Stone Gossard Talks BRAD's "United We Stand", New Pearl Jam, and More
Mon, 23 Apr 2012 08:05:22
"This band is so open," exclaims guitarist Stone Gossard of BRAD.
That's one of many reasons why BRAD's music is so powerful. The group's fifth album, United We Stand, remains its most dynamic and diverse outing yet. From the soulful and somber musings of "Bound in Time" to the elegantly heavy riffs of "Last Bastion", the album evokes a myriad of feelings and sounds. BRAD's creative palette mirrors the boundless mentality of timeless rock from the '60s and '70s, but Gossard, drummer Regan Hagar, bassist Keith Lowe, and frontman Shawn Smith imbue the music with a passion all their own. It's a landmark for BRAD and one of the year's best records.
United We Stand illuminates Gossard's constant evolution as well. The Pearl Jam guitarist continues to challenge himself, and his playing is utterly poetic here. It's a uniting force of its own from inside the band to fans…
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Stone Gossard discusses BRAD's brand new album, United We Stand, talks new Pearl Jam, and so much more.
Get United We Stand April 24, 2012.
Did you approach United We Stand with one vision? What's your take on the album as a whole?
When we decided to make the record, we basically said, "The studio is going to be ours for the next six to nine months so book time when you've got any songs." We ended up recording a bunch of material during that period. Over the process of a couple months, we started narrowing everything down. It narrowed down pretty easily. Usually when you have four people trying to describe the same elephant, it can be difficult—especially if you have a lot of material. However, our process was pretty great. As it narrowed down, Shawn and Regan had some conversations about artwork and where the lyrics were coming from in terms of putting the title and package together. At first, it came with recording way too much material and having the luxury of going, "Okay, let's keep listening all together. What are the ten songs you can't live without? What are the ten that will be so fun to play? What are the ten that came so naturally?" We tended towards those ones rather than the songs we worked on really hard to make work. A lot of it is one or two takes. Some of it is totally live. Some of it is Shawn building a track up by himself over a single day and then adding onto that. Songs came together a variety of different ways. It really was like kids in the sandbox screwing around [Laughs].
What are some of the album's pervasive themes?
I think Shawn has a great ability to express, in a very simplistic way, some of the general, almost spiritual angst you can go through as a human being living on this planet. It's easy to think, "I've got to go to work. I've got to do this and that." He can inhabit this place and think big picture in terms of asking, "What is right now?" He can address spirituality in a way that's pretty non-ideological and comforting. Looking at his own journey of music and self-discovery, he still has this optimism and this non-ironic way of describing what might be going in people's hearts with almost a childlike simplicity. He came from Bakersfield and left there at a particular time for the Northwest. It's a journey.
What does "Miles of Rope" mean to you?
That was two guitar riffs I jammed together. We built it up and added one layer at a time. That's one of the songs which is maybe less "live", but spontaneously we layered things on. Shawn had such a great melody. It's country in this weird way. It fit perfectly. You put these colors together and you get something special. None of us individually could've written that song. I put the guitar down and Shawn was able to explore on top of it. Regan got that '70s badass feel going. It's pretty cool. Whether it's dance music, country, ballads, rock songs, noise, or anything in between, it all makes sense. I'm really fortunate to be in a few bands which have that same aesthetic. BRAD is pretty exploratory, and that's one thing I love about the band.
How did "Last Bastion" come together?
That's another guitar riff I had. As we explored that chorus, it took a left turn against the grain from where the other riff was coming from. That's pretty cool. I like that dynamic of the heavy and light. That's right up my alley. It's another rock song.
Where did "Through the Day" come from?
That was the last song Shawn recorded. He recorded it by himself. It wasn't going to be on the record because we'd finalized mastering and everything. There was another song in its place initially. We all heard "Through the Day". None of us said, "It has to be on the record". We were talking about artwork and Regan was like, "I love this song. I wish it could've been on the record". I said, "Maybe it still can be". I called Shawn and asked him about it. He was like, "Sounds like a great move". We put it back on there. It worked out great. This voice came out of Shawn that sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. It reminds me of Nashville Skyline-era Dylan where he's at a different spot in his voice. When you hear a singer go to a place in his voice he's never gone to before and it sounds real, you've got to support that. Shawn's very adventurous in that regard.
The same can be said of your guitar playing. Did you get to try anything different on the instrument?
There are a couple of songs I'm pretty proud of. On "A Reason To Be In My Skin" and "Bound In Time", I got to be more of a complimentary lead player where I'm playing around the vocal but not with it. It's not really a rhythm part. It's exploring where the other melodies would be outside of what Shawn was doing. I'm proud of both of those. I'm getting this sound. It's a little bit of a tribute to someone like The Edge who's really so fantastically talented at taking the simplest line and laying it across the groove in a way that makes it feel original or important to the song. It's a matter of traction for me. There are a million notes to play, but there are two the first time and three the second time that really make your ear perk up.
While you're creating, do you draw from other art forms?
I love music, but I'm not the most voracious new music fan. I tend to listen to R&B radio. I end up hearing a lot of music without working at it. I think books are more of what I'm passionate about and go out and pursue.
If you were to compare United We Stand to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
That's a good question! It's pretty raw in a way. It's definitely not overthought or overwrought so I don't think it's slick. I actually have no idea what movie it would represent that [Laughs]. What about you?
What about something from the '70s like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore or Five Easy Pieces?
Okay, great, perfect [Laughs]. You can attribute that to me [Laughs].I think the '70s are so entrenched in our psyches. Making records back then was a little freer than it is now. If you're trying to make a great record, there are a lot of influences that get people thinking. Things aren't left under-polished. I think people like the sound of under-polished these days.
Is there one song from your entire catalog you'd want to be remembered by?
It depends on who's singing it. "Black" is a pretty big one for me in terms of Pearl Jam. I'd go back to how we came up with "Buttercup". It was a group writing effort for BRAD. It's three people playing really simple chords. I like "20th Century". I wrote a couple on the Temple of the Dog record I just love.
Are you working on new Pearl Jam simultaneously as you're touring with BRAD?
We're always picking away at this new record. We're plugging along, and it's taking shape. It's pretty exciting.
What's the most exciting aspect of this process?
Trying not to recreate Backspacer is one of the things we want to do. We want to make sure we're not just locking ourselves in. We want to keep expanding our horizons. We're still writing, and what it's going to be is still up in the air.
What's your favorite BRAD song?
Get the album on iTunes here!