Daily Telegraph | March 20, 2009
By KATHY MCCABE
IT HAS been 18 years since Pearl Jam ushered alternative rock into the mainstream with their debut record Ten. Since then the Seattle quintet, whose line-up has remained solid since former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron joined in 1998, have steadfastly surged forward.
Their discomfort at the phenomenal success of Ten – it has sold more than 12 million copies – led to the band refusing to film videos and lamenting that the record had been “over-rocked” during mixing.
Pearl Jam are finally looking back at their career, only because they have the opportunity to correct what they felt was wrong about Ten.
The band have enlisted their longtime producer Brendan O’Brien to mix Ten the way they originally intended it to sound.
Frontman Eddie Vedder agrees it is not in the band’s nature to revisit their path, particularly as they are now working on their ninth studio record.
Vedder remembers the first 10 years of the band’s career as a mad scramble to deal with success and the changes it wrought on this insular unit of musicians who had survived much before becoming Pearl Jam.
Most fans of the grunge era would be aware that Pearl Jam rose from the ashes of two Seattle bands, Green River and Mother Love Bone, the latter disintegrating before they were able to release their debut record Apple after the overdose death of frontman Andrew Wood.
“It’s interesting, because we are similar to who we were then but, like all of us, we have changed.
“Whether it’s by having families, we’re more upstanding citizens now. Before we were just rebellious kids and now we deal with our rebellion in a intelligent manner,” Vedder says, laughing.
“When we ask ourselves how we can make a difference it’s not an anarchist approach, the way we reacted as younger humans.”
Musicians always have a love/ hate relationship with the songs that launched them on to the world stage. But Vedder says Pearl Jam maintained the link to the songs that made their name by continuing to perform them live.
“Every night we play live, we are living with the songs we recorded 18 years ago. Songs like Black … every time I sing it, I am singing it the same way I sang it the first time. It is like looking at old pictures every night,” he says.
“But now we are also playing it to new people, which makes me think the band is still a very healthy vessel.”
In their efforts to give their loyal fans some valuable extras to go with the 2009 reissue of Ten, Pearl Jam unearthed some archival gold – the Momma-Son demo tape, which featured Vedder’s overdubbed vocals on three instrumentals sent to him by then bassist Jeff Ament and guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready in 1990.
Those songs prompted the invitation for him to join the band and later became Alive, Once and Footsteps.
“Jeff had it. He had to look pretty deep into his archive. I think it was in a box that had been left in the rain and everything else in there got ruined,” Vedder recalls.
“I hadn’t heard it until a couple of months ago and it was an incredible experience to realise my whole future was based on those 15 minutes. I had no clue really. It was an exercise in songwriting for me. When Jeff and a friend of our’s played it to me, I started laughing so hard I fell off a stool. When you hear it, you might see why.”
For all their reticence to indulge nostalgia, Vedder says the exercise of reissuing Ten has thrown up some valuable lessons.
He recalls how the lyrics for most of the songs were written on mornings when the avid surfer was trying to find a wave after coming off a midnight shift.
“Maybe you do learn things by going back. One thing as a writer that I hear listening to this record was there wasn’t any second guessing. For the avocado album [their self-titled 2006 record], I think I worked up four different sets of lyrics for each song,” Vedder says.
“Back in the day, there wasn’t time to second guess. We had two weeks to write a record.”