Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament releases his third solo album ‘Heaven/Hell’ next week (May 10), following on from ‘While My Heart Beats’ (2012) and ‘Tone’ (2008).
‘Heaven/Hell’ features an Angel Olsen collaboration (‘Safe In The Car’) and comes ahead of Pearl Jam’s expected follow-up to 2013’s ‘Lightning Bolt‘, which is also said to be in the works.
Ahead of his album’s release, Ament spoke to NME about writing about the impending apocalypse, his thoughts on Trump and Kanye West, plus Pearl Jam’s upcoming tour and album plans.
How does your new solo record differ from its predecessors?
“I think that the main difference is that I started most of these songs on piano or keyboards and sort of went back and forth just to sort of get me out of my comfort zone, that’s probably the main difference in terms of how I approached it.
“It was fun on this record to go back and forth and figure out whether the songs needed to be more guitar based or piano based, there was no big deadline so I was just holed up in my studio and half the songs ended up guitar based and half, you know, piano.”
Was your intention to try and switch things up?
“Initially it wasn’t a big intention to make more of a keyboard based record, but it sort of started going off in that direction. I think because of that I finally started listening to more piano based artists. I was definitely looking at a lot of early Peter Gabriel and I remember him saying something years ago that he didn’t like that the only way a piano sounded good is if you fuck with the sound. So I took that, I made that part of the process, you know, I would run the piano through a fax or something to make it sound less like a piano.”
Is it important for you to have this outlet to make music that wouldn’t fit under the Pearl Jam name?
“Yeah, that’s the fun part; trying to stretch and sometimes it doesn’t always. It isn’t always successful and you don’t know if you’ve succeeded until you know your friend is listening to it and goes ‘man what were you trying to do here’.
“I love so many different kinds of music. There are some extreme bedfellows in terms of influences. I think with this group of songs, it sort of came together naturally and so for me it sounds like it fits, but to somebody else it might not, but it all made sense to me. Lyrically it kind of told the story. I get to have a little bit of a say in that process in Pearl Jam but it’s cool to you know, be the captain.”
Your Pearl Jam bandmates Mike McCready and Matt Cameron are on the album. How is the dynamic different, compared to working as a band?
“When you’re doing every part of making a record, I think at the end of it you sort of feel glad that in your real job you have help, or that you help each other. The main thing with the band is that we help each other with perspective. That’s a super fun process because I think more often than not like the you bring a song into the band, the band always makes it better.”
“Even though initially it might be like it wasn’t really how I was hearing the song, you know that wasn’t the direction I was hearing it going in, so it’s cool to bounce back and forth. This it’s more of an art project so I sort of feel a little bit more open to take more chances and you know if it fails, that’s okay too – because that’s part of the process.”
What was on your mind when you were writing the lyrics for ‘Heaven/Hell’?
“Obviously the apocalypse that the world is facing and how some people seem to comfortable with the impending apocalypse. That bothers me a little bit that people maybe just feel like they can pray or if the world ends that’s okay because we’re all going to heaven. I guess I don’t necessarily believe that, and I find that I have a little bit more angst and anger about the state of the planet. I think that’s sort of oozed into all of these songs.”
Angel Olsen appears on ‘Safe In The Car’, how did that collaboration come about?
“I was a big fan and she played in my hometown in Montana a few years ago. I bought a t-shirt. Then we were playing a show in North Carolina two years ago, she came out to the show and we hung out and sort of stayed in contact. When we were doing this song I kept hearing a woman’s voice on the chorus and I thought, ‘Man it would be great if I could get somebody to sing that’. I asked Angel if she would be up for doing it and she had a couple of days off in-between the tour and we were finishing the song up. It takes that chorus and the desperation to the next level, so great call. She’s such a great talent, she’s super funny and I sort of feel like I owe her one, so if she ever needed bass…”
Were you working on this album at the same time as the new Pearl Jam record?
“The last time that the band got together and did some writing, I was just finishing up this so there was a week or two where I was doing both. But I’m not sure where we’re at, I’m not sure where the band’s at. Things got busy with tour dates and that sort of stuff.”
So there’s no update as to when fans might be able to expect the new Pearl Jam album?
“There’s not. I wish I had an update for you.”
You play UK and European shows with Pearl Jam in June and July, do you have any surprises planned?
“We start rehearsals in about 10 days, so thats probably when we’ll start throwing around ideas about maybe performing old songs we haven’t played in a while or covers. We’ll certainly play [new Pearl Jam song] ‘Can’t Deny Me’.”
The new single ‘Can’t Deny Me’ takes aim at Trump. What are your thoughts are on the current US President?
“Oh man, where do I start? Is this a bad dream? It does seem like a bad dream. I think when he first started talking about running for President, like six or seven years ago, I remember thinking like ‘What a joke’ and I’m not sure what he did. But, like, half the positions in the cabinet aren’t filled so I don’t know who’s driving the car right now.”
What do you think of someone like Kanye West recently coming out in support of Trump?
“I love Kanye, I saw the last Kanye tour and I thought it was one of the greatest things ever, but then when he opened his mouth, I swung the other way. I think he’s just, you know, with the Kardashians and that whole thing. All of it is just a big publicity stunt. He’s been out of the news for a few months, so I think he’s looking to generate some. He says something about dragons, I don’t know, dragon energy, whatever that is.”
Does this affect your enjoyment of his music?
“I have a hard time separating the art from the artist. There’s certain artists where I don’t read their interviews because it really affects me enjoying their music. I wish I hadn’t opened that text that had the article about dragon energy and Donald Trump. It’s unfortunate.”
Last year saw Pearl Jam inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, which would be the pinnacle of many bands’ careers. What keeps Pearl Jam going?
“You know, there’s something that happens when we get together and just get in that creative zone. So you know, the creative zone and then just going out and trying to help people as much as we can.”
Pearl Jam will be embarking on a huge UK and European tour, including two dates at London’s O2 Arena. Tickets are available here.
The grunge icons will hit the continent in mid-June, with things kicking off in Amsterdam on June 12. From there, they’ll travel through Europe, taking in two shows at London’s O2 Arena and a bunch of festival and headline dates along the way.