Q&A: Jeff Ament feels alive again with Pearl Jam’s return
Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament came out of the band’s pandemic sabbatical — which he spent recording a solo album, painting and he dabbled in Olympics analysis with his friend Kenny Mayne — to catch some live music this summer. He saw Guns N’ Roses and Brandi Carlile rocking the stage — and the densely packed masses of fans that came out for a good time.
“Both of those experiences were pretty amazing,” he said, “but also a little frightening.”
Pearl Jam will play Saturday in front of a crowd for the first time since a Sept. 4, 2018, date at Fenway Park when it headlines the Sea Hear Now festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The Smashing Pumpkins headline Sunday’s set.
Pearl Jam got together about two weeks ago to start rehearsals for their upcoming slate of festival dates.
“Going into rehearsal, that part was a little bit daunting,” Ament said. “Are were going to remember all these old songs that had been sort of muscle memory for 30 years? Fortunately, a lot of them still were there.”
Ament, singer Eddie Vedder, and guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are in their fourth decade together and have plenty to mine in a catalog that dates to the 1991 debut album “Ten” through their 11th studio album “Gigaton,” which was released last year but yet to be played live.
“The last couple of setlists that we played through, it was pretty heavy on the new record,” Ament said. “I hope we stay with that.”
Ament also has his own new music, confronting the isolation of the pandemic to record his “most autobiographical” record yet, “ I Should Be Outside.” The former art school student sketched, riffed, and whittled a collection of songs — the ones his wife liked — into his fourth album.
Ament talked with The Associated Press to discuss Pearl Jam, his new solo album and the art that kept him balanced during the pandemic.
AP: How did the album “I Should Be Outside” come together?
Ament: I was trying to stay busy and probably trying to distract myself a bit from just the giant cloud that was rolling over the whole planet. In some ways, it was super freeing because I wasn’t really doing it for any reason other than just to stay busy. After a month and half or two months, it was, “Oh, we’re definitely not touring this summer. It’s getting a lot worse.” So I kind of kept going with it. It got as much fun as it’s ever been because all the muscles were sort of working and I was really in tune with the studio and running the studio by myself. Sort of playing all the instruments to the best of my abilities.
AP: How does making music change for you when it’s a solo project vs. the band dynamic?
Ament: It’s the grass is greener thing. If you’ve been doing it with the band a lot, you sort of can’t wait to do it on your own and make all the decisions. In any one of our minds, we sort of think that our ideas are the right idea. But after doing this for largely the last year and three months, we’ve gotten together and jammed a little bit before we started rehearsals and it was so nice just to have everybody doing their thing. You sort of remember, “Oh my God, (drummer) Matt Cameron is a monster.” This is the best band in the world to like plant an idea or jam with. I’m sort of ready for the collaboration again.
AP: What do you think of when you reflect on 30 years of “Ten” and what it means to the band and fans?
Ament: I probably hadn’t listened to that record in 25 years, unless there’s a song we haven’t played very much and we’re trying to go back. A song like “Deep” or something. But it was cool. I listened to (mixer) Tim Palmer’s original mix of it and I really enjoyed what Tim did for that record. I think for a long time, I wanted us to be a more straight-ahead rock band. I felt like all of us wanted a more straight-ahead, drier sound. It reminded me of the reason that we decided to work with him in the first place.
AP: You went to art school and completed more than 180 portraits for the new album. Where did you find the inspiration?
Ament: It’s largely the stuff that I did during the pandemic. I really fought putting the art out there, mainly because I feel like I’m only halfway to a place where I feel like it’s good enough to be out there. I feel like there’s a lot of development that needs to happen for me to feel totally comfortable in having it out there. But as I was trying to put together the artwork for these songs, it just felt wrong every time I tried to do something else. It just felt like it was disconnected to it. This art was just so connected to just my daily experience over the course of the year, I felt I have to put all this on there.
AP: Eddie also has a solo record out and Stone and Mike have other projects. Has there ever been a time where the solo work was a problem with the band?
Ament: I think early on, we were more sensitive to that stuff. When people started doing things on their own those first few years, it feels a little bit like you’re getting cheated on. Everybody’s been pretty supportive of one another in that regard. I think it just makes us appreciate each other so much. You’re putting on all the other guy’s ballcap. If you’re laying down a drum part or singing, singing in particular, the mastery of Ed, and what a poet he’s become, and how good and how fast he is. You really start to understand how special of a guy he is.