"I'm Ready To Get Playing Again!" Pearl Jam's Mike McCready Interviewed

"I'm Ready To Get Playing Again!" Pearl Jam's Mike McCready Interviewed

The guitarist on his Fender link up, and 30 years of debut album 'Ten'...

Mike McCready has earned his place among the giants of rock ‘n’ roll guitar. Championed for his sonic output in grunge outfit Pearl Jam, he has left a legacy of his searing leads which are steeped in the spiritual elixir of blues and classic rock, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Keith Richards. His peerless work on hits, including ‘Yellow Ledbetter’, ‘Even Flow’, ‘Nothing As It Seems’ and countless others, have helped pave the way for Pearl Jam’s 2017 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In what has probably been one of the quainter periods of the musical legend’s life, we talked to him about the 30th anniversary of Pearl Jam’s debut album, his long-standing affinity with British rock and his exciting first-time collaboration with Fender.

“I don’t remember what it was like to play live,” McCready concedes, “It’s hard to remember playing with my guys, the whole thing seems very alien to me, I think we’ll probably go through a relearning process. I feel like we are all in such a different world, but I’m ready to get playing again.”

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Whilst Pearl Jam and McCready have a discography of timeless tracks, re-imagining how impactful the tracks would have been outside of a live context is frightening. Mike and the band have long been hailed on their iconic live performances, whether it be at Lollapalooza or their early touring days in the U.K. It’s clear when talking to the lead guitarist that the circumstances over the past year have helped him reflect, to take stock on just how amazing a career he’s had. Upon discussion, it becomes clear that one of his fondest memories was the bands early touring days in the U.K, making the finishing touches to Pearl Jam’s debut album ‘Ten’.

“We got the opportunity to work with Tim Palmer and he was in Rich Farm Studios in Surrey. It was a remarkable experience where I got the chance to visit the country where, for me, many of the best bands had come from all the heroes like Pink Floyd, The Jam, The Clash, The Who… it’s endless. I can’t tell you how important music from England is to me, so the memories of going over there are indelible”.

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The unforgettable debut was one of grunge’s earliest assets, one that coupled masterful instrumentals with poignant lyrics, bringing the deep dark underbelly of society to life. The album has now reached its 30th anniversary, something McCready can hardly believe. “’Ten’ being 30 years old blows my mind. It actually didn’t take a long time to record it. I’d quit my job as a prep cook a year before, so things really did move fast”.

‘Ten’ is a body of work, that like the majority of Pearl Jam’s discography, translates so seamlessly into the live context that it is hard to imagine it was geared towards anything else. Rather interestingly, this isn’t entirely the case, Mike notes: “For me, I’m always thinking about what’s best for the song in that moment. With that said, before there was the internet we’d learn about songs on the road, some worked live and others didn’t”.

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‘Ten’ is still heralded as one of the band’s most iconic albums, a truly original offering that acted as a key player in the emergence of grunge music. Amid a distinct sense of pride, McCready is quick to note the influences on the album. “I was massively influenced by the interplay between guitar players, the Stones mastered that with Mick Taylor and Keith Richards”.

The album’s ability to still shine through thirty years on has without doubt left Mike and the band feeling incredibly satisfied with the body of work, but for Mike some tracks were more rewarding to work on than others. “All the songs have taken a life of their own, the songs are bigger than our band. But I remember working on the solo for ‘Alive’ for so long and trying to be as Hendrix-esque as possible. The others pushed me really hard for that one”.

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Much of the interview projects Mike’s ability to look back but not stare, to absorb the wonderful moments of the past and to channel them into the future. The best example of the guitarist’s ability to do so comes in the form of his collaboration with Fender.

In this first-time collaboration between Fender and McCready, the two have worked together to re-create this incredible instrument in exact detail, and in doing so a long-held secret about the guitar’s lineage was forced to be revealed to its owner: the Strat was actually constructed in 1960, not 1959 as had long been believed. For this limited 60-piece Masterbuilt run, the Custom Shop’s Vincent Van Trigt carefully disassembled the guitar in order to note and measure every detail, curve and scratch - and there are plenty of scratches, thanks to McCready’s exuberant style!

“About a year ago we got a call from Michael Schultz. He asked if I was interested in doing a model of the Mike McCready 1960. We had an initial meeting and was really easy to talk to. I got to visit the Fender facility; they have such a great team of people that work on their instruments I felt honoured to be asked, the prototype plays exactly like my own one, I’ve actually on a couple of occasions mistaken the two. That’s how well it’s been made.”

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Inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan, McCready set out early on to acquire his own ’59 Strat, and, serendipitously, with his first ever vintage guitar purchase, he found “the one” that has been his primary Fender instrument ever since. Now some 28 years later, McCready’s iconic Strat can be heard featured on tracks ‘Superblood Wolfmoon’ and ‘Dance Of The Clairvoyants’ from Pearl Jam’s most recent studio LP, ‘Gigaton’. It’s always heart-warming to see a partnership where passion is the driving force, Mike’s genuine love of Fender is what makes this collaboration so unique.

As well as his recent work with Fender, and the 30th anniversary of ‘Ten’, they’ll no doubt be more news to follow for Mike and Pearl Jam. But sometimes it’s nice to enjoy what’s come before and learn how to extrapolate it, transferring it as energy for future endeavours. McCready’s ability to look back and not stare feels revelatory.

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Mike McCready 1960 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster is on sale now.

Words: Josh Crowe

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