Pearl Jam Talk (Finally!)

Vedder and company tell it like it is. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

For several years now, Pearl Jam have been sort of like that shy kid with the

shocking blue hair in your high school. He desperately wants to be left

alone...but that hair. The further they ran from the publicity spotlight, not

playing shows, taking on Ticketmaster, swearing off videos, the greater the

urgency felt by fans to embrace them and seek them out.

An article in

today's (Dec. 22) L. A. Times finally begins to peel back some of the

many shrouds of mystery surrounding the band, revealing a

stunned-but-finally-recovering group of young men who were not only shocked by

their sudden, meteoric rise to fame and visibility, but simultaneously saddled

with the death of a comrade, the realization they didn't really know (or maybe

even like) each other and the frightening prospect of having their personal

lives taken away by a rabid public.

The Times reporter, Robert

Hilburn, caught up with the band in Barcelona on their recent European tour and

in the wide-ranging article, answers some of the most puzzling questions

surrounding a band whose 1991 debut sold 10 million copies, but whose current

album, No Code, is quickly falling off the charts, with barely 1 million

copies sold (many pundits have ascribed the poor sales to the group's seeming

reluctance to tour).

"I guess what has happened to us with this record

shows that promotion really does matter, just like everybody told us," Vedder

admitted during the interview. "If you don't operate in that framework, which

we don't, it's obvious that you won't sell as many records. And that's fine. We

expected this to happen much sooner than it has."

But Vedder conceded that if that's the way it has to be,

so be it. "To us, it's about choices and lifestyles," he said. "Do you want to

spend your time on the road and doing promotion, or do you spend your time

making [new] music and living your life? At the end of the day, what is most

important? To us, I'd like to think it's our music and the quality of our

lives." Guitarist Stone Gossard said the band nearly didn't record No

Code. "All the success happened so fast that it took awhile for us to get

our balance, to get past all the bickering and the infighting--and we are still

learning," said Gossard of the internal tension that almost broke the band up

during sessions for their previous album, Vitalogy.

Gossard said a

key turning point for Pearl Jam came at the show they played with Neil Young at

the Polo Field in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park last year. "I think we've

learned something about long-term relationships and pulling together, and I

feel good about it. . . .," said Gossard. "There was a time around

Vitalogy when I didn't know if Pearl Jam had a future. It feels like a

band now. We realize what a great opportunity we have to make music together,

and we don't want to throw that away."

Guitarist Mike McCready revealed

that soon after the group's first success, he dropped into a drug and alcohol

haze to deflect the scrutiny, almost getting kicked out of the band; Gossard

said he thought of quitting in 1994 when lines of communication between band

members began to seriously break down due to the pressure. One change that

apparently helped was the addition of drummer Jack Irons (to replace Dave

Abbruzzese), an old friend who brought better lines of communication between

the drifting members.

But the band members say they really turned the

corner at that Neil Young show in Golden Gate Park in the summer of 1995.

Vedder had to leave the stage due to food poisoning and the band knew it was

the pressure that got to him. So they made the unexpected decision to call off

the tour and send everybody home.

"That was the day we acted as a band,"

Gossard told the Times. "In the past, we had kind of allowed Eddie to

steer the ship in some ways, and it's still that way. You want him to feel good

about the situation, because when he's feeling good about it, it makes the

whole thing work. But that day you could see he was totally sick but still

trying to push himself. When we saw what was happening, the band finally said,

'This is insane. We've got to stop.' We couldn't let him feel like he's got to

tour because we're expecting it from him. We all got together after that and

talked things over. . . . Why are we in a band? Do we really like each other?

Do we really want to play music together?

And about that Rolling

Stone article? At one point during Hilburn's interview Vedder acknowledges

it by saying, "I know who I am, and I don't need to read someone else's bitter

take on it."