Barry Ament is going to put a fancy outfit in a suitcase and board a plane for Los Angeles this week for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday.
There will be parties attended with old and new friends, a chance to enjoy life. Winning the Grammy for Best Recording Package, presented for the look of an album, for the work he did on the “Chris Cornell” project? That would be nice, Ament says. But the Seattle illustrator and graphic designer already feels like a winner.
“More than anything, it was about spending time with my brother,” Ament said. “I started drawing because of him. I got my first drawing pens when I was 9 and they were from him.”
His brother is Jeff Ament, bassist for Pearl Jam. The brothers are up for the Grammy with Cornell’s widow, Vicky Cornell, plus Jeff Fura, senior director of product development at Universal Music Enterprises, and Joe Spix, creative director for several labels under the Universal umbrella.
It’s the second time Barry Ament has received a Grammy nomination. The first came for his work on Pearl Jam’s 1998 album, “Yield,” with his business partner, Coby Schultz, at Seattle illustration and design firm Ames Bros. (The guy who designed Madonna’s “Ray of Light” won at the 1999 show).
The experience working on the project took Barry Ament back to his childhood growing up in Big Sandy, Montana.
Jeff Ament, 56, is nine years older than his brother. He left to study graphic design at the University of Montana before moving to Seattle, where he was a member of Mother Love Bone, then briefly Temple of the Dog with Cornell before participating in one of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest takeover events with Pearl Jam.
“He’s pretty hands-on with art with Pearl Jam and still is, in a lot of ways, involved,” Barry Ament said. “And he certainly made all the T-shirts for his early bands. And then early on with Pearl Jam, he was dealing with all the art. I think if that didn’t pan out, that’s probably what he’d be doing.”
The younger Ament lived vicariously through his brother as he finished school in their small Montana hometown and enrolled at Montana State.
“I was drawing since as long as I could remember, and kind of drawing with him,” Ament said. “And so our connection when he moved out here and I was back in Montana was exchanging music and artwork. He’d send me flyers and I’d send him drawings, back in the pre-internet days.”
Ament’s one regret is not following his big brother’s other passion.
“I can play ‘We Got the Beat’ on the trumpet and that’s it,” he joked. “My whole family can play the piano and I was the youngest, so I was able to talk my parents out of taking piano lessons. So it’s one of those life regrets.”
His first experience with Cornell and Soundgarden came when the band’s managers picked one of his designs for a T-shirt that he mailed them from Bozeman. And he was in similar circles to the singer when he dropped out of college and moved to town to work for Pearl Jam.
“I’d say my connection is more as a fan,” Ament said. “When I was in high school where I grew up in Montana, it was kind of Garth Brooks or Bon Jovi. And my buddy and I, Scott Marshall, we were into all the Seattle bands, and Soundgarden was our favorite band. And we couldn’t figure out why nobody else was into ‘Ultramega OK.’ And people didn’t get it, so we ruined a lot of dances that we would take over DJing.”
Thirty years later, the younger Ament has grown into one of Seattle’s more identifiable graphic designers. Chances are you’ve seen Ames Bros’ work somewhere. Current clients include Boeing, New York Life, the Seattle Seahawks, Pagliacci Pizza, Metallica and The Who. He and Schultz contributed a graphic and some of the type for the album packaging on Pearl Jam’s upcoming effort and are working on tour assets as well.
The Aments’ main contribution to the “Chris Cornell” project was the album cover, a simple and beautiful representation of the singer, who died in 2017. They met to brainstorm at the shop of Jeff Lange, a retired screen printer who handled Pearl Jam’s first concert posters back in 1996. The three exchanged ideas and mixed processes over four nights, finishing with an image that seems to radiate a sense of serenity.
Asked if the project was emotional for his brother, Barry Ament said: “How could it not be? But I couldn’t speak for him. I just know he wanted to do it and be involved in it, and it was important to him.”
This story has been updated to make clearer the bands Jeff Ament was in.