The Pearl Jam guitarist partnered with Seattle nonprofit Treehouse to bring five young musicians into the band's studio.
A group of young local musicians recently took part in a once-in-a-lifetime jam session.
Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready has had a close relationship for years with Treehouse, a Seattle nonprofit aimed at raising graduation rates among youth in foster care. Over the past decade, McCready and the band have donated more than $250,000 to the program, and McCready and his wife, Ashley, have volunteered at Treehouse’s holiday events.
Working with Treehouse, McCready welcomed five young musicians into Pearl Jam’s studio last November to write and record an original song. While they’re too young to remember when Pearl Jam videos were MTV staples (or even when MTV played music videos), the chance to work one-on-one with a bona fide rock star was invaluable.
“All it really took was just him encouraging us to continue with our music and continue with our talents,” says Franky Price, an aspiring rapper and alumnus of Treehouse’s Graduation Success program. “This coming from a guy who is crazy-famous and in this band, that in itself was really enough.”
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In a workmanlike four-hour session, McCready helped the band-for-a-day produce the song “Try So Hard,” an acoustic hip-hop ballad about perseverance. Price wrote the lyrics along with beatboxing guitarist Rickardo Mendiola. “I wanted to come in and write a song about being in a place where you feel like you can’t really make it, but you know there’s always a point in your life where you’ve got to be confident and just keep trying,” says Price, who performs as Lazarus.
After living in foster care for two years, Price moved back in with his father and connected with Treehouse during his freshman year at Chief Sealth International High School. Through the Graduation Success program, Treehouse sent education specialist Roland Pablo to the school to check on Price, offering his support and a friendly ear. Whenever Price, who was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition at 13, felt frustrated or discouraged at school, Pablo was there to pick him up.
According to Treehouse, only 49 percent of Washington state youth in foster care graduate high school in five years. In 2016, Treehouse students posted an extended graduation rate of 89 percent.
Last year, Price was hospitalized for five days after undergoing heart surgery. While he’s still recovering, the 20-year-old has been writing and recording singles for his Soundcloud page. Price says meeting with McCready, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease more than 30 years ago, was inspiring.
“Just the fact that he’s still solid and doing music was really encouraging to me,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Hey, if someone else who’s this big musician has such a condition, there’s no reason for me to put myself down just because I have a condition.’ So that was pretty cool.”
“I think it’s important for the kids to believe in their dreams, because they’re the ones that have to,” says McCready in a video documenting the session, seen below.
Beyond McCready’s Treehouse connection, the band has a well-documented philanthropic streak, including this summer’s pair of Safeco Field concerts which will raise money to fight Seattle-area homelessness. A Ticketmaster presale starts later this week.