Stone Gossard Interview – Resurrecting ‘The Living: 1982’ & more
Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard – Story by Anne Erickson, courtesy photo
Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard joins Anne Erickson to discuss early Seattle post-punk band The Living, the grunge scene and more in this in-depth interview
Seattle’s first dose of true post-punk came in the form of an earnest, passionate young band called The Living. With fast, catchy riffs and fiery rhythms, The Living carved out a niche in the early Seattle scene, only to disperse before really having a chance to get their music to a wider audience.
The Living brought together a 17-year-old Duff McKagan on guitar, John Conte on vocals, Greg Gilmore on drums and Todd Fleischman on bass. McKagan would famously go on to play bass in Guns N’ Roses, while Gilmore ended up performing drums in another one of Seattle’s early darlings, Mother Love Bone.
Now, The Living’s debut album is getting a proper release for the first time as “The Living: 1982.” The album, out April 16, is being released by Loosegroove Records, the label spearheaded by Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam and Regan Hagar of Brad.
Gossard spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about why he was moved to release The Living’s debut, what it was like to be part of the early Seattle scene, his thoughts on McKagan’s impact on Seattle punk and what’s next for Pearl Jam. Read the full Gossard interview below, listen via the YouTube player and hear it via the Audio Ink Radio show on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.
Anne Erickson: You and Regan Hagar at Loosegroove Records are releasing the debut record from The Living decades after it was recorded. Why did you feel it was important to get this music out there?
Stone Gossard: My history is in Seattle, and I witnessed and was inspired by the scene that The Living helped create. I never saw The Living play live. I saw 10 Minute Warning, which was sort of the next iteration of Duff McKagan’s musical journey, and Greg Gilmore’s. Those guys were legends in the punk rock scene and the sort of post-punk in the sense that it wasn’t just punk rock. You could tell, there were things about it that were taking elements from psychedelia and hard rock- mixing all sorts of different things that were starting to go on, particularly in 10 Minute Warning. So, I wasn’t aware of The Living other than I knew the name of the band, and Duff was in it, so I assumed it was cool, but I never really got to hear the music.
Greg played me some music, I want to say about two years ago or maybe a little bit less than that. I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how great it was and how developed, and John as a singer and the songs. I was like, this is incredible. How did this not come out in 1982? This is better than 10 Minute Warning. These songs, and this record would have been enormous in Seattle and in terms of what people might’ve gotten excited about had it seen the light of day.
But, things were happening fast and furious back then. So, bands were forming and breaking up, and the fact that this music got to be recorded from a one-day session and that it survived but it never came out and that it sounds as good as it does. And then finding out that Duff is the arranger and wrote the lyrics. I always thought Duff was- he was always one of my heroes in terms of Seattle punk rock and early, kind of, okay, there’s a guy that’s going out and doing it. (He’s) creating music, putting himself on the line out there, going out there and playing shows and believing in the process and a vision for what he wanted to do, artistically, and how he wanted to do it.
And, then to kind of hear this music and go, “Wow.” I mean, he was so ahead of his time. I felt an obligation. I mean, mostly an excitement of like, “Holy crap! This is incredible. I’ve got to put this out, because people are gonna flip out.” But, also, just a sense of obligation to kind of say, hey, Duff, McKagan- the story of Duff and kind of his input and impact in Seattle. It’s not really that well known, or I don’t read about it a lot. A lot of people kind of think, well, he was in Seattle, but then went to Guns N’ Roses. But, his imprint in this record shows, I think- the riffs on that Living record, you can kind of hear elements of 10 Minute Warning. You can hear elements of things that I picked up and went, “Oh, my God. I want to hear riffs like this. I want to hear this sort of perfect balance between minor and major and heavy and pop and rock and ballad and all of those things sort of combining.” It just shows you how good he was even back then and sort of how kind of unsung he is in regards to when people talk about Seattle. Because, I think he was the inspiration for a lot of folks getting up on stage and figuring out how to write songs.
I do feel like a lot of people might actually be surprised that Duff McKagan was such a big part of that Seattle scene, because when you think of Guns N’ Roses, you kind of think of hard rock and metal. People see that as the antithesis of Seattle music and what came of grunge.
You know, I don’t quite hear it as- to me, when Guns N’ Roses came out, they were refreshing in the sense that, and not necessarily every song, but you could- I could hear elements of Seattle in there, and they were way tougher than what was going on at the time in Los Angeles. I mean, you know, “It’s So Easy,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Welcome to the Jungle.” All those tracks are phenomenal. I mean, they’re just, you know, incredible. But, I love hard rock. So, that wasn’t a leap for me. But, I do think that there’s- I think Duff was the punk element in that band. I think he is the element that is making that toughness come through, as well…
So, I just think it’s a surprising and exciting story to tell, and the music speaks for itself. I mean, again, you can put it on and kind of go, “This is f***ing cool.” I mean, you don’t have to really think about it. And, the songs. The arrangements of the songs and hearing Greg Gilmore. I played with Greg in Mother Love Bone for three years, and some of the best drumming I’ve heard him do is on some of this Living stuff where he’s just unleashed and just so muscular. It’s just so fun to be involved in helping kind of unearth this stuff and get it out to see the light of day and be able to talk about it, because I was late in Seattle. I wasn’t punk. You know what I mean? I went and saw a lot of punk shows and really was enjoying it, but I was always kind of looking for my own way into something like that. But, Duff’s years ahead of me in regards to sort of his connection to Seattle and his influence. This is important, for me, just to kind of tell that story.
You and Regan Hagar head up Loosegroove Records, which puts out a variety of releases. Do you think it’s more difficult for artists to get noticed today and for musicians to get their music out there because the market is so saturated, or do you think it’s easier, because anyone can put music out?
I have no idea. (Laughs) I honestly, in the grand scheme of objective views about what is hard and difficult, it’s like, back before in Seattle… nobody thought you could get a record out. You know what I mean? There’s always periods of times where you’re thinking nothing’s going to work or it’s hard. It’s always been hard. That journey to kind of get noticed or to sort of succeed or to find the right combination of people or styles or influences that kind of create something that makes people excited. It’s alchemy. It’s magic. So, I’m a believer in this just sort of like, trust your local surroundings, that the people that you know and already are surrounded with are the very people that you can kind of connect with, and it’s a little bit of “The Wizard of Ozz,” where, “You look really familiar,” because it’s just the same people that you were with! (Laughs) The Scarecrow is really just the guy that was working on the farm. So, I buy into that everything you need is kind of usually close by. It’s the kind of power of collaboration and the power of sort of finding common ground with other people that you connect with and working it out. So, we haven’t broken an artist yet. Well, we did. We kind of helped break Queens the Stone Age, so that was a big, having that first Queens of the Stone Age record.
But, this is not for us. It’s really mostly about the excitement of working together on things. It’s like, The Living, I’m not expecting The Living is going to sell a bunch of records. They’re going to sell some vinyl, and it’s going to be great, and people are going to love it. But, it’s a passion project. It’s something that I wake up, and I think, I’m gonna call Regan, and we’re going to talk about what we’re going to do next. And, then we’re going to call Billie Jean (at The Orchard) and see if she says it’s okay! (Laughs)
Have you thought about putting out some Mother Love Bone material on Loosegroove that maybe hasn’t been released yet or B-sides?
I don’t know that there’s any Mother Love Bone B-sides that haven’t sort of been released at this point. I think that the Mother Love Bone box set that the came out on Polygram probably had most of the rarities that were sort of around. But, I think looking forward and looking back are two things that I like to do. And, as an old guy, I’ve got a lot of connections and a lot of friends that have projects that I have some history with. So, I think I’m sort of doing archival stuff and doing stuff that like The Living where it’s like, “Oh my God.” If there was another kind of opportunity for records that were like The Living in terms of, wow, this is something really important. Loosegroove will put out some Brad music. We have some Brad music that will ultimately come out and some Sean Smith music, as well. So, that will be sort of archival to a certain extent. That’ll be part of our style, for sure.
Seeing that bands like The Living and Mother Love Bone were at the genesis of the whole Seattle scene and, I don’t want to say smaller, but just kind of budding, did it surprise you that your next band, Pearl Jam, became such a mainstream, hugely popular band?
Yeah! (Laughs) I mean, all of it’s a surprise. I mean, you get out of high school, and you start dreaming about being in bands, and all you want to do is be able to tour or sell some records, and it’s just so much fun, and you’re like, this is making stuff up. It’s like, there’s nothing more exciting than thinking that you’ve got everything that you need in your life just by owning a guitar or drum set and having some friends, and that just by messing around on your instruments and coming up with riffs and words and artwork and scheming and dreaming about ways to present it, that you can create a life. You can create a job. You can create some income for yourself, but it’s also something that gets you out of bed every day that makes you excited about life.
So, having that kind of happen for Pearl Jam, and it started in Mother Love Bone. The band Green River sort of immediately got it going, and people were coming to see us. Out of the gate, things were sort of- I was being rewarded pretty quickly for just, again, messing around. So, in the end that it sort of ended up being what it’s become and sort of where it’s gone and that I get to talk about putting The Living record out on my own label at some point- it’s all a big shock. And, it’s fun. It’s a fun shock.
I was actually talking with Greg about the bands back then, like Soundgarden and Nirvana, and he said that he was surprised that those bands made it so big, but he wasn’t surprised about Pearl Jam, because he was at your first show and felt there was something special.
Hmmm, that’s interesting. It took me a minute to- I mean, we were listening to Soundgarden, and Nirvana to me was just like, that was- once I started hearing their records and kind of going, “Oh my God,” because of the nature and the simplicity of Nirvana and the directness of it and the sort of dynamics. The band’s dynamics and their sort of rootedness in really blues. I mean, (their music is) just so rooted in blues. Just, to me, they seemed like, “Oh my God. This is a slam dunk.” To me, Pearl Jam was more complex. It wasn’t figured out yet. It wasn’t one thing. It was kind of a bunch of things put together. So, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
What’s next for you the rest of the year? Do you have any other projects or releases coming out on Loosegroove?
There are a couple of releases coming out. There will be another Painted Shield record, which we’ve been working on furiously over our Dropboxes. I’m really excited about that. So, that’ll come out before the end of the year. An artist named Brittany Davis, who actually is the keyboard player in Painted Shield, is going to release her own solo record, as well. I’m really excited about her. Regan and I hope to finalize a Brad record or at least some Brad tracks that haven’t been released yet, too.
What’s next with Pearl Jam? Right after you released your latest album, “Gigaton,” is right when things started to shut down last year.
Yeah. Pearl Jam will definitely be back. I think we’ll probably be on the road. I mean, my hope is that by- we’ll start playing some shows in the fall or early winter. I don’t know what they’re going to be or when they’re going to be, but that’s my hope. And after that, we’ve got a lot of makeup shows to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
So, Pearl Jam is still going to tour on your last album and not just jump into a new one?
We’re always kind of recording and doing stuff. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if we did some more recording, but there’s no plans as of now. And, I have no idea what we’re going to do, but I’ll be ready to go when I get the call.