Jeff Ament Gets RNDM
*JPG: The process of this has been really quick. Is it a matter of good timing or is it because of having the Monkeywrench label so you’ve been able to put out the album and videos and everything else? *
JA: It’s amazing to have a label to help facilitate all that stuff. The other part of it — the videos and stuff — Joe has a friend, Ehu, who actually shot and directed all the videos. That’s a guy that probably worked even faster on his craft than we did on the record in terms of shooting the videos and staying up all night editing them and the next day sending them to us and blowing us away at every point. He’s been the perfect collaborator for that video album.
I think there’s an energy with the band and that energy’s been contagious. Ehu caught the bug that we had. Luckily, we have a ton of visual… We have more visual stuff for this record than I’ve been involved with Pearl Jam in the last 10 years, which is kind of cool. Kind of cool to just do something crazy like put masks on and walk around New York City and get on subways and have people look at you like they want to kill you.
JPG: It’s a good thing that you didn’t accidentally walk into like an Occupy Movement rally and the next thing you know the police would be coming after you because you were wearing masks.
JA: Yeah. Washington Square Park was closed. There definitely were some people there that looked like they wanted to kill us.
JPG: The whole orange theme for the outfits and masks, how did that come about?
JA: It was one of those early conversations when we were recording, like taking a lunch break or something. And in those lunch breaks we would half jokingly talk about the band and the world tour…This is like a day or two into the recording. One of the things that came up was, “Yeah. We could all dress in fluorescent colors.” At that point I took notes every time that we’d go off on those tangents. So, I wrote fluorescent and, as it became apparent that we were making a record, I started to see the album as kind of ‘80s fluorescent colors and that turned into orange gear. “Oh, we can have somebody put orange piping on suits.” And I’m like, “I have a friend who makes handmade ski masks in Bali. We could have him make us some crazy orange masks.” So, I designed a mask. Then, it started to take on this performance art element that I think all of us wanted to secretly do ‘cause we listened to Kiss when we were kids or whatever.
JPG: As far as RNDM’s songs, the performance art aspect of the group goes well with the music because it fun and upbeat. Was one thing influencing the other?
JA: If I had one pre-meditated thought going into the project it’s that I wanted it to have energy, good energy. That was the one thing I told Richard. I said, “Everything that we do I want it to be a little more up tempo than what it initially feels like it should be.” There are so many great ‘80s power pop bands, whether it’s Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello or Psychedelic Furs or any of those bands but I wanted to get into that realm a little bit.
Richard Stuverud the drummer, he’s so well-versed in that music that I knew he would just slay these songs if it was in that mode. A lot of these songs have like a New Wave take on Motown. There’s really interesting high energy grooves happening. That’s one of my favorite elements of the record is just how Rich is playing, how he interprets Joe’s songs.
JPG: Going with three specific songs on the album, when I was listening to “Modern Times,” and there were a couple of other songs as well where, speaking of the ‘80s, your bass playing reminded me of Mike Watt.
JA: I’ve probably been more influenced by Mike as a motivated creative force than anything. When people ask me about musicians or bass players that I’ve been influenced by I feel like I get influenced by different people in so many different ways. Having seen the minutemen multiple times growing up and fIREHOSE and getting to hang out with Mike a handful of times ‘cause he’s such an approachable guy, and then touring with Flea and the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, just being around that creative force that both those guys are. They’re just so much energy and so much passion. They believe so much in what they’re doing. There’s just not any half-assing any of it. Probably more influenced by Watt on that realm than the other part. It’s awesome that you…I love the minutemen. I listen to the minutemen all the time. There’s probably some of that that’s seeped into me somehow.
JPG: Then “Hollow Girl,” as it fades out, it sounds as if there’s a jam that’s starting to happen. Did it go on for awhile and you faded out early for the album? Does it happen live?
JA: That was something that happened on the spot. I think Joe heard it as this buzzout thing and I had an idea at the end that we cut that part to like a half-time part; the drums would slow down and then it developed into something. The cool thing is that song live is really a monster. It can really go to some cool places because it is so open at the end at that half-time thing.
JPG: The last one, “Williamsburg,” has a bit of a flavor of U2’s “Trying to Throw Your arms around the World,” yes?
JA: I’ve read some U2 references in a couple things, which is kind of cool, ‘cause I’ve never thought of Joe’s music like U2 at all. For me, personally, there’s not that much to hate about U2. Those first couple U2 records, I played bass to those records. Adam [Clayton] in particular early on, was really unique in his style. He played the high strings. He played the B string and G string open a lot. Had a really interesting take on how he played. It’s an honor to be…I mean, if it sounds like U2, it’s not the obvious way that you might sound like U2. I get that and I think U2 went through that phase with that song you’re talking about in particular where they were paying homage to early American music, in particular Black music and so, that makes sense.
JPG: As far as the energy and the upbeat feel to the album, I read that you were traveled with your friend, Montana Senator Jon Tester, during his re-election campaign and how what he had to deal with just ate at you. Do you think if the RNDM album was recorded in August instead of April, it might have come out darker, angrier?
JA: Yeah, maybe. The great thing about this record, there was no preconceived notion of what is was going to be. It really was one of the most natural projects that I’ve ever worked on. The great thing about going to Montana is, where I’m at in Montana, we’re not getting newspapers and we were really so busy, not on the computer very much, so we weren’t very affected by the outside world as we were doing this stuff. If anything influenced us, probably just being in the forest, being around nature.
And it very well could have been [different] if we would have recorded it in August, would have more newspapers getting delivered. If we’d been reading about what was going on, I’m sure it would have had some effect.
The political process in our country right now is a joke. Absolute joke. There’s millions of people that don’t have jobs in this country and they’re spending billions of dollars on fuckin’ ad campaigns. It’s a joke.