Getting RNDM with Jeff Ament part 2

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RNDM is the latest side project for Pearl Jam bassist, and Seattle music scene mainstay, Jeff Ament. The group, which also features Joseph Arthur (Fistful of Mercy) and Richard Stuverud (Fastbacks, Tres Mtns) released its debut full-length album, Acts, today. I chatted with Ament earlier this month and we discussed RNDM, his home state of Montana, the future of Pearl Jam and lots of other topics. Below is the second half of my interview with Ament which begins with Ament talking about how he gives back to small communities by helping build skateparks. You can read the first half of our conversation here.

One of my favorite scenes in PJ20, aside from finding out where Stone keeps his Grammy, is when you go back to Montana and are skating in a bowl. Tell me a little bit about the work you do in rural communities and skate parks.

Rural life in Montana is getting smaller and smaller. Any time I can help a small town do something unique culturally, I’m always up for it. There’s been a couple of parks in Montana over the past few years that I’ve been involved with, be it either giving money to or helped build – there’s one in Great Falls, which is very close to where I grew up – it’s just very cool. Growing up in Montana in the late ’70s there were like four ramps so sometimes we have to travel 300 miles to skate for four hours at a ramp in Helena or Bozeman or whatever, so it’s just been fun to be able to help out.

Jeff Ament onstage with Pearl Jam. Photo by Karen Loria/courtesy Pearl Jam

I know the guys in Grindline (Skateparks) and  Dreamland who build skateparks and they’ve helped me build a few things. Whenever I can get a community to be stoked about building something I’m always super-excited to lend a hand however I can. We’re looking to do some more of that stuff (building skateparks) next year. We’ve talked to the Blackfoot Reservation, which is on the east side of Glacier Park. We’re talking about building a park there. It’s sort of my way of giving back to the state of Montana, which I feel gave me so much growing up there. As frustrating as it was for me as a 15-year-old wanting to move to California more than anything, it was a pretty idyllic childhood for me.

One of Pearl Jam’s only U.S. shows this year was in Montana in support of your friend Senator John Tester, who is in a pretty tight Senate race this year. That was another way you’ve been able to give back to Montana.

It’s probably a closer race than the presidential race is right now … I was there (Montana) all summer so I got to witness a lot of the ads and it’s just super ugly. Basically it’s just Karl Rove money coming in and repeating the same lies over and over again.

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It was real interesting. I hung out with him (Sen. Tester) for three or four days and we did some interviews. The people who follow him around, they have this tracker guy who follows him around and puts a camera in his face and yells at him for a reaction. …They just want to catch you a little bit off or get you to overreact. It’s just ugly. It doesn’t have anything to do with helping the people or helping the country, which is what government is supposed to be all about. It got to a point where I told him that he’d probably just be better off going back to his farm.

Within the last three years you’ve released a record with Pearl Jam, Tres Mtns., a solo record and now RNDM. Pearl Jam is in its 21st  or 22nd year now …

I think it’s in year 22 now. Actually Ed came up and joined the band 22 years ago some time this month.

So the various members of Pearl Jam have all these side projects – Ed is touring solo, Mike is working on a Mad Season release, Stone has Brad and Matt is obviously busy with Soundgarden – is having all of these projects a key to Pearl Jam’s longevity?

I don’t know if it’s key. I think it’s one of the fringe benefits of being in the band.  That’s how I met Joeseph, and how I met Dug Pinnick was because I was in Pearl Jam. I got to become friends with these people, and the fact that I can do something like call up Joe and ask if he wants to do some recording, that’s really awesome. It’s how I would imagine it would be if you were Kevin Durant. He can call up LeBron James and say, hey do you want to work out this summer. It’s sort of the same for me. I can call up these guys who are some of my favorite musicians and artists and we can collaborate and have fun and learn a ton in the process. Everybody has a different creative process so just to get inside that world … I’m always intrigued by how people write. Watching Joe was awesome.

Jeff Ament with Joesph Arthur at PJ 20. Photo by Anna Knowlden/courtesy Pearl Jam

What are Pearl Jam’s plans for 2013? 

There really are no plans right now. We have a few shows in South America on the calendar and that’s about it. I think that’s kind of by design. I think the idea is that everybody takes the holidays off and then at some point somebody will pick up the phone, maybe late January or early February, and that will kind of start the (recording) process over again.

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People want to know what’s going on with the next record and I think everybody has sort of talked about it, but it still really isn’t anything. We still don’t really know exactly when we will finish it so it’s hard to talk about it. It really could be anything at this point. Even though we have seven or eight songs recorded it’s still sort of a blank slate and that’s exciting.

I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re going to make a record, but when that’s going to be, and when everybody is ready to do it, well that’s another story. And there’s no pressure. So if at any point the guys called up and said “Hey, we’re ready to do this,” I’d have no problem dropping everything because that’s my first love. I’m going to do whatever works for everyone else.

That lack of pressure has to be a nice byproduct of being an independent band now and being able to call your own shots when it comes to recording and releasing an album.

I think just as long as we create deadlines for ourselves. I think, well, we’ve all witnessed how that turned out for Axl Rose … You know how it is when you write. You can always rewrite everything. You can make it better, or different, or more unique. Every day you’re going to improve as a writer and your take on things might be different. At some point you just have to let go and move on to the next thing. That’s always the tricky part of being in a band. When is it good enough? When is there too much paint on the canvas and when isn’t there too much paint on the canvas? That’s always a tricky balance.

So right now it’s sort of like a blank canvas with only a sketch?

Yeah it really is. There is some stuff that’s pretty well finished and sounds good right now, but who knows if that stuff is going to end up on the next record. We may get together this spring and come up 15 things that are better than that, and that’s the new record. As long as around the first of the year we have some studio time booked and we’re focus on a new batch of songs, that’s the fun part for me of being in Pearl Jam. Just being in a room with those guys and watching a riff turn into a song … the power that the band has and just the sensibilities everyone has with knowing when to contribute and when to lay off. It’s a pretty special thing.

Jeff Ament onstage with Pearl Jam. Photo by Karen Loria/courtesy Pearl Jam

It sounds like the wheels are turning but things aren’t quite happening yet.

That’s the thing. If we don’t get together for the next three of four months it’s going to be a whole new batch of songs. Nobody ever really stops writing. That’s the exciting thing. If you haven’t gotten together in a while you get to see what everyone else has been up to and that’s really exciting.

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So how does Pearl Jam tread the line between being a relevant band and not a nostalgia band?

I think the reason we’ve never become a nostalgia band is because we’ve never gone three years or so without making a record. It’s been a little more than three years since we released a record this time around, but we’ve been in the studio four times since and we have a huge bunch of new ideas and songs. I think that as long as every six to nine months we go in the studio and write some new music, that keeps us out of the nostalgia conversation.

There are plenty of bands out there that haven’t made a record in ten years or fifteen years and are still out there touring telling people that they’ve been a band for twenty years. But I don’t know if that constitutes being a band for twenty years if you’ve only released three records. And that’s fine. There are plenty of bands that don’t make records very often that I will go see at the drop of a hat. Our influences in terms of that stuff are guys like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Guys that are changing things up and making relevant music. Le Noise by Neil Young is one of the greatest left turns ever. Seeing someone in their mid-sixties making relevant music is pretty inspiring. That’s what I’d like to see happen with Pearl Jam.

* In case you missed it, read part one of Guerrilla Candy’s interview with Jeff Ament by clicking here.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.