Pearl Jam reaps a harmonic 'Yield' 

Anti-stars, corporate adversaries, Gen-X poster boys, grunge mascots,
chart champions, brooding gurus, rebel idealists. 

How did the title "rock band" get buried under this avalanche of
sobriquets attached to Pearl Jam? 

Since forming in 1990, the Seattle group
has grown from a flannel-clad fraternity
of garage musicians to arguably the
planet's biggest rock sensation, with
global sales of 30 million albums. 

"We've all worked very hard to be able
to play and record music," says singer
Eddie Vedder, 31. "That's what we
accept as our job description, our only
job description." 

Yet Pearl Jam's music often relinquished
the limelight to matters our celebrity
culture deemed more fascinating: the
band's internal tensions and private lives,
its discomfort with fame's trappings, its
refusal to embrace the industry's
promotional machinery, its protracted
war against Ticketmaster. 

With fifth album Yield and an upcoming
U.S. tour, Pearl Jam intends to bring
focus back to the creative strengths that
have carried the band through rough

Tensions flared during the making of
1994's Vitalogy, and the group
considered disbanding in 1995 amid the
collapse of an ambitious tour undertaken without sworn foe

"Nobody was communicating well at that point," says bassist Jeff
Ament, 34. "It's amazing how incredibly hard it is to speak your mind
around four people you really care about. You know someone will
potentially disagree, and you don't want to get shot down. But we're
older, and we've learned to understand the chaos and break down the
barriers and work through the rocky times." 

Pearl Jam's chemistry now? "We're all carbon-based life forms,"
Vedder cracks, adding gravely, "Communication is key. We keep our
emotions from festering or going stale." 

The acclaimed Yield, Pearl Jam's smoothest collaboration to date,
symphonizes the talents of Vedder, Ament, drummer Jack Irons and
guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard. It also marks the first
time Vedder sings lyrics written by his bandmates. 

"It was nerve-racking but one of the greatest experiences of my musical
life," Ament says about writing tracks Low Light and Pilate. "It was
exciting to finish a song on my own and play it for my peers and
In the end, we felt like we made the best possible record we could. I
don't know if that was the feeling everyone had on the last couple
records. The whole process was much calmer this time." 

Exhausted after finishing 1996's No Code, Vedder welcomed relief

"I'm happy this album represents everyone's feelings and not just one
well-intentioned but misguided little f - - -," he says with a laugh. 

The shared labor challenges the notion of Pearl Jam as a dictatorship
run by the charismatic but controlling Vedder. 

Ament insists Pearl Jam is essentially democratic, "though we listen to
Ed a little bit more and trust his vision for the band. I can't say I
intimidated by him. I respect him as a singer, a songwriter and a
I prefer to deal with him on those levels rather than the idol stuff. I
relate to that anymore." 

Confronting public expectations and misconceptions "is a negative
waste of energy," says Vedder, who counters idolatry with excessive
humility. "I'm just not that important. I'm just a little human being,
one of

Rumors of his tyranny are false, the singer says, conceding, "Sure, I'm
control freak . . . my name is going on this stuff. It's our name on the
tickets, so I feel responsible for how security deals with people and
how much the T-shirts cost. Am I a control freak or someone who
cares? Which sounds more negative and therefore sells more papers?" 

Vedder also bristles at reports dwelling on the band's declining record
sales. Pearl Jam's 1991 debut, Ten, has sold 9 million copies. Vs. set a
record in 1993 after selling 950,378 copies its first seven days,
followed by Vitalogy's opening-week sales of 877,001 in 1994. 

Yield enters Billboard this week at No. 2 (behind the Titanic
soundtrack) with sales of about 359,000 copies, 8,000 fewer than the
launch of No Code, dismissed as an industry disappointment despite
eventually selling 1.3 million copies. 

"I have a hard time seeing that as a failure," Ament says. Ironically,
some fans blasted the band earlier for explosive commercial success
that threatened its mythical underground credibility. 

"It's impossible to have underground credibility," Ament argues. "We're
making records on a large scale, backed by Sony, a huge company.
That's the position we chose to put ourselves in. If that's not your
then you can sit home and sing songs to your family." 

The band also anticipates criticism for ending its feud with
Ticketmaster. The battle erupted in 1994, when Pearl Jam filed a memo
to the Justice Department claiming that the giant ticket agency
controlled a monopoly and levied excessive surcharges. The complaint
prompted an investigation that stalled 14 months later due to lack of
evidence. Now the band is reluctantly enlisting the agency to handle
tickets for half the dates on a summer tour starting June 20. 

"I don't feel like we have a choice," Vedder says. "Ticketmaster has a
lock on venues in places like Philadelphia and Los Angeles. It's going
be strange to see a Ticketmaster stamp on our tickets, but this isn't
'We're Here to Make a Point' tour. It's about playing music and sharing
a nice night." 

"It's not about mending fences," Ament adds. "There's a little sting
by the way Ticketmaster treated us. But we're not going to skip cities
like Chicago because of a ticketing company, even if people jump on
our backs and say we didn't stick to our guns. Our views have not
changed. After this tour, I hope we don't have to talk about it again." 

Despite this compromise, Yield doesn't signal a band yielding to the
of the record business. Pearl Jam is mulling a home video release but
has no plans to service MTV with promotional clips and continues to
decline photo sessions and most interviews. 

"We won't do anything that's uncomfortable," Vedder says. "We're not
going to be the coolest rock stars in the world. We're trying to be good

Ament hopes Pearl Jam follows Neil Young's trajectory with a long
career of adventurous records. 

"Whenever I've had too many expectations, I've been disappointed," he
says. "I'm optimistic, but you're looking at five personalities with a
going on in their lives. Any one of us could change the dynamics of the
band. Unless everyone wants to make a record and tour, it doesn't
happen. Working on our personal lives always takes priority." 

Vedder sheepishly admits, "Sometimes surfing takes priority over my

It's no accident that the first leg of a world tour takes Pearl Jam to
spots in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. 

"I'm probably never happier than when I'm by myself in the water,"
Vedder says. "What I've worked and sacrificed for is not to be on
stage playing music but to surf in some secluded place. It's a grounding
element. Waves don't care who you are." 

By Edna Gunderson, USA TODAY