Holed up in the woods of Montana with only his Three Fish bandmates and
his thoughts as company, bass player Jeff Ament discovered something
about himself and his musical potential.
There, amid nature's splendor, the bassist for Seattle superstar rockers
Pearl Jam looked beyond his stolid Catholic upbringing to embrace the
sounds and sensibilities of cultures from around the world.
"I was an altar boy for eight to nine years," Ament, 36, said, "and I
had serious questions about God and I still do. I think being in nature
is the best place to find answers to those questions. And being in the
woods with these two guys [from Three Fish] and having those conversations
... this record is just a small piece of those discussions."
The record is Three Fish's spiritually charged second album, The
Quiet Table (June 1), which resonates with the kind of percussion-heavy
world music vibe that filled the band's 1996 self-titled debut.
Again teaming with South African vocalist Robbi Robb (Tribe After Tribe)
and Fastbacks drummer Richard Stuverud, Ament said he retreated to the
wilderness of his native Montana several times over the past year to
record the 12-track album. The record is accented by a variety of ethnic
instruments he and Robb picked up on their travels.
"When we went to Europe to do press [for the Three Fish debut], we went
to Turkey and Egypt and in those places music is such a huge part of
people's lives," Ament said. "You can't help but be infatuated with the
rhythms and the way people sing. We all picked up an oud [a stringed
Arabic instrument] or some [other] stringed instrument and a couple of
drums and finger cymbals."
The album is a more varied effort than the group's debut, swinging from
trance-inducing songs such as "Chaintreuse" and "Myth of Abdou"
(RealAudio excerpt) to "Half Long"
(RealAudio excerpt) and "My Only Foe," more straight-ahead rock songs
tinged with exotic instrumentals and Robb's pleading vocals.
Robb, who said he has spent most of his life studying world religions,
magic, eastern philosophy and mysticism, said he felt the influence of
nature both in the music the band created and in his own earthy lyrics
to such songs as "Shiva and the Astronaut" and "Tremor Void"
"The environment of the forest ... I guess the sacred magic or ultimate
secret is really vivid in those settings," Robb said.
The singer pointed to the rural setting as one reason the album has a
more organic, less-psychedelic vibe than did the group's debut. "This
one is more about nature and the communication it stimulated between us."
Robb said the trio mostly improvised during their recording sessions,
which often began with Stuverud tapping out a beat, followed by Ament
chiming in on acoustic guitar. The vocalist, whose singing sometimes
evokes that of U2 leader Bono, would then begin chanting words and phrases
as the inspiration hit him.
"I would just close my eyes and start singing," Robb said. "It's kind of
like channeling, I would let my mind fill up with an idea and then take
that, chant the name of Allah for 15 minutes and start opening my mind
to the lyrics. It's like tuning one's mind like a radio to a particular
frequency and then watching what comes out of the mouth."
That free-form way of creating sound opened Ament's mind, he said, creating
a new understanding of how to craft music. The bassist said he was inspired
to pick up a number of his new, exotic instruments during the sessions.
The experiments often resulted in his trying to figure out how to coax
the right sound out of a foreign instrument, he said. But the result is
a philosophy of music-making that Ament said has emboldened him in Three
Fish as well as in bringing songs to Pearl Jam recording sessions.
Three Fish will mount a monthlong tour in June, set to begin June 1 at
the Park West in Chicago and end June 27 at AROspace in Seattle.