Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron and former Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain have cranked out four records in the six years they've been playing together as the Wellwater Conspiracy. And yet despite all that work, the band has always sounded like a fun side project.
Until now. Which isn't to say it's a bad thing that their new, self-titled release resonates with a more deliberate, focused approach. Wellwater's trippy sound is still reminiscent of '60s bands the Zombies and the 13th Floor Elevators, but the songs are more dynamic.
"I think we really tried to focus on each individual song," Cameron said, "but still keep the whole thing pretty off-the-cuff. We like things to be pretty free-sounding, but on the songs that called for it we certainly tried to make them sound complete."
"We wanted to get the parts right," McBain added, "but not too right. It's still hard for me to fight not doing 10-minute jams with the guitar freakouts."
Like the band's 2001 album, The Scroll and Its Combinations, Wellwater Conspiracy was recorded at a former KFC restaurant that Cameron converted into a studio. The establishment is in an unsavory section of Seattle, and one night the band had a bizarre experience befitting a band named after an urban legend about a nutjob lacing Minnesota's drinking water with LSD.
"Some wacky guy came up to our front door waving a knife around while John was recording guitar solos," Cameron said. "John was playing this crazy guitar part and was rudely interrupted, which was pretty scary. So we had to keep the front door locked and the guy eventually left."
As complete and together as Wellwater Conspiracy sounds, the album is still surprising and eclectic. "Rebirth" is an electronic song that sounds a little like Daft Punk, "Sullen Glacier" fires up the guitar sludge, and "Something in the Air" is a cover of a deliciously trippy '60s pop song by Thunderclap Newman.
"That was the very first 45 I got as a kid," McBain said with pride. "It's a very oddball song, and I thought it would suit us because we're kind of an odd band."
Another track, "Wimple Witch," blends a rapid beat and urgent, impassioned vocals with ringing guitars and swirling keyboards. "It's about not losing touch with the things that excite you," Cameron said. "It's like the initial rush of feeling you get when you see something for the first time or feel it for the first time."
All of the drums and vocals on Wellwater Conspiracy were written and recorded by Cameron, while McBain handled guitar and bass. Keyboards were added by the Walkabouts' Grant Eckman. The band will tour before the end of the year as a three-piece, with Eckman doubling up by playing basslines on keyboard.
When he's not working with Wellwater, McBain works in a music store and tinkers on his solo album. Cameron is a little busier, touring, recording and playing with Pearl Jam and spending the rest of his time with his wife and two kids. Neither of the artists wants Wellwater to ever become their sole band, but neither ever wants it to end.
"It's a lot of fun hanging out with my friend John and making music," Cameron said. "That's kind of our main impetus for it. We pretty much record everything ourselves because we all grew up with four-track recorders in our homes. This is just an outgrowth of that, with none of the pressure that you feel with a lot of bands. It leaves us free to do whatever we want."