Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard originally planned on spending the bulk of 2020 touring in support of the band’s new album, Gigaton. But when the pandemic hit and Pearl Jam had to delay all their road work until 2021, it gave him time to put the finishing touches on the debut album by his side project Painted Shield, which also includes singer-songwriter Mason Jennings, drummer Matt Chamberlain and keyboardist Brittany Davis.
Their self-titled debut comes out November 27th on Loosegrove Records, but you can hear the lead-off single “I Am Your Country” now. “The song tries to encapsulate what a country might say to its people,” Gossard tells Rolling Stone. “It’s the least worked-over song on the record and that makes it really visceral and immediate.”
The roots of Painted Shield go back to 2014 when Daniel Field, a mutual friend of Jennings and Gossard, suggested that they work together. “I didn’t know Mason’s music at that point,” Gossard says. “I was just excited about the idea of collaboration. I knew Dan and I knew he was always connected with good things.”
Jennings was used to making music entirely on his own, so the idea of bringing in a collaborator intrigued him and they began sending song ideas back and forth via Soundcloud. “We were both doing stuff sort of outside of our normal process,” Jennings tells Rolling Stone. “And we just kind of kept having these victories. It became really exciting.”
In October 2014, they released two songs (“Knife Fight” and “Caught in a Mess”) as a limited edition 7-Inch single. The idea of a full album floated around, but they didn’t have time to get serious about it until about two years ago. They spent a single day in the same studio, but they were apart for nearly the entire process, working in their homes free from any deadline pressures.
“When you make records you tend to go into a studio with everybody and you have two weeks because you’re spending $1,000 a day to finish,” Gossard says. “If your songs are totally done it’s great, but the creative process of really listening deeply and having a chance to change things is much enhanced by an open timeline.”
The songs came to life slowly over several months with Gossard sending Jennings instrumental files, which he’d send back with added melodies, lyrics and other ideas. “It was pretty different for me because I’m used to having some sort of physical instrument in the room with me,” Jennings says. “I usually have an acoustic guitar against my chest when I’m writing or a piano or something. I did a lot of cranking these songs in the car super, super loud so that I could be inside of them.”
One song, “Ten Years From Now,” came from a very personal conversation between Gossard and Jennings. “I was going through a really hard divorce,” Jennings says. “My original take was more of a very negative, catharsis screaming song. Stone was like, ‘You know what? What if you open that up a bit? What if you look at this from 10 years out?’ I just started singing from there and it just flowed.”
“I Am Your Country” started as an abandoned lyrical fragment from one of Jennings’ recent solo projects about a father talking to a son. “It never totally clicked for me,” he says. “One day I was like, ‘What if instead of a father, I flipped it and it was more abstract and talking about the stuff happening right now in the country?'”
Josh Freese plays drums on the three tracks on the album, but Matt Chamberlain handled the rest and played a key role in the development of the songs. “Matt opened up his songwriting vault and sent about five or six arranged beats, but with some harmonic information,” Gossard says. “Two of those wound up being the last two songs we did on the record, which was ‘I Am Your Country’ and ‘Orphaned Ghost.’ Matt is just an incredibly creative person.”
Chamberlain’s roots with Gossard go all the way back to 1991 when he spent about seven weeks playing drums in Pearl Jam (just long enough to appear in the “Alive” video) and he’s gone on to play with everyone from Fiona Apple and Bruce Springsteen to Leonard Cohen, Stevie Nicks, Elton John and David Bowie. He joined Bob Dylan’s touring band last year and plays on his newest record, Rough and Rowdy Ways.
“He’s got his own warehouse where he keeps all his drums,” Gossard says. “That’s where he works on all his records. People will send him tracks and he’ll just say, ‘What do you want?'”
Rounding out the group is keyboardist Brittany Davis. “She’s a keyboard assassin,” Gossard says. “She also does all the backgrounds on the record and there are shared vocals on ‘Evil Winds.’ When her voice entered the picture you could really feel that female energy and her soulful playing.”
Gossard was working on Pearl Jam’s Gigaton throughout much of the recording process, but he says he enjoyed juggling the two projects. “I’ve always got way too many irons in the fire,” he says. “It’s normal for me to have about 500 different items in a Dropbox file, bouncing around. And the last three months of the Pearl Jam record was really sort of Eddie [Vedder] going back in and taking a bunch of stuff and trying to focus it and trying to figure out how it all fits together in one spot. He did an incredible job with that, so I was off the hook a little bit there toward the end of that record, so I had some time.”
Painted Shield has yet to perform in public, but they hope to play shows once the pandemic ends even though Chamberlain’s commitment to Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour might make that tricky. “We can just follow Bob around,” Gossard jokes. “But he plays every night. It’s a crazy thing. I saw him at the Beacon Theater last year and he was just spitting fire.”
In the meantime, the band is just looking forward to getting together in the same room, something they have yet to do. “‘Can you imagine when we all might be in the same state?” Gossard asks. “And what does that look like?’ We’re hoping to get the first group hug filmed. We want to document it. We’ll be like, ‘Oh my God. I’m actually able to touch you.'”