Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament admits there are plenty of fringe benefits from playing in one of the world’s biggest bands. But he says getting to play with other people is among his favorite. It’s what led to his latest project, an album and tour with his new side project RNDM.
“There’s nothing better than when you’re already a fan of an artist and you get to hang out with them and play shows with them,” Ament says in a conversation with Seattle Sounds.
The group makes its Seattle debut Tuesday night at the Showbox at the Market. Ament says the group grew out his desire to do something with New York-based singer/songwriter Joe Arthur after meeting him nearly 13 years ago. When Ament was finishing his last solo record, “While My Heart Beats,” he asked Arthur if he would sing one song. Arthur “killed it,” and Ament wanted more. (The two performed the track at Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary festival last year.)
“There wasn’t a lot of preconceived ideas in what it was going to be, and we didn’t really go into the recording thinking it was going to be a band or a record or anything. It was more like ‘hey let’s get together and be creative for a few days and have fun.'”
The result is “Acts,” a full-length explosion of pop infused psych-rock from Ament, Arthur and former War Babies drummer Richard Stuverud.
“There’s kind of that 80’s British New Wave where it’s melodic but not melodic in kind of a blues mode. You read reviews and people say it sounds like U2, and I’m like really?”
However you describe it, it’s about as far from Pearl Jam as Ament can get.
“It’s cool to kind of just do something outside those boxes that we built ourselves into,” he says about the somewhat set roles the members of Pearl Jam have settled into over more than 20 years of playing together.
“It’s definitely something new that I’ve never done. I feel like as a bass player I sort of got to kind of go to my inner Graham Maby (Joe Jackson,) or Bruce Foxton (The Jam,) or Bruce Thomas from Elvis Costello. Guys that I’ve always loved but never was in a band that really was playing that style of music. Kind of amped up Motown music,” he says.
Ament says playing in the trio gives him the room to unleash musically in a way he can’t with all of the guys in Pearl Jam competing for “sonic space.” But he insists there’s never been a lack of opportunity in the band to showcase his songs. (Ament has written or co-written a number of Pearl Jam’s most popular tunes including the hit song Jeremy.)
“Everybody in Pearl Jam is big supporters of each other and I think everybody realizes that the strength of the band is having all these different writers, these influences.”
While Ament is looking forward to taking the stage with RNDM Tuesday night, don’t expect to see Pearl Jam in Seattle anytime soon.
“We’re going to play Seattle when Chris Hansen builds a killer arena that sounds good. There’s not a great place to play in Seattle. The Key Arena sounds like S***, it’s been run horribly,” he says.
While the band could go back to the Gorge, Ament says they aren’t keen on playing so far from Seattle, or subjecting everyone to the possibility of 100 degree heat like the last time they played there.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations over the years like how do we play a great event in Seattle. It’s tough.”
What isn’t tough for Ament is making music. He says RNDM has been writing songs on the road over the past month hopes to be able to put out another album before Pearl Jam heads back to the studio for the follow up to Backspacer.
“We have a ton of great demo ideas,” he says of the next Pearl Jam album. “I think whenever it happens, I think everybody’s going to be ready for it. I think everybody is starting to get the itch right now, so I’m looking forward to it.”
In the meantime, Ament says he’s having so much fun there’s no rush. He’s really enjoying not having to answer to anyone, including his beloved long time band mates.
“Finally. We’re 50, we get to do that,” he laughs.
RNDM plays an in-store at Easy Street Records on Lower Queen Anne Tuesday evening at 6 p.m., followed by their headlining gig at Showbox at the Market Tuesday night with special guest Line & Circle.