to do, but make no mistake: I don’t think any of us had any other thoughts other than making the very best possible record we could. We want people to like it. I’m speaking for myself and I’m pretty sure I’m speaking for them; we want people to go get it. I don’t think anyone’s taking that for granted.

Paste: Can you tell me a little bit about what a typical day in the studio was like?
O’Brien: Once we started recording, mostly we would just get together around noon, and when we were tracking, we were tracking all together. We actually recorded most of it in L.A., and I think that was good for them. They weren’t at home, and that was a good situation. They had been resistant to recording in L.A. before, and I live in Atlanta, but that was a good, neutral place to do it, because it kept them out of the routine of their house, and yet they weren’t too far from home. Every day we got to work and everyone was really focused on work. Pretty much every day, their head was in the game. We spent a long time getting the songs together over rehearsal and writing sessions over a 10-month period between tours and my records I was working on. Maybe it was a year we worked, off and on. So when we actually got into recording, we pretty much knew what we wanted to do.

Paste: How close do you work with a band on song ideas? It sounds like you were right there for the writing on this one.
O’Brien: Well, every artist is different. Everybody’s different. In this particular situation, they worked a lot on their own with the songs and I helped them with the arrangements. There was another writing session—I didn’t write the songs, but I was there—in Montana up at Jeff’s place where Eddie wasn’t around, it was just the band together, and it was sort of my job to help them pull all the ideas together and get them arranged. I feel like, on this record, they allowed me to be more of a part of it than maybe in the past.

Paste: Backspacer has a lot of decidedly upbeat and lighthearted moments. Was there a conscious decision on the part of the band going in to give it that sort of mood, or did it develop at the process went on?
O’Brien: I don’t think it was a conscious decision at all. I think that was a lot to do with just what they were writing. Lyrically, Eddie was kind of going that way. There’s some stuff on there that’s fairly melancholy, but I think Eddie has shown his sense of humor in some of these songs. I would have to say the tone of the record came completely from them and where they were at. It just kind of happened that way.

Paste: You mention Eddie’s sense of humor coming out in the songs; can you name any specific examples of that?
O’Brien: I would have to say the song “Johnny Guitar.” That song is awesome. It’s a song about, you know, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and it’s an awesome story and it has a real sense of humor to it. It rocks, and it’s one of my favorite songs.

Paste: What are some of your other favorite songs on the record?
O’Brien: That one, and I think “The Fixer” is, to me, one of their best. If I had to use a word to describe the whole record, it would be “inviting.” It feels more like it wants to let people in. They’ve made records in the past that have been more introverted, but I think this one has that feel to it. I think that “The Fixer” is real and concise with great melodies and lyrics without trying too hard. I think the song “Just Breathe” will just break your heart when you hear it. Those would be the ones I’d pick right away.

Paste: “The Fixer” is an obvious single. It’s so accessible and inviting, as you said.
O’Brien: I think so, yeah. And to their credit, I think they allowed themselves to kind of… You know, they wrote this song that had a really cool beat and very accessible lyrics, and they allowed themselves to make a record out of that song. I’m happy for that. There might have been a time in life where it would’ve been harder to do that, but right now, I think that was something we all wanted to do.

Paste: Were there any particularly frustrating moments you had to work through during the making of Backspacer?
O’Brien: Honestly, not particularly. I would say the hardest part that any of us had to deal with was probably scheduling, just because we’re all kind of grown-ups and we have things we’re doing. You know, I make records for a living and they’re in a very successful band that goes and tours. If I’m forced to pick something, that would be it, but that’s kind of nitpicking, isn’t it?

Paste: On the flipside, do you remember any triumphant or memorable moments that surprised you?
O’Brien: I would say the first day we actually got in the studio. It wasn’t surprising or outside the norm, but the first day it immediately sounded good. It was a really great moment for all of us. We were all just glad we were there. There’s always trepidation. As a group, we hadn’t worked together in probably 10 years, and I don’t think anyone had any doubts about that, but it’s always good to have a start like that.

Paste: I’m sure that sets the tone for the rest of it.
O’Brien: For sure, and that’s not by accident. As a producer, it’s my job to get everybody in the right spot. You can’t take anything for granted. To their credit, they were ready for it to be successful. I’ve been doing this a long time, and there are moment where you go, “This is a great job.”

Paste: Can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve watched Pearl Jam evolve over the years?
O’Brien: I’ve known them almost since day one, not quite since day one, but almost, and I’ve seen them evolve from being… They’re still a huge band and they still fill up arenas and all that, but they are not quite the phenom band they once were, and I think that’s great for them. You can’t sustain being a phenom band for 20 years. The first five years of their career, I think, was very hard for them, even though it was massively successful. It happened so quickly, so fast, and a lot of bands burn out at that stage. I believe they withdrew a bit for a while. They sort of made music for themselves, and it was something they needed to do and wanted to do. I’m not discounting the music they’ve made in the last 10 years; they’ve certainly done quite well by it. It’s just a different feel now. I wouldn’t say that’s from me; that’s their outlook.

Paste: It sounds like they’ve settled into a more reasonable and sustainable rhythm, something they can do on their own terms a little bit.
O’Brien: Yeah, and they’ve all grown up a little bit. And I have to say, I believe Eddie’s become, he’s always been extremely talented and a real force to be around, and he takes the reins a lot of the time, but they all contribute. I would have to say, though, of all the things, Eddie’s really settled into his own skin. I’m very proud of him. That’s had a lot to do with their resurgence and success these days.

Paste: You sound like a busy man and you certainly have a lot on your plate now, but have you and Pearl Jam talked at all about working together again?
O’Brien: [laughs] Well, I hope we would, but I’m a record producer. They have to call me, I can’t call them. [laughs] People ask me stuff like that all the time, and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s not how that works.” I don’t just call the artist; they have to ask me. Hopefully they will, and hopefully we’ll do that soon.

Spin Magazine Pearl Jam feature – As reported at TheSkyIScrape and, the fabulous five will be featured on the October 2009 cover of Spin Magazine.  There is a subscriber only version, a special mail order only Limited Edition Collector version  that contains 12 extra pages of content (which can be ordered here if you’re in the U.S. or Canada), and the U.S. newstand version.  The most wonderful Gabriel at Brazilian PJ fansite has graciously posted a transcription of  the meaty Spin feature article, and it is a whopper!  I know it’s all about the music, but Spin writer Josh Eells got to spend quality time with the boys and interact with their families and it made me all squealy like a teen at a Twilight screening reading about Ed building a fence and Olivia and a Hermit crab and Stone and swim trunks and Vivian and the ladybug dress and Hank and Basie and axe wielding and…well – read on. Don’t judge me.

Eddie Vedder And Gang Have An Ax To Grind — And Throw — As Rock’s Former Angry Young Men Try A New Approach.You haven’t really tasted death until you’ve been inches away from an ax swung by Eddie Vedder. Not that Vedder is careless. He’s just… focused. He gets this look: You know the one, from the “Jeremy” video, vaguely lupine — lips curled, fangs bared, eyes crazy. He grips the haft with both hands, draws the blade back over his head, and lets it fly, watching it tumble end over end in an elegant arc, sinking into its target — a three foot-wide cedar stump — with a deep, satisfying thunk.By Josh Eells

“Bull’s-eye. Mark it,” Vedder says, pumping his fist. “Hey, you need another beer?”

At this point I’ve been in Vedder’s company for about eight hours. We’ve surfed, we’ve swum, we’ve sailed. We’ve drunk and drunk some more. I’ve met his wife; I’ve high-fived his kids. I’m almost starting to feel like part of the family. Remember: This is an intensely private man who swats away adulation with bland pronouncements like “I don’t want the personality to become bigger than the music.” (Such principled evasiveness, of course, only makes the adulation run deeper.) As the lead singer of Pearl Jam, he found superstardom in the early ’90s, then spent the next decade and a half dismantling it, a guerrilla campaign of career suicide that’s become rock legend: The band boycotted Ticketmaster, making touring next to impossible. They refused to shoot videos, a gesture this magazine once called so “profoundly anticommercial… that it remains virtually peerless.”

Yet, here we are, in 2009, and Pearl Jam have a new album coming out, along with something an observer who didn’t know better might even call a marketing strategy. They’re on TV commercials, in Rock Band, on Cold Case. They’re selling songs to video games and ringtones to Verizon. They’re coming to a Target near you. And this afternoon, at one of his West Seattle homes, Eddie Vedder and I are drinking beer and throwing axes. Which can only mean one of two things: Either this is about to be the scene of the first-ever music-journalist ambush/murder. Or Pearl Jam have finally decided to lighten up.

“Stand clear!” he yells, setting down his beer. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Thunk.

Los Angeles, two months earlier: The machine is gearing up. Pearl Jam are at the Universal Studios lot for the taping of the premiere episode of The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien. Backstage, the scene is one of choreographed pandemonium: PAs are shouting into walkie-talkies, pages are checking and rechecking their clipboards, gaffers are… gaffing. Even the band members, comfortably holed up in their two greenrooms, aren’t safe from opening-night kinks. About 45 minutes before showtime, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron realize they’ve been locked in their dressing room. Cameron gives the knob a yank — even his drummer forearms are no help. “Is anyone out there?” he calls through the door. “Dudes, we’re fucking locked in!” yells Ament. “Someone ask Max Weinberg if he can play Matt’s drum parts!”

It might be safer in there. Three hours ago, news broke that the band’s new album, Backspacer, would be self-released and distributed in partnership with Target. There’s nuance to the deal (more on that in a minute), but right now all anyone knows is that Pearl Jam, the self-righteous standard-bearers of No Logo anticonsumerism, will be following the guilded footsteps of Christina Aguilera and the Black Eyed Peas. Out on the loading dock, their manager of 19 years, an unexcitable man named Kelly Curtis, is on his phone running damage control — while simultaneously prepping the band for their biggest rollout in at least a decade.

Back in the (now unlocked) dressing room, Ament is watching ESPN on mute. Six weeks ago, he and the band’s tour manager were robbed outside Atlanta’s Southern Tracks studio by three knife-wielding attackers who allegedly made off with a BlackBerry, Ament’s passport, and $3,000 cash. Ament was treated for head injuries at the scene.

“You doing all right?” I ask, by way of introduction. His reply is curt: “I’m not talking about Atlanta.”

Okay, then.

Goateed and serious, the 46-year-old Ament is the group’s tut-tutting moral compass. Mike McCready calls him “intense, a decision-maker, a questioner of things.” Along with guitarist Stone Gossard, he’s the one who testified in front of Congress during the Ticketmaster crusade, and since the beginning he’s overseen most of the band’s visuals through his graphic-design shop. He seems the least likely member of Pearl Jam to advocate hopping into bed with a corporation currently ranked No. 28 on the Fortune 500.

And yet: “Target just seemed like the best partner for us right now,” Ament explains. “They’re hipper. They have a huge philanthropy side.” They were also, according to Curtis, the only big-box retailer willing to share distribution rights with independent music stores and Pearl Jam’s fan club — a must for the band. “We’ve spent the last four years thinking about this shit,” says Ament. “It’s not like we went with Target because we liked the logo.” For the band, the financial upside is clear. By releasing the album themselves, they get a bigger cut of each sale — something like $4 or $5 compared to about $2 on a major. Since they paid for everything up front, there’s also no record-label advance to recoup. And maybe most important, they own the rights to the master recordings, which not even their hero Bruce Springsteen can presently claim.

Still, there is a certain karmic irony in the notion that a band that gave corporate America the finger so hard for so long might finally be softening. Just this afternoon, in a post about the deal on Stereogum, one commenter summed up the inevitable reaction perfectly: “Looks like those thugs in Atlanta stole their cred, too.” I ask if they’re worried about a backlash.

“Oh sure,” Ament says. “Especially the way the media put it out there. We’re gonna get lumped in with the Eagles, with AC/DC. But it’s totally different. And people say, ‘Oh, Pearl Jam are working with this corporation’ — fuck that! We were on Sony for 20 years.”

The taping goes well. They play “Got Some” off Backspacer, yuk it up with Will Ferrell, give Conan a guitar. Then, after a post-show dinner at the Ivy, they scatter — like most groups who’ve been sharing a bus for 20 years, they don’t hang out much when they’re not working.

Back at their beachside Santa Monica hotel, only guitarist Mike McCready lingers in the lobby. “Check it out,” he says, grinning like a kid who just pocketed a pack of baseball cards. He pulls out a nameplate emblazoned with PEARL JAM and the Tonight Show logo, freshly swiped from the greenroom door. “Pretty cool, huh?”

One of the great myths about Pearl Jam is that they never wanted to be successful. The truth is, wanting to be successful is what brought them together in the first place. Gossard and Ament split from the Seattle grunge godfathers Green River because they wanted a major-label deal and the rest of the band didn’t. McCready was even more ambitious, moving to L.A. in 1986 in hopes of hitting it big with his hair-metal band Shadow. (The closest he got was opening for ex-Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor.)

“Of course we want to sell records,” McCready says the next morning, walking on the beach. “That’s never been a thing we didn’t want to do. But back in the day, the spotlight came on very quickly, and Ed wanted to pull back because his life had gone completely upside-down. I wanted to keep running — I was like, ‘I’ve been playing in bands all my life. Now we have this chance, let’s see how far we can get with it.’”

Pearl Jam did not keep running. But now, they’re starting to. As part of the Target deal, the band agreed to shoot a commercial with director Cameron Crowe, a friend even before he cast them in 1992′s Singles. They’re also working with the makers of Rock Band on an all-PJ edition of the game, to be released next year. And the fact that 9.2 million viewers tuned in to The Tonight Show can only help.

“We’ve always tried to subvert the business,” McCready says. “But now that we’re putting out a record on our own, we’re taking on the responsibility of sinking or swimming ourselves. If that means writing a song that sounds like a mainstream radio hit, we’re going to do that. And if it means going on TV to promote ourselves, we’re going to do that, too.”

McCready digs a toe in the sand. “At a certain point,” he says, “its like, who are we even fighting against?”

“Welcome to my hideaway,” Eddie Vedder says, greeting me with a handshake and a beer.

He’s sitting on the porch of a three-bedroom tear-down on the shores of Seattle’s Puget Sound, just down the hill from the house he’s lived in since 1992. He bought the place last September and has been refurbishing it into a surf shack. It’s very much a work in progress: stripped siding, bare concrete floors, exposed wires, no plumbing. (There’s a porta-potty around the back; Vedder usually just pees in the yard.) He built the fence himself with a backhoe and a belt sander. And though he doesn’t know it yet, he’s about 24 hours away from catching a nasty case of poison oak while clearing brush in the backyard.

Vedder, 44, is in full-on beach-bum mode today — wispy beard, long hair tucked under a mesh baseball cap, tank top, board shorts. A fresh American Spirit dangles from his mouth, and his lips are white with sunscreen. On the porch, his dog, a brown mutt named Hank, is sprawled out next to a cooler full of Coronas. Vedder fishes one out, the picks up a pair of binoculars from the table and gazes at the water. “So, you wanna go for a paddle?”

We grab surfboards and walk down to the shore. “I’m a surfer living in exile,” Vedder sighs. Occasionally, he’ll catch a few waves from a passing tugboat, but mostly he has to settle for paddle-boarding, a surf-canoe hybrid he learned from his friend, pro surfer Laird Hamilton. On his recent solo tour, he paddled at almost every stop: the Hudson, the Potomac, a lake in Nashville — everywhere but Philadelphia. (“There was a fountain at the hotel,” he says. “I thought about it.”) We’ve been out for about half an hour when a silhouette appears on shore, waving and calling for its daddy. “I think that’s my little girl,” Vedder says. We paddle over. Standing on the rocks in a flower-print swimsuit is his five-year old daughter, Olivia. Behind her is her mom (and Vedder’s wife), model Jill McCormick, holding ten-month-old Harper. The girls just got back from a day at the zoo; now they’re on their way to the pool.

Vedder takes Olivia’s hand — he calls her Oli — and they walk down to the water together. She tells him about the polar bears and the jaguars and the baby gorilla that was even smaller than her. She picks up a little hermit crab and hands it to him as a present; he finds one and gives it to her. “Aww,” she says, “yours is bigger.” After a few minutes, Jill calls to her — Dad has to get back to work. Vedder bends down, scoops Olivia up, gives her a kiss on the cheek. She squeezes his neck. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too.”

Back out on the water, Vedder says, “I try to not be away from them for more than two weeks at a time.” He grew up not knowing his own father, who died when he was 13, and he seems determined not to let history repeat itself. He takes Olivia to Mariners games, taught her how to swing a bat, tutors her about waves and tides. This summer he gave her surf lessons on Oahu’s North Shore, bribing her with Hawaiian shaved ice. Vedder says he’d probably be a surf instructor if he weren’t a musician. But he also has this fantasy: “Sometimes I think the best thing I could do would be to get a tow truck and just drive it around. Throw a chainsaw in the back, maybe a set of jumper cables. Just look for people to help.” Somehow, coming from Vedder — rock’s closest thing to Holden Caufield — this doesn’t sound patently ridiculous. You can hear it in “The Fixer,” Backspacer’s taut, earwig of a lead single. Lyrically, the song is simple: Vedder sings about something being wrong, then says what he’ll do to make it better. If it’s cold, he’ll put a little fire on it; if it’s low, he’ll put a little high on it.

“I’m the type of person who wakes up and asks, ‘What can I fix?’” he says. “But for a long time, if there was nothing to fix, I’d break something. So I guess in terms of being happy — at least I’m not breaking things on purpose anymore.”

It’s the last weekend in July, and Seattle is freaking out. Highs are topping 90, the rain clouds have been AWOL for weeks, and pasty Washingtonians are stripping off their earth-tone flannel and partying like druids at the summer solstice. One particularly gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I get a message from Stone Gossard: We’re having a dock party at the house — come on over. Tucked away on the shores of Lake Washington, the Gossard homestead is a shrine to modern modesty: glass walls, a patio, a simple wooden dock.

Gossard, 43, in a pair of green swim trunks, has just put his two-year-old daughter, Vivian, down for a nap, and his hair is still wet from the lake. We take a seat down by the dock, his dog, Basie, curled up underfoot. For Backspacer, longtime collaborator Brendan O’Brien produced the band for the first time since 1998′s Yield. They worked fast — just 23 days from tracking to mixing, less time than any album since Ten. At 37 minutes, it’s also their shortest album ever, and “The Fixer” is the catchiest thing they’ve done in years.

“I’ve been disappointed in some of our records,” Gossard says. “It’s been awhile since people said, ‘I gotta go buy this new Pearl Jam.’ But I think this record is what we could’ve done for the last five records in terms of re-engaging with the roots of why this band works. And if no one likes it, I will be shocked. Because I know it’s good.”

Once upon a time, Gossard was as head-strong as the rest of the band. Now that they’re all (save Ament) dads, they’ve settled into a sort of middle-aged realpolitik. “Being stubborn, holding on to the core of yourself through thick and thin — there’s something to be said for that,” Gossard says. “But you’re gonna spend a lot of time fighting over a mile of territory instead of opening yourself up to those big moon shots.”

I ask him if the band ever regrets being so difficult, if maybe they missed out on something. “Sometimes,” he says, “I look back and think, ‘I could’ve been so much smarter, more helpful. Fuck, I could’ve had so much more fun.’” Minutes later, Vivian comes toddling over — the nap didn’t take. She pats Basie on the head and crawls on Gossard’s lap, her hair a mop of blonde curls. I tell her I like her pink ladybug dress.

“Thank you,” she says. “I got it at Target.”

Gossard nearly falls out of his chair. “I promise I didn’t tell her to say that.”

“Wanna take the boat out?” Vedder asks. The boat is not what you think. It’s a motorboat, about ten feet long, baby blue, with bench seats like a ’57 Chevy. Vedder found it on the side of the road a couple years ago and brought it home; his only improvement was a new motor. “Twenty-five hundred bucks,” he says. “Good as new.”

He packs a duffel bag with ice and some Coronas and we head out to sea. Cruising the sound, Vedder points out the sights — his first apartment in Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula, Mount Rainier. Neil Young’s Prairie Wind blasts on the speakers. He makes landfall on tiny Blake Island, kicks off his shoes, and parks himself on the beach. These days, when most people think of Vedder — if they think of him at all — it’s as a scowling rabble-rouser who spent the past eight years (and two albums) informing audiences that George W. Bush was not a very good president. It’s easy to forget that he was, for a moment, perhaps the biggest rock star in the world. Even if they never record another album, Pearl Jam can still sell out multiple nights in arenas. So at a certain point… what is the point? People who like Pearl Jam will listen to them; people who don’t, won’t. Why go to all this trouble? Vedder takes a sip, thinks for a minute.

“There were a few years where I’d meet people and they’d say, ‘So what are you guys up to?’ And we had just done, like, Riot Act — we’d done a couple good records. It was like they thought we were some band that only existed for a few years.”

Like, “I remember you guys — 1992, right?”

“Exactly. And I feel like if we were a niche band, then we’d have our little thing now and that would be fine. But we’re bigger than that. I think these songs are worth hearing. And it’s not like the airwaves are cluttered with the greatest music. What — if we don’t do it, American Idol will? A lot of what we’re doing now is about getting new ranks of kids coming in, and not just playing for old people all the time.”

Because then you’re Foghat at the state fair.

“Right. Which is great, too, ’cause it’s Foghat, and we’re at the state fair, and we’re waiting for ‘Slow Ride,’ and then it’s, ‘Baby, put down your chili cheese dog, it’s “Slow Ride”!’ I just don’t ever want it to be, ‘Baby, put down your chili cheese dog, it’s “Jeremy”.’”

Two years ago, Vedder recorded his first solo album, a folky, acoustic soundtrack for Into The Wild. Directed by his friend Sean Penn, the film tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a stubborn 22-year-old who, fed up with the misplaced preoccupations of modern society, decides to quit the game. Sound familiar?

“If you drew a graph of everything that was going on inside that kid, then did the same for me, you could put them on an overhead projector and our transparencies would match up exactly.”

McCandless, of course (spoiler alert), takes it too far, ignoring all the goodwill around him and literally killing himself to prove his point. He could have been a martyr, but mostly he just seems foolish — a well-meaning young man fighting battles that didn’t need to be fought. I ask Vedder if there’s a lesson there. “We still feel that drive, and we’re one of the best rock groups [around],” he says. “So forgive us if we do something to balance out that earlier sabotage.” He pauses. “We’re trying to do what he did, except without dying.”

It’s cooling off, so we head back to the shack. On the porch, someone (Vedder’s wife? His publicist?) has left a little care package: nectarines, a box of Stoned Wheat Thins, and most egregiously, a bowl of cherries. “What’s this, the cherry fairy?” Vedder asks in mock horror. “We can’t have man camp with fucking cherries lying around.” We swap stories about hiking and baseball and other man-campy things. Then Vedder starts talking about his newest hobby: ax throwing. He pulls out his iPhone and scrolls through pictures of a target he and Laird Hamilton built in Hawaii. One shows Vedder brandishing a four-foot-long chainsaw; another, a large double-headed ax.

He flashes a conspiratorial grin. “Wanna try it?”

We grab baseball helmets and Coronas from the garage and head out back. The rules are simple: zero to five points per throw depending on how close you are to the bull’s eye; first man to 21 wins. It’s kind of like darts — only with axes.

“Do you like Bruce?” Vedder asks, popping The River into a CD boom box. He proceeds to tell a Springsteen story, complete with flawless Boss impression. Pretty soon we’re talking about heroes, then dads, and all the while he keeps disappearing into the garage and emerging with more beer. Eventually I’m hit by a dreamlike realization: Eddie Vedder is drunk, and I am drunk, and we are throwing axes at a tree stump in the dark. By now we’ve gone through at least a case. Empty bottles litter the ground; Vedder is on his second pack of smokes. “Let’s take a seventh-inning stretch,” he suggests. We walk over to the western side of the lot, looking out over the sound and the islands and the mountains beyond. The late evening sun is a deep crimson, shimmery on the black water. Vedder tosses a tennis ball to Hank, then takes a swig of beer. “I don’t know why anyone would want to live facing east.”

By now it’s a little after ten. Jill has probably put the kids to bed and is wondering where he is — except she knows him, and of course he started throwing axes. He’ll turn off the boom box, toss the empties into the recycling bin, maybe have one last smoke. Then he’ll head up the hill, kiss his girls goodnight, and collapse into bed, comfortable in the knowledge that, today, he did his part.

Back in the bad old days, Cameron Crowe described Vedder as “an open wound.” Earlier, on the island, I asked him if he thought he’d healed. He took a long, theatrical drag off his cigarette. “Yeah, that wound don’t sting anymore. The trick is, you have to learn how to tap into it. Anybody who thinks it has to be gaping to make great art, I don’t agree. The memory’s enough.”

And then Eddie Vedder, the dark, brooding shaman of disillusionment and anguish, laughed at himself. “Pain,” he said. “It’s just too painful.”


The Spin article in all three editions also has a special poster done by Tom Tomorrow:

image courtesy


image courtesy

Our band rocks -  happy, happy Backspacer Day!

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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