This week, Mike McCready unveiled his second signature Stratocaster with Fender, but the Pearl Jam guitarist has a heck of a lot more in the works – and we’re not just talking about the Seattle rock icons’ hotly anticipated new album.
But let’s start there. In an interview with Guitar World yesterday (September 12), McCready was enthusiastic about the band’s new material and the input of Andrew Watt – the super-producer who initially found fame in the pop world with Post Malone, Dua Lipa and Justin Bieber, but more recently established himself as the rock collaborator du jour after working with Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
“It’s just about finished,” McCready says of the new effort. “I think there's a few tweaks here and there that have to happen, and we’re probably not going to have anything out this year. But Andrew Watt brought an energy and a youthfulness and a great ear to us that I think we needed.
“He kind of kicked us in our asses a little bit. Like, ‘Okay, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go go go!’ He's the most hyper guy I've ever met besides myself. But he's a giant fan of our band, and he's a really smoking guitar player in his own right.”
Watt’s enthusiasm galvanized the band’s performances, McCready says, noting that there are “elements of the first three records in the energy that is there, but not things derivative of it”.
“He got us into a room and just pushed us as hard as we could be pushed,” he explains. “You know, it’s hard for a quote-unquote outsider to come into our world because we've done things a certain way. We're open to new things, but we are also in our own world. We've done things for 30 years. So we know the dynamics of our band very well. But sometimes we need to get pushed and questioned, and Andrew did a great job of that.”
In particular, McCready nods towards drummer Matt Cameron’s performances on the record as a highlight, noting that in leans more towards his work with Soundgarden than Pearl Jam.
“Matt Cameron's playing better than I’ve ever heard him in a long time. I mean, of course I've heard him with Soundgarden and of course he's incredible and always has been. But he's playing more like that now – he's kinda loose. Andrew pushed him to play however he wanted to play. How Matt’s playing on this record has made it amazing in my mind.”
But while Cameron used his own drum set, the rest of the band opted to record using Watt’s enviable gear collection – which includes a ’64 Gibson SG, ’65 Telecaster and ’59 Les Paul Junior gifted by Ozzy Osbourne – rather than bring their own rigs to the sessions.
“Andrew had a ’59 Strat that I played while we were in the studio,” McCready reveals. “We used all of his equipment, which is different for us, too. I think Matt used his own drums, but I just went, ‘Hey man, this guy’s got great equipment, and I'm just gonna play on whatever he says.’”
But McCready has one more musical project in the works: a rock opera inspired by his experiences as part of the Seattle music scene.
Last month, the guitarist shared a performance of an acoustic composition called Crying Moon, written as a tribute to his friend and Temple of the Dog bandmate Chris Cornell. The late Soundgarden frontman is part of the inspiration behind the new project.
“I look at him as one of the greatest singers and songwriters of all time, aside from being a friend,” McCready says of Cornell. “I love Chris and I'm working on a little project about the Seattle scene and a musical kind of rock opera thing. It's just from my experience in the Seattle music scene, and he's part of it.”
McCready notes that Crying Moon will appear in the rock opera, but as for what form the musical will take, that remains to be seen – he’s currently weighing up “a record and maybe some sort of stage/play thing”.
“I'm just in the middle of it,” he says. “I’m working on a script and I've got about 18 songs that I'm working on, and I'm singing on it. It's been a long journey.”
For more from the Pearl Jam guitarist, including his thoughts on digital amps and covering Van Halen's Eruption, check out Guitar World's full interview with Mike McCready.