'Kurt Cobain raised the bar for us'...
Founding Pearl Jam members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard recall recruiting Eddie Vedder, the recording of their masterpiece, Ten, and the fallout from the album’s huge success…
JEFF AMENT (bassist, songwriter): We were trying to talk [former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer]Jack Irons into playing with us. He couldn’t do it, but we asked him to pass along our tape to any other drummers, or anyone who might be a singer. He gave it to Ed [Vedder], and within a couple of weeks, we got a tape back. And within 10 days of that Ed was up here, we were writing more songs together, and we played a show at the end of that. It was kind of on at that point.
STONE GOSSARD (rhythm guitar, songwriter): My first instinct was to say, “This is insane, we can’t play a show after a week!” I remember that at the end of the night [Soundgarden guitarist] Kim Thayil said that he loved that song “Evening Flow” [“Even Flow’]. That’s what he thought it was called, like, “Oh, I thought it was about how the evening just sort of… flows along when everybody’s having a good time…”
AMENT: Ed went home and within two weeks he had moved back up to Seattle. We were then in the mode of “Well, we’ve got to write a bunch of songs”. It wasn’t long after that we got a tour with Alice In Chains. It was kind of how we wanted it to be, we didn’t want to fuck around. I think Stone and I both knew the potential that he and I had together – but we needed to get out and play, and get better. Ed was couch surfing between the practice place and my apartment and Kelly, our manager’s house.
GOSSARD: We would fly [Vedder] up here, and on plane trips he would make little art projects on the plane, and he would give them to you. I was used to hanging out with… drunk, fucking, guys. You don’t give each other a gift of a poem and a picture you drew. That sweetness, I don’t even think I understood. Now I think, thank god for somebody as thoughtful and humble as that. They reach out to people in a way that I was just not expecting.
AMENT: We went to Michael Goldstone at Sony and said, “We don’t want to spend a lot of money making this record, we want to get out and play, do it the way we’re comfortable, doing it with somebody local.” There were two sessions at London Bridge in Seattle, probably of a day or two each, and after that we went in to record the record proper, because we had four or five new songs – “Deep”, “Jeremy” and “Porch” were probably the last three. I think we went in March or April . Ed had moved up here in November. It happened pretty quick. I remember there being a lot of snow on the ground, which is pretty rare for Seattle. We were stuck in the city, stuck in our basement.
GOSSARD: With Ten we couldn’t finish it with the guy we started it with, and we went with Tim Palmer [who mixed the record], and he was fantastic, and ultimately did a job that was great, and a lot of people responded to the record. If you listen to Ten, it’s a strange combination of influences. Nirvana was so in tune with this sort of… blues and their connection to Seattle music, that it was a much more immediate. It was easy for people to say, “This is the shit, and Pearl Jam sucks.” I understand why that happened.
AMENT: I think that any of our comments [in the press at the time], or any of Nirvana’s comments, were probably based on being asked over and over about each other. I wasn’t going to feel bad about any of that stuff, because I was in a hardcore band when Kurt [Cobain] and Krist [Novoselic] and those guys were 11 or 12. I certainly didn’t want to be in a punk rock band, because I had already been in a punk rock band. I wanted to be in a band that could do anything – like Led Zeppelin.
GOSSARD: I think he [Kurt Cobain] raised our bar. By him being critical of us, I think we said, “Well, that’s what he says about us – what are we going to do?” I think we made tougher records, and I think we thought about everything in the light of “Are we doing this because we like it? Or are we doing it because we’re sellouts?” So in a sense, he kept us on our best behaviour. I think Ed and Kurt became friends. But I think it was all about a fight between [Mudhoney’s] Mark Arm and Steve [Turner] and Jeff and I [over the demise of a previous band, Green River]. And Kurt Cobain was just a pawn in the whole thing.
AMENT: Success was both a bonding experience, and it also tore us apart a little bit, too. Everything was coming towards us so fast, and there were so many offers. Initially your response is, “Of course I’m going to go and do this MTV special, and of course I’m going to go and do this show with Neil Young, go play this New Year’s Eve show with Keith Richards.” Then all of a sudden, it was like, “I don’t even remember what we did in the last month…” there was a point where we had to say “stop”, where we had to stop talking about all this stuff. Stop making mini-movie videos, and stop doing press.
GOSSARD: That’s all of us having to trust Ed – it’s Ed saying, this is what I’ve got to do, and we’re either going to trust him or not. So that was an opportunity for us to break up, or follow his lead and see where he takes us. It’s a series of things where you think things are going to fall apart, in particular where we followed Ed’s lead, where in the long run, we’ve said, “It’s so great that we actually did that…”
AMENT: We needed to just go back to the basement and make music. There was a point where we were like, “We’re forgetting about what our initial plan was,” which was to be a really good rock band. And in order to do that, we need to write songs, we need to go down to the basement, and we need to work. We kind of shut it down and we’ve been like that ever since. And that’s probably 90 per cent of the reason that we’re still a band.
INTERVIEW: JOHN ROBINSON