Earlier this week, we spoke to Jeff Ament about his upcoming album and tour with RNDM, but we weren’t going to let him get off the phone without delving into the current state of Pearl Jam. The group kicks off its 25th anniversary tour April 8th in Sunrise, Florida, and wraps up with a two-night stand at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on August 22nd. There hasn’t been a new album since 2013’s Lightning Bolt, but Ament said the group has began throwing around ideas for the next one. We also talked about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the possibility of the band playing classic albums on this tour and where he hopes to see Pearl Jam two decades down the line.
Pearl Jam just sold out two nights at Wrigley Field and two nights at Fenway Park. Does it surprise you that the group is so insanely popular after all these years?
Yeah. Part of it is just taking breaks. After a while, I actually forget that I’m in this big band, so I’m always humbled and shocked when things like that happen. It’s never not a surprise. It’s always exciting to be on tour. You’re in a nice hotel. You show up at the gig and the amps sound great. A lot of our crew has been with us for 15 to 25 years and they do a great job. It feels like, “Wow, this is what I do.” That happens every time after we haven’t toured in a while.
That said, a lot of times I dread it leading up to it. I’m like, “I don’t wanna leave home. I’m gonna miss my wife. I’m gonna miss my dogs. I’m gonna miss painting in my art room and the little routine that I have.” And then once you’re out there, you’re like, “Wow, this is crazy. This is a crazy life that we have.”
What’s the status of the next Pearl Jam record?
I don’t know. I think there’s talk of getting together and throwing some ideas together. There’s no plan of making a record yet. When we got together in South America [late last year] there was lots of talk of how we wanted to do it and in what ways we wanted it to be different, what things we liked about the last record. It’s just in the planning stages and everyone deciding when the time is. Usually it just takes somebody to call somebody else and be like, “Hey, do you want to go into the studio next month?” And that just hasn’t happened yet.
You guys seem to have broken free of the album/tour cycle, which really allows you to work at whatever pace you want.
And that is just the greatest thing in the world [laughs]. Making a record and looking at the next year of dates was always daunting. It’s daunting for everyone. You show that to your wife and she’s like, “You’re going to be gone for nine of the next 13 months?” It’s tough. So now we can go out and play 30, 40 shows after you make the record. Then you can take a little break and the next year you can play another 30 or 40 shows.
A couple of years ago you guys played No Code and Yield at concerts completely out of nowhere. Might something like that happen again on this upcoming tour?
I’ve never been a fan of that to be honest. Well, that’s not true. I saw Cheap Trick do three albums and that was amazing. But for the most part I haven’t been a fan of that. When we did those albums, we were on the plane going to the show and Ed said, “Hey, what do you feel about doing No Code tonight?” And then we basically scrambled and learned the five songs we hadn’t played in 10 years right before the show. And it created, like, a good tension. By the second or third song, the fans started realizing what we were doing. We could sense that. I think the fact that we did it in Milwaukee and Moline, [Illinois,] was awesome. That was the greatest thing ever.
My favorite part about seeing Pearl Jam is just the sheer unpredictability of the set. It feels like any song in your catalog can come out at any moment, down to “Bugs” or “Sweet Lew.” Very few bands of your stature do anything remotely like that.
Yeah. That’s what I got out of going to see the Grateful Dead back in the day. I remember the first time I saw them, the crowd went nuts at one point. I was like, “Man, I don’t even recognize this song.” I didn’t know the Dead that well. I was like, “Did somebody just take their pants off? The crowd is going crazy right now.” Someone said to me, “Oh, they haven’t played this song since 1968.” I thought, “Wow, that’s the most incredible thing ever.” The crowd knew the catalog so well that within 30 seconds of the song starting, they all knew. We’re sort of touching on that sort of relationship with our fans, and that’s great.
It’s gotta be weird to think you guys have reached the quarter century mark.
Yeah. It’s been half of our life. The best part is that it’s just gotten better and better, with better friends who care for each other more. That’s a huge life lesson. Sometimes different people were at odds with each other, and somehow we persevered through all that. Expect for a couple of drummers, we’ve stayed intact. Matt [Cameron] has been with us for almost 20 years, which is pretty crazy.
Twenty-five years means you guys are about to be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Is that a weird thought?
[Laughs] It’s funny. I sort of bounce around about that. There’s a part of me that gets excited and there’s a part of me that’s sort of … I don’t know. I feel like we just sort of went through a little bit of the same feeling doing the PJ20 thing. There’s a little bit of nostalgia going through old boxes, dredging up good memories and bad memories.
When I saw the final cut of the PJ20 things, I was actually, like, sick. It’s just a flood of stuff that gets buried. Maybe there was some stuff that wasn’t great and some of that didn’t wind up in the movie, but you’re sort of reliving the whole thing. A part of you just feels, “Wow, that’s over now.” So you’re a little sad about that. And so there’s this part of me that doesn’t want to look back anymore and just wants to keep moving forward, keep growing and keep trying to make a great record and have better shows, and be a better musician and a better bandmate and not think too much about accolades. But if it happens, it’ll be great for our parents and our friends. It will be good for us to be together. Again, if it happens.
You mentioned all the drummers. How would that be handled that night?
[Sighs] Oh, yeah. Who knows? I don’t know. I don’t understand that. How does Deep Purple get up there without Ritchie Blackmore? It’s insane.
I think Ian Gillan is just refusing to play with him.
It’s like, “Come on, man!” One of Ian Gillan’s good friends needs to sit down with him and be like, “Dude, the guy wrote the ‘Smoke on the Water’ riff.” Not to mention, like, 30 other incredible riffs.
Do you ever think about where Pearl Jam might be a couple of decades from now? Does the idea of doing this when you’re 70 appeal to you?
I go back and forth with that, too. There’s a part of me that’s sort of like, “I would be perfectly happy to do an R.E.M. and quit at our peak.” And to be honest, it would be awesome to be 70 and still getting in a room and playing together. That would be a great thing. Whether that means playing onstage or making records, or whatever. I would miss the hang, like being in a room together and telling the same jokes that you were telling 25 years ago. They’re totally inside, and only you get them, and everyone else thinks you’re freaks. Love that part.
Wrapping up, I want to get back to the next record. Do you think you’ll begin in later this year? Next year? Any idea on the timeline?
I don’t. I mean, we’re kind of busy through the summer. We haven’t really talked about it since South America. The conversations down there were just sort of like, “Man, it would be cool if we did this or tried it this way.” It was just throwing ideas back and forth. There was no dates or anything in mind. I think because everybody’s got families and stuff, it just gets trickier and trickier trying to nail people down. But I honestly feel that if somebody just called and said, “Hey, let’s go in the studio in October or whatever,” we would. It would be done. I think it’s just gonna take that.