The music industry loves a good anniversary. It’s an excuse to reissue out-of-print records or pen nostalgia-hug think pieces that get us in our feelings.
But some of our audio artifacts truly are consequential enough to merit reflection every five, 10 years — or even a random Tuesday when KISW breaks out “Even Flow” on your way home from work.
For Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, which unleashed its iconic debut album “Ten” 30 years ago Aug. 27, anniversaries like these mean something else.
“They mean something to me in the sense that somebody says, ‘Wow, ‘Ten’ came out 30 years ago,’ and you go, ‘That’s so [expletive] terrible,’” Gossard says, laughing. “I can’t believe it’s 30 years! It basically just makes you go, ‘Wow, I’m so freakin’ old it’s unbelievable.’
“But you know, it tickles you a little bit to think, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy,’” the guitarist continues. “This record, I remember like it was yesterday. Being in there and doing eight takes of ‘Even Flow’ and trying to get it right, and being stressed out about it, thinking it’s never gonna be good enough.”
Of course, it was “good enough.” Good enough to hold space in every CD wallet manufactured between 1991 and 1998 (ask your parents about Discmans, kids). Good enough to help a consortium of Seattle rock hellions, slinging disparate amalgamations of punk, metal and ’70s rock, wage an accidental takeover of pop culture.
Whereas Soundgarden and Alice in Chains’ metallic roots showed more strongly and Nirvana wore their punk influences on their frayed T-shirt sleeves, on the grunge spectrum, Pearl Jam and “Ten” comparatively skewed more toward ’70s rock’s anthemic qualities. The album, which Gossard feels is “truly driven” by the lyrics and vocals, represented the coming together of his existing musical partnership with bassist Jeff Ament, the scorching guitar work of Mike McCready and a San Diego surfer with a voice distinct and, eventually, ubiquitous enough to incur the honor of an “SNL” parody.
“That’s endlessly fascinating to me, how people work together and how … your artistic voice, how it blends with somebody else’s and what that vibration is like when they’re all together,” Gossard says. “Because it’s hard to hear it. And when you’re part of it, you can be kinda blind to it a little bit, or just listening to your own [parts] or being fixated on little details and not seeing the big picture.
“But clearly that record has had an impact. And I do think now it’s an interesting record. It’s a strange combination of different styles and influences coming together with some really amazing singing and words on it that really gave it life, gave it a real personality.”
Those different styles coalesced during a month in Shoreline’s London Bridge Studio, a “neighborhood studio that sounded fantastic,” as Ament remembers it. Thanks in no small part to being the studio where “Ten” and one-off supergroup Temple of the Dog’s album were recorded, the suburban rock shrine’s legend has grown large enough to command a $55 ticket to tour.
“The fact that we did those records up there, it just felt like a natural extension of everything we’d been doing in Seattle for years,” Ament says. “So I’ve got great memories — like, really good memories — and fortunately I took photos, so I still have photos I can look at and it puts me right back to having dinner or shooting hoops, goofing off. You can tell that we were having fun.”
By then, Ament and Gossard, bandmates since their days with first-wave grunge band Green River, had already tasted next-big-thing buzz. After their previous band-on-the-cusp Mother Love Bone dissolved when frontman Andy Wood died in 1990, just days before their major-label debut was set for release, the two regrouped with McCready, drummer Dave Krusen and frontman Eddie Vedder, forming the band that became Pearl Jam.
“I don’t think we talked about it,” Ament says of the “Ten” sessions, “but I felt so lucky to be in a band again and making great music. And to have a record deal. [Laughs.] I mean, all the work we did leading up to Andy passing away, it sorta felt like, at least from my standpoint, that that one opportunity you get in a lifetime was gone. So, I just remember feeling super lucky.”
Ament realized “Ten” was taking off when they embarked on the second leg of a North American tour in early 1992. That run began at renowned Minneapolis club First Avenue, where Pearl Jam played to a half-full room. The 500 or 600 people who showed were twice the number the band was accustomed to drawing.
A few nights later, they played a similarly sized venue in Columbus, Ohio. But this time “it was jam packed.”
“We played our, whatever, 45-minute set — every song we knew, we came out and we played ’em,” Ament says. “I just remember running around afterward, ‘Holy smokes, that was crazy!’ Then when we walked out to go get in the van, I remember there was a stairwell that was a floor up from the parking lot, and I remember we stood out on this fire escape/stairwell thing and there was, I don’t know, 200, 300 people in the parking lot around our van. We’re going, ‘What is going on?’
“We spent an hour signing autographs and talking to fans, and that to me was the moment when I was like, ‘Oh, something just turned the corner.’”
The attention followed Ament back to Seattle when they finally got off the road. At first it was kinda cool, being recognized and randomly congratulated at the grocery store he’d been going to for years. “And then you just couldn’t shut that off,” he says. “That got weird for me.”
From that point on, between tours, Ament started returning to his native Montana where he had greater anonymity. These days he splits his time between Seattle and Missoula, where he holed up after the pandemic hit, diving into making music and art that yielded this month’s aptly titled solo album “I Should Be Outside.”
But those restorative trips in Pearl Jam’s early days, when he spent his days hiking, snowboarding and biking, helped Ament fall in love with his home state again. It also helped the fledgling rock star keep his ego in check.
“I had a couple of my friends that live there, [they] didn’t let my head get too big,” Ament says. “If ever I was being egotistical or something slipped out where I was big-timing anybody, they would sorta call me on it. That was a pretty important time for me to just get knocked back to earth.”
Looking back on the making of “Ten,” and the response from fans, carries its own life lessons for Gossard, who admits he’s fonder of the band’s follow-up, “Vs.”
“You never know that what you’re doing right now might end up being something people really like, even if you’re not fully satisfied with it,” he says. “Or even if you think something that’s small, it could be something that really touches people.”
Thirty years later, it still does.