Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament Talks RNDM, What He's Listening To, and More
Wed, 28 Nov 2012 10:35:03
"We're having a good time playing the songs from Acts live," smiles Jeff Ament of RNDM and Pearl Jam as he readies for a Seattle gig with the former. "That's what I envisioned when we finished the record."
There's a distinct energy to RNDM that's certainly perfect for the stage. However, the beauty of Acts is just how deep the music is. Underneath the swaggering funked-out rock majesty of Richard Stuverud's drumming and Ament's inimitable and irresistible bass lines, singer Joseph Arthur relays vivid emotional tales that strike a serious chord. RNDM's got those big, brilliant melodies, but there's a much more complex center to the music. It's an intriguing and infectious debut, and it's also one of the best albums of 2012.
In order to get closer to that "energy", ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino talked to RNDM and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament about Acts, what he's listening to, and so much more.
What's your take on Acts as a whole? It flows very naturally.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the record got made so quickly. There wasn't really time to think too much about stretching out. We were working with the songs Joe had and the music I had. We tried hard to throw some diversity into it. At the same time, because it was all on the same amps and drum kit and Joe was singing his vocals live in the room into the same mic, that gave it some cohesiveness.
How quickly did you record?
We basically did the recording in four days and one night. They got in at about seven at night. We started recording at nine. We recorded one song, and we had four full days after that. It's crazy [Laughs].
Since you share so much history with Richard and Joe, do you feel like you guys had a creative bond before you even entered the studio? Is it a common ethos?
Well, I think it helped that Richard and I have played together so much. We certainly have a chemistry with each other. When Joe would play something for us, we'd have some theories about it. We might say, "Hey, let's do an up-tempo Motown thing in this song" or "Let's make this sound like Cheap Trick". Richard and I speak the same language, and we grew up listening to the same bands. We learned how to play our instruments to the same bands. It was pretty easy for us to jump into that mode. We're also huge fans of Joe's so we were just excited to be there. We were really excited especially to be the rhythm section on the songs he wrote.
How did "What You Can't Control" come together? Was that a special song for you?
Yeah! That was the first song we played together. Joe played it for us in the kitchen. It's an amazing song. Hats off to Joe for that. The real star of that performance is Richard. He was so stoked. He was like, "Oh, that song's awesome!" He came up with a really amazing drum arrangement very quickly. Within a couple of takes, we picked and chose what Richard was doing. That makes a song for me. As far as how he's playing on that song, there's a really cool arrangement with the drums.
Those nuances really come across on headphones.
That's the beauty of a three-piece band too. There's a lot of sonic space available. It allows me to play busier. It's cool to have that freedom in this band. The bass players that I love—the Bruce Thomas's—were busier bass players in the '80s. I got to put that hat on for this record.
What's the story behind "Cherries in the Snow"?
That's a typical Joe song. He told us the story about how he wrote that song for his aunt. It was a heavy moment playing that with him in the first couple of times. I think it was emotional for him. All of us could relate to having an older family member who's looking death in the face and those last conversations you have. About halfway through the tour, we suggested Joe do that song by himself. I think it's even more powerful that way. It's such an intimate lyric.
What song from the record is impacting you the most at the moment?
"What You Can't Control" is a really fun song to play. "Darkness" is a great album track. It's been work getting that song to go well live. I think over the course of the last seven or eight shows, it's turned the corner. On any given night, a song can be great. We've only played 20 shows as a band. We're still growing, and songs are still happening.
Was there a lot of rehearsal? What was your mentality leading up to the tour?
There's a fair amount of background vocals so we had to work through that stuff. There was a group of four or five songs that I wrote on the record. I played all of the instruments on them so Joe had to learn how to play the guitar parts I came up with and sing them at the same time. There was a little bit of work. We rehearsed for about a week. Technically, we really only worked on the album songs for four or five days and we spent two of the days actually recording new tunes. It was more rehearsing than a Pearl Jam tour. That's partly because we're a new band, and we were still learning songs.
You're always sort of worried about being in tight quarters with a bunch of new guys, but we just had a blast. We've written a few songs while we've been on the road so that kept us looking forward, which is great. There are about three new songs in the live set. That keeps it exciting. We're ending the tour wanting to do some more, so that's a good sign.
If you were to compare Acts to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
The Pink Panther and The Avengers maybe [Laughs]. There's a comic book element to what we're doing for sure so that might work.
What encouraged that?
I think it came out of dares and whatever the inner 12-year-old or 15-year-old rock fan in us was. We just dared each other to do things. I have access to some people who can create the masks and help with the outfits. It was just about having fun by breaking loose. There are these unwritten rules of what we can and can't wear in a rock band, and this breaks those rules down a little bit and throws some performance art into the band. It's been fun.
There's a balance between that fun and the heavier subject matter.
Yeah, I've always liked that juxtaposition. It's almost like a subversive way of getting people to pay attention to what the singer is saying. Devo are really great at that. The music seemed whacky and funny, but the lyrics are as dark as hell. There are elements of that on this record. That's Joe's style. It's what made me a fan of his. He writes these great fictionalized vignettes of pretty dark times.
What are you listening to right now?
On this tour, I haven't listened to very much. This summer, I really loved the last Midlake record. I'm into all of their records. I'm a big Mogwai fan and LCD Soundsystem. I listen to tons of music. I think it's the greatest time ever for amazing music coming out. I go to Easy Street Records once a week and buy three or four things. It's been the happening record store in Seattle for the last 25 years.
Have you heard Soundgarden's King Animal yet?
Yeah, it's awesome. I'm really into side two right now. When you first hear the record, I think you understand the songs on side one quicker. Now, to me, there's more depth to the songs on side two. It's classic Soundgarden. It's a really good record.
What are some of the heavier bands you dig?
I love some of the new metal that's happening. I love Mastodon. I love Isis, Pelican, and that ethereal prog metal that's been happening over the last few years. I love Mogwai. They're really heavy instrumentally, but not in a heavy metal way. I gravitate towards that kind of music for sure.
Do you have plans to do another solo record like While My Heart Beats?
The cool thing is I feel like I'm scratching the itch I did on those solo records with this band. Joe is so open to doing anything, and he's such an amazing singer. In some ways, it's more exciting for me for a great singer to sing your stuff than it is for me to actually sing it myself. It's a lot of work for me, and I don't have a great voice so it takes a fair amount of time for me to get to a point where it's passable. That last record was a cathartic thing for me. I'd lost my best friend three years ago, and that was an exercise in me working through the grief I had losing him. That's the beauty of writing and music. It can be therapeutic for the writer.
What's on the horizon for you?
We're going to sit down at the end of the week and talk about what's out there. I'm probably not going to get busy with Pearl Jam until March or something. I'm up for whatever. There's a little bit of momentum within the band right now so I think we want to keep it moving.
Have you heard RNDM?
See our review of Acts here!