Stone & Stout – How Seattle!

by Kathy Davis on September 22, 2009

Here is a double dose of Pearl Jam goodness! To start, Groove God Stone Gossard spoke to Jonathan Zwikel of the Seattle Times recently; the original article is here - here are the guts of what our man had to say about the making of Backspacer - and more!

Pearl Jam’s ninth album, “Backspacer,” is the Seattle rock vets’ best work in a decade. It’s out Sunday, the day before PJ launches its international tour with two shows at KeyArena. Guitarist Stone Gossard spoke to the Times while driving home from band practice.

Q: The response to “Backspacer” has been overwhelmingly positive.

A: In terms of the content, we’ve made some political and pointed records that were very specific in a certain way. The storytelling that Ed [Vedder] was doing had a point of view that was hard to miss. I think this one, it just feels more open. It feels like it’s from a higher elevation. It seems to be smaller in some ways, more personal and obscure, and in other ways broader and more spiritual. Or maybe that’s not the right word. More thinking about the whole world in general more than a specific country or policy.

We spent probably less time making this record than any previous record. We did it quickly; all the songs are pretty simple and compact. If a part wasn’t doing something or if there was a section that wasn’t taking a song someplace new or if it wasn’t presenting a musical idea, we just got rid of it.

I think that ended up being a pretty good way of knocking songs that might’ve gone to four minutes 10 years ago cracking around two minutes, 40 seconds. That’s helpful, too, for the record, that it’s more sure of itself and doesn’t need to meander as much.

Q: More prep time, less time in the studio, shorter songs — seems like there was a lot done differently in making this album. Have you set a precedent for Pearl Jam 2.0?

A: I think so. If anything, I think that we will definitely take some lessons away in terms of writing as much as we can previous [to going into the studio and recording], and for the band I think to really establish some songwriting before Ed gets too involved in the process because I think that broadens the spectrum of songwriting, when we do some stuff without him.

Then once he gets in, he can kinda feel like he’s got all the tools he needs and he can look at the whole thing and see what we need to fill in or areas we haven’t explored. It gives us another perspective.

It’s fun to be a band that’s been around. It’s kind of a dream to wake up and go, “Wow we’re still here.” We had some incredible success early, and we kinda stuck through some times that felt like they could’ve gone wrong. It’s nice that we’re on a cycle right now where there’s an awareness of how lucky we are and how cool it is that we have a band that is still making music that people are curious about.

Q: The song “Amongst the Waves,” which you wrote the music for, is epic, grandiose Pearl Jam in the vein of “Given to Fly” or “Present Tense” — big, panoramic uplifters from your mid-period.

A: There’s times when we could’ve done more of that probably, but it’s cool that we really challenged ourselves not to go to that. That’s a sweet spot for us and there’s no point in not letting your sweet spot out, but I think there’s a tendency for bands’ sweet spots to become their reason to live and they can’t get out of it.

Q: You struck an exclusive agreement with Target, making it the sole major retail outlet to carry the CD “Backspacer.” But fans can also buy the album on your site or at one of 800 independent record stores. That’s pretty unique, though fans were initially upset by the deal.

A: I think it’s a pretty thoughtful deal. I think there’s no question about it, that a large retailer is a component of getting your records to a certain part of your audience. And Target happens to be a large retailer that was very aggressive and very generous with their offer and very quick to help us create a deal that we felt like we could live with.

[They allowed] us to sell on our Web site for the hard-core fans who want to do everything [through] Pearl Jam and don’t want anything to go anywhere else. [You can also] buy your record at any one of the 800 indie-music stores that are totally vital and huge parts of the industry in general, in the sense that those are the places where new bands are being discovered and pushed and developed.

We knew there would be some phone company [promotions], we knew there was gonna be a game side of it, and basically what it was [with Target] was contouring a deal that hit all those bases. Target really brought a lot to the table in terms of capital, and also in terms of flexibility in how we cut the deal, and in terms of it being a one-off and not having any strings attached.

Q: Let’s talk about touring for a minute. Did you guys set out from the beginning to become one of the best live bands in the world, or did that gradually occur the longer the band stays together?

A: It’s come naturally because we all kinda grew up watching our favorite punk bands or heavy-metal bands, that part of what we loved about them was the energy and emotion of their performance.

Sometimes maybe you don’t play quite as good because you’re so crazy, you’re doing something that’s so wild, but that’s OK. I think we’ve gotten really used to it being OK to make mistakes, I think we’ve gotten used to it being that we’re gonna play different songs … I think the chances we’ve taken live have helped create that feeling that we really do something special.

And while TFT Kathy assembles her own thoughts about Pearl Jam Seattle 1 ’09, here is longtime Seattle Post-Intelligencer music critic Gene Stout’s review of the show, taken from his blog at GeneStout.com.

photo by Alex Crick via GeneStout.com

photo by Alex Crick via GeneStout.com

Though Pearl Jam can now call itself an indie band after releasing a new album on its own label, the Seattle group is still playing in the big leagues when it comes to staging an arena rock show.

The Seattle group kicked off its latest tour with a megawatt, two-hour-plus concert Monday night at KeyArena, revving up its fans with old chestnuts like “Even Flow” and “Alive,” as well as spanking-new rockers “Got Some” and “Johnny Guitar” from the band’s new album, “Backspacer.” Concertgoers sang along to many of the songs, doing such a nice job with “Better Man” that even Vedder was impressed.

There were also some tender, reflective tunes, among them “Daughter” and another new song, “The End,” during which singer-guitarist Eddie Vedder was joined by Seattle’s Octava String Quartet (something that likely won’t happen elsewhere on the tour).

The show, which will be repeated Tuesday night at KeyArena, closed Seattle’s long, hot summer with a bang.

Before the show, a recorded announcement warned that anyone caught crowd-surfing or moshing would be ejected. “Be cool, be courteous, be careful,” a female voice intoned. Did someone at KeyArena think this was 1993? And that everyone in the crowd would be 15? Hilarious. In fact, concertgoers on the main floor were seated.

“We’re glad you could make it. I see friends, I see some neighbors, but no enemies,” a smiling Vedder told the massive crowd before launching another new song, “Amongst the Waves,” which is not about surfing, he said.

The new album was well-represented in the show’s opening volley. “Gonna See My Friend” and “Got Some” put the capacity crowd into a frenzy, even though the album was just released on Sunday.

The buzz about “Backspacer,” one of the band’s best albums in years, has been phenomenal. Written and recorded in a relatively short time frame, the album recalls the energy and excitement of the band’s first album, “Ten.” The band worked with producer Brendan O’Brian for the first time in years, and the result was a taut, tuneful album with plenty of punch. The album is being sold at Target stores through an exclusive distribution deal.

Joining Vedder and band members Mike McCready and Stone Gossard (guitars), Jeff Ament (bass) and Matt Cameron (drums) was Kenneth E. “Boom” Gaspar (organ and keyboards), an O’ahu, Hawaii, native who has toured with the band previously. The crowd greeted him by chanting, “Boo-oom! Boo-oom!”

The stage was somewhat spare, save for a backdrop depicting old-fashioned typewriter keys spellinig the words “P-E-A-R-L J-A-M.” Vedder joked about not having time to check if a non-existent inflatable Space Needle actually worked.

Vedder weighed in on President Barack Obama (”We’re going to stand behind him”) and Kanye West (”We, too, think he’s a jackass”). But political commentary was held to a minimum, surprising for someone as outspoken as Vedder. Nevertheless, Vedder explained that after talking to his friend Krist Novoselic of Nirvana, he’ll vote no on Susan Hutchison for King County Executive (and presumably “yes” on Dow Constantine). His comments introduced the song “Indifference.”

Earlier, Vedder had said, “We weren’t going to bring up anything political because of all these positive new songs.”

Indeed, Vedder was in a jovial mood throughout the show, swigging from a bottle of wine and even handing a guitar pick through the crowd to a 6 or 7 year-old-boy in the audience. “I think this must be his 14th or 15th show,” Vedder quipped. This was a much more relaxed Vedder than the angry man of the George W. Bush years.

The first encore opened with “Just Breathe,” featuring the Octava Quartet, and closed with “Inside Job” and “Rearviewmirror.” The second encore began with “Given to Fly” and featured a version of Pete Townshend’s “The Real Me” with Seattle’s Syncopated Taint Horn Quartet led by saxophonist Skerik.

The show wound to a close at about 11 p.m. with a boisterous, crowd-pleasing version of “Alive.”

Opening the concert was Ben Harper and Relentless7, playing a suprising brief, 45-minute set. Known for his marathon performances, Harper and his band performed a number of dark, bluesy rock songs from the current album, “White Lies For Dark Times,” among them “Number With No Name,” “Lay There & Hate Me” and “Why Must You Always Dress in Black.” The group also played a terrific new song, “Rock and Roll Is Free.”

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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