After performing in five acclaimed bands, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard is savoring his independence with a solo project, the first time a member of the famed Seattle rock combo has struck out on his own.
Gossard remains an integral member of Pearl Jam, which is on hiatus for most of 2001, but his new album “Bayleaf” (Epic Records) finds him relishing life in the driver’s seat, where he can write a song one day and record it the next.
“… As opposed to write some songs and know that we’re going to get together in six months, and maybe the songs you write you’re excited about, or maybe they aren’t excited about,” Gossard told Reuters in a recent interview.
Of course, membership of Pearl Jam, with worldwide sales of more than 38 million records, is nothing to sniff at. Gossard, 35, the group’s youngest member, fondly recalled the “kinship and the brotherhood” with his four bandmates.
“But at the same time I fight it too,” he said.
In fact, he did bring the “Bayleaf” title track to a Pearl Jam demo session, but the band passed on it. The thumbs-down for his little gems can be traumatic, he said. Asked if any other Pearl Jam rejects ended up on “Bayleaf,” he glumly said, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
As a member of Pearl Jam, Gossard co-wrote some of its biggest hits, including “Alive” and “Even Flow,” and he scored four credits on its last album, 2000’s “Binaural.” He has sung lead on one Pearl Jam track, 1996’s “Mankind.”
MIXED REACTIONS FROM PALS
Some bands – notably staunch hard-rockers Metallica – view solo projects as evil undertakings that sap a group’s strength. Not Pearl Jam. “Life’s too short to worry about what somebody else is doing,” Gossard said.
Still, he notes his closest friends have had a mixed reaction to “Bayleaf,” their appreciation clouded by their relationship with him.
“Even my family is like, ‘Hey, good job.” But they weren’t excited,” he said.
Gossard is the son of an attorney and the only Seattle-born member of the band. Together with bass player Jeff Ament, he had played with two influential bands, Green River and Mother Love Bone, before co-founding Pearl Jam in 1990 with guitarist Mike McCready. Vocalist Eddie Vedder and drummer Dave Krusen, the first of five musicians to fill the seat, soon rounded out the band.
Success was almost instant, with Pearl Jam one of several seminal bands to emerge from the Seattle “grunge” rock scene, along with the likes of Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden, bands all purveying a no-frills punk aesthetic.
Pearl Jam has followed an idiosyncratic path by refusing to produce videos, promote singles or – for a brief period – play in venues that were controlled by ticketing giant Ticketmaster. Album sales have slid in recent years, but the group remains a popular touring draw.
Gossard’s music is similarly quirky, having already been showcased out of the band unit in his side-project Brad, which is finishing work on a third album. (With the nucleus of Pearl Jam, Gossard also performed with “supergroup” Temple of the Dog, which recorded one album in 1991.)
PIGS AND PASTA SAUCE
The “Bayleaf” album was four years in the making. Gossard worked on it during brief breaks from his day job. He wrote all 10 tracks, and sings on seven of them, with pal Ty Wilman singing on the rest, including first single “Unhand Me.”
The lyrics are mostly cryptic – in one song a rabbit chases a pig around a parking lot – and his explanations are not much help. Of the first single, he says: “It’s about a conversation I’m having as I’m writing a song about what it is that gets me back to that point where I’m actually doing something that feels transcendent.”
The album’s title refers to the under-appreciated green plant that gives a special flavor to pasta sauce.
And no, he does not see himself as the bayleaf in Pearl Jam. On stage, the lanky and bespectacled Gossard takes a low profile on rhythm guitar, allowing the mercurial Vedder, enigmatic McCready and energetic Ament to hog the fans’ attention.
With “Bayleaf,” he is front and center, and not completely comfortable. He cites “fear and insecurity” as partial reasons for his decision not to put a band together and go out on tour to promote “Bayleaf.”
“Sometimes a challenge is there not to be taken. This is one of those times, for sure.”
Pearl Jam is scheduled to perform at rocker Neil Young’s annual charity show for disabled children in northern California in late October, and its members will reconvene at the start of 2002 to map a course for the year.