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Andrew Watt Waited His Entire Life to Produce Pearl Jam’s New Album ‘Dark Matter’

Andrew Watt and Pearl Jam entered the world at practically the same exact moment. The 33-year-old producer was born Oct. 20, 1990, the same week that Eddie Vedder traveled to Seattle from San Diego to meet his future bandmates for the first time. “They’ve said to me they were probably writing ‘Release’ while my mom was giving birth to me,” Watt says. “And then they played their first concert two days after that at the Off Ramp cafe. I don’t want to get too biblical about it, but it’s very, very strange.”

Watt was too busy learning to crawl and eat solid food to appreciate their initial burst of success in the early Nineties, but he became a die-hard, obsessive fan as a teenager in the 2000s. “They are my favorite band of all time,” he says. “I’ve been to more of their concerts than anyone should know about, at least 40 of them. I have every t-shirt. And my favorite show I’ve seen in my entire life is Pearl Jam at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on Halloween 2009.”

When he started producing pop acts like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and 5 Seconds of Summer about a decade back, landing a Pearl Jam record felt like an impossible dream. But he moved into the rock world in 2020 when Ozzy Osbourne hired him to produce Ordinary Man. He followed it up with Every Loser by Iggy Pop, and Hackney Diamonds by a little English group called the Rolling Stones. Along the way, he produced Eddie Vedder’s solo LP Earthing, and toured with him as a guitarist in his solo band alongside Chad Smith, Glen Hansard, and Josh Klinghoffer.

This allowed him to not only live out his teenage dreams of playing “Better Man” and “Porch” with Vedder, but it put him into position to produce Pearl Jam’s new album, Dark Matter. During a Saturday night break from the secret recording session for another artist, who might be Lady Gaga if Ozzy Osbourne is to be believed, Watt hopped on the phone with Rolling Stone to discuss his intense Pearl Jam fandom, and the creation of Dark Matter.

What’s your first memory of being aware of Pearl Jam?
I think it was the “Jeremy” music video. I was an MTV kid and I’d watch it with my brother Jason, who is five years older than I am. He had all the cool music, and a bigger allowance than me, which he always spent on CDs. He would show me a lot of music, and one of the bands was Pearl Jam and their album Ten. He got me hooked. I would take the CD on my Discman, plug in headphones, and it would take me. My first enraged, depression, happy, and energized emotions were from listening to that album.

Did you know other kids who were into bands like Pearl Jam?
No. When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of kids that wanted to be in rock bands around me. So I just kind of learned to play a lot of different instruments, and would record myself. I learned to play the bass, the guitar, and as much of the drums as I could by listening to Pearl Jam. And each one of those band members were so influential to me. I really understand what I love as a fan about their playing. And so when it was time to work with them in a creative way, I just wanted them to be them. I didn’t want to change them.

When did you first see Pearl Jam in concert?
I think that was Madison Square Garden in 2003. And I just kept going over and over again after that.

Each show is so incredibly unique and different. There aren’t many major groups besides jam bands like Phish that approach concerts in that way.
Dude, Eddie Vedder is showing up to the venue at 2:00 P.M. on the day of a show, sometimes earlier, and going through every single song they’ve ever played at the same hall or in the same city. Nobody works harder on a set list to make sure that his fans feel as though they’re getting something special. No one works harder than him, and the band is ready for anything. They’ll play songs they haven’t played in ten years or even listened to in ten years. They get in the jam room, and they suss it out. They’re fearless, man. They get on that fuckin’ stage and they deliver.

How did you first meet them?
Many years back, I was playing guitar for a pop act. At that point in my life, I was smoking a bunch of weed — I don’t smoke anymore. I would also buy new guitars in every city I hit. I had just bought this old, big body electric guitar. I smoked a joint, got off the bus, didn’t know where I was, and realized I was at the Shoreline Amphitheatre [in Mountain View, California]. For a Pearl Jam fan, that’s a big deal since that’s the home of the Bridge School benefit.

I was really excited to be there, and I found this lady who worked there at the desk. I started asking her Eddie Vedder questions. She told me he was really nice. I asked her when the Bridge School was coming, and it was actually on my birthday, October 20. She didn’t know the lineup, but I figured Eddie Vedder would be there, since they always come.

I was very high, and I wrote a long letter for her to give him. I also left that guitar for the lady to give him even though I didn’t even know her. I was just hoping that Eddie Vedder would read it. At the bottom I wrote, “By the way, it’s my birthday today. Here’s my number.”

That was sometime in June, July, or August. Months later, I came home to a missed call from Seattle, Washington. I was like, “Whoa, this is not…he’s not actually calling me.” But I listen to the voicemail and it was Eddie. I tried to call him back, but he didn’t pick up. He did leave a very cool voicemail.

I texted him. He sent back a long message to me since I told him I was thinking of leaving the pop act I was playing with because I wasn’t satisfied being in a pop band, playing with a click, and doing the same thing every night. He wrote back to tell me how lucky I was to be playing live music for a crowd every night. He said I should revel in that. That was part of the reason I stayed, and then we wound up touring with Justin Bieber. My career began as a producer after that. His words really guided me, as they had for a long time before that.

How did you actually meet him in person?
We kept in touch text-wise after that. And then I started to work as a music producer, and we started having mutual friends. We’d see each other. And then Michele Anthony, who is [EVP] at Universal, and the band’s manger Smitty [Mark Smith], thought it would be cool for Ed and I to make some music together. We met when he was doing a benefit show. The first time we jammed together, we wrote a song.

From there, it just has been the most beautiful friendship and creative relationship of my life. It means more than I could ever put into words. It’s the exact example of dreams coming true. You’ve got to understand, I stood in line at Madison Square Garden with a sign that read, “Let me play the guitar solo to ‘Alive.’” And then I did get to play the guitar solo.

How did you go from Ed’s solo album and tour to producing Dark Matter?
Well, Ed is a selfless human and he’s constantly thinking about other people, and people that he loves. And when we started making music together, even though it was for his record, he kept saying, “Man, I can’t wait for the guys to experience this.”

So literally in the middle of his album, he was like, “Guys, you’ve got to come down here. I’m having the time of my life. I’m so inspired. We’ve got to make some music with Andrew.” And so right in the middle of Earthing, the band came down and we started what would become Dark Matter. A few of the songs were made in my basement studio. Everyone was face to face right there. Four or five of the songs were made in those first eight or nine days.

I presume that just led naturally to you producing the whole record.
Yeah. I just think everyone had a good time. Listen, music is result-based, right? You could talk about, “This is what I want you to do as our producer.” But until you start throwing things at the canvas and then checking it out, listening to what’s coming out of the speakers, there’s nothing to say. Everyone had a good time, and was enjoying what we were making. And for me, it was just like heaven.

What were your goals for them going into this record?
That whole era of music is in my DNA. I’m a huge Soundgarden fan. I’m a huge Temple of the Dog fan. If you listen to Dave Krusen, he did a fantastic job on Ten. That’s the record everyone loves. But if you listen to the demos, the first thing that Eddie Vedder heard when he was surfing those waves, was Matt Cameron playing along with Stone, Jeff, and Mike. And if you listen to Temple of the Dog, that’s Pearl Jam with Matt Cameron drumming. So Matt Cameron is a fuckin’ drum god. Everyone just bows down to his ability and what he can do.

And on some of the later Pearl Jam records, Matt being the amazing musician, producer, drummer, and multi-instrumentalist that he is, was playing parts to fit the songs. I wanted him to fuckin’ let loose. My goal, and I think this was a shared goal for everyone, was for there to be Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog level drumming on a Pearl Jam album. We wanted Matt’s personality to shine through.

On those early Pearl Jam records like Ten and Vs., you have these insane drums. Matt was really into that. And I would be right up in front of him and the drums, jumping up and down, doing anything I could to get him to play more, and play over the bar, and do all the stuff that makes him so awesome, and what no one else can do. No one else could sit down and play those drum parts. I’m so lucky to have the stems of the album. I’ve listened to it all the way through listening to just the drum track. That’s how much I love Matt Cameron.

Did they come into the studio with fleshed-out demos?
They did, but one of the fun things that ended up happening was we started doing this thing where it was like, “Okay, who’s got a beat?” That’s because every single one of these guys in this band could be the main event of their own bands, including Matt. They all sing. They all play every instrument. They are virtuosos, all of them.

So the idea was instead of being like, “Okay, guys, here’s my fully fleshed demo with drums and bass, and here’s the groove and here’s the vocal idea,” the idea was “Okay, who’s got a riff, a start, or a chord sequence or two? Let’s not listen to the demo. Let’s sit all together in front of each other and play the idea, show everyone else the chords, start writing.”

When that happens, I know Stone is going to play chords that are completely unconventional, and don’t make sense in the best way. And Jeff’s going to figure out how to make it harmonically possible for Ed to sing against. Mike is going to rip and take us into “Reach Down” territory. Matt is going to be able to set the groove and ride, make the band go wherever he wants to go. I want to have them start there, and give each member the ability to do that. And it was literally how we got every single one of these songs.

The first time any song was presented to anyone, Ed would be on mic. He would come up with things right away. The guys would morph what they were doing around it. It was truly collaborative from every single member. You take one of those guys out of any of sessions, you’re not getting the album Dark Matter.

The album does really sound like a meld of all their talents.
How many bands that are still around are as good as Pearl Jam right now? They’re the greatest live band in the world. You go to a Pearl Jam concert, you’re going to see one of the greatest live shows you can get. They’re a band. They should play together.

You and Josh Klinghoffer are credited on every song. Can you talk about the role that you two played in the process?
It’s the exact process that I just explained. It’s everybody sitting together, coming up with things, moving, shaping. It was very free. There was no ego. It was just having fun, having a great time.

Where did you record?
We did a few weeks at my house at first, but then it got flooded out with the bad L.A. rain. When we were ready to pick it up again, I couldn’t get the studio back. There was mold and everything. So I called my mentor Rick Rubin up. Any time I’m in a pinch and don’t know what to do, he comes over and talks me through it.

I was like, “Dude, I don’t know what to do. I have Pearl Jam coming up. This is the only time they can record. Can I please work at Shangri-La?” And the mensch that Rick is, he moved stuff around and let us have the studio for a month. We couldn’t have made the album without him as well because he moved what he had going on there, selflessly, so we could finish our record that he had nothing to do with. It was a beautiful thing.

When was this?
This was about a year ago exactly. One year ago today, I was in a Pearl Jam shirt and making this album with them.

Did you wear a different Pearl Jam shirt every day of recording like you did with the Stones?
I did. I have a really huge collection of the vintage t-shirts. And it was so funny because some of them were bootlegs. They were like, “We didn’t make this one!” But I think some of the bootleg ones are even cooler.

Let’s go through the songs, starting with “Scared of Fear.”
That’s the first song we made. It was the first time that Pearl Jam sat down face to face in front of each other with me.

I love what Jeff does on bass on “React, Respond.”
So sick, right? It’s funny you say that. That was one of the songs that Jeff started. It was his riff. We went off from there.

“Wreckage” is more stripped-down. I love that line, “Rivers overflowing/drowning all of our yesterdays.”
That’s a really special song. If you’re a Pearl Jam fan, and you love Eddie Vedder, it’s everything you could hope for when you sit down to listen to Eddie singing at you. He’s absolutely singing his heart out, and giving you lines that feel like you’ve had them with you your whole life.

The song “Dark Matter” is going to just kill onstage.
Well, this whole album is made with the intention of seeing Pearl Jam live. You know how you listen to a Pearl Jam album and you’re like, “I can’t wait to see this live?” And then it’s even better live. A song like “Alive” is better live, right?

Every time.
One of my goals was like, “Let’s make this sound like a Pearl Jam show, but in the studio.” Some of that shit is wrong, man. Those songs go longer than they should, but it does not matter. You don’t edit Mike McCready. You fuckin’ let him play. His eyes are closed. When he opens his eyes, we end the song.

We were between takes when “Dark Matter” started. Matt just started playing that beat. And Stone was like, “No one move. Are you recording Matt Cameron?” We’re like, “Yeah, recording.” And he played that beat. Stone was like, “Jeff, you take that home. I’m taking it home. Let’s both write different songs to it and come in tomorrow.” So they both wrote different riffs. Matt played the beat again, and then we kind of morphed it together. That became “Dark Matter.”

Tell me how “Won’t Tell” came together.
Jeff had that piece. It was a song that came to him in a dream. You should really talk to him about it because it’s an amazing, amazing story.

“Upper Hand” is incredible. It really creates a mood since there’s no vocals for the first two minutes.
We went deep on that one. I love that song. There’s that amazing Stone riff. It took off from there. Matt’s drumming on that song was just out of control. The band is firing on all cylinders on every one of these songs on the album. What I’m most proud of on this album is you can close your eyes at any point and focus on any members of Pearl Jam, and they’re up front and center.

The title “Waiting for Stevie” really jumped out at people. I don’t know what it’s about, but it feels like it’s someone waiting for Fleetwood Mac to take the stage at a show.
That’s a really great story about that, which I really, really feel like Ed’s got to tell you. But it definitely is about waiting for Stevie. We just started messing around, doing what two guys with guitars do, and that song was born. That was one of the songs we recorded at the old studio house.

“Running” is a very old-school Pearl Jam songs since it’s so fast and furious.
Yeah. Punk rock Pearl Jam.

It has a “Lukin” vibe.
Oh yeah. The wheels are falling off the bus by the end.

“Something Special” has a very different feel to it. It’s soothing.
That’s an amazingly beautiful song. Pearl Jam always does a thing where they get your adrenaline going up to the fuckin’ moon, like after listening to “Running.” Then they give you a completely different flavor. I love where this one goes. It’s a beautiful love song.

“Setting Sun” is a nice and mellow way to wrap up the whole album.
Yeah. That’s cool. It almost has Temple [of the Dog] vibes to me. It’s in that world, obviously many years later. It sonically sounds current, but that progression to me feel like that world.

This is the first record they made since Josh Klinghoffer unofficially/officially became pat of the band. How did he help shape the songs?
Talk about virtuosos. Josh can literally do anything. He can be the guitar player of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He could play keys in Pearl Jam. And when Matt Cameron got Covid, he played drums for Pearl Jam for a full fuckin’ set. The guy is unbelievable.

And again, Pearl Jam was his favorite band growing up, like me. We were always just geeking out together. He’s got an incredible breadth of knowledge about the band. And he’s just like the sauce. He can add all these beautiful layers. Whatever a song needs, he comes in, finds it, and fills out space in a beautiful way. It’s almost like having Brian Eno in your band.

You clearly don’t want any of your acts to over-think their records. Some bands spend two years making a single record. That’s never been how you work.
Pearl Jam has never done that. This shit is a band playing together. That seems like a strange concept today. It’s not Pro-Tool’d to death. It moves and it speeds up and slows down. That’s the DNA of these human beings together. Their hearts beat together. That’s this album.

Did you do this around the time you did the Stones record?
Literally two days after I finished the Stones album, this started.

What a surreal couple of months.
It was crazy. It was amazing. And Eddie Vedder being the fuckin’ amazing human being that he is, one day one brought in this enormous framed thing. It was his personal poster from when the Pearl Jam opened up for the Stones. That’s so I could never forget doing those albums back to back. He’s such a great person, such a great friend.

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I saw you play guitar with Iggy Pop last year in L.A. Your life is becoming like a sort of rock & roll fantasy camp.|
I know. It’s hard to even think about. I try never to reflect because it’s like, “Oh my God!” I’m just constantly trying to move forward, but it’s like going to college. I’ve learned so much from all these different people and how they do what they do. You are constantly sharpening the tools. I get to be a sponge. I got to talk to Iggy about Bowie, and the Stooges in Detroit. That’s stuff that you don’t get to do.

How can you top doing the Stones and Pearl Jam back to back? Would you want to work with Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young?
I don’t know. To quote our guy, I “follow the wave where it takes me.” I’m in the middle of a project right now. I just finished another album before that. I’m looking forward to the summer. I’m just kind of seeing what comes.

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