Brad, the band featuring Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, Satchel singer Shawn Smith, Regan Hagar and Keith Lowe, have been slowly building a catalog of richly melodic rock tunes over the past two decades when they aren’t busy with their other projects. United We Stand, the quartet’s fifth album, is due out on April 24th on the Razor & Tie label. You can check out the video for “Diamond Blues,” the record’s first single, above. Rolling Stone recently caught up with Gossard to discuss Brad’s unlikely longevity, his new approach to his instrument on United We Stand, and why Pearl Jam is in no hurry to complete their next album.
You’ve been in Brad for nearly as long as you’ve been in Pearl Jam. How has that band evolved over time?
Brad goes back to my relationship with Regan Hagar, who I’ve known since 1984, 1985, and is just such an influential person in my life in terms of exposing me to music and style. He really exposed me to a lot of stuff. It was through Regan that we met [Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone frontman] Andy Wood. He’s been a huge part of my life, and I think that our connection sort of manifested itself in Brad at a time when Pearl Jam was having some success. It was really nice to go back and spend some time making music that we didn’t have any expectations for. It felt like I learned a lot of lessons about how to go in and quickly get things done and move ahead without thinking about it too much. At the time it was the end of ’91 or ’92, and we just made a decision that we were going to spend a week writing music and we were going to go in and record a record, and we did. It ended up being a record that had some real character to it, and it had a vibe to it that was very different than Pearl Jam.
It’s been a strange road, because it’s been kind of on again, off again. We’ve made records periodically, almost every five years or so. But every time we restart, it’s almost like we’re going, are we really a band? It’s been a journey of a thousand miles, because through all that time, everyone is where they are at that point in their life, and what they were expecting from Brad, and what it could be. Sometimes we were all on different pages, but we still managed to get back together and make records and do some touring. But then you start sort of looking back – it’s so cool that we have these weird records, and they’re all different. I remember having fights about them, and different struggles with songs. It feels like Brad is more precious than ever before, because it has sort of survived almost in the shade. Pearl Jam has a big bright light shining on it all the time, and it’s been amazing, but it also sort of creates unique music when you’re next to that, but you don’t get the same light.
This new Brad album comes two years after the last one, which is the shortest gap between records in the band’s discography. How did this one come together more quickly?
Well, it’s funny, the one we made last, Best Friends?, was a record that was finished for maybe three or four years before we ever put it out. We kind of tried to finish it and then couldn’t. And then put it on hiatus, and everybody was kind of doing their own thing and kind of looked at it again. So that record was really a long time in the making. When we got done with that one, we finally decided to put it out and went back and tweaked a few things, and got everyone excited again. We knew that part of the process was not letting go of each other for so long. After five records, we’re looking at each other now going, Hey, there’s no reason why we’re not just going to be a band. If we’ve been a band and survived this long, why wouldn’t we just keep doing it for the rest of our lives? Or at least as long as it felt good.
How does your approach to playing guitar differ in Brad from what you do in Pearl Jam?
I think both things filter back and forth all the time. I learn stuff from making music every time I go in the studio. I’m continuing to try to find new ways to play in a song or be in a song and have a positive impact on a song. I got to play a little bit more of a lead role on United We Stand, which is kind of cool. It’s a single guitar player band, so there’s this space for me to kind of get out and find these melodies that go along with the vocals, but also have their own identity. I was playing outside of the groove a little more than in the groove, playing a vocal line instead of a traditional guitar line or something. You can hear that, I think, in “A Reason to Be in My Skin” and “Bound in Time,” both of which have these guitar lines that aren’t typical of what I normally play.
I know you’re working on new music with Pearl Jam right now. Do you have a desire to play more leads in that band?
I think there are opportunities to do that, even beyond playing leads during a lead break. I love to write melodies that refresh the ear – if Ed [Vedder] is going a certain way, that at some point try to find the opposite of that, so when it comes back to whatever melody he’s singing that it’s even more impactful, because you’ve kind of explored the other side.
How far along are you with the new Pearl Jam record?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We’ve recorded some songs, and we’re going to record and write some more. You never know, it might be that we’re a song away or two, or it might be that we’re going to record six or seven more songs. I think the main thing is that were not in a rush and there’s no urgency to it. The most important thing is that we put something out that continues to expand our boundaries rather than trying to follow what we’ve done in the past. I think it’s a good time to hopefully continue to experiment, and continue to shake it up. So that people can go “Wow, that’s kind of weird for Pearl Jam,” and then 10 years later they can go, “Oh, that’s my favorite period.” Which is always kind of what happens. You try something and at first everybody doesn’t necessarily understand it, and then you look back and you go, thank God we tried something new, because it really opened a door up for us to be able to do this and this and this beyond that.
There are definitely a lot of No Code fans out there.
Yeah, and No Code kind of came out and everyone was like, uhhh . . . That was the first record where the record company and maybe even some of the press were going, “It doesn’t make any sense.” But this record is refreshingly cool, because it’s just us in the studio screwing around, not taking it too seriously. I think that’s one of the biggest problems in rock is people thinking too much, putting too much emphasis on getting things perfect or completely sorted out. Sometimes that sound of not having everything sorted out is kind of cool.
Do you ever feel inspired to sing more, either with Brad or Pearl Jam?
I love singing and writing songs with vocal lines, but there’s only so much time in the day, and I think Brad is more of a priority to me than my own singing. If there are opportunities for me to sing in different situations, I’ll take them. For the most part, I really love being in a collaborative thing. And in a collaborative thing if you have a singer as good as Sean Smith or Eddie Vedder, you kind of think, well, why don’t you just go ahead and let them sing? People seem to really like it.
• Photos: Pearl Jam Through the Years