Few bands in recent history have done more to express idealism and authenticity in music than Pearl Jam. In this far-reaching interview with guitarist Stone Gossard, we are offered an insider’s view of the gritty origins of grunge music, the iconic rise of the “most popular band of the 90’s,” and the struggles of maintaining one’s artistic ideals in the vertigo of sudden fame.
Gossard graduated from Seattle's Northwest School in 1984. The first band Stone joined was March of Crimes, a band of which future Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd was a member. Although Gossard's time with the band was brief, it introduced him to the emerging music scene in Seattle. Stone formed a close friendship with fellow guitarist (and future Mudhoney member) Steve Turner, who also had attended the Northwest School, and joined Turner in his band The Ducky Boys. Turner went on to form Green River with vocalist/guitarist Mark Arm, drummer Alex Vincent and bassist Jeff Ament. Stone was asked to join Green River in order to allow Arm to concentrate exclusively on singing.
Following Green River's dissolution in 1987, Stone founded Mother Love Bone along with Green River bassist Jeff Ament. Mother Love Bone came to an end due to the untimely death of singer Andrew Wood shortly before the band's major label debut, Apple. Stone reacquainted himself with an old school friend around this time named Mike McCready and the pair started playing together shortly after Andrew Wood's death, eventually including Ament in their lineup. The trio were attempting to form their own band when they were invited to be part of the Temple of the Dog project founded by Chris Cornell as a musical tribute to Andrew Wood. This project eventually featured future Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder, who sang on the song "Hunger Strike". With a new line-up all but complete, Stone's new songs and demos developed into significant contributions to the Temple of the Dog project, and the formation of Pearl Jam in 1990.
With the formation of Pearl Jam, Stone's music formed the basis for many of the bands early songs. Eight of the eleven tracks on Pearl Jam's seminal debut Ten were musically penned by Gossard, including "Alive", "Even Flow", and "Black". He has since made less of a solo contribution to the band's work, instead becoming part of the collaborative efforts. However he was credited as being behind the relatively more recent hits "Do the Evolution" in 1998 and "Life Wasted" in 2006. His songwriting contributions to Pearl Jam have not been limited to music with Gossard having written the lyrics for the songs "No Way", "All Those Yesterdays", "Strangest Tribe", "Thin Air", "Of the Girl", "Rival", "Fatal", "Mankind" and "Don't Gimme No Lip". As well as guitar contributions, Stone has also played mellotron, bass guitar and has often provided backing vocals. He was even given lead vocal duties for two of the Pearl Jam songs he had written both musically and lyrically: "Mankind" (No Code) and "Don't Gimme No Lip" (Lost Dogs). His role in the dynamic of each song is not pre-defined despite being primarily a rhythm guitarist and consequently he can be heard playing lead guitar on many of Pearl Jam's more recent songs.
Gossard is known for his hard rhythm style of playing, and his sense of beat and groove. His major influences are said to be Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Jimi Hendrix, as well as funk and rap. He once said of himself: "I like rhythmic things that butt up against each other in a cool kind of way." Eddie Vedder was quoted as saying that it is extremely difficult to collaborate with Stone, as he outright refuses to work on anything remotely like anything he's done before. In a review of Pearl Jam's 2006 self-titled album, Rolling Stone editor David Fricke mentioned that both Gossard and Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready were erroneously excluded from the publication's 2003 feature "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."
Gossard has been active in environmental pursuits, and has been an advocate of Pearl Jam's carbon neutral policy, offsetting their environmental impact. He has also extended his conservationist ideals and serves as a member of the Board of Directors at the Wild Salmon Center, an international conservation organization based in Portland, Oregon. Gossard also took an active role during Pearl Jam's dispute with Ticketmaster in 1994 over prices and surcharges. Along with fellow Pearl Jam member Jeff Ament, Gossard testified before a congressional subcommittee, arguing that Ticketmaster's practices were anti-competitive.
As an artist and painter, Gossard's work can be found on many Pearl Jam releases, especially material distributed through Pearl Jam's fan club. The artwork to his solo album Bayleaf was entirely composed by Gossard.