If Kurt were around today he’d say to me “well you turned out OK”

The Sun | March 20, 2009


A FEW miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the district of Georgetown is a huge converted warehouse in an anonymous industrial neighbourhood.

It looks an unlikely location for a world-famous band, but for any Pearl Jam fan walking inside, it’s like entering Aladdin’s cave.

It’s the band’s HQ, rehearsal space and merchandise hub and impressively has all the stage sets, band memorabilia and instruments used throughout their 19-year history.

And the full guided tour offers more treats. The late Johnny Ramone’s baseball card and photo collection — he and singer Eddie Vedder were close friends — is on show near a skateboard ramp and an enormous baseball cage plus pitching machine.

Polaroid photos on display show Kings Of Leon in full baseball gear, ready to take a hit as a ball is spat out at 50mph.

Upstairs in the warehouse apartment — a place to crash if rehearsals extend into the night — Eddie is celebrating.

We meet on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration and for Eddie, who was so central to the Vote For Change campaign, which urged people to choose John Kerry over George Bush in the 2004 presidential election campaign, it’s an extra special day.

“Let’s not even have his face anywhere on show,” he says with a beaming smile, as he turns over a copy of Rolling Stone magazine which features Bush glaring out from the cover.

“I’ve just watched him fly off to Texas on television. Finally we have got rid of him. I don’t ever want to see him again.”

As passionate in his beliefs as he is engaging in his manner, it’s no surprise Eddie remains one of rock’s iconic and most compelling frontmen.

Pearl Jam’s Ten stands alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind as one of grunge’s seminal albums and remains one of the all-time greats.

It sold 12million copies and introduced Pearl Jam — guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Mike McCready and their then recent recruit from San Diego, Eddie — to the world’s rock arena.

Ten’s fired-up riffs and the guitar interplay between Gossard and McCready together with Eddie’s lyrics meant Pearl Jam exploded out of Seattle in the Nineties.

Lyrically Ten was dark. Songs such as Alive (Eddie’s semi-autobiographical tale of a young boy discovering his father is actually his stepfather), Even Flow (a song about homelessness), Why Go (about mental hospitals) and Jeremy (influenced by the story of 15-year-old Texan schoolboy Jeremy Wade Delle who shot himself in front of his English class) gave a voice to tortured adolescent souls.

Now, in the run-up to the band’s 20th anniversary, Ten is being reissued in four exclusive editions.

They include the remastered version of the album, a remixed version by long-time producer Brendan O’Brien, a DVD of previously unreleased footage of the band’s MTV Unplugged show, Eddie’s original three-song “Mamasan” tape demo of Once, Alive and Footsteps and a copy of his composition notebook.

Eddie says: “We are so humbled by the amount of people who have stuck with us over the years that if we can provide them some new insight or something that’s really cool, then we will.

“I know how I react when something special is released by The Who so we wanted this to be something thrilling. We have pride in our material and going back through old material was really special. I don’t think I’d even heard the three-song demo since I sent it in.”

Over the years the band have expressed they were not 100 per cent happy with the sound of Ten, which was produced by Rick Parashar and mixed by Tim Palmer.

They felt it had too much reverb and too many guitar overdubs, but now the remixes by Brendan O’Brien have given them what they wanted.

Eddie says: “A few of the other guys were passionate about that being done. At the time Jeff and Stone had much more political power in the band (regarding) who we got in to mix the record than me and Mike. We were just the new guys.

“Tim had worked with Bowie on Tin Machine and was a great guy but over the years we’ve become used to how those records sound played live and so with the remixes we wanted to get to the core of what it sounded like live. The remixes strip away some of the atmospheric additives of the record’s sound.”

As one of two defining albums of grunge, Ten has always been and remains Pearl Jam’s benchmark album.

Lighting up a cigarette, Eddie explains: “Ten was our first kid, so it’s the oldest. So it’s the one that kind of brought up the others and gets all the attention. But I don’t know if we were ready for what came with it.

“We were ready to play music, be a good band and be good playing live but it was so intense and some of the intensity makes that period even hard to remember.

“What it did do was keep our world floating. Now I think ‘Wow’, because I didn’t really try that hard. I remember distinctly that demo, being an exercise in song writing.

“I didn’t know that was going to be something that would change my life, change other people’s lives.

“There’s been times when I’ve been standing in a line at a movie and someone’s hit me with something really heavy about someone really close and how our music has helped them get through it. Even in our darkest moments we try and find something beautiful.

“With the Roskilde families (in 2000, nine Pearl Jam fans were crushed to death at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival), we still have a close connection with them. It’s inspiring to see how they’ve got through it.”

With Ten reaching No2 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1992, Pearl Jam upgraded from Seattle to stadium rock band and with it arrived the backlash.

They were accused of being careerists, of betraying grunge, with their most vocal critic, Kurt Cobain, slating them for “pioneering a corporate, alternative and cock-rock fusion.”

In terms of follow-up albums, in the next year, 1993, it seemed grunge fans disagreed with Kurt and Pearl Jam’s Vs sold five times as many copies (nearly a million) as Nirvana’s third album, In Utero (200,000 copies) in their first week of release.

“I don’t think Kurt understood us at the time, but we became friends and I’m glad we had some of the great conversations we had, that I’m always going to keep up here,” says Eddie, pointing to his head.

“I don’t talk too much about him in respect to Krist (Novoselic) and Dave (Grohl) and I know he said that early stuff about not liking us.

“But there’s a couple of complimentary things that he said in public about me as a human being, which I’m proud exist. But if Kurt were around today, I know he’d say to me, ‘Well, you turned out OK.’”

In fact, few bands in recent history can match Pearl Jam’s integrity and authenticity when it comes to music.

“Any conversations we hear about ‘So who are Pearl Jam marketing to?’ are despicable,” says Eddie.

“People offered us money to sell out but do I look like a whore?

“It’s always about being honest and the positive side of the huge success for whatever negatives there were, was that it gave us the power to say no and be able to commit to making decisions on our own and stick by them.”

In 1994 Pearl Jam cancelled their summer tour, and tried to sue Ticketmaster, alleging they were a monopoly which allowed them to push up ticket prices.

However, when fans complained they weren’t getting to see their shows, it became a bigger issue to them.

“The Ticketmaster problem was stopping us focusing on the music. We were putting on our own shows and talking more about portable toilets in venues than set lists.

“We were annoyed that other bands didn’t follow our lead and boycott Ticketmaster too.

“There were people in so-called ‘bands of the people’ who bought in with the other side. But we learned a lot about politics then.”

And so looking back, what does he think of the whole grunge scene?

“It was more unconscious to us. There are a lot of different styles on all our records. I don’t think there’s any colours on the palette that we think we can’t use.

“And when it comes to grunge or even just Seattle, I think there was one band that made the definitive music of the time. It wasn’t us or Nirvana but Mudhoney.

“Nirvana delivered it to the world but Mudhoney were the band of that time and sound.”

Today, 18 years on from the release of Ten and Pearl Jam are halfway through making their ninth studio album. “It’s taken two weeks to get halfway there and that’s writing it from the bottom up, so we’ll see how long it takes to finish it.

“I’m not sure what the recording process is going to be, but we will be playing shows,” says Eddie.

“One of us is having a baby next year so there’ll be no touring then so we have to get it done this year.

“I think the hardest thing about making music now is being a great dad at the same time,” adds Eddie, who has two young daughters with model Jill McCormick.

“There’s an insanity that goes with writing — a mad scientist thing that you have to go through and sacrificing a kid’s upbringing to do that is not an option.

“But at the same time, I don’t want to go the way where music becomes a hobby. I don’t trust art that’s made without some pain and insanity, so it’s just about trying to balance that out.

“We all want to make music together as much as we did when we were making Ten.

“We get along and work really well together and as yet, we still don’t have a band therapist. And that’s something I’m particularly proud of.”