EXCLUSIVE EDDIE VEDDER INTERVIEW
“With every record - you’ve got a new shot at it.” says the unmistakable deep voice of singer Eddie Vedder on the phone from his home in Seattle.
“It’s like a clean slate. Records are like kids they each have a different personality. They are always going to come out different even though the parents are the same.
“And what you’re trying to do is not f**k up the kid. It’s the same group but our records will always be different and you’re just doing your part to get these songs into the world.”
Vedder, 48, is chatting about Pearl Jam’s tenth album Lightning Bolt, which confirms the band as the elder statesmen of rock.
It’s their most successful album in years. Arriving four years after Backspacer, Lightning Bolt has given the band a Billboard number one in the US and number two here in the UK - entering the charts higher than Sir Paul McCartney and giving them their highest UK chart position since Vs. in 1993.
In a rare interview Vedder is in a reflective mood.
“Album number ten” he ponders letting out a heavy sigh.
“What have we learned? How have we changed?” he asks himself.
“Well we’re pretty laid back these days,” he laughs.
“We don’t rehearse a lot. We don’t practice that much and when we play shows, it’s usually a bigger type of show. So I guess we’ve changed that way.”
So starting a record knowing they’ll be performed on the bigger stage - how does that affect things?
“I think that’s really good question. You have to protect the core of the song. It shouldn’t be influenced by that. But just as you wouldn’t want to think about commercial radio while you are writing a song. That would infect the pure nature of what you hoped the song could be. But maybe sometimes you come up with a song which has three bridges and it becomes difficult listening. Very interesting to play and very challenging.
“And you know when you’re writing it – you know this is a song which will probably only be played once or twice on tour. So when you get to that place and think you would like to have a song which might get played more often, then you might simplify.”
Lightning Bolt sees Pearl Jam in a brooding, questioning mood and looking for answers.
“I’m always trying to unravel the same mysteries when I write,” says Vedder. “The same mysteries that I’ve been trying to unravel for a few decades now.
“It could be questioning our existence? Or what is the purpose of life? And what’s going to be left in our future.
On new single ‘Sirens’ he sings; “Oh, it’s a fragile thing, this life we lead, if I think too much, I can’t get over.”
And opening track ‘Getaway’ includes the lyric: “I found my place and it's alright. “I got my own way to believe.”
“As a parent you worry more. I did for sure,” says Vedder, the father of two young daughters.
“And that’s why we need to use our voices wisely.
“It’s going to be their world and what is their future? Nature doesn’t have enough people defending it. The resources of this planet are limited and the people who are using and abusing those resources are unchecked and the power balance is completely imbalanced between corporations and the planet. They can pretty much have their way with it. No one is going to stop it - all you can do is slow it down as best you can.
“There is no way I believe in the end times in the biblical sense of Revelations. However, on a scientific level it feels like there is a lot that can be lost in the next 50 years if people don’t pay attention.”
Religion, in particular, questioning the hypocrisy or organised religion is tackled on Mind Your Manners, a song that proves Pearl Jam haven’t lost their ability to rock out.
“I am intolerant for their intolerance, says Vedder firmly. “I hate the whole ‘our way or the highway’. And then it becomes hypocritical when you see so many of the things which have come out of those organisations– like the abuse of children and then its cover-up. I have never seen such a dastardly version of hypocrisy.”
On Lightning Bolt there are also special moments in their slower songs like ‘Sirens’, ‘Pendulum’ and ‘Swallowed Whole’, a song written by Vedder, a serious surfer, one night when he’d gone out on a paddleboard.
“It was a full moon and it was the calmest I have ever seen the ocean,” he remembers.
“I was somewhere very remote and it was midnight and I had to do something. I had to get on the water – so I did a two-hour paddle out to the waves. And it’s a complex reef system that goes out for almost a mile.
“The waves break about three quarters of a mile out and you go closer they got really loud and huge. You couldn’t see how big they were from the shore. It was such a tremendous intense experience. Every nerve is up to your skin. Your senses are so alive because you are by yourself and it’s extremely beautiful and also a little bit dangerous.
“That song came from that night and I do like that it has a build and then it clears out. There’s momentum, it’s almost like you’re running through trails of trees all over and then it becomes and open field.
“Getting out on the water is a huge release for me and now you can surf with headphones. Everything goes better with music. I think the water and surfing gives that same feeling as mediation It’s a place that you really have to have an intense focus when you’re on the wave.”
While Vedder is the leader of Pearl Jam (Vedder, guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron), Pearl Jam are a gang of friends and a democratic group.
“This album was collaborative. The band and our producer Brendan O’Brien. We were all in the same boat,” says Vedder.
“We were all a little mystified and weren’t sure what we had until we started mixing."
"We had two rooms going so I would be doing some vocals or writing or the guitar or background parts being laid down. You just weren’t sure what it was shaping up to be. So in a way there was no contentious decision making. There wasn’t anyone going overboard. I think we were pretty laid back. Then when something is important. When you have something you want to fight for in the song, that’s when you bring it up.”
All of Pearl Jam enjoyed side projects and solo work in recent years including Vedder who last summer played his first solo tour of the UK.
“Solo careers seems to help our longevity,” he says. “ It’s a bit of an open marriage but it’s all healthy. Part of doing theatre shows on my own was an experiment to get better at my job and be able to bring that to the group.”
When Pearl Jam emerged with their 12 million copies selling debut, Ten in 1991, they were uneasy with fame. They’re a band who have always put integrity first and never compromised on anything.
“It’s always been about the music and fans,” says Vedder. “That’s why we are still here, happy and making albums. I remember what it was like to get a new album by The Who and knowing they always kept it real. That what I hope our fans take from Pearl Jam.
“And I’ve met a lot of my musical heroes and become great friends. I am very grateful for those friendships and the support they have given me – after Roskilde (tragedy in 2000 where nine Pearl Jam fans died) happened, friends like Roger Daltrey reached out at a time when I didn’t have anyone else to turn to.
“As a group we were leaning on each other but we were pretty broken. But their support meant the world to me. I am incredibly grateful for those relationships.”
Back in July the band held “An Evening With Pearl Jam”, a special open-air show at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. A 41,000 capacity stadium and home of the Chicago Cubs - Vedder’s beloved baseball team.
But halfway through the show, the heavens opened and a mighty storm broke out with the band and crowd forced to take shelter for two hours as thunder, lightning and torrential; rains hit the stadium - a christening ceremony for the aptly titled album Lightning Bolt.
And when the band returned they played a blinder. A real “Were you there?” moment.
“And I don’t remember a damn thing about the night because of the stress that came with the we,” laughs Vedder.
“We had the warning about the storm that day so it caused a lot of worry."
“Our only concern was that everyone was safe when the storm arrived. Thankfully they were, and for two hours in our dressing room we were all tense.
“Then we went back on stage and I don’t remember what we played or anything. Someone showed me the setlist recently and I said, ‘ I have no recollection of playing those songs.
“It must’ve been adrenaline and a bit of wine. I was told I stage dived. But I’m just glad it was a memorable one for the crowd anyway.”
After live shows last summer including a headline slot at the Isle of Wight festival last year, when can fans expect to see Pearl Jam back in the UK?
“We’d love to come back soon but we don’t like to plan too far ahead. It’s today’s age with all the social media it just seems like we are just chasing something, which has nothing to do with the present. And when we get there we are not even allowed to appreciate where we have gotten because we have to go somewhere else.
“There is a story about a guy who used to go to a bookstore and would always walk out with 20 books and he was an old guy. What he was really doing was trying to trick himself into believing he was going to have time to read all these books.
“So I’m not sure how far you can look ahead as we’re just enjoying the present which is a pretty good place for Pearl Jam right now.”
SEE THEM LIVE: BIG DAY OUT 2014, FRI 17 JAN, WESTERN SPRINGS PARK, AUCKLAND