Pearl Jam: Grim, Hard-Driving Sound

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don't mention the Seattle rock scene to Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard.

He's tired of reading all the articles about how his band is the latest success story from the city that was the launching pad for last year's biggest rock sensation Nirvana, as well as such other rock notables as Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

"There's so much hype (about the Seattle scene) you could choke on it," says Gossard, 25, whose band will headline Sunday at Iguanas in Tijuana, Tuesday at the Ventura Theatre and Wednesday at the Hollywood Palladium.

"I'm sure some kids bought our album after reading stories about that scene business (so) I guess that hype has helped us in that respect, but I wish people would forget that we come from Seattle. It'd be nice if they thought we came from Cleveland or some place like that."

Surely, all the excitement over the Seattle scene helped draw attention to Pearl Jam's debut album, "Ten," which has sold more than 1 million copies since it was released last fall.

But Pearl Jam's success isn't due strictly to its hometown. Many fans found out about the band through MTV's extensive playing of the group's "Alive" video and through the group's performances as supporting act on the Red Hot Chili Peppers tour.

Pearl Jam--which consists of lead singer Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, drummer Dave Abbruzzese and guitarist Mike McCready--plays in a more mainstream hard-rock manner than the garage-inspired grunge approach of most Seattle bands.

Still, the music is hard-driving. The band's grim tales of such topics as death, child neglect and war are performed in a style that features a myriad of influences, from metal and punk to psychedelic and blues.

A key to its success is Vedder, a former San Diego resident whose unpredictable stage antics and striking vocal dynamics--a whisper one moment, a scream the next--have helped him become one of rock's premier showmen.

"He was the missing cog, the kind of singer we needed to reach the next level," says Gossard, who found Vedder through a recommendation from a former member of the Chili Peppers.

Gossard could have used someone as charismatic as Vedder when he was in Green River, a mid-'80s Seattle band that was widely heralded on the college/alternative circuit, but had only limited commercial success.

"The influence of Green River is grossly overrated," says Gossard, who formed the old band with Ament. "The band didn't create some new sound. We were just playing music we liked."

After Green River disbanded, another Gossard-Ament creation, Mother Love Bone, rose from its ashes in 1990, but it dissolved after lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose.

"We were devastated by his death," Gossard says. "It took a while to recover from losing Andy and the death of that band."

In Wood's honor, Gossard and Ament spearheaded the recording of a tribute album, "Temple of the Dog," last year that also featured Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell. But the pair was already putting together Pearl Jam at the time.

"It's hard to say what we were looking for with this band," Gossard says. "We wanted to move in a different direction from Mother Love Bone. We wanted something with some pop sound to it. When we got Eddie, we shaped the music somewhat to what he could do--which happens with any lead singer.

"Like any band, I guess, we wanted to make some intense music, which we were proud of and which connected with people . . . and gave us enough money to earn a living. I think we've at least accomplished that much."

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