"The only thing I could hear coming through the window was the bass": Eddie Vedder recalls the Ten single he co-wrote while being locked out of a Pearl Jam rehearsal

Pearl Jam 10 covers
(Image credit: Legacy Recordings)

Pearl Jam's 1991 debut album Ten captures a magical time for a new band with a previously unknown vocalist. Eddie Vedder wrote the lyrics and melodies to guitarist Stone Gossard's Alive and Once back in San Diego before he ever met the rest of the band. He came up with the haunting closer Release on the spot as Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Mike McCready and then-drummer Dave Krusen jammed the music in a Seattle rehearsal room. But the way the song Oceans came about is perhaps the most unusual of all.

The band that would become Pearl Jam – they played shows and an 11-date 1991 US tour as Mookie Blaylock before a name change – played their first rehearsals together after Vedder arrived in Seattle to meet them for the first time on 8 October 1990. The singer was picked up by Stone Gossard from the airport and had already requested to be taken straight to rehearsal: "I don't want to fuck around," said the singer, eager to prove himself to the others. Even so, their first week together in the basement of Galleria Potatohead before Vedder returned to his job as a gas station attendant in San Diego yielded staggering results.  

Pearl Jam's book Pearl Jam 20 tells us the Ten and future b-side and outtake songs Black, Breath, Alone, Just A Girl, Oceans and Release were all worked on in those first few days – in addition to Alive, Once and Footsteps from the first tape of Gossard songs Vedder had been sent to provide vocals for as an audition. The recordings above claiming to be from their first week of rehearsals attest to this. 

On October 13 the band recorded demos for Even Flow, Once, Breath, Alive, Goat, Just A Girl, Alone, Black and future Ten cut Oceans. And the ideas for what would become fan-favourite Yellow Ledbetter and second album rocker Animal. The chemistry was off the charts but even by Pearl Jam standards, Oceans being written with Vedder while the singer was locked outside in the rain is almost supernatural.

Things are a little strange on the timeline side of this song too. While the Pearl Jam 20 book clearly states Oceans was in the mix as a song early on in October, in Mojo magazine's new cover feature on the band, acclaimed writer David Fricke suggests it was written after Vedder had moved up to Seattle permanently, which the book dates as December 1990. Whatever the specifics, Eddie Vedder's memory of writing it is clear in the Mojo piece.

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Pearl Jam

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The singer says had gone out to put quarters in the parking meter outside the band's rehearsal space and in true Seattle style, it was raining. The rehearsal building door had slammed behind him and he was locked out, but the band carried on playing without him and couldn't hear Vedder pounding on the door and shouting to be let in. They were playing music former Mother Love Bone and Green River bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had brought in to work up.

"The only thing I could hear coming through the window was the bass," Vedder tells Fricke. "I just sat there and wrote."

Ament's distinctive fretless bass melody on the song is a vital vein running through the ethereal track, and Vedder followed its wave because it was all he had to go on in the freezing Seattle rain, giving it a sense of space and a meditative atmosphere after the dark anthem Jeremy in the Ten tracklisting. It also became one of the 1991 debut album's four singles alongside Alive, Even Flow and Jeremy. 

After the music finally stopped and Vedder's banging was at last heard he came in and got to work with the others. "I said, 'Roll that thing again. And that was the song," he recalls with Fricke. 

I felt like I was hanging by a thread, needing some confidence

Eddie Vedder

While the scenario tells of self-confidence and an early faith in each other, it's not quite the full picture. In the same interview, the singer talks about his uncertainty in his first live audition with the band. 

"I remember after I did my best to sing the shit out of a song, Jeff and Stone would talk to Dave Krusen behind the kit about a tempo thing or a mike thing," remembers Vedder. "I'd go, What about me? What about me? 'Yeah just keep doing what you're doing' [they responded]. 

"I felt like I was hanging by a thread, needing some confidence – 'Oh my god, that's incredible'. None of that, " reveals the singer. "I hung in there. And weird magic started to happen."

But Vedder had soon won over Seattle's greatest rock voice. Not only did Chris Cornell invite the then-unknown to feature on Temple Of The Dog's duet Hunger Strike with him, three months before Ten was released, he was completely convinced of Vedder's abilities when he saw Mookie Blaylock's first-ever live show at Seattle's Off Ramp on 22 October 1990.

"It definitely to this day was absolutely the best inaugural show I've ever seen in my life, Hands down, no comparison" Cornell remembered in Pearl Jam 20. "And it has nothing to do with my perception of how great they are as a live band now. 

"I remember exactly what I was thinking then, and it was that they were absurdly great," Cornell added. 

Footage of that first show above confirms Oceans was absent from the eight-song setlist that saw a notably slower version of Even Flow performed than what would become a high-energy live staple, so maybe the book was mistaken about how early Oceans was written. Either way, it's a lightning-in-a-bottle moment from a magical time when Pearl Jam's musicians seemed to be able to summon them at will. 

  • Find out more about the new issue of Mojo here. Pearl Jam's new album Dark Matter is released 19 April 2024.
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.