With Pearl Jam taking a breather, Stone Gossard has had the opportunity to get back together with his friends in Brad, to finally release their fourth full length CD Best Friends?, and head out on the road for some shows across the United States. It’s a strong recording, with songs that are moody and spirited, a little funky here and a little psychedelic there. It’s an interesting mix. Shawn Smith’s vocals are clear, Regan Hagar is steady on the drums and Stone sounds fresh, playing with an almost child’s excitement. But it has taken the band seven years to put this recording into the ears of their fans.
It’s not like they were all just sitting around drinking martinis and soaking up the sun on islands in the Caribbean. They have all been quite busy, making music with others and biding their time until schedules allowed them the freedom to come together once again and just be Brad.
Stone has also been a man with an agenda. He believes in his music and he believes in the environment staying true and pure. He has a family that he loves and friends that he likes hanging out with. He is also supposedly one of the nicest men in rock & roll. But at the moment, he is late. We were supposed to start our interview a half hour ago and he has yet to call. I figure he is doing the rock star thing, giving interviews, signing autographs, throwing TVs out of some hotel window. I call his assistant, who has no idea what has happened to Stone.
Ten minutes later the phone rings and a man on the other end starts apologizing profusely for being late. He seems genuinely sorry. He is talking like we have known each other for years and an immediate rapport develops. Stone becomes just Stone, a musician who fell asleep while killing time before calling. The interview that follows proves that Stone is not necessarily the typical rock star you may think he is.
Hi Stone, how are you doing? Brad did Jimmy Fallon last night and it looked like you all were having a good time out there.
Yeah, we had a good time. It worked out. TV can be hard sometimes, you know. Kind of nerve wracking and you got one chance to kind of make an impression but it felt like we did pretty good last night. We were real excited about that track [“Low”] when we got done. There’s another track actually (yawns) on the website for another song we did called “Every Whisper”.
You’re in Tulsa tonight for a show. You excited?
Yeah, actually our gear is hopefully getting here soon. I found out that our bus broke down. We flew into Tulsa today after New York and our gear was supposed to be here early and it turns out our bus had broken down in Columbus, Ohio. So our bus is racing to us with all our gear on it so maybe it’s supposed to be here in the next half an hour (laughs). Hopefully we’ll have gear to play on tonight. I won’t know here for another few minutes whether we’re going to be ok or not.
Well, can you wing it and do it a-cappella?
We’ll do something. We’ll borrow some guitars from Band Of Horses or something. I’m not sure … but where are you at?
I’m in Louisiana, near New Orleans. Why didn’t ya’ll come down this way? I know you have fans here.
Well, we’re going to do some more …. … We just have 3 dates left and then we’ll be looking for some more dates coming up so we’re kind of taking it one step at a time trying to find time for everybody. But we’ll keep touring this record. Brad has been a band now for almost 20 years now, almost as long as Pearl Jam, so we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to keep going out doing more dates and if anything we’re going to do more recording and definitely keep going. So we’ll be around, hopefully in Louisiana at some point too.
The new CD is called Best Friends?. Are you getting a lot of good feedback?
So far so good. I think it’s pretty early still and in this day and age it’s pretty hard to get your CD noticed by anyone these days cause it’s just the way things are. It’s just that CDs don’t sell quite like they used to and there’s a lot of entertainment options for the masses these days. But we’re real happy, we’re confident that we’re just going to keep making music and find opportunities to play and you know we got to do some TV. We did Jimmy Fallon last night and we’ll do, I think we’re going to be on Jimmy Kimmel coming up in December, sometime around the 6th, 7th or 8th, something like that. We’re just going to kind of try to get ourselves out there.
Now these songs are not exactly new songs, correct? It just took awhile to put the CD out.
We wrote all this material seven years ago. It’s a real slow process with us these days but that’s ok. It was like we recorded some music and at that particular time everybody just kind of lost some momentum in trying to kind of finish it. And I think it was a couple years later that Regan and I started going back in and doing a little editing and doing some mixes and stuff like that. Then it sat for a little longer and then we just had this opportunity with Monkeywrench, which is Pearl Jam’s label that we’re sort of putting together, to put out the record. Then we jumped on it. And then we got to learn all this old material that we recorded a while ago and it’s very fresh and very exciting now to kind of go back and relearn the stuff and figure out what we played a while ago. But it feels very natural.
So you’re happy with this. There’s not anything you wish you had gone back in and re-recorded?
Oh God no (laughs). There’s always more music to record so we’re looking forward to whatever is next I think.
Is it getting harder and harder to find time for Brad?
No, it’s actually easier for me. I mean, in a sense overall I think my touring is going down. Pearl Jam doesn’t tour nearly as much as we used to and that’s great. If Pearl Jam’s out six weeks a year, that’s great. And Brad could be out for another four or five weeks a year and then that would be about all the touring I needed. I love playing shows but we all have kids, a lot of us do, and being away from home is not something you want for very long. As a matter of fact, I just woke up from a dream about my daughter, running to me and I was like in my mind like hearing her voice and then I woke up and I was like … (laughs). That reminds me I need to call her as soon as I get done with you so I can actually get her to talk to me for a few seconds … She’s three and a half. She’s amazing.
So since it’s getting harder to go out on the road do you want to spend more time in the studio?
I always loved the studio. And you know the road’s fine but I don’t think nobody, the way rock bands have toured in the past is inhuman. People that go out for a year and a half or that spend weeks and weeks away from home, it’s just brainless. It’s not worth it no matter what the payoff is. So like I said, if we’re on the road or I’m on the road six to ten weeks a year that’s about the most I’d want to be on the road with anything. And as long as I can afford to do that that’s about where we’ll be at. I definitely think that some number of weeks of that could definitely be Brad. And I’m looking forward to whatever amount that is and figuring that out and as we make more records, I’ll have more opportunities to go out. We’re looking to hopefully getting songs in some TV and stuff for movies and to do that is great because you can really get your music out to a lot of people in a short period of time. So that’s great for Brad too.
And the other guys like this as well, cause they can go out and do their own thing and then come back to Brad.
Yeah, like I said, Shawn makes records on his own; he’s got solo records. I make records on my own. I have another record at least that’s done, a solo. So there’s lots of material out there that we can continue to put out but where we’re at right now is just touring for Brad (laughs).
You have several songs on the new CD that you wrote the lyrics to. Has it gotten easier to do that since before you weren’t doing a whole lot of that. Have you become more comfortable writing?
I don’t know, you tell me (laughs). I like writing lyrics and it’s fun to put words to music for sure. And Shawn loves to do that and is great at that and I got another band with another singer that is really good at it too. But fortunately they’re both interested and excited about seeing other people’s lyrics sometimes too. I’ve written lyrics in Pearl Jam, mostly music but sometimes lyrics, and the same goes with Brad. I’ve been doing it for a while now and will want to keep doing it, but sometimes the best way to get the best material is to have your singer get excited about a song and have them write the lyrics. Sometimes that really motivates them in a great way. So it just depends if I write a lyric I will show it to them and if they want to sing something else we’ll sing something else.
Speaking of the singers you have worked with, you have worked with some really fantastic ones: Shawn Smith, Mark Arm, Andrew Wood and Eddie, of course …
And don’t forget Chris Cornell.
Of course, Temple Of The Dog. But what do they bring out in your guitar playing? Are you like a totally different “person” with each ensemble?
No, I’m just the same. I just play and get excited about guitar parts. If I’m writing for a particular singer, I’ll try, I guess, to imagine what they might be excited about. I’ve always just been excited about writing music and coming up with riffs and I’ve never known what was going to excite anybody. So mostly I just do what I do and I’ve been really really fortunate to play with some amazing people so I’m not too conscious about what it is. But in general I hopefully just feel like I’m getting just a little bit simpler in my writing, which I think is always appreciated in terms of range and stuff like that cause when you’re a singer sometimes the simplest things is the easiest to sing over. If anything I want to be a little bit more conscious of that.
In Brad, do you feel like you have a bit more breathing space as a guitar player than in Pearl Jam where you have the talented Mike McCready who is also bringing in music?
Well, I’m the only guitar player in Brad (laughs) so I get to create some more room and get to play a few more leads in Brad but they’re both different and I love both and it’s just amazing to do both things. I go into each of them feeling very fortunate to be part of them and do whatever I can. There’s three songs on the Brad record I don’t play on at all so I couldn’t be playing any less on some of those songs (laughs). Either situation I’m ok not being on a song or I’m ok writing the whole thing.
You have a really good sense of the beat and the groove. I understand that you like the funkier aspects of music. Were these your primary influences when you were growing up and discovering music? Was this what you tended to gravitate towards?
You know I like groove. It’s always been something I’ve been attracted to for a long time, since I was little, and it’s something that simply comes naturally to me. But I couldn’t really describe it more than that. It’s just my natural cadence that just comes out in the way I play and sort of the way I write. So yeah, Brad has a certain way of appreciating that in a great way. It’s really fun … we’ve had a lot of drum machine songs and we like to kind of get in that zone a little bit more but, man, Pearl Jam’s got that too. You know, “Blood” or something like that off of Vs., I mean there’s lots of songs in Pearl Jam’s arsenal I think of as being very groovy.
Can I ask you about Andrew Wood? You played with him in Mother Love Bone, you were friends with him. How would you describe him as a person, as a performer, and what do you think he would be doing musically today if he had lived?
Well as a person I couldn’t say enough about his spark and his joy. I mean he was a person everyone that ever met him that I knew was just charmed by him because he had so much inner light. He just really was always cracking jokes and was always so thoughtful and very, very funny and self-deprecating and charming. So he had this real, real strong personal glow that was so evident to everyone that hung out with him. He was one of the most charismatic people that you’ll ever meet. And my personal feeling, and I had a really strong connection with him, and from the time I met him we really spent a lot of time together and we really enjoyed each other. As far as what he would be doing now, it’s sad to kind of think about but I know that he was capable of so much more than anything I was ever involved with him, in regards to Mother Love Bone. He really loved weird dance music, he loved Queen, he loved all this Prince, he loved all this stuff that was like totally out there. He could have been an actor, he would have charmed the pants off everybody if he had been able to have that success that he was hoping for. So it’s a sad thought to think about and we all think about him quite a bit. I mean, he’s still right there with us in Brad. You know Shawn Smith and Regan Hagar were both very good friends with Andy Wood as was Jeff and Greg and myself. So we all have a strong connection still to him and think about him all the time. It’s crazy how life has a lot of unexpected turns and that was a very challenging and pretty sad one.
Speaking of charismatic singers, what originally appealed to you about Queens Of The Stone Age that you signed them to your Loosegroove Label in 1998?
Well, they had basically finished recording what ended up being the record that we released on Loosegroove, which is … now the name of it is escaping me because I’m thinking about it too hard (laughs). So we heard the record basically and it’s amazing. It’s like you look at what he’s (Josh Homme) done since then and like he’s a phenom and he really knew what he was doing. And we just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help him get that record out. It was really just a lucky us that we were in the right place at the right time and had some friends that knew him and were ready to jump on that. He was ready to put that record out and didn’t want to wait around for some record company to coax him into it. So we just went right for him and gave him what he wanted and got him on the road and sort of helped launched his career, which is great. He was certainly doing great already obviously, with Kyuss and some of the other things he was involved with, but it was amazing to work with him at that time. And to now see him singing with The Vultures and playing with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, it’s crazy, his success that he’s had since then.
Is there anyone else that you’ve got your eye on that is coming up in the music world?
Probably (laughs). I just can’t think of it right now.
So what’s next for Stone Gossard?
With the next month, it’ll be more Brad. I think early next year there’ll be more Brad as well. Pearl Jam is sort of figuring out what the next move is, probably do some recording next year I’m imagining. And then as far as a solo record and stuff like that, I have enough material for a solo record. I don’t know if I actually have it completed in terms of knowing exactly what it is, but there will be some more of that. But right now it’s sort of all Brad for me and then getting home and seeing my child.