Pearl Jam

Back again, and better than ever

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By Gary Graff  

Pearl Jam is "back" -- even though, as we know, the Seattle quintet has never really been away since it formed in 1990, and made a multi-platinum splash with its debut album, Ten.

But after a series of albums that the band members acknowledge as experimental, there's a definite sense of revival with their simply titled, hard rocking new album Pearl Jam. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, while the first single, "World Wide Suicide," became the band's fastest-ever No. 1 on the rock charts. Sixteen years on, the group is still very much alive.

Q: What accounts for the harder rocking nature of Pearl Jam, especially compared to Yield, Binaural and Riot Act?

Jeff Ament: We were really excited about how uptempo the original group of songs was. We kind of felt like we wanted to put out a more uptempo record, and the initial four or five songs dictated what the rest of the record would be. I think you combine the energy of the record with the fact that our new record label is actually promoting it, and the timing of the kind of lyrical content and the state of the country right now, and I think people are ready to be on board.

Q: Do you worry about whether the band's political viewpoints attract or alienate fans?

Ament: I know when we were doing the Vote For Change tour, it was interesting to hear fans say, like, "We don't agree with their politics but they rock, so we're here." That's the beauty of it. I think more than anything we want to keep those conversations alive because it's an important time for our country and I think people are having conversations about it now because gas prices go up and maybe their kids' after-school programs got taken away. So little things are starting to be affected in everybody's daily lives. It's the right time to keep the conversation going.

Q: Have you looked to music for political insights or social commentary?

Ament: Absolutely. I learned a lot of important history and politics through punk rock bands in the '80s. I think it's a great place to put that out there. I'm giving back what Jello Biafra and Joe Strummer did for me. Those guys turned me on to all kinds of books, and made me realize you weren't really going to read the whole story in the New York Times or your local paper. I think Ed's great at that. I think he's really informed, and comes at it from a unique angle.

Q: You all have things you do outside of Pearl Jam. Do you ever worry that when the band takes a break, it might not come back together?

Ament: There was a time when I worried, and I think that was right around, probably, the Vitalogy and No Code era. It seems like everybody's given up that worry now. I think there's probably more confidence that we are going to get back together, and it's going to be all right. It doesn't seem like there's any major tension in the band like there has been in the past. That makes it easier to want to hang out with one another, even just as friends, and go to dinner and bullshit about what's going on with your life. I think the better friends that we've become, the more likely we're going to turn into the Rolling Stones or something.

Q: The Rolling Stones? Are you sure that's the example you want to use?

Ament: (laughs) Yeah, sure. Listen, you can nitpick at things, that they're too old or whatever. But you go watch 'em play and it's like, yeah, they still look like they're having fun. We don't have a Mick and a Keith in our band in terms of the excessive personalities, but as long as you're having fun, then...why not?

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.