Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard on his rhythm style: "It's mostly about subtraction"

“Why was it that the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack sounded so frickin’ good? Why did it sound so heavy?" muses Stone Gossard in a new interview with Dean Delray for Let There Be Talk podcast. 

But before he went down the disco groove rabbit hole, the Pearl Jam guitarist elaborated on his mindset to rhythm playing. "It was just always the groove and that chord change, y’know, that one chord change that is the blues – it’s that sustaining sort of tension that you create by hanging in a certain spot and then making a move. It is still as simple as that for me.” 

“It’s mostly subtraction," the guitarist explained later. "I’ll sit down and I’ll play something and then, ‘What if you took that away?’ You end up getting down to these really primal sort of things – I think of it as the fabric of the universe in a sense. Rhythmic patterns, phrases, lyrics, or rhythms, like I said, when you are playing with Matt Chamberlain [former Pearl Jam drummer who now plays with Gossard in Painted Shield] it kinda doesn’t matter whether you are playing an A chord or something really complex, if he is smiling at you and you are smiling at him, and you’ve got a little thing going, if there is a singer there, the singer is going to sound good. It is not science. I have never been a scientist when it comes to that. It’s always been magic. I don’t question it. I just relish it.” 

Stone Gossard

(Image credit: Joby Sessions / Future)

Gossard has been party to plenty of musical magic over the years – from the heady creation of Pearl Jam's debut Ten to the supergroup Temple Of The Dog with the late Chris Cornell. But in the interview he reflected back further when talking about songwriting, to his and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament's previous band Mother Love Band, that sadly dissolved with the passing of singer Andy Wood in 1990.

We should have had more songs and we should have written more songs when we were there

"We didn’t really know how to make records back then. I think we're still learning how to make records, in a sense," recalls the guitarist of recording Mother Love Bone's major label debut Apple at the legendary Record Plant in Sausalito, California. 

"We didn’t have nearly as much fun as we should have," he added. "We should have had more songs and we should have written more songs when we were there. So by the time we got to making that record, I think we made a good record but the joy was already evaporating a little bit." 

I wish that I had time back with Andy

Nevertheless, Apple stands up as a strong testament to the band's chemistry and Wood's talent as a musician and lyricist. But the fact his story ended far too soon inevitably makes it a bittersweet memory for Gossard. 

"It was a fun time because we were making a major label record and it sounded good. But I wish that I had time back with Andy, because we could have supported him so much more. We could have written so much more. We were all fighting with each other… I don’t know. You get a bunch of guys in a room and they all want to be in control. Everyone wants to be in charge and sometimes that sucks the life out of the thing. And I am as guilty of it as anyone.”

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.