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Vedder: Challenging Single Shows Respect For Fans

Pearl Jam singer says dirgelike 'Nothing As It Seems,' off Binaural, demonstrates they 'weren't trying to fool people.'

Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports:

NEW YORK - Singer Eddie Vedder said Pearl Jam were giving their fans the benefit of the doubt when they chose the dirgelike "Nothing As It Seems" as the first single from their upcoming album, Binaural (May 16).

"It actually felt like we were offering them something fairly challenging," Vedder, 35, said of the midtempo track with lyrics and music by bassist Jeff Ament.

"We obviously respect the audience," Vedder said at the trendy SoHo Mercer Hotel last week. "That's what I think we all feel when we're an audience, whether as a theatergoer or seeing films or reading. I'm insulted when I'm not respected as an audience member."

The five-minute song - which works a brief, Pink Floyd-like psychedelic guitar solo into a spooky, countryish arrangement - features Vedder reciting Ament's abstract lyrics about a search for a sense of simplicity and security.

"It's nothing as it seems," Vedder sings, "the little that he needs/ It's home/ The little that he sees/ Is nothing."

Unorthodox Choice

The decision to choose the challenging track over "Breakerfall" or "God's Dice" - two hard-driving, punk-rock tunes that open the band's seventh album - is in keeping with Pearl Jam's unorthodox career path, guitarist Stone Gossard said.

"When you just go with your gut instincts, at least you're making your own mistakes or ... doing your own thing," Gossard, 33, said.

The pair - dressed casually in well-worn sneakers, jeans and, in Vedder's case, a layer of tops that included a tan T-shirt, a light-blue hooded sweatshirt and a dark blue jacket - sat side by side on a couch in an all-white suite. The band also features guitarist Mike McCready.

Relaxed, forthright and quick with a smile, Vedder and Gossard said "Nothing As It Seems" was not initially the band's first choice to introduce the album, their first studio work with former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron.

"We talked about four other songs, and all of a sudden someone said, 'What about "Nothing As It Seems?"' We all went, 'All right, that'll work; let's do that,' " Gossard said, pausing to tap Vedder on the shoulder to bum an American Spirit cigarette. "We agreed on it, and we all dug in our heels and said, 'That's what you're going to get.'

"That one, we felt like we could [release] and we weren't trying to fool people," Vedder added with a crooked grin.

Strong Debut

The song debuted at rock radio last week with "terrific" numbers, according to Cyndee Maxwell, rock editor for radio-industry trade magazine Radio & Records.

"Pearl Jam is an automatic for rock radio," Maxwell said, citing the group as one of the few career rock acts to emerge from the early-'90s rock scene.

Despite being artistically out of step with hard-rock and pop-chart-topping songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus and 3 Doors Down, "Nothing As It Seems" debuted at #12 on R&R's alternative chart, #6 on the rock chart and #13 on the active-rock chart in the magazine's April 21 issue, Maxwell said.

"They don't seem to want to take advantage of their fans, which is a really good thing," Maxwell said. "I'm glad there's at least one band doing that. I can see them doing things that are anti-commercial, to preserve that fanbase, which makes sense for them; they don't need another #1 [album]. They've insulated themselves from that, which is a privileged position."

The group's iconoclastic approach also drew praise from fellow rocker Scott Weiland, singer of L.A. group Stone Temple Pilots. "They don't compromise sh-- for anyone," said Weiland, whose band also rose to prominence in the early '90s on a sound that was evocative of the Seattle grunge scene that birthed Pearl Jam.

"They sort of remind me of the way Neil Young has lived his life and his musical career," Weiland added, speaking of Pearl Jam's mentor and occasional collaborator. "It's like saying, 'This is what I believe in, and we really don't' give a sh-- about playing your game.' "

Bittersweet Ending

Co-produced by Tchad Blake (Soul Coughing, Los Lobos) and Pearl Jam, Binaural is the follow-up to 1998's Yield, which featured the singles "Given to Fly" (RealAudio excerpt) and the hard-driving "Do the Evolution" In 1998 the group released a live album, Live on Two Legs, which marked their first recording with Cameron, who replaced former drummer Jack Irons.

Both "Nothing As It Seems" and "Thin Air" - a Beatles-esque, folk-rock love song written by Gossard - were debuted last year at the Bridge School Benefit concert, the annual San Francisco Bay Area show organized by Young.

The album also features the blistering punk-rock song "Evacuation" - written by Cameron with lyrics by Vedder - as well as the Middle Eastern-tinged "Of a Girl" and the playful tune "Soon Forget," about a lovable loser, performed solo by Vedder on the ukulele.

The album draws to a close with the dramatic "Parting Ways," a bittersweet, droning love song featuring cellos and violas chronicling the slow death of a love affair. "She knows their future's burning," Vedder sings in his signature teeth-gritted groan, "but she can smile just the same/ And though her mood is fine today/ There's a fear they'll soon be parting ways."

Pearl Jam will kick off a tour May 11, with a free club show at Vancouver, British Columbia's Commodore Ballroom. From there they will launch a European outing May 23 in Lisbon, Portugal. They'll begin a U.S. trek Aug. 2 in Virginia Beach, Va.

( Staff Writer Teri vanHorn contributed to this report.)