A little under a year ago, the three members of RNDM - Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur and drummer Richard Stuverud - got together to begin sketching out ideas for their new LP, Ghost Riding (out March 4th), a follow-up to their 2012 debut Acts. "We said to each other, 'What is the spirit album for this record?'" says Ament. "We started throwing out experimental albums back and forth that we love, like Laughing Stock by Talk Talk, David Sylvian's Brilliant Trees and Gone to Earth, some of the most experimental Bowie albums, Bauhaus and the first couple of Peter Gabriel records."
None of these records sounded much like anything RNDM had done before, which was precisely the point. "Before we even played a note, we decided to really distance ourselves from the way that the first record went down," says Ament. "We were up for the challenge of leaving our comfort zones." For Ament, that meant learning to utilize drum machines and keyboards after working primarily with guitars, bass and live drums over his long career. "That's pretty exciting for a musician 30 years down the line," says Ament, "to be in a place where everything feels fresh and new."
Recording began last April at Ament's Montana studio. "On the very first day, Richard hadn't woken up yet and I was having some coffee and toast with Joe," says Ament. "I said, 'Do you have a drum beat?' He went, 'Oh yeah, I have this cool drum machine on my iPad.' He plugged it right into the amp and I sat down on the Mellotron and we sort of came up with three parts. Then Richard came over and we all plugged into our normal instruments and it was a rock trio. We played over the template of the drum machine, keyboard arrangement that we just laid down. That became the template for the whole record."
Acts was recorded in about a week, but this new way of working required a much greater time commitment. After three weeks in Montana, they moved shop to Stone Gossard's Seattle studio for another few weeks. Mixing took three months. "I don't think I've ever spent that much time on a record in my entire career," says Ament. "I think it was because we didn't know what it was. We kept throwing paint on the canvas and paint on the canvas and at some point, we had to start actually taking some paint off the canvas or just start over."
Twenty tracks were recorded, but they settled on 11 for the album, including the somber "Stronger Man," the soaring "Stray" and "NYC Freaks," the latter detailing a lonely night in New York amidst crazy club-goers. Arthur wrote all the lyrics. "He has such a vivid imagination that he can go back into his mind and create almost a movie," says Ament. "A lot of it is memoir and lot is based on things he witnessed or experienced."
RNDM kick off a seven-date American club tour March 4th in Seattle at The Crocodile. In order to recreate the sounds from the album, Stuverud will be controlling a laptop with a drum machine on it and Ament and Arthur will both be triggering samples. "It's like nothing I've ever done," says Ament. "It's going to be a blast because it's going to be brand new territory, but there's definitely some anxiety. We probably won't get it all down until the end of the tour."
They plan on playing most, if not all, of the new album along with about five songs from Acts and maybe a surprise cover. On the last tour, they mashed up The Clash's "Magnificent Seven" with Nina Simone's "Ain't Got No, I Got Life." "This time, I have an idea to mash up one of our songs from our first record with a cover," says Ament. "It might be a total fail. Who knows?"
RNDM's planned club dates are a far cry from the arenas and stadiums that Pearl Jam are hitting this summer, and that's just the way Ament likes it. "You can see every person in the place," he says. "It's good to be out there changing your own bass strings and lugging gear and bringing T-shirts in. It sounds cliche, but that's where I come from; the whole DIY thing. But nowadays, after seven shows, I'm like, 'Man, I'm almost 53 years old. This is really hard.'"
RNDM have never played a Pearl Jam song, and don't intend to start now, but that didn't stop a couple of people from screaming for them on the last tour. "It was in the cities you wouldn't think that would happen in," says Ament. "But the Pearl Jam fans are pretty respectful in that regard. I think they even understand that we don't have to be doing this. There's a fair amount of work that goes into making it as special we can."
Ament believes that side projects like RNDM are what allowed Pearl Jam to hit the 25-year mark in pristine shape. "You have to go out and do your own thing and learn new things, how to create differently," he says. "You bring something new back to the band each time. Sometimes when you play with new people there's a rough patch after the honeymoon period and you appreciate the 25 years you had with your other bandmates. It's amazing to be able to do it all. I feel super lucky."
RNDM Tour Dates
March 4 - Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
March 7 - New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre
March 8 - Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
March 9 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry at the Fillmore
March 11 - Boston, MA @ Brighton Music sHall
March 13 - Toronto, ON @ Mod Club
March 15 - Chicago, IL @ Double Door