Jeff Ament Interview- Pearl Jam Breaking New Ground

by Kathy Davis on May 13, 2010

photo by Kathy Davis

photo by Kathy Davis

Here’s a nice phone interview our favorite bass player, Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament did with Massachusetts newspaper the Eagle Tribune.

May 13, 2010

Pearl Jam is still breaking new ground

By Alan Sculley Correspondent

For many reasons, the new CD “Backspacer” sounds very much like a Pearl Jam album. First of all, there’s that distinctive husky voice of singer Eddie Vedder. There’s also an urgency and punkish energy that has characterized many of the Seattle band’s best recorded moments over a history that now stretches 19 years.

And there are certainly songs that directly recall gems from the Pearl Jam catalog. The frenetic pace of the songs “Supersonic” and “Get Some,” for instance, immediately bring to mind the unhinged rock of early Pearl Jam songs like “Go” and “Spin The Black Circle,” while on tracks like “Amongst The Waves and “Speed Of Sound,” the band uses the kind of slow building drama that characterizes such definitive Pearl Jam songs as “Jeremy” or “Given To Fly.”

But bassist Jeff Ament says that one of the things he’s most proud about with “Backspacer” is the ways in which the CD breaks new ground for Pearl Jam.

“There are a handful of things on this record that I don’t know if we’ve ever really done before,” Ament said in a recent phone interview. “Like every good rock band, they should be challenging themselves to kind of get into some new areas. I feel like on this record we have.”

For starters, Ament pointed to “The Fixer” as a different kind of song for Pearl Jam. That song was the lead single from “Backspacer” and recently reached the number two spot on “Billboard” magazine’s mainstream rock singles chart.

“In the past when something poppy has come up, we’ve kind of turned our heads (away) from the poppy element, and I think we’ve kind of embraced a couple of those things this time,” Ament said. “I think ‘The Fixer’ has probably as poppy an element of a song that we’ve ever had.”

By the same token, while “Backspacer” is possibly the hardest rocking of Pearl Jam’s nine albums, Ament sees “The End” and “Just Breathe” — two of the three soft songs on the otherwise hard-hitting CD — as representing another notable shift for the band. Those two gentle acoustic tunes mark a turn away from the epic power ballads many might associate with the group

“We sort of did some things differently than we had ever done in terms of putting string arrangements (on songs), and a couple of songs don’t have any drums on them,” Ament explained. “That’s all sort of new ground of us.”

Other changes are a bit more subtle. For instance, another difference is how concise and tightly arranged the songs on “Backspacer” are. The 11 songs clock in at under 37 minutes, and more than ever, there aren’t many wasted notes or excess parts.

There’s also an openness in the creative process that went into “Backspacer” that hasn’t always existed in Pearl Jam. Particularly around the time of the group’s third CD, “Vitalogy” (1994) and the next release, the 1996 CD “No Code,” Vedder took considerable control over the songwriting.

Since then, the creative process has opened up. Particularly with the past three Pearl Jam CDs, 2002′s “Riot Act,” the 2006 self-titled CD and now “Backspacer,” all five band members — Vedder, Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron — have been involved in songwriting and arranging.

On “Backspacer,” the creative process opened up to the point where producer Brendan O’Brien (who produced four previous Pearl Jam albums, the last of which was the 1998 CD “Yield”) offered considerable input on the song arrangements and in no small way helped set the direction for the CD, which was recorded in just one month. By contrast, the self-titled album took about a year and a half to finish.

“Everybody in the band has tons of ideas, musical ideas and arrangement ideas, and we would just keep doing different things until he (O’Brien) felt like we were getting something really great,” Ament said. “I think that’s the reason we made the record quicker than we have in the past, was having him there to kind of say stop, the last thing you did was the best thing. In the past we might have kept beating it over the head and beating it over the head until somebody gave up basically.”

The direct nature of the songs on “Backspacer” is now having an impact on Pearl Jam’s live shows, putting a rocking edge on the set, which typically features about 30 songs and runs more than two hours.

“We really honed that stuff (from “Backspacer”) down to where it’s really super tight and maybe not as complicated as maybe a couple of the uptempo things on the last record,” Ament said. “So it’s been a little bit easier just to come out and knock those things out. It’s pretty instantly easy to make them sound the way they sound on the record.”

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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