Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard on Writing Great Riffs: 'My Methodology Is Not Knowing What I'm Doing'

"You pick up a guitar and the first thing you do is maybe you throw a capo on it," says the guitarist.

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Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam has been talking to Rolling Stone about his latest solo album "Moonlander," and the process of writing it. The record was whittled down from 50 demos that the guitarist had recorded over the past 12 years. As Gossard notes, part of the challenge was finding riffs that still sounded relevant to him:

"I went back through everything and said, 'Does this still excite me? Does this sound dated?'" he says. "I quickly picked the 10 or 11 that I wanted to kind of focus on."

On the subject of writing great riffs, Gossard notes that they are normally something that you stumble across:

"It's usually about sort of stumbling," he says. "My methodology is not knowing what I'm doing and making that work for me. You pick up a guitar and the first thing you do is maybe you throw a capo on it, but you don't throw it across all of the strings, and you D-tune that string, and then you strum on that for a second, and then maybe you tune up the bottom string and do something with that. You have a thing that you do that's good, but that thing is also your cliché, so you're always trying to push it someplace new that still feels like it comes from what you like." "Moonlander" is out now.

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

    What I love about Pearl Jam is they have such delicate chords, they aren't your average grunge band. They have great riffs like in Even Flow or Yellow Ledbetter, but the thing that stands out is how beautiful some of their songs are!
    That's the first comment I've seen from you that hasn't been downvoted to oblivion...
    U r so damn right! I think it's the first bright comment i read from u, but i totally agree on this one!!
    Well that explains the crazy tuning for "Daughter"
    I love Pearl Jam melodies. They just sound so good. Their going to be around forever, like the Rolling Stones, because they write awesome music. Love em' or hate em' you can't argue their skill.
    To me it feels like he can play a chord wrong and some noise will come out that they say "Let's make that a song!". Pearl Jam has like 30 great songs, and then like 800 fillers.
    Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy were the only albums that I could listen all the way through
    Someone made the point above that they have 30 good songs and 800 fillers. I don't really agree with the numbers but I know what you mean. There's excellence and mediocrity, all wrapped up in a bundle we lovingly refer to as Pearl Jam. I'm guessing it's similar for Stone's riffs. If you play enough then something good is going to drop out. It's about remembering the good stuff, recording it somewhere and being able to come back to it later and work into it some more that is his process. Seems like a pretty good process as long as you get round to continuing to work on the good bits and are happy to sift through a pile of crap bits to get there.
    I'm gonna go ahead and agree with him regarding the title of the article.