Pearl Jams Again: Pearl Jam interview

Seattle band goes back to its rock roots for the new album Backspacer

Toronto Sun 24 agosto 2009

By JASON MACNEIL, SPECIAL TO SUN MEDIA

When longtime Seattle rock group Pearl Jam began working on their new studio album, the idea was to delete any of the sonic fat which appeared on some of their earlier efforts.

Hence, it seems quite suitable that the band chose Backspacer as its album title.

“I think basically we wanted it to be pretty focused,” guitarist Stone Gossard says backstage — alongside guitarist Mike McCready — before a Toronto show last Friday. “If it wasn’t really developing (into) a song or a plot, then it was, ‘Just get rid of it.’ We did the right work for them, they’re fresh and they’re up-tempo but they’re not over-thought.”

Backspacer, out Sept. 20, has 11 songs and clocks in at 36 minutes, 10 minutes less than their previous shortest effort, Vs., back in 1993. Gossard also says McCready, drummer Matt Cameron, bassist Jeff Ament and himself worked on the album while Eddie Vedder toured solo last year behind the Into the Wild soundtrack.

“With this album, the band was in full control of it to start out with. Ed wasn’t involved,” he says. “We got our songs together and got what was the base of the record, the backbone of it. Ed came in and it started to morph. We carried the torch and passed it to Ed and he inhabited it all. Once he wrapped his head around the songs, he knew how to finish them and we trusted him with that.”

Produced by Brendan O’Brien, early reviews of Backspacer have tossed around the “New Wave” term quite a bit. But don’t expect Pearl Jam to be wearing skinny ties and trading guitars for synthesizers anytime soon. From crisp, punchy rockers like Supersonic and Got Some to broader, well-rounded anthems like Amongst the Waves and Unthought Known, it’s quite solid from start to finish.

As for favourites, McCready says Just Breathe, one of two Vedder-led acoustic-driven numbers, is his pick.

“I think Ed’s harmonies when he comes in on the chorus are so striking and phenomenal and moving that it just draws me in every time I hear it,” he says. “It’s a beautiful love song.”

Meanwhile, Gossard selects The End, the other number in a similar style.

“I think The End is one of the greatest songs ever written — it’s ridiculous lyrical, structural simplicity and finger-picking,” he says. “How close his voice is to just breaking but it doesn’t. I think it’s exciting that he wanted to do some of that with this band too. It was a great opportunity for this band to have that as a whole rather than to try and separate it.”

So far on their current tour, Pearl Jam has only performed a handful of songs from Backspacer, including the single The Fixer. McCready says more of the new material will appear in concert once the album is officially released.

“I think playing the new songs is just a joy,” he says. “It’s exciting for us as musicians because it’s new art and (we) see how people react to it. New is always exciting, I want to play more of it.”

But don’t expect Pearl Jam to be out on the road months at a time supporting it. Gossard says they will continue touring, but would “love to make records and tour in smaller increments over the next 20 years.”

It goes against the traditional music industry grain, but that’s nothing new for these guys.

“There’s a real collective energy that’s built over the years,” Gossard says. “There were so many times where people said, ‘You’re going to screw your career.’ Everything that everyone said was going to be the end of us ended up being something that we grew from and that people respected.”