Pearl Jam Bassist Jeff Ament Gets Into Spirit Of Three Fish LP

Retreats into Montana wilderness to summon inspiration for side band's latest, The Quiet Table.

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"

(RealAudio excerpt).

"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.