Backfire, May 2001
The scandalous pre-Pearl Jam past of Mike McCready:
He crimped his mullet!
By Dawn Anderson
Let me tell you up front: I'm not the world's biggest Pearl Jam fan. So it should mean even more coming from me that PJ played a truly mind-blowing show in Seattle last November. You can hear for yourself on a three-CD set (priced as one -- yeah, they're still fighting for the common folk), part of an endless stream of official "bootleg" CDs commemorating their last tour.
You won't get the visuals, of course. You'll miss Mike McCready flying through space, doing mid-air splits and bashing his guitars into rubble (the latest casualty was a rather tacky looking green Fender -- as soon as he strapped it on we knew what was coming). You'll miss him making faces at specific people in the audience, like the only one in the crowd of 17,000 who hates the song "Jeremy" and decides to let him know it with a fit of exaggerated gagging. What the hell; he probably hates the song too, by now.
But he does happen to like Backfire, so when I ran into him backstage he agreed to meet for an interview later that week (that's right, PJ fanatics, I was backstage, you weren't, and I didn't even deserve to be! Hahahahaha!). I had an old picture of Shadow that I was dying to taunt him with. Shadow was his old hair metal band, back before anybody said "hair metal" because that would have been redundant. The Shadow guys were wide-eyed youngsters in striped spandex, and they were dead serious. Their sound was near the pop end of the full metal spectrum -- more Cheap Trick than Black Sabbath. They found an early fan in Stone Gossard, guitarist for the pioneering trashrock band Green River, which also featured future PJ bassist Jeff Ament. Shadow and Green River were near-opposites musically, but by the time Stone and Jeff joined up with Andy Wood and friends to form Mother Love Bone, their arena rock leanings were becoming more obvious.
Pearl Jam was destined for enormo-domes from the start, every song a huge, sweeping statement full of wailing guitars, crashing crescendos and earnest, tortured vocals. They are probably the only modern rock band large enough to cover the Who's "Baba O'Riley" without cheesiness -- okay, with only the necessary cheesiness. They're not a glum lot, though. Eddie Vedder's got the balls to get up in front of 20,000 people and play "Iron Man" on a ukelele, which makes him okay by me. Of course, he could just as easily play "Seasons In The Sun" on a kazoo and his fans would scream with ecstasy.
But enough about him. Let's talk about Shadow. In 1984 the band members left for LA to become famous and of course failed -- a very common scenario for Seattle bands in the 80's. This could have been the end for McCready, who told me in an 1994 interview, "I cut my hair and got really depressed and became a Republican. Then I did acid a couple months later and realized I was an idiot." He stopped his sniveling and got reacquainted with Stone and Jeff, who had just sent a tape to some surfer dude in California, and you already know the rest of that story.
Meanwhile Mike still plays with three of his ex-Shadow bandmates (Danny Newcomb, Rick Friel and Chris Friel) along with singer Carrie Akre in a band called the Rockfords. They released a self-titled CD last year, which also features guest vocals from Heart's Nancy Wilson. When I interviewed Mike he was getting ready to leave for New York, where he and Nancy planned to collaborate on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe's next movie. Crowe is Wilson's husband, but is better known among my colleagues as the only rock critic ever to become rich.
Dawn Anderson: First of all, I want to show you this, just to get your reaction [I show him the Shadow photo.]
Mike McCready: Oh, my god. Look at that hair!
DA: Yours is the most reasonable hair of the group.
MM: I guess. It's kind of a mullet though. It looks like a turtle. God, I think I thought I looked good then. Woo!
DA: Was that when you went to LA?
MM: Yeah, that was just before we went to LA. We got even more LA than this. My hair grew out into an even larger mullet, and I crimped it too. I crimped my mullet.
DA: It's so weird how it turned out, that you would hook up with these guys from Green River and it would come to this... weird.
MM: It is a weird thing, yeah. It's a strange stretch. But I knew Stone from back then; we were friends. Actually the first time Stone saw me playing was right at that apartment down there [on Capitol Hill]. I was at a party at my friend's house and we were just jamming and he came in and said, "Hey, you sound really good." That was right when Love Bone was happening. So maybe he remembered that night. I don't know.
DA: When you were a teenaged boy, could you even imagine going off to New York to write songs with Nancy Wilson?
MM: No way. No fucking way!
DA: She was someone who teenaged boys thought was --
MM: Super hot. And rockin'. Super rockin'. Yeah, back in the day I would dream about those kinds of things, but who knew?
DA: It's weird what happened to people in this town.
MM: Really strange. A lot of people here are really lucky.
NOW HE'S IN SOME OTHER BAND...
Pearl Jam is taking a much-needed break from touring and plans to record a new album next year. It will be their final release under their contract with Epic Records and after that, who knows (maybe Pearl Jam does but they sure aren't gonna tell me). In the meantime, watch for a rarities collection to come out later this year.
DA: I've heard rumors that this was Pearl Jam's last tour. Is that true, or is it just a hiatus?
MM: It's just a hiatus. Everybody keeps asking me if this is our last one. I haven't heard anything from the band...
DA: Well, maybe they just haven't told you yet, ha ha.
MM: Maybe not. I'm probably in the dark, and I'm out of a job now.
DA: It's just that some of Eddie's comments on stage had this air of finality about it. "Thanks for all your support over the years." And the audience, all these people holding up these signs that said "Thank you," and that seems almost like a goodbye.
MM: Well, we've gotten those "thank you" signs over the years. It's part of the fan club that does that. Some of Eddie's comments did sound final I guess. We were planning on doing another record. I think Eddie was burnt out from the tour and the Roskilde thing and what a crazy year it's been because of that. So it maybe had a final feeling to it because of the length of the tour and the shit that went down.
DA: Are Stone and Jeff grouchy and jaded? [I had no particular reason to think that they would be, but they are from Seattle, after all.]
MM: No, Stone's pretty funny, in fact really funny, and Jeff's pretty funny too. I don't see them as grouchy.
DA: Or jaded?
MM: I don't think so. I think they're still excited about playing music. We tend to fuck around a lot on the road. If they are they're hiding it very well, but I don't think they are.
DA: Is Eddie tortured?
MM: I don't think he's as tortured as the press has made him out to be over the years. I'm sure he has some issues. He's pretty funny too. He's got a really wry sense of humor, and dark... He'll whip things out occasionally that I can't believe he'd say. It cracks me up. When he was trying to find himself when we kind of exploded, maybe he had some dealings with that. I think he did. I'm sure he did. But I think he's cool now.
DA: How's touring with Matt?
MM: Matt is wonderful -- nice guy, down to earth, really mellow, and he's a phenomenal player. We're blessed to have him playing with us.
DA: Yeah, he's one of the best.
MM: Easily, yeah. I love him.
DA: So you got any wild tour stories? Any trashing of hotel rooms?
MM: I remember doing that back when I was drinking a little bit. My big thing was I'd pee everywhere. It's really gross, but -- hotels, in the elevator between the first floor to wherever, I'd see if I could pee before anybody got in. These were things when I was totally drunk, and they made sense at the time. We're pretty boring now.
ON TO IMPORTANT MATTERS
DA: I've heard you've played shows naked before.
MM: I have played shows naked before. Back when I drank years ago I did in Germany. I've seen pictures of that and that was pretty frightening. The first person to actually see those pictures was my mom. And she says [in a mom voice] "Michael, I just saw a picture of you and YOU WERE NAKED!" My guitar's strung down pretty low. I've done it since I've been sober too.
DA: How long have you been sober?
MM: Nine months right now. I was sober for a while and I fell off and now I'm back again, so hopefully I will stay there.
DA: It's tough.
MM: Oh, yeah.
DA: It must be really tough with what you do.
MM: It's more tough when I'm not doing anything, if I'm off the road, because I'm like, "I can sit around and watch TV and do a bunch of drugs." I hope I keep it together, because it gets so awful for me.
DA: When I interviewed you a few years ago, you said that after Shadow broke up you got so depressed that you became a Republican, and then one day you took acid and realized you were an idiot. So acid has some uses I guess.
MM: It does. I wish I didn't keep doing it. Then it became a problem. The first couple times were fun and then when I was doing it almost every day it was like, "this isn't fun anymore." It's the creepiest drug. You know, eight hours of "I'm still high. Oh, my god, I'm on fire. Can I breathe?"
DA: If there were something that could make you feel like that for just a couple hours everyone would be addicted to it.
MM: I heard there was something like that --
DA: I don't wanna know.
YOUTH GONE WILD!
DA: I remember you told me you started smashing guitars back in high school, in your guitar class.
MM: Yeah. It was an old acoustic. The teacher kind of drove me crazy because I couldn't read music. I'd listen to it and play it back and he'd still give me a C or a D or something. I was probably a smart-ass to him so I'm sure... I just took it and fucked it up one day at school.
DA: Was that the first time you smashed a guitar?
MM: No, I smashed one before that when I was in Warrior. I remember being bummed because it was my only guitar. Ooops.
DA: But at this last show you had kind of a funky green one that looks like it was the one that was destined to be smashed [and it was].
MM: Yeah, it was one I got from Fender, where I knew everyone... Those generally always make it into pieces. They break really good. I don't break any of my nice ones. I have before and then I decided it probably wasn't a good idea.
THIS IS ALSO VERY IMPORTANT
DA: What kind of car do you drive?
MM: I have a BMW.
DA: Oh, Mike! Gross!
MM: [Laughs] Why is that gross? Am I a yuppie?
DA: You're not gonna make the "Backfire Dream Machine," that's for sure.
MM: I know! If I ever get a Firebird like James Garner, then maybe we can do it. I've wanted that car for a long time, an old Firebird, a '73 or something.
DA: You're into tattoos and that sort of goes along with muscle cars. How recent is this tattoo fixation?
MM: It's actually been over the past five months.
DA: And you were a tattoo virgin before that?
DA: So you've got tattoos covering all of your upper arms on both sides--
MM: And three on my back too. I'm kind of addicted to them I guess. I've always been fascinated by them, then after I got that needle in me it was like, "Woo! I like it!" It's a big endorphin rush.
DA: So you need to get a muscle car.
MM: I'm gonna work on that, Dawn.
DA: What's the scar from?
MM: This is from when I was three years old and my parents said I fell into a table. The one on top of that was when Pearl Jam was playing in San Francisco about seven years ago and I was really high on mushrooms, and I went running into Eddie and we started tumbling and rolling around on the stage and he smacked me on the head with the mic.
DA: On purpose?
MM: He might have on purpose. I'm sure I was playing badly out of key that night. I got up and there was just massive blood coming down my face. I never really got it taken care of because I was tripping out.
PJ FANS, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU
DA: Here's a question. What's the worst Pearl Jam song?
MM: Oh, wow. What do I not like of ours that we play? Maybe some odd song that we don't ever play called "Bugs." I get a little tired of playing "Corduroy," but don't tell Eddie that because he'll get pissed. We play that almost every night.
DA: I've never really liked the song "alive" and it's the first Pearl Jam song I ever heard...
MM: And you thought, "Man, these guys suck!" Actually, "Alive" is almost "Love Theme from Kiss" from the first Kiss record. If you listen to the riff, it's almost the same, so hopefully they won't sue us [hums the riff]. It's a little slower, but if you listen to it... I don't know if Stone was every listening to that, but I know that Stone likes Kiss, so... I've given him shit about it for years.
DA: About liking Kiss?
MM: No, no, not about liking Kiss. I love Kiss myself. I actually just bought some Kiss dolls today.
A SINCERE, MODEST GUY WHO DESERVES SUCCESS
MM: I keep interrupting you, don't I? I'm kind of jacked on caffeine right now. "And another thing about me..."
DA: Well, this is about you.
MM: Oh, yeah.
Thanks to Dawn Anderson for permission to reprint.