Pearl Jam Bassist Says Band Taking New Tack On Next LP

Follow-up to 1998's Yield will employ ex-Soundgarden beat keeper Matt Cameron and may be self-produced.

Pearl Jam have begun compiling songs for a sixth studio album that

bassist Jeff Ament promises will be a departure for the pioneering grunge

band.

The group will be working with ex-Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron on the disc, which may turn out to be Pearl Jam's first self-produced record. The band plans to convene in a Seattle studio in early summer to get down to business.

"We've been kind of fiddling around a bit," Ament, 36, said. "At this point we're mostly playing each other's demos, and we have a handful of songs we've played together in demo form."

The bassist said the album will show a different side of the grunge rockers. The group has adopted a more laid-back approach to songwriting and an increasing willingness to experiment, Ament said.

Another difference this time around is Cameron, who was enlisted by

Pearl Jam for their 1998 tour, replacing beat keeper Jack Irons (ex-Red

Hot Chili Peppers) who dropped out citing health concerns.

That tour yielded Cameron's debut recording with Pearl Jam, Live on Two Legs (1998), the group's first live album. The disc contained stage versions of such Pearl Jam staples as "Do the Evolution" (RealAudio excerpt of live version), a track from Pearl Jam's most recent studio album, 1998's Yield.

At the time, Cameron's future with the group was uncertain. "I agreed to join them in the studio and help make a record," he said earlier this year. "There are no ... commitments other than that, but we're supposed to get together in the next couple of months and play a bit."

This week, Cameron said that jamming with the group has been "really fun, which is good enough for me."

"We're ready to try some different things," Ament said, "and making [the album] with Matt is a good opportunity to do that."

Ament said the band is in the early stage of compiling new songs. "Every one of us has a different way of writing," Ament said. "We're just taking our time. We want to approach this one a bit differently than past records."

In a first for Pearl Jam, they might produce and mix the album themselves, according to Ament.

The bandmembers, who rose from the ashes of such pioneering Seattle grunge acts as Mother Love Bone and Green River, released the first Pearl Jam album, Ten, in 1991.

Although Pearl Jam have been laying low since they wrapped up their tour in November, they've recently had an unexpected radio hit with their cover of J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers' "Last Kiss" (RealAudio excerpt). The track was released in December to fan club members only. But due to radio interest, the band has decided to release the single commercially and donate all proceeds to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, an organization that aids refugees from the Kosovo conflict.

The members of Pearl Jam have not been idle during their time off from touring with the group. Ament will tour in June with his rock/world-music side project, Three Fish, before returning to the studio with Pearl Jam.

Guitarist Mike McCready has completed an album with his side project,

the Rockfords, although no release date has been set. Singer Eddie Vedder

is slated to do a solo set June 13 at the Tibetan Freedom Concert about 100 miles

outside of Chicago, alongside rappers Run-D.M.C., Biz Markie, OutKast and the Roots,

as well as reunited new-wave veterans Blondie, socially conscious rockers Live, blues great Otis Rush and TFC organizers the Beastie Boys.

A photo book chronicling the band's nearly decade-long career, "Pearl Jam: Place/Date," recently was released.

In keeping with the increasingly democratic songwriting approach of Pearl Jam's two most recent albums, 1996's No Code and Yield, Ament said he feels more comfortable offering non-bass instrumental suggestions since expanding his horizons with his side project.

"It's given me the confidence to lay down a keyboard or piano track or a percussion track or drum loop and go to the band and say, 'I really hear an echoey piano here or a bowed bass on this part,' " Ament said. "I've become less afraid to approach things in a nontraditional way."