Last fall, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready welcomed five young men who lived in foster care as children into his band's studio with the intention of making a song. The thing was, recording in a professional studio was a new experience for everyone except McCready. "This was a bunch of guys that had never met each other, so you never know how that's going to go," he tells Rolling Stone. Together, they created "Try So Hard," a mellow, uplifting song about rising strong above a rough past.
For McCready, the process has been an enlightening experience. He met the musicians, aged between 15 and 20, through the non-profit organization Treehouse, which helps foster kids in Washington State graduate high school and prepare for adulthood. A decade ago, McCready volunteered to wrap presents for the organization ("I'm a terrible wrapper, too, so I probably just handed them the tape," he says) and was struck by what the facility offered. "They help foster kids that are in dire need of finishing their education, providing funding for summer camps and lessons, even new clothes – all the things a lot of us take for granted," he says. Impressed, he agreed to "play a show in front of a shoe rack there" (in the organization's free store for youth in foster care) and participated in donation drives and the kids' soccer games.
"There's nothing more important than helping kids," the guitarist says. "If we can do that in grassroots organizations, hopefully that'll spill over into the larger picture. You act locally, and it grows globally."
The recording session was especially meaningful for Franky Price. The 20 year old, who was in foster care for two years and has been heavily involved with Treehouse, provided much of the rapping on "Try So Hard." When he previously told a Treehouse employee that he struggled with depression, she suggested he participate in the session. He has his own home recording setup with a microphone and computer, but the experience with McCready was his first time in what he describes as "a legit studio of that caliber."
Price tells Rolling Stone he's not a big Pearl Jam fan per se ("I enjoy their music, obviously," he says), but meeting McCready taught him "not everyone in the music business is an ass, not everyone is self-serving." And connecting with the rocker on a fundamentally human level inspired him. When he learned that McCready struggles with Crohn's disease it struck home with him, since he, too, has health issues, including a major heart condition that required him to get heart and back surgery last March. "I found it inspiring to learn that he was somebody who had been through health scares and suffered from a lot of depression but that he's still here today making music," Price says.
The session lasted four hours, but Price says he came up with his part in about 45 minutes. He asked one of the foster children, Rickardo Mendiola, 17, to play some chords on his guitar for inspiration and after a few tries they landed on something everyone liked. Mendiola came up with the "Try So Hard" line and a freestyle verse, and Price reflected on all he'd been through in his verses. "I carry a lot of weight upon my back," he rapped. "I've been to hell and back ... and I've yet to crack." The lyrics just made sense to him.
"I wanted to make it personal, but also relatable for everyone else," says the rapper.
"The song just organically happened," McCready says. "We were sitting around, and it was amazing that it came together the way it did. The guys had some rap going on, beat boxing, some guitars, bass and drums. They created a song, and I got to play along with it. It generally doesn't happen that way, and it was really cool."
The sense of excitement and eagerness that everyone shared about the song made a big impression on McCready. "People will respond to your honesty in terms of the music you're creating," he says. "I could see that in the guys. They all got together for the first time that day, so everybody was on the line a little bit. It's very nerve-racking, especially for the guys who are still learning. But everybody gave it a shot."
For Price, who has pressed pause on his rap career while he recovers from his surgeries, making "Try So Hard" with McCready was a powerful experience. "It sounds corny or cliché," he says, "but the music really can bring people who don't know each other together and still create something wonderful."