When you operate within the pop world — that is, the world in which whatever you make becomes a cultural commodity (i.e. you record a song, it gets played on the radio and various hands exchange money) — you have to engage with the process of generating hype. It's a given, no matter how carefully made your work or how pure your intentions. Some people are in the thick of hype, but let's put thoughts of today's provocateurs aside for a moment. Instead, it's interesting to think about how artists who've had the machine spin around them a few times choose to play the game, or change it.
Pearl Jam has built one of the most powerful self-sustaining communities in rock, anchored in a fan club that's transformed over the decades into its own social media sphere. As an artistic endeavor, Pearl Jam has become a home base for five men who pursue very divergent interests (check these recent solo projects and other bands) that then feed the collaboration that reunites them. The band decided early on that touring would be its sustenance — powerful forethought predating the era of the free download. And it still makes excellent recordings that refresh the band's creativity. The newest, the lean and robust Lightning Bolt, comes out October 15 and is currently streaming on iTunes.
To promote this release, Pearl Jam came up with a new way to do what it must within pop's hype cycle. In four interviews with friends who have all experienced the privilege and pressure of being creative in public - athletes Mark Richards and Steve Gleason, fellow rocker-turned-Renaissance woman Carrie Brownstein and producer Judd Apatow (whose interview NPR Music debuts in full on this page) - the guys converse, individually and in various combinations, about what actually concerns them: Songwriting. Enduring inspirations. Playing music together. Life on the road and at home with their families. Giving each other respect and space.
The band's not doing any other press to promote Lightning Bolt.
It's a pleasure to watch these interviews, which were both conducted and directed by Apatow. Throughout the conversations, a full portrait of Pearl Jam at 26 emerges. Guitarist Stone Gossard's words on "digging in" get to the heart of what it's like to be in a long-standing working unit. Bassist Jeff Ament's joy in playing with his mates shines through his enthusiastic responses. Matt Cameron, the band's drummer, shows his acerbic cool. Mike McCready talks about the meticulousness with which he still approaches his guitar solos. And Eddie Vedder , philosophical as always, hones in on how he keeps making Pearl Jam new for himself and for the band's loyal fan base.
The back-and-forth with Apatow also allows for a glimpse inside this beloved Hollywood comedy director's own life of ideas. He relates how coming to Hollywood made him feel like less of a freak-and-geek; what album meant the world to him as his parents were divorcing; how he tests out scenes from his movies by showing rough cuts to friends, listening for when they laugh, asking them for notes and then tossing half of their suggestions (he mentions his and the band's mutual pal, Cameron Crowe). Several different encounters are edited into this 50-minute Apatow production, but it feels like one rambling talkfest, with revelations bubbling up the way they do during any evening with pals.
Since 50 minutes is a long time in our attention-addled world - and since it does take the director a few minutes, here and there, to find his groove as a music journalist (hey, lay off, buddy, we need the work!) - we've provided a guide to Pearl Jam In Conversation With Judd Apatow below. Time stamps show you where highlights surface. It's really worth watching the thing in its entirety, though, not only for the insights it presents, but simply for the pleasure of hearing artists talk, naturally.
A Viewer's Guide To Pearl Jam In Conversation With Judd Apatow
- 4:03 Ament and Gossard get specific about how they introduce their songs to the group for a new project, prompting Apatow to explain what happens in the writing room for his films: "What most head writers do if they don't want to take your jokes is, they just don't acknowledge you." Gossard: "Silence occurs...for sure."
- 5:50 Gossard confronts a major rock 'n' roll cliché - that every record is a new start. "It's more of the same. We're digging in with each other."
- 7:02 Gossard and Ament offer their favorite experience from making the new album.
- 9:38 Ament and Gossard on Vedder 's lyrics. Gossard: "He's on a tear right now. He's got a lot of words."
- 12:35 Vedder enters. NICE RAT CITY ROLLERGIRLS TRUCKER CAP, ED!
- 14:24 Vedder and Apatow compare creative processes: Vedder's "bricklaying" versus Apatow's 24-hours-a-day anxiety.
- 16:44 Apatow and Vedder put the same classic-rock album at the top of their list of favorites. It's not really a surprise which one it is, but Apatow's account of how it helped him through a rough adolescent patch is moving.
- 19:15 Apatow discusses the parallels between young music geeks and comedy geeks: "I felt like the Blind Melon video with the Bee Girl - that's what coming to Los Angeles was like."
- 20:48 Vedder on what happens on the bus with his band mates. It's not quite like the antics in Crowe's movie Almost Famous, but sweet.
- 22:35 Vedder on keeping his creative "pilot light" on: "Where the spark came from - there's a purity to that, and probably that's where most of the people that listen to the records are still coming from."
- 24:38 Apatow and drummer Matt Cameron geek out on their mutual admiration of drum legend Buddy Rich.
- 26:28 Guitarist Mike McCready on the vintage guitar solo he's trying to figure out just now. Hint: the originator's initials are EVH.
- 27:38 McCready on his roots in the Spandex-wearing Seattle teen-metal band Shadow: "That's how we learned."
- 28:46 The guys talk about allowing the blues into their sound on the new album. Cameron admits, "We normally mock the blues..."
- 33:17 McCready goes into detail about how Pearl Jam benefited by "doing everything the wrong model, that the label was very much against us doing."
- 35:21 All five band members take the couch for the rest of the interview.
- 37:16 Vedder on how film comedies give rock bands "the will to go on."
- 37:47 Across-the-board Neil Young worship. Ament has the best line: "He's the most uninhibited, pure guy that I've ever been around."
- 41:48 The group recalls the fast-moving somewhat mysterious process of making the new album with longtime producer Brendon O'Brien. Vedder: "We were all kind of wondering, 'what happened?'"
- 46:08 Apatow on the Pearl Jam song he'd request and how the band takes him to "the crying place."
- 47:19 Vedder on music as a sixth sense: "There are certain songs I can hear and I know what was in my pocket when I was 8 years old."