“My first thoughts were, Well this is pretty funny!”: Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard on the emotions stirred up by revisiting the band's early days with Pearl Jam Twenty

Pearl Jam, 1992
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps, Getty Images)

A series of reissues over the past few years have shown that Pearl Jam have become ever more comfortable at revisiting the past in the older years.

It’s something that began with the two-decade anniversary celebration Pearl Jam Twenty, which saw a film documentary release directed by Almost Famous/Jerry Maguire helmer, and former Rolling Stone writer, Cameron Crowe and an accompanying festival curated by the band themselves. Up until then, there was always a feeling that Pearl Jam were ploughing forward, leaving the past in their rearviewmirror – as Eddie Vedder has said about the dangers of looking back too often, “never turn your back on a wave” – but here they allowed themselves to revel in everything they’d accomplished over 20 years since forming in Seattle in the early 90s.

Ahead of the film’s release in 2011, guitarist and co-founder Stone Gossard told this writer about the experience of having your history laid out in front of you on the big screen, and some of the surprises it threw up.

“My first thoughts were, ‘Well, this is pretty funny!’,” Gossard said. “It’s funnier than I thought it would be. I laughed! Until you watch yourself in a movie that somebody’s edited, it’s a strange sort of thing. On one hand, you’re trying to be objective about this movie, but at the same time, it’s like a home movie. What it all means, I’m not sure. The whole band is really happy that he found a structure to all that footage that hits on some big moments that are important to us and probably are important to our fans, and maybe are important to some people that don’t necessarily love the band but are interested in the movie.”

Gossard added that he had no preconceptions about the film before it was made, reassured by the fact that all the footage was in the hands of Crowe, who cast members of Pearl Jam in his Seattle-set, grunge-heavy romantic comedy Singles.

“I think that this was the only way this could’ve happened, somebody like Cameron saying, ‘Hand over all the footage and let me look through it and see if there’s a movie in there’. I think Cameron’s a pretty amazing storyteller and he’s a huge music fan and somebody we’ve known for a long, long time so it was easy for us to say, ‘Ok, let’s do it’…. He whittled 1200 hours of footage down to just under two hours.”

Gossard insisted the band didn’t want to make a habit of dwelling in the past too much, though.

“None of us are going to be happy unless we’re working on a new record, or feeling that we’ve figured out some new rhythm, or a new approach to lyrics, something that makes us feel like we’re coming out with something that’s exciting to us. The nostalgia thing, I think all of us will say it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t wanna live there.”

On that note, it feels about time for a new Pearl Jam record. The band have only released two new records since Pearl Jam Twenty came out, but in a recent interview with Classic Rock, guitarist Mike McCready suggested they have one prepped for release in 2024.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.