Stone Gossard Talks Brad With TFT, Part 1

by Jessica Letkemann , Kathy Davis , John Reynolds on September 21, 2010

tft_stone_int_part1TwoFeetThick.com has been serving up detailed Pearl Jam info and features for seven years, and we’ve talked to some great folks along the way. But it is now our distinct honor to bring you the first TwoFeetThick.com interview with a member of Pearl Jam. The one and only Mr. Stone Gossard enthusiastically agreed to a long chat with TFT about all things Stone and Brad and it’s our pleasure to present you part one of the conversation. Stay tuned for part two, and hey, go buy Brad’s new album, “Best Friends?”. Better yet, check out bradcorporation.com for the latest news and make sure you catch them live in October!

Stone, Pt. 1

Kathy Davis: I love [Brad drummer] Regan Hagar’s design for the cover of Brad’s new album, “Best Friends?,” of the dog and then the bitten hand on the back. Does that relate to the songs?

Stone Gossard: We really turned that over to Regan and let him dream up whatever he wanted to dream and not really make him justify it. I think he came up with the artwork right around when we made the record, so it’s been around for awhile so it’s taken on some new significance probably [laughs].

Jessica Letkemann: Related to that, I wonder how you see the name of the album relating to the songs.

Stone: I think for me personally and I think for Regan too, that so many of us in Seattle have know each other for so long, my friends and different musicians in Seattle. Your universe can become your oldest friends. You think about their opinions, what their desires are or their artistic style. All those things have such a profound impact on you that the first thing on our minds is “Where are our relationships at?” The record is one thing, we can make that, but what makes it work? Why did we fall in love with stuff that we did? What is the nature of allowing yourself to be an artist even though you’re flawed, you have human frailties, you’re not perfect?

Brad Album Best Friends

Regan Talks Album Cover

Brad drummer and resident graphic designer Regan Hagar did the honors for the album cover. We asked him for his take on what the image represents.

Regan Hagar: “The question mark in the title is a statement about peoples perception of the group. I see in most articles on Brad, somewhere they would talk about us knowing each other. I found this curious as most bands know each other for some period prior to creating music together. We are all friends indeed, being friends has it’s ups and downs as we all know. A ying yang, no light without dark, no love without hate.
Yes, the bitten hand on the back is an illustration of what can happen with ones best friends, sometimes you get bit. That seems loaded when I write it but it was intended to be light and humorous. I love the inflection in a voice as a question is asked… best friends? The art was done initially seven years back. I did do some updating by aging it as it needed to show it’s years. The concept was a reflection of us losing our way some years ago, as we have before. We tend to be close for spurts of time only to separate again, sometimes for years at a time.
We have been estranged at times but always seem to find our way back to each other which I find meaningful. These guys are indeed my best friends in so many ways. With that said, they do not know me, know my family. We have a life we do share together, together as Brad. This art was created as we were heading back to our life’s away from each other which is always bittersweet for me.”

Jessica: Sure, maybe that’s where the question mark in the title comes in.

Stone: Yeah. And all of the dog biting the hand that feeds him or something? There’s something going on there too, but I’m not sure what that is. I think Regan would love to talk to you guys about that.

Kathy: What you’re saying makes me think of all the different associations that you have musically that Brad part of. Lonnie Marshall is on this record, Andy’s brother Kevin Wood is too.  Creatively, do you have one band or project in mind when you’re writing songs? This would be great for Brad or this would be great for Pearl Jam or this would be great for Barb Ireland?

Stone: Sometimes that happens, but more and more it’s just who I’m with at that time. Something will just strike me that this is the right [song]. Lyrically, that’s one thing. But I think musically I kinda do one thing.

Kathy: Do you keep a lyric book? Are you a prolific lyric writer? Obviously you write a lot of music all the time, does it go hand in hand?

Stone: I think about lyrics a lot. And without a doubt, one of the main reasons I think about them so much is because of Eddie, how prolific he is and how his lyrics have grown in my understanding of how poetry works. The more I understand it, the more I’m fascinated by that side of storytelling in songwriting. An enormous part of what comes across in a song is the words. So from a rhythmic point of view and from a melodic point of view, I like the chord changes that I like and they kinda tend to sound like me when I’m doing them. In terms of what you can say in poetry, I think that’s an enormous territory that I really am curious about and very excited about. I also feel like I’m just starting to understand it.

Jessica: That’s interesting because you’ve been writing lyrics for a long time. Your solo album, “Bayleaf,” is almost 10 years old.

Stone: I’m still in that same mode of discovery that I was with “Bayleaf” which was really truly vacillating between what’s really terribly pretentious and obnoxious [laughs] and what is actually musical and sounds good. So it’s still a quest for me even to begin to think that I can put together a complete song and have it have impact in the way that I’ve been able to do it with singers like Eddie and [Brad's] Shawn [Smith] and Andy Wood and Chris Cornell, all of who have enormous… perspective [laughs] and musicality.

Kathy: What about your songwriting with Shawn in Brad specifically? You’ve got older songs like “Nadine” and “Drop it Down,” but on this record you’ve got “Bless Me Father,” which is great live, and “Oh My Goodness.” What is the process?

Stone: On both of those songs, he did all they lyric melody writing. “Oh My Goodness” is just an end of the session jam. We were just doing a guitar overdub and we recorded a minute or three of this jam and then quickly edited it together. Shawn put a vocal on it very quickly. What’s so interesting and amazing about him is that he will be able to just decide finish something and live with the consequences of this outburst that comes. He’s not going back and changing it to try to doll it up. It’s very foreign to him to try to reinvent.  That is not the process for a lot of singers who will take an idea and polish it and hone it and develop it more. Which can be cool but at the same time there is something that’s in that initial discovery of a lyric and an emotion over a piece of music that you can’t deny happened. The words that came out at that time represent the reality of the moment in some way.

Kathy: Does that mesh with your normal style of doing things in Brad?

Stone: It’s been a challenge for me and I think that’s why it’s so interesting. I’m a polisher. I’m like find something and bang it around for two months and know it inside and out. But polishing can be bad. You can end up sounding the same or having gone down the same road over and over again because you have to go through a similar process to get there. So I’ve been learning how to be more on the fly and accepting more rawness than I want to accept about myself or others. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been great and I wouldn’t trade it for anything now. It’s a gift, absolutely, that we’re still playing and we’re still learning from each other. We’ve gone back and forth.

Brad 2010

Brad at the Showbox 2010. Left to Right: Shawn Smith, Keith Lowe, Stone Gossard, Regan Hagar photo by Anna Knowlden/effects by Regan Hagar

Kathy: Shawn mentioned in the video on the Brad site that he appreciates you pushing him too hard when he doesn’t want to be pushed. Does he do that for you as well?

Stone: That’s him coming back towards me and me going towards him. Both of us are making moves and asking, “Wait a minute, we have learned something here?” There is something to be understood in our opposites, for all of us. So yeah, that’s both of us understanding how our relationship is beneficial in ways that maybe we weren’t always able to see as broadly or as clearly as we do now.

Jessica: Do you have that sort of push and pull in Pearl Jam also? If you’re the polisher, then is someone else more loose and off the cuff?

Stone: It’s a whole nother dynamic, a whole nother set of people’s ideals and their dreams. But I’m putting the same effort into it. I want to be there for it in a way that is real to both of those things, which is a difficult dynamic , at times. It has been. But it’s also shaped the situation and made it pretty special now. Usually people want you to just do one thing. That’s your tendency. So it’s been a challenge, but both are sacred things for me personally.

Jessica: Actually with both bands you’ve been pretty good about not letting people expect one thing or another, in Brad or Pearl Jam. I think that’s served both bands really well and probably helped you guys stick around for so long. People don’t know what to expect next, just that it will be good. You can write your own ticket.

Stone: Interesting. Well, I feel so much gratitude for where we are right now and how lucky it is that we’re here. God, there are so many times you could have taken a left or a right. The smallest things would have enormous impact on what would have played out. And I just wouldn’t change anything. I don’t think I would go back and do anything differently. And I’m still so excited about what’s possible, and what’s developing from what’s been started. Nothing comes when you think it will and you are always realizing that it was cooler than you thought it was or that there was something to be understood that you didn’t understand at that time that you’re appreciative now. That’s what it’s like to have the fan club and so many people that are so passionate about it. There is so much interaction with this group of people that will come and see us play and the energy that creates and all of that. It’s like you guys, the fans, understood something about it certainly before I did [laughs]. And I’m still catching up with the energy being created, what’s going on by the simple act of being in something [a band] and what that means. I have a lot of appreciation.

Kathy: As somebody who goes to a lot of Pearl Jam shows and thinks, “God they must be sick of seeing our faces,” I appreciate you saying that. [laughs]

Stone: And it’s everything.  I can say that and I can feel it now. But there were times that I wasn’t appreciative. And there are times were you can’t be. You can’t always be in the moment, but in retrospect, if you were to look back at the whole big picture you’d have to say it dawned on all of us that something that feels right, being family and creating music together. That combination of things has its unique power.

Kathy: And that is also true of the family-like fanbase that has formed. I did a fanzine called “Footsteps” before TwoFeetThick. The three of us at TFT have been been active fans for a long time and there are so many people I’ve met because of Pearl Jam are part of my family now. It’s no small miracle and it’s something that I’m grateful for.

Stone: That’s beautiful.

Up next, Part 2

In part two, Stone talks further about the past, present and future of Brad, Pearl Jam and more.

tft_stone_int_part1 tft_stone_int_part2
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.
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.
John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

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