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Back to Seattle. So far, so good.

The Independent, January 23rd 1998

by Andrew Mueller

[Transcribed for 5h by Deborah Baker]

Half a decade after their first encounter, Andrew Mueller meets Eddie Vedder and talks about Pearl Jam's new album. There was along wait, but 'Yield' excels.

Last time I saw Eddie Vedder, he looked like he'd just survived a shipwreck. It was the summer of 1992 and the Pearl Jam singer was sitting in a dressing room backstage at Washington State's Kitsap Country Fairgrounds, where he'd played earlier as part of that year's Lollapalooza tour. I'd bumped into him earlier that day - we had met a few months' previously, when I accompanied the band on their first Scandinavian tour - and he'd quickly been led away by over-protective minders, apparently fearful of what havoc I might wreak with my notepad. He'd talk to me later, he said.

I hadn't expected to see him again that night, but Eddie Vedder's now legendary bloody-mindedness wasn't as well-known back then. Having got shot of his entourage, he'd gone to where he last saw me, sat down, and waited. His tour bus left without him, and still he waited. He may even have known that I was racing stolen golf carts around the festival site with two members of Lush, but still he waited. It rained. He waited. The lights were turned out. He waited. When I turned up, he talked for ages. Pearl Jam's first album, Ten, was just out and was selling like a recipe for making beer out of tap water. Eddie was becoming very famous and very rich very quickly and he wasn't enjoying it very much. Like many of those who profited from the Seattle grunge boom - Kurt Cobain being only the most tragic of many examples - Eddie had been reared on the rigidly ascetic ethics of the American punk underground, and reacted to success with the bewilderment of the Methodist who inherits a brothel.

So five years and four fitfully excellent albums later, it's nice to see Eddie looking happy, content and relaxed. We're not far from where we last met, just across Puget Sound from Kitsap County, in Pearl Jam's native Seattle. The setting for the interview is better appointed than last time, as well - a decently proportioned suite in the Four Seasons Hotel. Eddie is here with Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, something of a godfather figure in Seattle's rock and roll heritage - Green River, the band he and Pearl Jam bass player Jeff Ament were members of in the mid-1980s, were pretty much the prototype for every subsequent act with loud guitars, long hair and plaid shirts to come out of the city. Eddie is as genuine and enthusiastic as ever, once he's worked out where he remembers me from, while Stone exhibits the blithe insouciance common among thirtysomething millionaires, and clearly couldn't care less whether I'm from The Independent or The Terrapin Breeder's Gazette.

"If this new album did anything like thatů" says Stone, when I ask how they'd cope if another giddying rush of success disrupted their hard-won equilibrium, "I think we'd probably be somewhat confused and frightened. It would be impossible for us to have that kind of impact again, I mean, we are not going to do the kind of work in terms of going out and promoting ourselves that we did for Ten. We will probably play a total of 60 shows next year, and do two or three days of press, and that's it."

Two or three days of press, and that's it. Music to the ears. Your correspondent is, today, about sixth in a procession of a dozen or so European journalists. The next few are waiting in an adjoining room looking glumly through Anton Corbijn's portraits of the band gazing grimly into the middle distance - the only photographs that Pearl Jam will deign to stand still for just now. Having flown halfway around the world, we are all to be granted about 25 minutes each. This wouldn't be so bad if we were able to spend the rest of our time somewhere other than Seattle, an entrancingly dull city that still seems as likely a setting for such a prolific and vital rock and roll scene as, say, Riyadh. There are times when I wish I'd taken that job in the abattoir.

Having had three days of my time so royally wasted - almost certainly the fault of the band's management, rather than the band themselves - it borders on the annoying to have to report that Yield, the new Pearl Jam album, is very good indeed. Their best since their first, in fact. The bits that rock do so with the band's trademark righteous fury. The self-consciously experimental bits feel more organic and less gratuitous than previously. A couple of the ballads are just plain lovely, especially 'Wishlist' and 'In Hiding'; Vedder has never sung better, nor ever had anything better to sing.

"Thanks," he says brightly. "We've tried to create a really natural environment for when we record - we stayed in Seattle and made the album in Stone's studio. The process seems natural. If it sounds natural, that's great."

That said, Vedder's lyrics on the album seem as self-eviscerating and ruthlessly confessional as ever.

"Well, yeah," he shrugs. "I did think that our last record, No Code, was going to be the record where I wasn't going to give anything away, but I don't think I'm capable of doing that. Or at least not capable of doing it without knowing in myself that it was all some kind of front."

It was precisely this obsession with being seen to walk it like he talked it that nearly caused Vedder to implode in 1992 when millions of people he didn't know first started feeling like they knew him (in an interview shortly after Cobain's suicide, he said," I always thought it would be me who went first."). He has clearly learnt, since then, how to deal with this particular contradiction.

"It would still drive me mad," he agrees, "if I thought about it, if I thought about my records being listened to in millions of homes, by millions of people. But that thought is not allowed in my head. As soon as that thought enters your head, you should pack up and go home. I had this conversation with Chris Cornell once. We also agreed that, for much the same reason, you should never listen to your own records while stoned. That's when you end up thinking,' My God! People have this record in their homes! This is terrible! We must go out and buy them all back!"

It's at about this point that someone from some doubtless terribly important rock monthly from San Marino or Liechtenstein or somewhere is due to be wheeled in, and so my time is declared abruptly up and I am duly wheeled out. I do try to strike a blow against this idiocy by asking Eddie if he knows a good record store in town. Being Eddie, he draws me a detailed map, and then insists on calling them, and at some length, to make sure they've got exactly the difficult-to-find obscurity I'm looking for. The record company drone supervising proceedings turns a gratifying shade of purple.