Jeff Ament “TONE”: Questions & Answers | September 2008

Note: Members of the Pearl Jam Ten Club message boards posed the following questions to Jeff Ament on his solo release.


Was the music for this solo project compiled over your whole career or has it been just over the past few years? In your own words describe the tone and texture of this work. Was it drawn from mountaintops or cities? Is it dark (as Mike McCready says your music is) or is it lighter and fun? 

It is part mountain tops/rural Montana and part big city. I typically gravitate towards darker characters and sounds, but there’s a major chord or two to be found. 

Would you say that Tone is a clearer, more personal, portrait of yourself as an artist and your influences than music you have created as part of bands? 

Probably. I’ve never had such a big canvas to paint on.

Can you (Jeff) give us a quick breakdown of what songs were written in the earlier stages and which were written in the latter years? 

It’s all in the lyric book, but I think Bulldozer was the first song written out of this batch, and Hi-Line was last, just days before it went to mastering. 

It is no secret that all musicians are always writing and jotting down ideas. That said, were the songs on this record written specifically for THIS project knowing someday it would happen, or are some of them old Pearl Jam or Three Fish ideas that either never caught on, or have been retooled over the years? 

They all start out as songs for me and as they fill out, I’ll pass some of them along to the fellas for PJ consideration. Hi-Line was the only song written specifically for this record.


dave grolsch
Who are the other musicians? 

Dug Pinnick, bassist/singer for Kings X and Richard Stuverud who’s played with just about everyone in Seattle and Philly. Both are absolute monsters… and we have a dozen songs from a few years ago to tinker with and finish. 

Elaborate on the collaborators, Richard Stuverud of Three Fish and Dug Pinnick of King’s X. 

Richard is one of my favorite drummers on the planet and a great collaborator. Dug has been one of my favorite vocalists and bassists for almost twenty years. 


Do you play all the instruments yourself? 

Except for the drums on seven songs and the lead vox that Dug sang on Doubting Thomasina. 

Jeff, Being as though you are a magnificent bass player to say the least, Is this solo project going to be a variation of that specific type of sound ( Bass )? Or will the main focus be on other things such as vocals, percussion, lead, rhythm , or a mix of everything? ex. We all know that Tool and Sublime are examples of a ” bassy” kind of music sound……. ty 

I was trying to write songs so there’s no real focus on writing “bass songs.” Bass and complimentary guitar and keyboard parts come pretty easy to me, so the vocals/lyrics were the hard part and that’s usually what’s holding up most songs for me. 


Were there any particular musical influences that contributed to your development of the songs or your style in general? 

I listen to tons of music. This batch of songs was more straight ahead rock songs so I left the ambient/African influences off this one. Right now, Black Sabbath, Hassoun Hakmoun, NWA, SSD, Marillion, RL Burnside, Mastodon, Isis, Phillip Glass, Mogwai, the Gossip, Nick Cave…. off the top of my head.
What were your intentions for your solo record? Were you influenced by the political situation in your country or the impending election? 

My intentions were to finish something on my own. Sure, the last eight years of this administration reminded of me of being bullied around by teachers and coaches when I was a kid. Give Me A Reason started out as a letter to my high school PE teacher who was dumb, lying bully masquerading as a teacher and coach and he is a lot like our soon-to-be out of work president. 

In the past you’ve mentioned non-musical influences that have inspired you, or impacted on your work, from Sufi philosophy, to Henry Miller, Rilke or Hemingway’s work. Which other artistic (social, political, etc) references have influenced you, or inspired you, most recently? Do you feel these influences are present in your solo album? 
My parents. My beautiful and crazy smart lady. Cookie and Otis. No Country For Old Men or any Cormac McCarthy or any Coen Bros. Jon Tester. The Dalai Lama. Tony Alva and all the ripping skaters, surfers, musicians and athletes who are still killing it at 50 and older. 50’s the new 15. 

From a fellow punk lover, what kind of influences can we hear in your music? 

All over the map… but this is pretty rock record….there is a real obvious nod to the buzzcocks… one of my all time favorite bands. 


The tone of my voice maybe? Even someone with a not so great voice can say something? Half tone… toned as in fit? It seems to mean something different every time I say it. 

Hey Jeff, from my perspective it’s always seemed that you’ve been one to always enjoy just being lost in the music and just letting it take you somewhere else… so my question is where do you hope that this album, or where this music will take us when we put on our headphones and close our eyes? Is there someplace that it takes you, is there a vision you have for it?… 
That’s the best part of listening to music is getting lost in it and letting it take you somewhere in the back of your mind or bottom of your soul… especially when I’m playing it. Headphones are highly recommended. I’m still figuring out where this thing is taking me. Hopefully, soon so I can move on to a new batch of songs. 


Yo Jeff, who produced the new cd and what were your recording techniques in the recording process? Did you use analogue or digital? thanks 

Brett Eliason recorded a bunch of it and mixed it, I’ve known Brett for a long time and we work together easily, he knows what I’m after. I recorded a lot of my own vocals and overdubs… It’s a vintage early digi tape set up… a couple of good mics and some decent pre amps and a great room. I’m still waiting for the newer faster version of Pro-Tools. 

Did you write all of the lyrics on this record on your own, or was there collaboration with another artist/artists? 

Yep. For better or for worse, they’re all mine. I’m a big fan of great lyrics, prose, literature, so I’m know I’m nothing special, but I’m slowly getting better. 

Skateboarding being one of your lifetime loves, requires a ton of skill and practice. When you are out riding a park or series of bowls, do you ever find yourself laying down bass lines that match the intensity and flow of great rides or parks? 

Two of my favorite things to do… find some lines in a new bowl and write a bass line for a song. Well, when Ed, Stone, Mike or Matt bring in a great song, I want to write a killer bassline without taking away from the song and when I skate a burly bowl, ya gotta bring your best stuff or you get hurt. I really like a bunch of the parks in Colorado: Fairplay, Carbondale, Denver and Aspen… there’s a bunch of new ones I need to get to. 

Jeff, for how long were the songs on the album brewing in your head? Is this the work of a few years or the culmination of your entire career? 

The oldest song is eight years old… I have some partial songs that are 12+ years old. Most of them got finished up in the last year. 

Is It Stone’s fault that this took so long? 

Yes it is. It would have taken even longer if I didn’t know Stone. 

Red Burrito
Jeff, has this solo project carried a constant theme through the 12-year process, or did it evolve as you yourself evolved in the last 12 years? 

I picked 10 songs that thematically went together and went to work to finish them. I have another batch that I’m working on right now. 

What is the biggest challenge you faced while making a solo record that may not be as difficult with a group effort? 

It’s hard to finish them with no deadlines and no pressure. So I made up some pressure and just did it. 

1/2 full is one of my favorite PJ tunes.. this being one of the songs you co-wrote, and remembering an article when the self-titled album was about to be released, you made a comment that your favorite songs had to do with nature and our relationship with our environment… I am hoping to hear songs with this theme on “Tone”…. I can relate to the clarity of thought, emotion, inspiration, and perspective that “climbing on a mountain” and “floating out on the sea” provide, to what extent do these experiences have on your solo work? oh, and on a side note, thanks for all the work you did to get Tester elected, with such open endorsement of a political leader comes a certain amount of responsibility, are you proud of the work he has done so far? 

Tester rules. I am proud to have grown up in the same small town and that our band got involved early on a played a show for him. All of the characters on this record are looking for some kind of truth and nature seems to be the one place they can find it. There’s nothing better than being outside whether it’s swimming in the ocean, digging in the dirt or breathing fresh air after it rains. 


Jeff, assuming I’m right, from what I’ve seen of the cover, it’s Icarus after flying too close to the sun. Usually, that myth is a parable for arrogance, which I don’t associate with you at all! What’s the story behind your artwork for this? 

I just started painting and that’s what came out. This Icarus flew too close to the city though… and got burned by pollution, consumerism, politicians and dirty water. I’d be arrogant if I could fly, pushing the boundaries. How great would it be to be a big predatory bird, like a hawk or a heron? 


Are there any plans at all for you to tour in support of this record? If so, you can crash at my place in Omaha. My wife will make you delicious breakfast burritos in the morning….and I will help. 

I love a good breakfast burrito, but I shan’t be playing any shows this year…. maybe down the road sometime. I travel too much doing shows with the band anyway. I haven’t been to the south in awhile, so I’m looking forward to playing some PJ shows down there next year. 

Who would be in your live band? 

Ed, Matt, Mike, Stone & Boom and if they’re not available maybe Brian Blade, Steve Tibbets, and Robert Plant, JPJ on keys. 


Will it be released on vinyl? 

No. Just a small run of CDs and then it’ll be done, so I can move on to the next one. 

Will be your solo album be available in Europe? 

Just through the fan club. 

Are any of these songs you presented to pearl jam, but weren’t included on any album? 

Yep, a couple of ‘em. The whole band recorded The Forest a couple years ago, but I ended up using my old drum machine version for this. 

After all these years of releasing everything under the group’s name, how hard was it to put yourself out there alone? 

It’s weird, but shit, I’m 45, so it’s good to do something different at this point. 

What is the weirdest/coolest place you have ever written a song, lyric, or riff? 
Ideas pop into my head in all kinds of places. Swimming, skating, driving, riding, sleeping, playing, dreaming…

If “Tone” was a basketball player, what position would it play or even better what NBA player would it be? 
It would be an over-achieving not very talented shooting guard. Short, good hops, average speed and plays hard every play. Ronny Turiaf maybe. 

Fighting Hellfish
What kind if artwork can we expect? Will there be any posters, t-shirts, or any other type of memorabilia associated with the artwork? 

It’s just me listening to the tunes with some brushes and paint, trying to represent. Maybe a shirt down the road… working on a skateboard right now… stuff that I would wear or ride.