"We referenced The Cure a lot while making it": Stone Gossard reveals Pearl Jam's shared inspiration, and why he feels more heard as a guitarist on new album, Dark Matter

Guitarist and songwriter Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam performs live on stage at Moody Center on September 18, 2023 in Austi
(Image credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

If parts of Pearl Jam's new album Dark Matter feel familiar, but not just in terms of the band's own back catalogue, there's a good reason for that. While the gloriously old-school Waiting For Stevie seems to nod to The Cult's Billy Duffy as well as Soundgarden, the euphoric guitar hooks in songs including the Jeff Ament-driven Won't Tell and Eddie Vedder-penned Wreckage reflect another inspiration – one Stone Gossard will happily cop to. 

"We referenced The Cure a lot while making it," the guitarist admits in a new interview with Kyle Meredith below. "Because of them and their style; they teach you the power of the simplest little melody that has a unique lyrical quality. If it feels like it has a voice, if it feels like it has a lyric almost. And certain melodies, the way they lay over the riff, they sing, and finding those things is like magic.

Everyone will play it differently but that sums up the discovery that while playing music, you can do it falling down.

Recognising and capturing these kinds of moments and working them into songs is where Gossard's talent as a self-confessed "arranger" comes to the fore. But he thinks it's a kind of magic we can all access with an instrument. 

"You don't have to be a 'musician' to find those things. And that's the magic that we discover. You could be the greatest guitar player in the world but a ten-year-old could learn to play that in an hour, in terms of just the physical [ability] – there's this note, this note and then this note. And everyone will play it differently but that sums up the discovery that while playing music, you can do it falling down.

Another song where Robert Smith's band surfaces in spirit is the majestic Wreckage, a song that builds to become a modern classic Pearl Jam recording. 

The track began with writer and vocalist Eddie Vedder working it up with producer Andrew Watt but became more nuanced when the rest of the band contributed. "It came pretty late, I think it was the second session at [Rick Rubin's studio) Shangri-La," reflects Gossard. 

"That song keeps revealing itself to me, it was a slow burn in terms of my understanding of that song," admits the Pearl Jam founder. "It's turned into one of my favourites now, and it's also one where [I had} some little trinkly kind of parts on it that Andrew said, 'That's like a Cure thing.' I was playing a little picking pattern that bells in. You almost can't even hear it, but it's just kind of bubbling in there. He really fell in love with that. It was a definite Cure reference. I just love that everyone one bringing a box of their favourite artists to the studio, it just makes for this mix that has references but it doesn't feel like it's too close."

Gossard's guitar 'trinkets' and rhythmic style are a foundation of Pearl Jam's musical identity – he was the lead songwriter when they formed. And following on from bandmate Mike McCready explaining to MusicRadar how he played more solos on this album than he has on a Pearl Jam record in years, Gossard tells Meredith in the video interview above that he also feels more heard in the mix this time. 

I felt more appreciated and more heard by Andrew for the subtle things I do

"I felt more appreciated and more heard by Andrew for the subtle things I do, not just, 'Ok here's a riff and I hope you like it', but 'I keep hearing a note here and here and I'm not sure what notes they should be but I keep wanting to this or this, or maybe it's a wah thing, [Andrew is] someone who helped me navigate that and I think he did that with everyone [and was] able to make everyone sound great.

"Mike's playing more leads than ever before – out-there, aggressive, very off-the-cuff… none of that stuff was worked over. All of it was done very quickly, in two or three takes, but Andrew is a master of how to take those two or three takes and really bring out the essence. It's an imperfect process, and Andrew's imperfect, but he did a great job of pushing us along a path that we hadn't been pushed [down] in a while so it sounds fresh."

Gossard has already indicated he'd like Pearl Jam to work with Watt again, but he's also aired his ambition to play more improvised lead parts going forward. 

"As a player, I felt that the parts that I cared about were forward as [if] they were solos," he says of Dark Matter. "If I can hear me and this sort of melody that I created with this one note that might be in the key but might not be in the key and you get used to it, and it turns out there's something about that… those are the kind of things I get excited about.

"Mike is an excellent songwriter and soloist, and I can play a solo and it would be good for me to sort of expand my range into that, and be more comfortable improvising in the same way Mike is. So maybe that's the next record."

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.