Stone Gossard Talks "Moonlander", Books, New Pearl Jam, and More
Wed, 08 May 2013 08:44:24
In some ways, Moonlander feels like the best way to get to know Stone Gossard.
At this point, the prolific Pearl Jam guitarist's output remains staggering between his primary gig, Brad, and solo material. However, Moonlander invites intimate listening. There are moments of riffed-out angst such as "I Need Something Different", hazes of psychedelia on "I Wanted to Go to Bed", and true melodic bliss during "Beyond Measure". Evincing multiple sides of his diverse musical persona, he eloquently shares a myriad of stories via the music, vocals, and lyrics, tapping into rapturous emotion at every turn.
It's not just an album; it's an experience.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Stone Gossard opens up about Moonlander, talks what he's been reading, discusses new Pearl Jam, and so much more.
To hear music from Moonlander, see details on how to win a super cool exclusive signed art print and softie, and all things Stone Gossard, click here! Also, you can follow Stone on Twitter.
Did you approach Moonlander with one vision or vibe in mind or did it come together more organically once you began writing? It feels very cohesive.
It was a long process to put the record together. I like to write songs. Figuring out how to write complete songs with lyrics, vocal melodies, guitar, bass, and drums and making all of those things complete has been a process that I've wanted to learn about since I began playing music. The record was actually started in 2003. "I Need Something Different" and "Bombs Away" are from that era of songwriting. They were partially done lyrically at that point. There might've been a melody, a drum take, or a guitar. Over the years, I went back, found those, and thought, "These are cool. I want to flesh them out and do something with them". It's like making a sculpture. You keep adding on more clay. You scrape it off. Then, you look at it again and go, "That's wrong". You file it down, and then you put some more on. You smash the whole thing, and you start again. It's a constant polishing and molding process. Finally, towards the end, the shape starts to form and you realize what it's going to be. You might still be cutting songs and editing up until the last minute. You're constantly molding. You're not really aware like, "I'm going in and here's my vision for the record". It's more like, "Here's a song. Is it good enough?" You listen to it once, put it away, and come back to it a year later. If it's still cool, you put it in the pile of songs you want to keep. Now, what song goes with that one? The process isn't big picture. You're leading small things, and then seeing the big picture when everyone else does. You're probably seeing it more than I am because I'm so close to it. The fact you think things hold together pretty well is a good sign. That means I did my job. I didn't know if it was going to, but it did so that means I can trust my instincts.
Do you view these songs as snapshots of different points in your life?
Sure, I can think back to the era when I was writing those songs. Your life changes a lot in ten years. There's a lot that happens. You get married. You have kids. Your nephews and nieces go from being in grade school to graduating college. You think back on what was going on in your mind a decade ago and what your main focus was. A lot of things have shifted since then. It's fun to have those little moments where you can look back and go, "I still appreciate that thought, dream, memory, or moment of inspiration". It's fun to think about what the next ones will be as I get older.
What's the story behind "I Need Something Different"?
I like to play drums in my free time for fun. I had a little looping machine so I made a bass line to play drums on top of. I spent twenty seconds on the bass line. I wanted it to be simple so I could add the drums over it. As I was playing, I kept humming that melody. It sounded like a song. It's fun to write songs over a static piece of music like that. It's more like a disco approach to writing music. The bass doesn't really need to change that much and neither do the drums. The vocal melody changing can signify what the chorus is. I was excited about it. I have a good friend named Matt Chamberlain. He was the original drummer who played on the "Alive" video for Pearl Jam. He toured with Pearl Jam for a couple of weeks in 1990 and we made that video when we were just started out. I've always remained close to him. He's a great guy and a good friend. He came into the studio, and I threw that loop at him. He just destroyed it! The key to that song is how exciting the drum track is. It's over-the-top. I knew I had something really cool there. I still didn't have any lyrics though. For whatever reason, I lost track of that song for about seven years [Laughs]. Then, I was going back through my old demos, and I was like, "Oh my God, how did I let that one go? It's so special". I finished the lyrics off and added a little guitar to it. Pete Droge did some background vocals, and we finished it really quickly. That was all done in the last six months. It was started in 2003 and re-tweaked in 2013. It's very simplistic in its approach. I like it in that regard.
What does "I Don't Want to Go to Bed" mean to you?
As a parent, you get certain phrases that are stuck in your head. Ultimately, I think it's about a character who doesn't want to have anything to do with the normal world whatsoever. It's a little darker than a kid's song. There's something a bit disturbing about it. It's definitely about somebody who spends too much time by themselves and is so immersed in their own thoughts and dreams that they become a little problematic. I'm hoping that's conveyed. The general sense is everyone has an inner child who's saying, "Screw you mom! I don't want to go to bed. I don't want to do anything you're going to tell me. I'm not going to listen to you". It's not quite a lullaby.
Where did the idea for the Moonlander art print and softies come from?
It's funny. I do a lot of art because my daughter does a lot of art. She's always pulling out papers, pens, sparkles, and feathers. She's start doing it. I love to get into it with her too. In the course of the last couple years, I've done a lot of pieces as she was doing it too. I'd be smearing paint and acting like a kid playing with art supplies. I wasn't thinking I'd use them for anything. They'd hang in my daughter's room and we'd look at them and pick our favorites. We probably did forty or fifty of them. As I got close to cleaning the house, I realized there were some pieces that still stuck with me. I had this group of eleven or twelve. I knew I was putting out the record and I'd need some art to go with it. It was a leap of intuition like, "Maybe we'll do a piece of art for each of the songs". Sometime, in the midst of all that, my wife sent one of the pieces to an artist named Terri Swinhart who will make a stuffed animal based off a design you send her. I got one back that was so mind-blowingly accurate in terms of how she translated the drawing to a stuffed animal. It was so great. As we were thinking of promotional ideas, it was like, "Okay, that's too good". We thought people might be excited about it.
Are writing music and creating are two completely different pursuits or do they intersect?
I think it's all the same in terms of why something ends up being good, why you like it, or what sticks with you. There is a childlike to the way I approach music. I'm not formally trained. I don't do anything other than move my fingers around until I find things that I like and remember how to do that. With art, it's the same way. I don't have any formal training. It's about making mistakes, getting excited about them, and being able to build on them. You pick the ones where some magic happens. I rely on mistakes and randomness to find cool things. I think that's the case in music, when it comes to writing. Stumbling is a big part of what I connect with. The same holds true for art. The simplicity of rock 'n' roll and why rock 'n' roll works is it's a primal thing. If you get too polished or complex, you lose the gist of it. I connect to simplicity and that childlike feeling in both art and music.
How did "Your Flames" come together?
Pearl Jam was on tour, and I had a dream some place. The dream was about finding my nephew in his bedroom lighting matches. I remember I was horrified that he was going to burn the house down in the dream. I was so angry that I hit him three times. The lyric is pretty straightforward. The irony of the song is he looks at me and goes, "That's all you got?" He's already more powerful than I am in a dream. I couldn't even hurt him in the dream. He brushes me off. My first thought is, "This is horrible. I've hurt him". Then, he's saying, "You couldn't hurt me if you wanted to. Quit confusing yourself". It stuck with me how the storylines of your dreams can be so strange. They're all in your head, but where do you get these plot twists? In retrospect, I think about how much I love him and how much spirit he has. It's a reference to the idea that you don't need to light matches because your own flame is already burning. You have all the excitement you need inside you.
What have you been reading lately?
I'm reading a lot. I didn't read for quite a while. As a new dad, I didn't get the chance to read. Recently, I've been on a fiction tear. The last thing that really struck me was a book called The Orphan Master's Son. It's a novel set in North Korea. The author's name is Adam Johnson. He just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It's a stunning novel. It gives you a sense of how crazy North Korea is in terms of a totalitarian regime and what the mindset would be like being close to the supreme leader and how his generals are interacting with him and how the people way down on the chain are interacting with him. The last Haruki Murakami book 1Q84 was just incredible for me. Those are two of the recent books I really loved. I probably read way more than I listen to music so I'm glad you asked about books [Laughs]. That's what I do for fun. I like to buy books.
If you were to compare Moonlander to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
Oh man, that's a great question! I don't know, maybe Robocop [Laughs]. It's got some good energy, but there are some different stories in there. How about Robocop then?
What's on the horizon at the moment?
The Pearl Jam record is getting really close at this point. When we finish the record, we'll start figuring out some dates. I'm assuming this album will be out by the end of the year, if all goes well. That's the plan. There's no news about what it sounds like yet, but it's going to be a good Pearl Jam record. There's no question about it. It sounds really good to my ears right now.
Are you going to tour Moonlander?
Right now, I have a lot on my plate finishing up this Pearl Jam record and looking at touring there. At some point, I'd love to do shows. I haven't figured that out, but it would be exciting. I've got two records' worth of material. Going out and playing a 45-minute set and seeing if we could put these records together live would be fun.
What's your favorite Stone Gossard or Pearl Jam song and why?
Photo: Karen Loria