On March 9, Pearl Jam was one of the first bands to scrap a tour as COVID-19 became a global pandemic, and on Friday morning, the group also postponed the European leg of the jaunt, which was scheduled to begin in late June, until June of 2021.
While the announcement hadn’t been made when PJ guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready participated in their first Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) Thursday night, the duo did talk about the U.S. tour postponement, their new album “Gigaton,” and sheltering in place. Gossard confirmed the quintet had “rehearsed a few times” before making the initial decision, and added that there is “lots of dessert going on here right now — captive audience!” McCready said he’s been spending his quarantine time “learning how to fingerpick, working on scales I never knew and taking singing lessons. Gotta keep learning.”
McCready acknowledged the “long process” involved in making the album, Pearl Jam’s first since 2013’s “Lightning Bolt. “[There were] lots of starts and stops with touring, Chris [Cornell]’s death, et cetera,” he said. “But it was freeing to just record with the mindset of, let’s do whatever comes to our minds.” He said the synth-heavy first single “Dance of the Clairvoyants” is “the best example of letting go of any preconceptions I had of how a Pearl Jam song should be.”
Gossard saluted “Gigaton” producer Josh Evans, who he called “a hugely talented and hugely hearted individual. We couldn’t be prouder of his enormous accomplishment of getting all of us excited about the same record.” Added McCready, “I love ambient stuff and tried to create a huge, trippy atmosphere at the end of ‘Retrograde.’ I envisioned people listening to it on headphones. Josh helped me put all that crazy stuff in perspective.” (Variety spoke at length with Evans about the album last month.)
Gossard said he wrote “Buckle Up,” his lone solo songwriting contribution to the album, in March 2018 before a Pearl Jam show in Santiago, Chile. “It was the last song that was brought to band right at the end of making the record [in the] fall last year,” he said. “I love the simplicity of the song. Jeff Ament came in and threw wicked lyrical bass and keys on it right away.”
Addressing speculation that “Gigaton” could be the first of a two-part album, McCready would only say that it is “its own record. I’d love to record more music in this time of pandemic, but it’s important that we are all taking measures to be safe.”
Although “Gigaton” is only two weeks old, Pearl Jam surprised fans with more new music earlier this week, delivering the long-awaited 2017 and 2018 singles to members of its Ten Club fan organization. Among them were frontman Eddie Vedder’s renditions of Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart” and Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” plus Pearl Jam’s spooky cover of Soundgarden’s debut 1987 single “Hunted Down,” sung by Gossard.
“I can’t get that lyric out of my head,” Gossard said. “It speaks to me how we spend our lives hiding from (metaphorical) howling dogs. I remember hearing that song for the first time as a test pressing of the Sub Pop single at one our local music bars. My jaw fell through the floor. [Pearl Jam/Soundgarden drummer] Matt f—ing Cameron and Chris Cornell showing why Soundgarden is one of the greatest of all time.”
Gossard also confirmed he is finishing his third solo record, “Painted Shield,” which he co-wrote with singer/songwriter Mason Jennings. The project will “hopefully” be released “in a few months, if we survive this crazy shit.” McCready revealed he “would like to do a solo record some day and have some Ideas for it. I hope it will happen in the next few years.”