Pearl Jam - Explore and Not Explode

On the eve of their most extensive world tour in years and the release of the Seattle legends' forthcoming self-titled album. Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard tells Dave Kerr what it's like to be back in the saddle.

Feature by Dave Kerr | 16 May 2006
  • Pearl Jam

Eddie joked in a recent interview that you had toyed with the idea of calling the new album 'Superun-owned', is that to suggest that you collectively feel some sense of freedom, artistically or otherwise, and since your release from Epic?

"Yeah, I mean the name came about when we were thinking about not being owned by anybody, the elements are un-owned for example.. we are also un-owned not just artistically but in every way and i'd like to keep it that way, i think now the sense of freedom in this band is definitely less neurotic - we're smarter now."

Eddie also commented that the album is "a product of what it's like to be an American these days" - musicians as diverse as Mark Arm and Josh Ritter have both said something similar of their new records to us in recent interviews.. it seems Dubya's had his way with Rock and Roll. Is it harder now to write an introspective record without those overbearing political influences?

"It's pretty hard to avoid the politics these days- i think a lot of people are scared to be seen as un-patriotic and we do address a certain level of self-criticism for our government in our music, but on the whole I think that any kind of self awareness thinking about the big picture is pretty much a negative. Personally I think a natural creative process is about losing that self-awareness, all that stuff's a distraction. It's a reality that you hear about and you go through, and I think the people who are good at it are the ones who can block that stuff out and keep going back to that same energy that they found when they first started playing music."

Video: Leash (Live at Pinkpop Festival, 1992)

With that in mind, to what extent are you conscious of this record being thematic, a progression or a form of departure from anything you've done previously?

"Well we did consider using narration to thematically unify the album, but ultimately a less conceptual structure just felt right. As for this being a departure, all I can say is it's better than anything we've done before. Ed's singing voice is unreal- he raised the bar on all the songs. I think we all pushed each other to make, dare I say, a classic album. It kinda clicked more so than the last one because I really wanted this to be the best that it could be, and I really put my head down and worked on this one – not to say that I didn't work on the last one – but for this one we just really felt like a band."

Is the song writing still very much a collective effort?

"It's ultimately always a collective effort, we go off and write our own songs- then come back and re-write some parts, add in new stuff... the good thing about this band is that we can all write a good song, there's no sole songwriter- we all have our own projects and separate strengths."

Video: Life Wasted

Do you feel that this work ethic has served you well in terms of the band's longevity?

"It has but I think what's really helped us along the road are the fans. They have been with us through thick and thin. I am constantly amazed at their support over the years. I also think it's the fact that we kind of operate under the radar when it comes to non-musical aspects of our lives. We've taken alot of time out away from each other to live our separate lives. That's why we were so excited when we came back to make this album."

You're playing London next week and gearing up for your first major world tour since 2000, whats the feeling like amongst the band? Must be like riding a bike by now surely?

"We've actually rehearsed more for this tour than we've ever rehearsed in our lives, Matt is singing a lot of the vocal harmonies, and he's just killing it. The benefit of playing in a Kiss cover band when you're 12 is that you learn to sing! It seems like an era to trust that we're aware enough to get through those bigger shows. We have a heightened awareness of what needs to happen every night so people are as safe as they can possibly be."

You've got an overwhelming back catalogue to draw from, what can be expected from the upcoming tour? Is Boom back on keys? Go on, play Hunger Strike - I dare you!

"I'm not giving away the setlist or anything! It won't disappoint, let's put it that way- we're just really looking forward to rocking together."

Video: Temple of the Dog - Hunger Strike

Do you have any intentions of bringing the tour to Scotland, you've only been here twice in 15 years, that's rubbish!

"Sure man! I think the last time we were there was Glasgow and that was a while ago now... we might be doing some more roadwork in 2007 and get around Europe a bit more then, I can't confirm anything for definite but that normally includes a gig in Scotland, right? So we'll see you there."

What new bands do you guys enjoy at the minute? Who are you planning to take out on the road with you?

"This tour we've got Tom Petty and the heartbreakers and Sonic Youth on all but the first two second leg shows. And My Morning Jacket- I've really tuned into those guys as far as new music goes."

With such a varied palette of influences amongst you, which artists would you especially like to work with if time, money and geography weren't factors?

"Man, there are so many- The Who, Neil Young, Kiss, The Ramones, Soundgarden, Mudhoney... the list is endless!"

Pearl Jam' is released through J Records on May 1.