On the latest episode of "ALT CTRL" on Apple Music, Jeff Ament of PEARL JAM chatted with Hanuman Welch about his new solo EP, "American Death Squad", having to cancel the PEARL JAM tour, the current political climate, what he hopes for the future, and why he's excited about the current state of new music. A few highlights follow.
On news intake in the current moment:
Ament: "Pretty much after the first week, like March 12th through March 19th, we were like glued to the TV and the radio and trying to get a little bit of news from the other side just to see what they were saying over there. Then we couldn't sleep. We were just going crazy, so we shut it down. We were like, 'Hey, let's just read the news,' and then you're taking out the emotive op-ed part of even MSNBC, which I tend to agree with. It still winds you up a bit."
On canceling PEARL JAM's tour:
Ament: "Well, I mean, things were really blowing up in Seattle, and everybody sort of knew somebody in the healthcare industry. My niece is a nurse, and so we were getting field reports, pretty gruesome field reports about what was going on, and that combined with how much our fans travel. Somebody said there was like people from 12 countries coming to the first show in Toronto, and that made it pretty easy to postpone just the potential nightmare. Being at the forefront of that, it wasn't something we wanted to be a part of.
"Yeah. I mean, it's a big, big industry, and for a lot of people, it's truly their livelihood. So many great musicians that I know, they're living tour to tour, and so there's a lot of pressure on a lot of people, not to mention we have 40 or 50 crew people that we're trying to take care of. Just in our little bubble, there's a lot of responsibility."
On "American Death Squad":
Ament: "Well, I mean, as I've gotten older, you have to do a bit of training leading up and do like a tour season, and so there's a lot of energy going into rehearsals and working out and just getting mentally ready to leave your household, and so I felt like when we pulled the plug on it, I felt like I had all this energy where I was like... and that first week, just all the anxiety of watching the news and stuff, my wife and I were just saying, 'We've got to pivot this into something positive. We only have so much life left, so let's just figure out a way to do some things that we've always wanted to do.' We're doing a lot more hiking and seeing some parts of the country that we hadn't seen that we'd always been talking about.
"I just started waking up early in the morning and going in the studio, and then it turned into, 'Okay, I'm going to try to write a song every day. I'm going to try to finish it. I'm going to lay drums down. I'm going to get the instrumentation, figure out the arrangement, write lyrics, and do a rough mix.' After about a week, it sort of felt like I got into this really great groove with it, and then it lasted like two months. I just kept writing, kept writing, kept writing. These were some of the first songs that came out of that bunch, and they were probably some most anxious of the songs."
On the current moment and what he hopes for the future:
Ament: "I think with the 'Black Lives Matter' thing happening in the middle of this, that gives me even more hope because it just sort of feels like there's all this shit that most of us didn't know about. I knew there were some Confederate statues, and I knew that a couple of the bases were named after Confederate generals. I didn't know there were that many. That combined with just the Washington Redskins and just all the horrible shit that in 2020 we're still allowing that to happen, it does feel hopeful that it's like there's a big wave of change about to happen. Hopefully, [Joe] Biden gets in there, and hopefully he has a great group of people around them, and they just make this place a better place, and — not to mention the environmental… The one positive thing is that this is a little warmup for that."
On the current state of new music:
Ament: "I think the actual music is in a better place than it's ever been. There's so much fantastic music. It's different than it was a couple years ago. It's not like you're going to the record store and talking to the record guy, but it's going online, it's talking to your friends. A year ago, I saw this band IDLES, and that just sent me on this incredible journey into MURDER CAPITAL and FONTAINES D.C. and SHAME and all those bands. I feel like that happens every three or four years for me where there's a subculture happening somewhere that just gets you really excited about music again, and it honestly, it feels as exciting as when I first heard the RAMONES or when I first heard BLACK FLAG and DEAD KENNEDYS and MINOR THREAT and all that East Coast hardcore, and even what was going on here in Seattle in the late '80s, I mean, there's incredible art being made all over the place. One of the great things about technology is you can usually find it really fast. You don't have to order it.
"PREOCCUPATIONS, that's another band that... They're kind of one of the first ones where there was kind of this goth post-punk, super heavy. It's like when people say, 'Rock is dead.' I'm like, 'Man, go check this... because this is rock. This is as good rock music as has been on the planet in the last 20 years.' There's young people learning how to play their instruments in a different way than we learned how to play our instruments, and there's a lot of pissed off people, and there's a lot of anxious people, and that's just all a perfect brew for great music and great art. I mean the new IDLES song, 'Grounds', it's the best song of the last three years or however long. It's just like I couldn't take it off repeat."
"American Death Squad" was released on June 26. The effort features five songs. Half of the EP was performed on guitar, while the other was on piano.
PEARL JAM played live for the first time in two years on June 24 as part of "All In WA: A Concert For COVID-19 Relief", a musical benefit broadcast locally in Washington state and livestreamed online. The full show is also available at Amazon Prime.
PEARL JAM released "Gigaton", its first album in seven years, this past March. The band was slated to begin a world tour that same month but those plans were scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.