Jeff Ament Gets RNDM
Jeff Ament may be in one of the most beloved and successful American bands but his artistic ambitions don’t end there. Since starting Pearl Jam 22 years ago following stints in Mother Love Bone and Green River he’s released two solo albums and assorted side projects.
He united two of his previous collaborators – Joseph Arthur (vocals/guitar) and Richard Stuverud (drums) – into the trio RNDM (pronounced random).
A preview of sorts took place during the second day of 2011’s PJ20 anniversary shows at Alpine Valley Music Theatre when Ament joined Arthur onstage for “I Miss the Zoo.” The two were then joined by fellow Pearl Jam members — guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron — on “When the Fire Comes.” The track, which featured Arthur singing, appeared on Ament’s 2012 solo effort.
Calling the project RNDM seemed appropriate due to the nature of its existence. Ament originally met Arthur in 1999 when he opened for Three Fish. The two kept in contact over the years, while Stuverud has become Ament’s go-to guy on drums when he’s not recording with Pearl Jam. A scheduled jam session last April at Ament’s Montana home immediately turned fruitful. After four days nearly 20 tracks were completed. Released last fall, the band’s debut, Acts, features 12 of those numbers.
“It felt like those first bands you’re in, where the first few weeks you ate and slept and breathed the music that you were working on,” Amend said. “All you did was hum those songs until you got to the next practice. I was completely open to whatever was going to happen, and I know Joseph was, too.”
The excitement at how quickly the songs fell together led to discussions of live dates, videos and, even, outfits. With Pearl Jam on the shelf until all its members decide to return, Ament is prepared to continue more work with RNDM in the studio and on concert stages in 2013.
On the day my conversation with Ament he’s running late due to taking part in a radio interview. After offering a quick apology, I wonder aloud if the station is actually playing the band’s music. While RNDM’s songs have immediate hooks and energy that balance pop with indie rock sensibilities, on-air playlists have notoriously become tighter with each passing year.
“I have no idea, actually,” said Ament. “I, actually, haven’t paid attention to any of that. I don’t know how much that stuff makes a difference anymore, anyway.
“To be honest, I haven’t done this kind of stuff in like 20 years. It’s kind of fun, actually. We’re doing lots of in-stores and performances on the radio. It’s just about being in a new band.”
And with Ament passing the blunt honesty test, it became a worthwhile venture to discuss the musical and visual ideas behind RNDM, influences, stumping for his friend, Montana Senator Jon Tester and his plans for Pearl Jam and RNDM in the new year.
JPG: I was going to ask this later in the interview, but might as well bring it up now. You released a couple solo albums and the Tres Mts. Side project, but they’ve been a bit more under the radar than albums by Eddie and Stone. With all the attention on RNDM and you being more in the spotlight is this fun for you or weird?
JA: Well, the other projects, we didn’t really put them out there with any splash. It was just up by design. It was about getting music out there if people pay attention to what’s going on with the website or whatever, they would know it’s out. Beyond that, we weren’t doing any interviews. This was the first thing where, out of all of those records, where I felt so good about it. I felt more willing to stick my neck out. I’m happy these guys are coming with me because I knew there’s pretty great potential in us being a really good band. So, it’s a little easier.
JPG: Going back in time, I saw you and Joseph perform together during his set on the second day of the PJ20 shows at Alpine Valley back in September 2011…
JA: I was probably so nervous. Basically, Joe and I went over that song once backstage and then Mike [McCready] and Matt [Cameron] weren’t even with us. I played that song on the trip over for those guys, just to remind them of the arrangement. So, the song didn’t really get played together as a band. I was probably too nervous to notice what we were doing.
JPG: It worked out well in the end, in the spirit of the event. With that particular song, “When the Fire Comes,” was a test of sorts that you and Joseph were in the same place musically?
JA: When I was finishing up that [second solo] record, I wasn’t that happy with what I was doing vocally. I really felt like it was one of the more important songs on the record. Once I started thinking outside of me singing it, I thought, “Man, Joe would sound great on this song; the register that his vocal is in.” I went back and forth with myself for a couple of days before I reached out to him because you just don’t want to bug people. He’s got enough things to do, his own music. Late one night, I shot him an email and he sent me an email right back and said, “Man, I’d love to do it.” Sent him the song. Sent him the lyrics. Pretty much within a day or two he sent it back to me. That’s basically what’s on the record is that performance that he recorded in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland.
When I hooked up with him I think, maybe, he played a show in Seattle not that long after that, like a KEXP lunch show or something. I hooked up with him at that and played a song of his called “I Miss the Zoo,” which was the [other] song that we did at the PJ20 thing. That was when I was like, “Man, we could write a few songs together and we could do some things that neither one of us had done.” It wasn’t the idea of starting a band or putting out a record. It was more about just trying to collaborate and teach other some tricks that each of us had. I was just trying to grow as a musician. It wasn’t until two days into doing these recordings that it started to become apparent that we were making a record and that it was pretty good.
JPG: Is that one of the best things about this, that there wasn’t any idea beforehand…?
JPG: …and also recording it at your home that it the situation was more like, “Come on over to Montana and we’ll see…”
JA: Yeah, yeah. For 20 years there’s that mantra of don’t have any expectations, don’t have any expectations…You tell yourself that about all sorts of things. This thing, we didn’t have to tell ourselves that because there weren’t any. There wasn’t any of the baggage. I wasn’t trying to get him to sing on my songs. There wasn’t any of that. It was like, “Hey, let’s get together and see what happens.” He didn’t know what he was getting himself in for and neither did we. So, in that regard, there was a healthy amount of respect in the room, and we were playing music. I think that comes across on the record.
JPG: Now how many paintings did he complete while recording his vocals. (Arthur has done live painting while singing during a performance.)
JA: None. No painting there. We were far too busy learning each other’s tunes.