Appearing on the Cobras & Fire podcast Whatever, Never Mind, legendary engineer Dave Hillis has been spoken of Pearl Jam's intense recording sessions for the Seattle band's groundbreaking 1991 debut LP, Ten, revealing that Eddie Vedder was not the finished article when first arrived at the studio.
“He wasn’t really the Eddie Vedder that we know yet,“ said Hillis, who was chief engineer on Ten, having worked for 10 years alongside producer Rick Parashar at the famous London Bridge Studios in Seattle. “He showed up first. This lowrider, tinted window Chevy LUV pickup comes roaring into the parking lot at crazy speed.
“I’m like, ‘What the hell!?‘ He gets out and he’s a really nice guy and everything [but] the point is you don’t see tinted windows, yellow lowriding Chevy LUVs in wet, rainy, cloudy Seattle. That was kinda, ‘Whoah! That’s not a Seattle dude.’“
Vedder had got the gig after appearing on Temple Of The Dog, a Seattle supergroup formed in tribute to former Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood, who died on 19 March 1990 after overdosing on heroin. But Vedder was new to the Seattle scene, having grown up in Illinois and moving to San Diego County, California, in his teens.
As Hillis notes, Vedder had big shoes to fill. And Pearl Jam – who then comprised Mother Love Bone alumni Stone Gossard on guitar and Jeff Ament on bass, with Temple Of The Dog's Mike McCready joining on guitar and Dave Krusen on drums – had some doubts about Vedder.
“I remember particularly the moment when the band and Rick were in the control room having a discussion,“ said Hillis. “I am not really involved in it, but I am hearing it while I am doing whatever I was doing, and there was some concern whether Eddie could do this and pull it together. I didn’t notice anything in particular that was bad or anything, but I remember the discussion.“
The solution, as it so often was with Pearl Jam, was work, and lots of it. Hillis taught Vedder how to record himself remotely, locking him in the studio overnight to work on lyrics and vocals. Ten, which started out from instrumental demos and pieces of ideas carried over from Mother Love Bone, soon took shape. So, too, did Vedder.
“We would lock him in the studio,“ said Hillis. “He would work all night. And over that period of time, he kind of developed that Eddie Vedder that we all know, through the lyrics and his vocal style, and cadences. That’s really where he seemed to become Eddie Vedder all of a sudden.”
As Hillis remembers it, Ten was all about the pursuit of perfection. Pearl Jam were obsessed with nailing the perfect take. They would work through the night as two-inch tape reels mounted up. Once Parashar had left for the evening, Pearl Jam would track and track, with Hillis keeping score in the control room.
“It was all about that magic take – the perfect feel, the perfect groove,“ said Hillis. “That was what it was all about. You could tell. The record has that. Everything has such a great feel and groove to it.”
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Thirty years of Ten is a special anniversary for Pearl Jam. Marking the occasion, Fender has released a super-limited edition replica of Mike McCready's 1960 Stratocaster.
Pearl Jam's European tour has been rescheduled and begins on 14 June 2022. See Pearl Jam for dates and cross your fingers for no Covid-related cancellations. You can read our classic 2012 interview with Stone Gossard here.