meta-scriptPearl Jam’s Stone Gossard On New Album ‘Dark Matter’ & The Galvanizing Force Of Andrew Watt |
Pearl Jam posed ahead of Dark Matter
Pearl Jam

Photo: Danny Clinch


Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard On New Album ‘Dark Matter’ & The Galvanizing Force Of Andrew Watt

"It's not about anything other than movement and rhythm and noise," Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam’s founding guitarist, says of their whiplashing essence. On their latest album, producer Andrew Watt captured that hurricane in a bottle.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 01:42 pm

When Pearl Jam threw their hands together on the cover of their debut album Ten, they laid an architecturally sound foundation — to stay unified, unbroken, always honing. Much like their hero (and collaborator) Neil Young, their aesthetic blueprint was established from the jump: on every album in Ten’s wake, they’ve dug a little (or a lot) deeper into that ineffable essence.

Pearl Jam have never made a bad record; they’ve only swung their pickaxe at that mine and been variably rewarded. On 2000’s Binaural, they hit a seam of simmering psychedelia; on its follow-up, the underrated, desolate Riot Act, they stumbled on a yawning, haunted chasm. 2009’s Backspacer, 2013’s Lightning Bolt and 2020’s Gigaton were all hailed as returns to form, yet none of them totally flipped the script.

Enter Dark Matter, their new album, produced by the young wunderkind Andrew Watt, due out April 19. Singer Eddie Vedder has declared, "No hyperbole, I think this is our best work." This time, that really feels apt: Watt’s abundant, kinetic energy and clear love for their legacy clearly knocked a few cobwebs loose.

Just listen to singles "Running" and "Dark Matter" — or album tracks, like the epic ballad "Wreckage," and how they build to neck-snapping fever pitches. Pearl Jam have always had batteries in their backs, but they haven’t sounded this young and hungry in decades.

"I think he loves the band from what he has seen us live. He knows that we, in certain moments, are unhinged," founding guitarist Stone Gossard tells of the irrepressible Watt, who’s also whipped the Rolling Stones and Ozzy Osbourne back into fighting shape. "That's part of what we do."

"It’s where rock and roll meets just religious ecstasy, where it's not about anything other than movement and rhythm and noise," Gossard adds. "And it turns into something that's not a song, but a ritual or something… sometimes, as you get older as a band, you can lose touch of that."

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Can you talk about Dark Matter’s sound? It feels so different from past Pearl Jam records, in a great way — it seems to emanate from a dark center, to all sides of the soundfield.

The sonics of it is really Andrew Watt. That’s his dream — of loving rock music, and then being in the pop world, then learning and understanding that world so well. And then going back to all of his favorite bands from when he was a kid and making records with them, which is hilarious. 

Because I keep saying this, "We're just in Andrew's dream and we're just kind of a sidebar. This is really the Andrew Watt story that's actually going on right now, and we're all just part of it."

But he really has a very distinctive sonic style. He has a studio that we just walked into the first day making this record, and it's just gear already out, ready to go: "What kind of guitar do you want? Here's an amp, whatever, the drums are here. We’ve got a microphone in the closet."

Usually, if you're in a band — and especially a band for 20 or 30 years — when you decide to do something, then your gear shows up and your guy shows up, and then all your guys argue with each other about where their stuff's going to go, it's a drama. This was no drama. There was no work involved. We just walked in and played.

It sounded like the record right away. He's running things through the chains that he wants. The way he uses compression, and the way he uses reverb, and the guitar sounds he likes, and how he places things — he's a sonic artist.

So it sounds exciting, and really live. And yet, also you can really hear the details, and it's not a mess.

It’s interesting that you bring up Watt’s pop background. Pearl Jam has always seemed at odds with how things are typically done in the music industry, so it’s great that you’re able to retrieve what you need from the machine.

Well, there's the world of pop music in terms of your perception of it, in terms of what it represents.

But also, the structures that we're dealing with in rock songs and pop songs — basically, the form is still the same. You're starting out with one part and maybe there's a variation, but it's tension and release and it's a few chords and it's a beat and it's a piece of poetry.

Those things can fit together in a lot of different ways, but there's things about pop music that are foundational to all music. There's things about it that work, and work for a reason. It gets bastardized and homogenized and all that.

So, we're still writing rock songs and pop songs — but we like to make them a little hairier, generally.

I see how the Dark Matter sessions could be the Watt show. But I’m sure it was a reciprocal conversation. What references were you throwing back at him, from the millions of miles the band’s traveled together?

Well, he’s a fan. He’s a Ten Club member from way, way back. He fell in love with Pearl Jam when he was 15 years old.

He met [guitarist] Mike McCready outside of a Robin Hood fundraiser in New York. He was with his dad, and Andrew and his dad came up and said, "This is my son Andrew; he's a musician; he really wants to become a rock star. He wants to be in bands and make records. And Mike, do you have any advice you can give him?"

And Mike said, "Finish up your college your dad wants you to, and make sure you got your bases covered." And then Andrew, of course, just went in the opposite direction and said, "Oh, I'm just going to conquer the world and then I'm going to come back and produce your band, Mike McCready."

So I love that. I love that he has that history with us. And I just think that he comes from a place, he's a real fan of the band. His enthusiasm really drove the process and his understanding of the things that he loves about us. He really wanted us to make an aggressive record. He really fell in love with our unhinged side from when he was a kid. But just loved the different ways that we had fit together as a kid.

I think he was encouraging us to find those same sort of things that worked in the past. And he's an experimenter. He's ready for anything. You can say no to him. I mean, you’ve got to be forceful. We were a united front a few times and just said, "No, we're going to do this," or whatever. But he made a lot of good decisions, and helped us make a lot of good decisions.

And I think the record, the arrangements, even just them playing now — when we're just starting to rehearse them, the songs are playing well, they're playing themselves. There's no ambiguity to them, where it's mushy. They're strong — lyrically, melodically, rhythmically. All the stool legs are in place.

As I understand it, there were no demos, and Eddie was reacting to the energy in the room, and writing in the moment. This is a great batch of lyrics. They hit you in the solar plexus.

I think one thing that we've learned over the years is that Eddie is more active and more inspired and will finish more songs — and get more excited about songs — when he's in the process of writing with the band.

So, if it's us against the world, and we're stepping into a studio — someone's throwing out a riff or someone's got an idea, and then it gets tweaked and molded — he's going to do his damnedest to make that thing. If he's in on it and feels part of it, he's going to do his damnedest to make that thing have legs and survive.

You're less likely to have something happen if you send him something than you are if you plan something when he's in the room and you're working it out. Just make it about that moment.

It's like, "I don't care about all the different things you thought your song should be or how many different ways it could go, or if it's reggae… let's try it right now with everybody and see how everyone plays it, and feels it —and do I feel it?"

And a lot of times he does, and we find that. And then once he starts going, then all of us are — phew! The energy goes up.

One of my favorite songs on Dark Matter is "Wreckage." That one builds unbelievably.

That’s really Andrew and Ed back and forth, discovering that arrangement, and the push and pull of where that song could go. I think it hit a sweet spot. All of us are part of it, but it’s understated in a way that I think is really beautiful.

It builds in a way that feels natural; it doesn’t feel gratuitous to me. It feels like a destination: you’ve reached it, and you deserve it at that point. There’s a lot going on harmonically, but the chords are very simple.

The other is "Something Special." Partly because I was looking at message boards, where the peanut gallery was complaining about its naked sentimentality. I was thinking, You don’t get it! This is straight from the heart.

Where you are in your life, and why that lyric means something to you — yeah, it’s different for everyone.

That’s a Josh Klinghoffer composition.  He’s become part of our band in a way that’s so amazing — his voice and his musicality. He’s really almost become our musical bandleader at this point, which is the best, because he’s charming and hilarious and fun to be around and always game.

Josh had this great riff. Immediately, Andrew and Ed changed a bunch of chords and moved it all around, but it turned out great. We’ve been playing it in rehearsals. It’s got great chords; it’s beautiful, sentimental and gorgeous.

And we need that on the record. The record’s pretty bleak. It’s not uplifting, necessarily. So, yeah — sometimes, you go home, and you just hang out, and you’ve got to just tell the people you love how much you love them.

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Andrew Watt
Andrew Watt

Photo: Adali Schell


How Andrew Watt Became Rock's Big Producer: His Work With Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, & More

Andrew Watt cut his teeth with pop phenoms, but lately, the 2021 Producer Of The Year winner has been in demand among rockers — from the Rolling Stones and Blink-182 to Elton John.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 01:45 pm

While in a studio, Andrew Watt bounces off the walls. Just ask Mick Jagger, who once had to gently tell the 33-year-old, "Look, I can deal with this, but when you meet Ronnie and Keith, you have to dial it down a little bit."

Or ask Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard. "He really got the best out of [drummer] Matt [Cameron] just by being excited — literally jumping up and down and pumping his fist and running around," he tells

As Watt's hot streak has burned on, reams have rightly been written about his ability to take a legacy act, reconnect them with their essence, and put a battery in their back. His efficacy can be seen at Music's Biggest Night: Ozzy Osbourne's Patient Number 9 won Best Rock Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. At the last ceremony, the Rolling Stones were nominated for Best Rock Song, for Hackney Diamonds' opener "Angry."

On Pearl Jam's return to form, Dark Matter, due out April 19. Who was behind the desk? Take a wild guess.

"You want to see them live more than you want to listen to their albums, and they have the ability to look at each other and play and follow each other. I don't like my rock music any other way, as a listener," Watt tells "All my favorite records are made like that — of people speeding up, slowing down, playing longer than they should."

As such, Watt had a lightbulb moment: to not record any demos, and have them write together in the room. "They're all playing different stuff, and it makes up what Pearl Jam is, and singer Eddie [Vedder] rides it like a wave."

If you're more of a pop listener, there's tons of Watt for you — he's worked with Justin Bieber ("Hit the Ground" from Purpose), Lana Del Rey ("Doin' Time" from Norman F—ing Rockwell) and much more. Read on for a breakdown of big name rockers who have worked with Andrew Watt.

Pearl Jam / Eddie Vedder

Watt didn't just produce Dark Matter; he also helmed Vedder's well-received third solo album, Earthling, from 2022. Watt plays guitar in Vedder's live backing band, known as the Earthlings — which also includes Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced John Frusciante in the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a stint.

The Rolling Stones

Dark Matter was a comeback for Pearl Jam, but Hackney Diamonds was really a comeback for the Stones. While it had a hater or two, the overwhelming consensus was that it was the Stones' best album in decades — maybe even since 1978's Some Girls.

"I hope what makes it fresh and modern comes down to the way it's mixed, with focus on low end and making sure the drums are big," Watt, who wore a different Stones shirt every day in the studio, has said about Hackney Diamonds. "But the record is recorded like a Stones album."

Where there are modern rock flourishes on Hackney Diamonds, "There's no click tracks. There's no gridding. There's no computer editing," he continued. "This s— is performed live and it speeds up and slows down. It's made to the f—ing heartbeat connection of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Steve Jordan.

"And Charlie," Watt added, tipping a hat to Watts, who played on Hackney Diamonds but died before it came out. "When Charlie's on it."

Iggy Pop

Ever since he first picked up a mic and removed his shirt, the snapping junkyard dog of the Stooges has stayed relevant — as far as indie, alternative and punk music has been concerned.

But aside from bright spots like 2016's Josh Homme-produced Post Pop Depression, his late-career output has felt occasionally indulgent and enervated. The 11 songs on 2023's eclectic Watt-produced Every Loser, on the other hand, slap you in the face in 11 different ways.

"We would jam and make tracks and send them to Iggy, and he would like 'em and write to them or wouldn't like them and we'd do something else," Watt told Billboard. "It was very low pressure. We just kept making music until we felt like we had an album." (And as with Pearl Jam and Vedder's Earthlings band, Watt has rocked out onstage with Pop.

Ozzy Osbourne

You dropped your crown, O Prince of Darkness. When he hooked up with Watt, the original Black Sabbath frontman hadn't released any solo music since 2010's Scream; in 2017, Sabbath finally said goodbye after 49 years and 10 (!) singers.

On 2020's Ordinary Man and 2022's Patient Number 9, Watt reenergized Ozzy; even when he sounds his age, Ozz sounds resolute, defiant, spitting in the face of the Reaper. (A bittersweet aside: the late Taylor Hawkins appears on Patient Number 9, which was written and recorded in just four days.)

Maroon 5

Yeah, yeah, they're more of a pop-rock band, but they have guitars, bass and drums. (And if you're the type of rock fan who's neutral or hostile to the 5, you shouldn't be; Songs About Jane slaps.)

At any rate, Watt co-produced "Can't Leave You Alone," featuring Juice WRLD, from 2021's Jordi. Critics disparaged the album, but showed Watt's facility straddling the pop and rock worlds.

5 Seconds of Summer

When it comes to Andrew Watt, the Sydney pop-rockers — slightly more on the rock end than Maroon 5 and their ilk — are repeat customers. He produced a number of tracks for 5 Seconds of Summer, which spanned 2018's Youngblood, 2020's Calm and 2022's 5SOS5.

Regarding the former: Watt has cited Youngblood as one of the defining recording experiences of his life.

"I had started working with 5 Seconds of Summer, and a lot of people looked at them as a boy band, but they're not," Watt told Guitar Player. "They're all incredible musicians. They can all play every instrument. They love rock music. They can harmonize like skyrockets in flight. They just were making the wrong kind of music."

So Watt showed 5 Seconds of Summer a number of mainstays of the rock era, like Tears for Fears and the Police. The rest, as they say, is history.

Elton John

A year after Britney Spears was unshackled from her highly controversial conservatorship, it was time for a victory lap with the God of Glitter. What resulted was a curious little bauble, which became a megahit: "Hold Me Closer," a spin on "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" that briefly launched Spears back into the stratosphere.

"Britney came in and she knew what she wanted to do," Watt recalled to The L.A. Times. "We sped up the song a little bit and she sang the verses in her falsetto, which harkens back to 'Toxic.' She was having a blast."

Watt has also worked with pop/punk heroes Blink-182 — but not after Tom DeLonge made his grand return. He produced "I Really Wish I Hated You" from 2019's Nine, back when Matt Skiba was in the band.

Where in the rock world will this tender-aged superproducer strike next? Watt knows.

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Andrew Watt looks at the camera with guitar in hand

Andrew Watt

Photo: Kevin Scanlon


Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Andrew Watt Says No To Alcohol But Yes To Snakes In The Studio

In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, GRAMMY-winning musician/producer Andrew Watt explains why he treats himself like an athlete when he's in the studio or on the stage

GRAMMYs/Sep 29, 2021 - 07:27 pm

When imagining a studio session with a highly successful musician like Andrew Watt, also known as WATT, chances are you picture the "anything goes" energy of Project X. But according to the GRAMMY-winning producer, his studio time is more Survivor-meets-Dr. Dolittle.

"You kind of have to look at yourself like an athlete," WATT says of his music mindset. "Don't eat heavy things because you're using your brain all day."

Watch below to see what other studio advice WATT offers up in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

Whether it's his strict no-alcohol stance or his pet-friendly attitude, the superproducer seems to have found the key to success in the studio: He's worked with megastars like Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, and in 2021, he won the GRAMMY for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards.

Scroll below for more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas and find out what some of the top artists in music can't live without while on the road.

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Artwork for Positive Vibes Only episode with Matthew West

Matthew West


Positive Vibes Only: Watch Matthew West Perform A Simmering Version Of "Truth Be Told"

In the latest episode of Positive Vibes Only, Matthew West demonstrates the impressive depth of his voice while performing "Truth Be Told," which he co-wrote with Andrew Watt and Andrew Jacob Pruis

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2021 - 10:00 pm

One note can be so much more than one note. When singer/songwriter Matthew West produces one sumptuous tone over a hypnotic cycle of chords, the listener's ear bends toward the bottomless depths of his vocal timbre. It doesn't hurt that the songwriting is excellent, too.

In the latest episode of Positive Vibes Only, West performs his captivating composition, "Truth Be Told," which he co-wrote with Andrew Watt and Andrew Jacob Pruis.

"There's a sign on the door, says, 'Come as you are,' but I doubt it," West croons over a sparse backing of acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and women singers. "''Cause if we lived like it was true, every Sunday morning pew would be crowded."

A commanding voice, evocative words, and music that draws you in—that's the singer/songwriter tradition at its best.

Watch Matthew West's performance of "Truth Be Told" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Positive Vibes Only.

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Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson

Photo: Jeremy Danger


Nancy Wilson On Her New Album, 'You & Me,' Missing The "Angels" Of Rock & The Future Of Heart

Nancy Wilson's upcoming album 'You & Me' is partly a reflection on her personal relationships—both with the living and those who have passed. Its single "The Inbetween," premiering exclusively via, is all about the liminal spaces of existence

GRAMMYs/Apr 28, 2021 - 06:20 pm

Nancy Wilson was thumbing through some notes when she found a poem written by her son, Curtis. Perceptive and probing, it seemed to sum up our politically malignant era—and what was spiritually absent at the core of it.

"[He] wrote this poem for a class assignment," the Heart co-founder tells over the phone from her Sonoma County home. "I thought it was really clever. The words were so clever and so whimsical. He was like, 'Black and white, wrong and right.'" Feeling the words reflected tribalism and partisanship, Wilson flipped those dualities into a song, "The Inbetween." But instead of being portentous or doomy, the track is radiant and rocking.

"Putting it in a context of something more fun—a funny take on it all—takes it away from being so heavy and dark," Wilson adds. "It kind of sheds new light on a situation. It's a contrast from the heavy times we've had to live through and puts it in a different tonality."

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"The Inbetween," which exclusively premieres above via, is the latest single from Wilson's upcoming album, You & Me, which drops May 7 via Carry On Music. Really, Wilson is preoccupied with in-betweens throughout the album—the spaces between life and death, dreams and memories, good relationships and poisonous ones. It's also her first solo album ever, despite making music with her sister, Ann Wilson, in Heart for nearly a half-century.

The sisters have had an up-and-down relationship over the last few years, and the pandemic gave Wilson space to define herself both within and without "the vortex that’s Heart." And while the door is open for the band to go out again in 2022, Wilson is cherishing the time to reflect and recalibrate—and You & Me is the heartfelt product of this period of self-examination. gave Nancy Wilson a ring to discuss You & Me track by track, why it took her five decades to make a solo album and the future of Heart.

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This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Over the decades, what was the biggest obstacle to putting out a solo album, whether internal or external?

Well, I think I would call it the vortex that's Heart. There's a vortex of the work ethic of Heart for the last almost 50 years, just to be honest. I hate to even date it. But it's been a mind-bending job to do every year for the touring of it and the album after album—mainly, the touring of it all. You know, everywhere with electricity, we've played there.

It's an interesting dichotomy with the pandemic stopping the hurtling, you know. Heart's been hurtling through space for nearly 50 years. It's an interesting contrast to that to have to be shut in and be at home and stop the momentum and reconvene with your personal soul and self, in order to be able to know what to do musically and creatively with that time I had in my hands like everybody has had.

It's really a blessing, you know? It's been a blessing outside of the larger curse of it all to be able to reconvene with your communication with your own self.

Who were you thinking of when you came up with the album title—and first track—You & Me?

That's dedicated to my mom, who left us quite a while ago now. She's still in my skin, in my DNA. So it's kind of a gravity-free zone where I can talk to her in that song. I think the word "gravity," in and of itself, kind of keeps the song from walking that too-precious kind of a line. [laughs]

I think the personal, confessional kind of thing about this album—it's almost too sweet. It walks a line that's almost too sweet, but I think in another way, you could say that it's more of a revolutionary act to be that open and that honest. Walking the line of sweetness can be more of a rock attitude than hiding out behind your feelings. I'm sort of burying a lot of my feelings in this album.

And, you know, tongue-in-cheek stuff too, but the honesty of it is kind of a rebellious act on a certain level.

It seems like you're preoccupied with that line where sweetness could tip over into treacle. You're consciously trying to stay on the right side of that.

Yeah, exactly. It's almost, like, not supposed to happen. You're not supposed to do that. It's against the rules to be that honest, to bare your soul like that. I guess if that's an issue, then I don't know what is. [chuckles]

Tell me about your relationship with your mom.

She was a steel magnolia. I got a lot of her strength along the way. A military family, right? Marine corps, all those travels we had growing up were a strengthening kind of thing. We became really tight-knit as a family because we were always moving. Early touring experience, actually! [laughs]

She was the mom and my dad because our dad was off fighting wars. It's a total tribute to that strength of her character and her nurturing, strong, amazing … She was an amazing woman. When I sometimes dream of her, I feel like I got to see her again and I get to talk to her again. It's a zero-gravity space, and that's what the song is all about.

Can you describe the last dream where she showed up?

Yeah, sure. She took a lot of Super 8 home movies, and that's incorporated into the video [for "You & Me"] quite a bit. I took a lot of them too. She taught how to edit film and stuff, with the little editing machine. We used to make films in our family.

So, I used a lot of that footage in the actual video for the song and she appears in the video for the song. When I dreamt of her last, it was just her wonderful face. Her spirit. I felt like I had a conversation with her and the words were not even clear. It was just being together and the aspect of her spirit being there.

My collaborator, Sue Ennis, who's worked with us for years and years for Heart songs, had a song for her mom called "Follow Me." And I'd written a song for my mom called "You and Me and Gravity." I loved this music that Sue had. We both kind of have a mom thing. We've talked about our parents and we grew up together, so we had all those connective tissue things in our hearts about our moms.

So, we kind of collaborated on the ultimate mom song to try to reach into the ether and touch base with that. We morphed two songs into one. It's a hybrid mom song [laughs].

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Tell me about "The Rising."

Well, luckily enough, a few years ago, we got to go to New York, when we used to be able to go anywhere, and we got to see "Springsteen on Broadway" live.

When I saw that show, it completely blew my mind. It changed my world around because I've always loved Springsteen and his amazing writing. Growing up with Springsteen on the radio, for instance, he'd be sort of behind this big wall of sound with this rock and roll accent where you could hardly understand the lyrics. 

Then, seeing him live, completely by himself, stripped-down, those songs and those lyrics—it completely altered my perception of Bruce Springsteen. He's an insanely great writer. Those words are so depth-y. Later, after having seen that, I watched it a million times on the show you can watch on television. Then he did Western Stars, his other album that got me through the whole last Heart tour. It was life-saving stuff for me.

So then, when I started to do this album, I was like, "I should do this because of the pandemic. I should do 'The Rising' because it was written initially for 9/11." Now, we're having 9/11 every day, so that's why I thought it would be aspirational and helpful for people to have an inspired message like that to help them through this insane ordeal we're living through.

Do you know Bruce? Did you say hi to him after the show?

I didn't say hi that night, but I do know him. His people told our people that he really liked my version of 'The Rising'! That made my day—my whole year, actually—to know that he thought it was cool.

Tell me about "I'll Find You."

Sue had actually started that song with Ben Smith, the drummer. My Seattle folks. They had this song that is, like, a "friend who's going to be there for you" kind of song. The support system that you've always dreamed of having. That's what the song talks about.

I've always been that person where I'm there for my people, you know? I show up. It's a really simple way of saying that you're going to be there for somebody that needs you. And that's a big deal! I mean, that's a huge thing to be able to do for anyone.

Can you describe a recent situation in which you were able to be that for somebody?

[laughs] Well, if you live long enough, that happens frequently. If you are that person for your other people, it's not an easy role to play to show up for somebody that needs help. A lot of people don't have that skill, you know? A lot of people are not equipped with the emotional wherewithal to be there for anybody else but themselves. So, that's what that song is all about.

How about "Daughter"?

"Daughter" is a Pearl Jam song. I had actually recorded it earlier before I got into doing the album. I'd done that in Austin with an amazing producer, David Rice, for a film, actually, which was made in South Africa. It's a true story about human trafficking in South Africa.

This guy, Simon Swart, who made the film—it's about to come out, actually—he wanted to see if there was a song I could do for the film. And so I decided that "Daughter" would be a really cool idea, because there's a lyric in the song that says, "She holds the hand that holds her down." That was really telling about what it is to be a girl. The movie's called I Am All Girls and it's about to come out.

Anyway, that's the backstory on that thing. And for [Simon & Garfunkel's] "The Boxer," that's something I've been singing with Heart for the last tour. I've been singing that song all my life, basically. It's a really amazing song. Somebody told me that the chorus part—the "Lie-la-lie"—was initially a placeholder, but he kept it in the song like that because the verses are so wordy. It sort of opens up and he kept it that way from the initial demo of it.

I got Sammy Hagar to sing with me on that because he's a buddy. He's a rock god. He's funny as hell and he's a really good guy. I said, "Why don't you do something with me on my album here? I want to bring in some people that I love!" He said, "Yeah, OK! What have you got?" So, I said I've got this big rock song called "Get Ready to Rock," which is not on the album, actually. It's elsewhere now.

Anyway, long story short, he said, "Nah, that's too predictable. I don't want to be so predictable, to be the Red Rocker on a song about rock." So I said, "What about 'The Boxer'?" He said, "I love that song! I used to be a boxer!" So having him on that song was really special for me, because he brings such an attitude with him. There's only one of him in the world. That's him.

And then the Cranberries cover ["Dreams"]—me and Jeff, my hubby, were just driving around in Sonoma County. We heard it on the radio and he said, "You've got to get Liv Warfield to sing this with you!" She was my singer in my other band right before this, Roadcase Royale. I said, "OK! Let's just do that! I think that can be done easily enough!" And so we did that, and it turned out really fun and cool. Easy.

Photo: Jeremy Danger

How about "Party at the Angel Ballroom"?

I kind of heard myself saying something one night. I was like, "Wow, we've lost another angel of rock and roll." One of the angels that passed away recently, like Chris CornellTom Petty, and now, Eddie Van Halen. It's kind of like, "Well, they're going to be having some big party up there at the angel ballroom." And it's like, "Hey, that's a good idea for a song!"

So I got Taylor Hawkins, who's another amazing friend, and Duff McKagan. I went and sang some stuff for Taylor for his last album, called Get the Money. Really good album. I said, "Well, I'm going to make a solo album now, so do you have any cool jams laying around, dude?" He's like [affects masculine voice] "Yeah, rad, man! I've got some cool jams kicking around, dude!"

He sent me this jam that they had. It was a completely long-winded jam that needed a lot of structuring. I structured it very differently from the original. And I had these words, so I put it together and it just became a fun sort of lark of a song. It's kind of a dark topic, but [you can] make it kind of a funny moment.

Sort of like the song "The Inbetween." That started with a poem that one of my boys wrote. I have two twin boys that are both 21 now. One boy, Curtis, wrote this poem for a class assignment—a poetry-writing assignment, I guess. I thought it was really clever. The words were so clever and so whimsical. He was like, "Black and white, wrong and right." 

Now, after this horrendous political era we just tried to live through with all the bully-pulpit stuff we've had to deal with, I was scrolling through my notes and I found that again. I thought, "This is really relevant for our times that we're living through politically." But putting it in the context of something more fun—a funny take on it all—takes it away from being so heavy and dark.

It kind of sheds new light on a situation. It's a contrast from the heavy times we've had to live through and puts it in a different tonality.

Sounds like Curtis is pretty wise and perceptive. What do you learn from your boys?

You learn everything from your kids. Everything. Being a parent is not an easy thing to do. It's one of the bigger challenges you could ever face. Because when you love somebody that much and you're trying to help them survive through their own childhood. Because you care. Because you love somebody even more than your own life, your own self.

It's bigger than you are and you're responsible for it. The best thing you could ever possibly try to do is keep them alive long enough to figure it out for themselves.

How about "Walk Away"?

That's a story about a toxic relationship that you have to get out of. You have to face the truth of how you've enabled yourself to be hurt and you've enabled the relationship to go bad. It's kind of self-examination of "OK, I have to be brave enough to get this out of my life and take responsibility for what my part in it was." 

It's kind of complex, but it's definitely a truth that we've all had to face at some point in our own relationship lives. There are some unhealthy things sometimes that leave behind.

Were you thinking of any particular relationship or was it a composite of relationships throughout your life?

[Laughs] Well, I'm not going to admit exactly what that's all about. There's been more than one! So, it's a conglomerate of various situations I've found myself in that I had to get out of and get over.

Photo: Jeremy Danger

How about "The Dragon"?

"The Dragon" is something I wrote back in the '90s. After the '80s, we went home to Seattle. That was a time when all the Seattle bands were exploding. I thought, "Oh, no! They're going to hate us because we're '80s dinosaurs!" But they were really sweet on us and we got pretty close with those guys.

At the time, our friends from Alice in Chains … Layne Staley was still walking around and talking. But he was definitely on a course that everyone could see. It was going to go badly. He was going to self-destruct. We all saw that coming. He was a sweet soul, you know? It was hard to see that inevitable demise. He was letting himself go down that dark ladder.

So, that's when I wrote that song. He was still alive, but everyone could see that. That's what that song was about. It's sort of a cautionary tale, but it's also a very heavy message because I don't think he had a chance against that dragon. It was just a sad story in advance of the sadder story.

That's been around for a long time. It never was destined to be a Heart song, although we tried to do that song a few times, in a few ways. It was on the Roadcase Royale album, which is called First Things First. That was a nice version of it. Somebody from the record company—my main guy, Tom Lipsky, from Carry On Music—said, "You've gotta do 'The Dragon' on your album!"

So, it was back by popular demand. I think this is the best version of that song yet. So far.

That's cool you knew Layne. I personally declare Dirt to be the most powerful album ever written about addiction.

Oh, for sure. Right? I love that band. I was so close with Jerry [Cantrell], Mike [Starr] and Sean [Kinney]—and William [DuVall], now. Mike Inez was actually in Heart for a while after Layne disappeared. He was our bass player for five years, I think. Michael Inez is one of the funniest humans on the planet, for Christ's sake. A seriously funny person. Maybe the funniest person I've ever met in my life.

How about "We Meet Again"?

That's kind of a take-off on Paul Simon. I cut my teeth on Paul Simon's stuff when I was nine, 10, 11 and 12. Early on in my playing life, as an acoustic guitar player. I'm actually glad I didn't get sued by Paul Simon because that basic guitar part in the song was a cue in Jerry Maguire, which was based on a Paul Simon-type fingerstyle part.

I kind of took that and ran with it and put lyrics to it, because I already had written it. I had already put that part together for the movie. If there's anyone to plagiarize besides Paul Simon, I suppose I could plagiarize myself [laughs]. That's the first thing I wrote for this album and I was just trying to touch base with my earlier self—my college-girl self with the poetry that I used to explore before I was in Heart.

Is Paul Simon the greatest living songwriter?

He's definitely in the top three, in my estimation. There's Joni Mitchell, there's Paul Simon, and of course, you have to include Bob Dylan in there. Maybe the Beatles. Those are the four pillars of greatness, I think, in music.

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What about the last tune, "4 Edward"?

I wanted a tribute to Eddie [Van Halen]. When he passed away, I was really sad, of course. I was very moved to try to pay tribute to him in some way. 

When we used to be in the same place together in the '80s—we did some shows with those guys—he told me he thought I was a really great guitar player on the acoustic. I was like, "How can you say that? You're the best guitar player on the planet! Why don't you play more acoustic yourself?" He said, "Well, I don't really have an acoustic guitar." Then, I promptly gave him one: "OK, you have one now."

The next morning, at the crack of dawn, he called my hotel room and played me this amazing instrumental on the acoustic I gave him. It was just one of the most beautiful things I'd ever heard. Just an exciting, inspirational moment, although he'd probably been up all night partying. So I thought I would return the favor and make him a piece of instrumental music on the acoustic guitar.

That's what I did. I put a little piece of the song "Jump" in there. I tried to approximate what I vaguely remembered from what he played me that morning.

I know things have been kind of hot and cold with your main project over the last few years. How would you describe your personal and creative relationship with Ann today?

Well, that's a loaded question. I think we're fine. We both kind of welcomed the break from each other and from Heart in a certain way. 

I think there's a certain blessing inside the larger curse of the whole shutdown we've been living through. Personally, I feel like it's been a relief and a chance to reorganize who I am, thinking of who I am inside the larger picture of Heart and who I am outside of Heart altogether. 

There's a lesson in this shutdown for me, and part of it is to remember who I am without defining myself as somebody in Heart. Which is a beautiful reckoning, I think. 

There's an offer for Heart to go out in 2022. I think that would be awesome to do that. I would want to do that. But having been outside of the world of it and the pressure of it and the framework of it for this long now has been very freeing. I feel I've gained a lot of momentum as a person because of it.

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