Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam Interview From Noise11 Archives -
Stone Gossard. Photo by Ros O'Gorman

Stone Gossard. Photo by Ros O'Gorman

Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam Interview From Noise11 Archives

by Edina Patsy on April 24, 2016

in News

Stone Gossard caught up with Paul Cashmere to talk all things Pearl Jam and Brad. From the Noise11 archives Stone Gossard tells the story.

PC: We’re talking to Stone Gossard. It’s good to talk with you Stone, particularly when we’ve got an Australian angle to hit first off with the new album, Bayleaf.

SG: Great!

PC: Now this album was conceived in Australia, which is good news from our end.

SG: Right! Well, I don’t know if I had a conception of making a record when I wrote the song Bayleaf but it was written there in Sydney in some hotel room. I don’t think I recorded it until a month or two after but it’s probably the oldest song that I’ve got on the record.

PC: Well, we’ll talk about the songs individually in a moment. That was 1997 when you were out here with Brad? I guess Bayleaf has been a work in progress for quite some time for you?

SG: Yeah. I’ve been kind of collecting tracks that I liked and storing them, thinking about making a record mostly over the last couple of years. But after I started making it, I started going back and listening to stuff that I recorded in the past and thinking that maybe some of those tracks might fit. So I sort of did a more extensive recording over the last nine months. A lot with Ty Wilman and some of the guys that he’s played with – Mike Stone, Ron Weinstein and Guy Davis – and recorded about five or six songs with those guys. I then went back and started listening to some of my older stuff and went “OK, this could work and I could tweak this and fix that”. That’s when Pete Droge came in and helped me produce and finish the whole thing.

PC: Well, I guess the other work in progress of course is Pearl Jam and then we’ve had Brad, Temple of the Dog, Green River, Mother Love Bone and I guess the phrase that comes to mind that I’ll borrow from one of your very own songs, Pigeon, when you say, “I ain’t through sleeping around”. Is this all part of the Stone Gossard musical infidelity?

SG: Yeah well, it’s fun to play music, particularly with Pearl Jam and with Brad. Those bands are ones that I’ve made multiple records with. I’m rehearsing with Brad right now and we’re gearing up to get another record out now. So it’s just fun to come back to those all musical situations and just kinda get to hang out with the old friends again and make up some new songs. Y’know, everybody tried to make room for everybody else so the older we get, the better we get. It’s sort of understanding each other and enjoying the moment as we’re doing it. It just gets funner and funner!

PC: So I guess since you started this album, there have actually been two Pearl Jam studio albums. Were the songs on Bayleaf totally separate work from both Yield and Binaural Sessions or did you consider some of them as potential Pearl Jam songs?

SG: When we make Pearl Jam records, we probably all have eight or ten songs on demo’s and stuff so I think Bayleaf may have been on a demo that was submitted to Pearl Jam at one point but you’ve kinda just gotta go in. When people get excited about your songs, you go with those. That was never a problem.

PC: Let’s run through the band you’re using here. Let’s start off with Ty. Tell me his story?

SG: Ty Wilman I’ve known for years and years here in Seattle. He’s a local guy I met when he was in a band called Green Apple Quickstep. They put a couple of records out. He’s been making music and playing a lot live here in Seattle and I’ve just been friends with him for years. I went over to his house (he’s invited me over to do some recording) and he had some friends over. I just had a song so I brought it over and I ended up singing it and thought maybe he could put the vocal on and he’s like “Oh well, it’s great! You should sing.” And I was like well, “Maybe we should do some more and maybe you could sing some and I could sing some?” So that was sort of the nexus of getting it started. He was already playing with the guys I already mentioned before who would play on a majority of songs. Also Matt Chamberlin, who’s a good friend of mine, who at one point had played with Pearl Jam for a couple of weeks but also played with Edie Brickell and Tori Amos and a number of other people. So he’s just an incredible drummer and a good friend and he came down and played on a couple of tracks.

PC: Well, Mike Stone is actually the drummer on the album though isn’t he, on most of the tracks?

SG: Mike Stone plays on the majority of the tracks. So that’s correct. I play a drum loop on a couple of them and drums on Bayleaf. Mike Stone plays on maybe six songs and Matt Chamberlin plays on two songs, which are the first two.

PC: Oh, I didn’t know you had hidden talents as a drummer?

SG: Well, they’re pretty hidden! *laughs* But, the record’s pretty raw. It’s supposed to be kinda ‘let it hang out a little bit’.

PC: And you say how important Pete was to the recording of this album? Give us a bit of background for Pete Droge?

SG: Well, Pete Droge has put a few records out. He’s had two or three records out on Epic Records and again an old friend who has just been an incredible musician and now he’s turned into a really great producer. He has his own little studio now and does a lot of producing these days. So, he just kinda came and taught me how to do background vocals, wrote a bunch of parts for the record and helped me kinda just finish it. He gave me a lot of confidence. Between him and Ty, they were both big boosters in getting me to finish it and making me feel like it was worth doing.

PC: Well, let’s talk about the songs on the album. A very interesting title, Bore Me to start off the first solo album for somebody?

SG: It’s ‘Bore’ like ‘Carry’ if that means anything. That would be the only kind of hint I could reveal about that. ‘Bore’ as in the past tense of ‘Bear’. I probably wrote that a year ago.

PC: The second track off the album, Fits. I love the layers in here. That subtle piano piece that actually becomes more obvious the more times you listen to that song. That’s Ron I take it in there, is it?

SG: No actually that’s me on piano there. With the advent of Pro tools you can really do a bunch of takes. So I just kinda screwed around until I heard some stuff I liked and just chose and picked the little licks that we liked. So I think most of the piano on that song is me.

PC: Give us some background to that song then?

SG: There’s a repeating bass loop in there. The repeating bass loop is kind of static and just does the same thing over and over again (I don’t know if you notice that or not?). It’s this sort of walking bass line that I was just screwing around with my sampler and playing drums over the top of it and I just started singing a melody. So, I wrote the song actually playing drums over this repeating bass line. I then just started layering other things over the top of it. But that’s the same way I wrote the song, Cadillac. Both of those started out with Bass lines that were just sample bass lines that I ended up sort of looping and playing over and then sort of going in with those ideas. So, that’s different than some of the other tracks that I wrote more with a guitar standpoint.

PC: I take it Pigeons is one of the ones that’s come from a guitar standpoint?

SG: Yeah, Pigeons or Fend it Off. Most of the other ones tend to be from a guitar standpoint.

PC: With Pigeons (for me), that struck me as the first hint of Stone Gossard as Pearl Jam guitarist?

SG: Yeah, that’s a fun one. It’s cool! I think that one has a real instantaneous quality to it. It’s a little reckless and I like it too.

PC: Tell me about Anchors? This is one of two songs that I’ll discuss Neil Young with you on. I guess, this one to me sounds like it would have been a great Mirror Ball song. It’s sort of a cross musically with Song X and lyrically with I’m The Ocean?

SG: Yeah, that’s song’s funny. It’s actually that song I got inspired by watching the biography of This is Elvis. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this before but it’s a feature movie they made with all this documentary footage of Elvis. It’s got all this early footage of Elvis so alive and so funny and not taking himself seriously and with so much presence and so it goes through as his drug addiction takes over and there’s just demise and this journey into an indulgent state and I think it really affected me. Everything moved me and I just ended up writing that song after watching that.

PC: You mentioned Cadillac before. That’s Ty on vocals on this one? He actually takes over three of the tracks?

SG: Yeah, three songs. Cadillac, Unhand Me and Send it Off

PC: This one’s got sort of a reggae feel to it? Think back to when the Rolling Stones in the Black and Blue album when they were doing Cherrio Baby, sort of tapping in from the same influence that I guess you’ve tapped into for this one?

SG: Yeah well, God! If it’s anything like on Black and Blue, if it evokes anything like that, I’ve certainly outdone myself! I like reggae music. I thought that it was fun. It just sort of ended up having that feel. We pushed it a little bit more towards that but that’s nice that it evokes that.

PC: Back onto the lead track here, Bayleaf. What I really love about this song is that it seems to be blatantly influenced by that Crazy Horse Feel?

SG: Yeah, it’s very Neil Young, there’s no doubt about it! It is totally inspired by him and I think he inspires me in terms of just his looseness and how he approaches music and his unselfconsciousness about his voice and how he goes about making music. I hope that if it has any evocation or brings to mind Neil Young then it’s all in good spirit and not too much of a rip-off.

PC: Explain the Bayleaf concept?

SG: It was a word that came out when I was singing a song. The more I thought about the word and the more I thought about what a bayleaf represented to me as a kid, always trying to avoid it as much as possible, not trying to understand it, what it did for the sauce…I thought there was something interesting in that, not being able to see the big picture.

PC: A very interesting song and probably the hidden gem off the album is Every Family. Pure Soul to me.

SG: Huh! That’s nice!

PC: Is that what you attempted to replicate? A Soul song?

SG: No. I just wrote the song and I knew it had a traditional sort of Blues kinda feel to it. It’s a live vocal and I tried to redo it again and I could never just get the same kinda mood out of it, so that’s all just one take – right there!

PC: The first single off the album is Unhand Me. Again not sung by you – it’s another Ty song and almost lyrically opposite to what you sing about on Pigeons?

SG: yeah, probably so!

PC: Why do you step aside and put Ty on certain songs?

SG: Well, I think that he just gravitated towards certain songs and really wanted to sing them. I think there was ones where I sang them and ended up going “wow, y’know what? I don’t think I’m singing this as well as you could. I think you should do it.” And then there were ones where he sorta pushed me to say “hey, you should do this”. So, it was really kind of a blend in that sense.

PC: Tell me the Hell Bent story?

SG: Hell Bent I wrote when I was in Europe and we spent some time in Poland. We went to Auschwitz for a day and I think it just sorta affected me in a way that inspired that lyric, inspired that thought. Y’know it’s so hard to say what it’s about because it just has some images that came to me at the time. On one level it’s interesting to hear what someone was thinking but on the other hand somebody else might be thinking something else. Who knows? But that was, for me, what I was thinking about.

PC: And the track to end it off sort of feels back to Cadillac again doesn’t it?

SG: Yeah, it has a little bit of that feel for sure.

PC: Were those two songs written together?

SG: Not too far apart probably. Not on the same day, or anything like that but certainly in the same era.

PC: I’d like to bring up Roskilde because that was such a tragedy for you guys to have been through. I was really proud of the dignity that you guys handled that situation. What sort of attitude now has it had for the re-evaluation of the band for touring?

SG: Well, I don’t think we’re going to play any festival shows for sure. That’s just not part of what we’re going to do. I don’t think we’ll be doing anything that we don’t have full control over in terms of security and in terms of really knowing what the score is with each venue and having been involved really deeply. Sure we’re not going to do any more festivals, or at least that’s what we’ve been talking about. I think it just made us stop for a while and appreciate our own lives and it’s still very difficult to talk about. I don’t find a lot of words that make a lot of sense in terms of trying to assess it or trying to put it into some sort of framework because the people that died there…I mean those events in their families lives are so huge that it seems very difficult to express anything that would come close to like trying to assess that or trying to put that into words.

PC: It was very close to us here in Australia because obviously the Melbourne boy that was tragically there. My son was in the audience that night and witnessing the whole thing. I think, just looking back as to how the whole thing was handled by you guys, I think that was a statement unto itself and very well handled.

SG: That’s something – sure.
PC: What about Pearl jam as a live band? The live album concept and putting out all those albums?

SG: A nightmare!

PC: A nightmare? Or something you plan to do from here on in?

SG: Well, the concept behind putting those live albums out was we were going to put them out on the Internet. That was the whole thing, making it available to people who just wanted specific shows but as we were getting up to do that, our record company basically said we had to put them out to retail or else retail was going to be upset with us for not letting them have a chance to sell them too. We kinda went along with it which means there was a lot of records out there and there’s probably a lot coming back but we ended up selling a bunch so it all turned out pretty good I think. It was a good experiment for us in terms of letting go and kinda putting out these shows that were filled with sour notes and out of tune guitars – you know, all kinds of stuff that you just normally would want to go back and fix and tweak a little bit. So, it was good. I think we ended up learning something about not being too precious with our live stuff and I think it’s something we would do more of although I can imagine just doing it, retail would probably be less interested as far as buying up all the records and we’d probably be a little bit more patient as far as figuring out which ones seem to be the ones that are selling and just stock those. I think the website is really the place to start thinking about buying that stuff.

PC: I really love the covers that you guys choose, especially (speaking locally) Split Enz with I Got You.

SG: Yeah right!

PC: You’re obviously all Neil Finn fans?

SG: Yeah definitely. Ed is really good friends with him and has played with him extensively. He’s an amazing guy, really talented and a wonderful family. A good guy.

PC: The Neil Young songs that you’ve covered. I know we’ve talked about Neil Young a bit already. On the live sets you’ve been doing Fucking Up and Rocking in the Free World. They’ve almost become Pearl Jam songs now?

SG: Yeah well, we like Neil Young and his songs are usually easy enough for us to figure out how to play so that goes well for us. Between those two things we’ll probably do some more of his covers.

PC: I asked him once what he thought about the title “Godfather of Grunge” and he sort of laughed at it.

SC: Yeah, I could imagine!

PC: You’re actually playing at the Bridge School Concerts coming up again this year?

SG: Yep, we’re going to be on there. It’s right at the end of October and I think we’re actually playing a show here in Seattle too sometime after that – a benefit show. So yeah, there’s some shows coming up.

PC: Being a guitarist for a successful band like Pearl Jam has, I guess, been every boy’s dream? Does it feel like you’ve been living the dream? Are you at the point yet where you have to pinch yourself?

SG: Oh y’know I definitely go through stages where I’m pinching myself, going “Wow, I can’t believe I don’t have to get up and slave at some job that I don’t want to do”. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to play music with my friends and I urge everybody that has a dream to just kinda follow their instincts. You sometimes have to get beaten down for a number of years before anything good happens. I put a lot of records out before anything happened and we did a lot of ‘do it yourself’ kinda stuff. We were putting out records with Green River and got signed. We struggled with Mother Love Bone and eventually something happened with Pearl Jam so it’s been a long journey but I feel very fortunate to have stuck with it and not giving it up.

PC: You were sort of the founder of the band as well and I guess quite a human resource officer recruiting that young Californian surfer, that guy called Ed?

SG: Yeah! I tell you what! For the first six months I didn’t think he was that good either! How about that? It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone!

PC: Yeah well, I think the boy might have a bit of talent. Maybe you should hang onto him a bit longer!

SG: I think he might be quite good! My blinders were on. I wanted Chris Cornell!

PC: *laughs*
PC: I never detected any rivalry internally in Pearl Jam? You’re all very equal footing I guess?

SG: Well, we try to go that route. Any band has dynamics that you’ve gotta work through with issues of control and things like that. You’ve just gotta keep plugging away and trying to communicate with each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt. You just do as good a job as you can and that’s all you can kinda hope to do.

PC: You mentioned that you’re about to start recording with Brad again? There’s also word that Pearl jam is ready to head back to the studios for their next studio album. Is that correct?

SG: Pearl Jam’s going to get together after the first of the year and we’re gonna figure out what we’re gonna do. We haven’t really made any decisions yet. Brad has already recorded a record and we’re just looking for a deal right now so we’re doing some showcases this month and we’re getting ready to put some more records out.

PC: Do you wait until you decide to regroup in the studio before you start writing for Pearl Jam?

SG: Yeah well, everyone will be writing in between now and then but, you know, we’ll get together, throw out some songs and see what happens.

PC: How do you feel when you go back to that Ten album and look at that? Y’know, I pulled it out last night and just looking at the songs that you’re involved with Even Flow was a Vedder/Gossard, Black – Vedder/Gossard, Alive – Vedder/Gossard. Three of the most powerful songs ever recorded and performed live in rock and roll history, dare I say, and all from a debut album?

SG: Yeah well, sometimes you get lucky!

PC: Obviously there was no expectation, thinking ahead to 2001 and to the importance of that album at the time. What sort of a session was it when you were in there recording these sessions?

SG: Oh stressful actually because we just made Temple of the Dog which was the easiest record that any of us had ever made in our lives because Chris Cornell and Mat were just so pro and Chris had such good songs that we were just like “Wow this is fucking great! We’re geniuses! Listen to this record!” and then we went into that record and it was more of a struggle. We had to really pound stuff into the ground although I think we ended up pounding it too much. I think we all would have made that record differently had we done it again. In terms of keeping it for us, we might have been a little overwrought on that one but it turned out fine. I guess you never know what you have really.

PC: Does success ever cloud the purity of the songwriter?

SG: I think so, definitely! You have to definitely step outside of that and get back to some place purer for sure.

PC: I must admit all the Pearl Jam shows I’ve seen, Black has always been a focal point. Coming from that debut album, it was never the main track of that album but it’s sort of become more important as time goes on. Do you see it as one of Pearl Jam’s signature tunes now?

SC: Oh yeah sure! We play that song a lot. It’s got some nice melody. Ed sings beautifully, the lyrics are beautiful and we play within ourselves on that song. It sounds like a good band.

PC: There seems to be a lot more collaboration in the early days, song writing wise, particularly with the last few albums. It seems to be the individual songs that are coming out. Is that how the band is evolving?

SG: Well, I think it’s evolved that way naturally and I think we have to look back and find a balance of those two worlds. I think sometimes that it can be not as strong with the individual writing and having all the parts written out, I think getting in the room together and figuring it out as a band sometimes can be really effective and it’s been shown to be and sometimes it can be a little homogenised to do it that way because you tend to write the same parts for each others songs. So, it’s just a matter of mixing it up as much as possible.

PC: Will there ever be a longer title than Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town?

SG: I doubt it!

PC: OK Stone, thanks very much for your time, I really enjoyed that.

SG: No problem Paul.


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