“For better or worse, you’re gonna hear a lot more lead guitar from me… I went crazy”: Mike McCready offers update on “heavier” new Pearl Jam album

Mike McCready
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Pearl Jam)

Mike McCready has issued an update on Pearl Jam’s new studio album and shared some details that suggest it is going to be worth the wait, promising a sound that has the “melody and energy” of the Seattle rock institution’s seminal first two albums – and a lot of lead guitar coming out of that Fender Stratocaster of his.

In a recent interview with Louder, McCready said the album, which is as yet untitled, might take some people by surprise – “It’s a lot heavier than you’d expect,” he said. He also suggested it is all but done, saying that a number of tracks had been recorded and in comparison to Gigaton, it took no time at all to record, thanks in no small part to producer Andrew Watt’s motivational talents. 

Watt, who recently produced the Rolling Stones' new studio album, Hackney Diamonds, asked them to play harder and more melodic. But by the sounds of it the biggest thing was him getting the band to get in the room, get down to business and actually record this stuff.

“He really kicked our asses, got us focused and playing, song after song,” said McCready. “It took a long time to make Gigaton, but this new one didn’t take long. Andrew was like: ‘You guys take forever to make records. Let’s do this, right now.’” 

Fender Mike McCready Strat

(Image credit: Fender)

That is exactly what they did, and with all this carpe diem energy quickening pulses in the studio, that jarred some things loose, namely McCready’s lead chops, which he says are unbound on the record, and are reminiscent of the sort of thing he was coming out with in the early days.

For better or worse, you’re gonna hear a lot more lead guitar from me, stuff I haven’t done in a long time. I went crazy, like with Chris Cornell and Temple Of The Dog on Reach Down, all those years ago

“For better or worse, you’re gonna hear a lot more lead guitar from me, stuff I haven’t done in a long time,” he said. “I went crazy, like with Chris Cornell and Temple Of The Dog on Reach Down, all those years ago. I got to do it again. Usually the first or second takes are best. After that I start thinking about it and it doesn’t have the feel. But Andrew caught the lightning in a bottle, as they say.”

Watt came to prominence working with pop heavyweights such as Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Rita Ora, but he is quickly establishing a reputation as rock’s go-to producer whenever a blue-chip band needs someone to realign their chakras and get something special cooking. 

It was Watt whom Blink-182 looked to in 2019 for Nine. Watt has collaborated with Ozzy Osborne on two studio albums, worked with Iggy Pop, and previously with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder on his 2022 solo album, Earthling.

Speaking to MusicRadar in September 2023, McCready said Watt was a great player in his own right, and pushed him accordingly in the studio. 

“Andrew Watt is known as a giant pop producer guy but he’s a great guitar player,” said McCready. “He comes from rock, that's where he cut his teeth. He loves our band, I think we're his favourite band – I know we are. He’s told us.

He pushed me in a direction for this latest album that we've done with him, that we're still doing, to do more leads – I'm doing leads on almost every song. And that hasn’t been the case with Pearl Jam for a long time. If anything there’s been songs [where’s it’s been], ‘Don't put a lead on it’ and sometimes I go, ‘Well f*** I want to do a lead’, it’s sad. And sometimes it makes sense to not have one but it’s kind of what I’m the best at. So I missed it for a few years, and a lot of records.

"So Andrew went completely crazy and said, ‘You’re putting a lead of every single song’ and some of them have two. And that’s what’s happened and it’s been really fun to do that again because it’s given me the freedom to express myself where I haven’t been for the last couple of records.”

It’s not just McCready who has been on the receiving end of Watt’s studio coaching. He told Matt Cameron that he wanted to hear some of the harder hitting style of his Soundgarden work.

“He kicked us to record quickly, got Matt Cameron to play more like he did in Soundgarden, in my mind,” said McCready. “Matt Cameron’s pushing this thing and it makes it sound more powerful than anything we’ve done in a long time.”

Who can say when we will hear it. But McCready will be keeping himself busy until the Pearl Jam machine gears up for an album release, tour info and all that jazz. He is also working on the score for a Beach Boys documentary and is writing a rock opera about the Seattle scene. 

“It’s going to be fictional – historical fiction, a lot of music, and I’ve written a script for it,” he said. “So I'm working very hard on that right now.”

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.