PEARL JAM: JEFF AMENT photos by Adam Lund and Jeff Ament.



Jeff Ament was one of the underground leaders of the grunge movement and DIY music-producing scene. He was an innovator of an entirely new style of music. Jeff’s a technician who has infused his talent with that of Pearl Jam and many other great musicians and taken his knowledge of music to the top of the music industry. The guy is so soulful. He keeps to his roots. He skates and surfs. He gives back to society. Jeff is very down to Earth and has a great heart. It was a pleasure talking with him about his skateboarding, his surfing and his music.


Hey, Jeff.
How are you doing?

You ready to go?
Yeah. Let’s do it.

When were you born and where did you grow up?
I grew up in north central Montana, in a little town called Big Sandy. I was born in ’63.

When did you first start skateboarding?
The first time I stepped on a skateboard was in ’71. My uncle Pat had a Black Knight that I rolled around on in front of my grandma’s place. I didn’t actually get to skate again until I went to California when I was 12. My cousin Gary was a skater. I skated his board, which was a green Grentec Coyote. He gave me a ‘Skateboarder’ magazine and that was the beginning of it for me. A magazine about skateboarding was pretty impressive to a 12-year-old kid in Montana. It connected me to the rest of the world.

What was in that magazine?
There was a pipe shot on the front. It might have been Waldo Autry or Tom Inouye. At that point, skateboarding, for me, was just pushing down the sidewalk. When I opened the magazine and saw guys riding pipes, pools and skateparks, it was pretty mind-blowing.

Did that make you want to imitate what you were seeing?
Absolutely, but we were so far from any place that had any natural transition. Then that fall, I subscribed to ‘Skateboarder’. The third issue that I got, they started showing some backyard ramps. I think this must have been before half pipes. It was when ramps were still just angled straight slant ramps. My dad helped me build one of those and that lasted a summer. The next summer, we built a 10-foot tall quarter pipe. The next summer, it was a true half pipe. For me, everything came from the magazines. I remember there was a Rampage article. Rampage were the first half pipe ramps that were being built. I remember Tom Inouye was in a lot of those ramp pictures. It told you in the magazine how to build a ramp, so my dad and I looked at the pictures and he helped me build it. My dad really supported me. He wasn’t into basketball and football that I did growing up in a small town, but he was really psyched about the fact that I was building something. My dad’s a farmer, so using my hands was something that he approved of.

That’s cool. Where were you building these ramps?
We were building them in Montana, in the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure I built one of the first half pipes in Montana. I know there was one in Great Falls. The next summer, in 1978, they had the first skate contest at the State Fair. I went to that contest and skated everything. I did the slalom, freestyle and half pipe contest. That’s where I met pretty much everyone that I grew up skating with. I met guys from Havre, Bozeman and Great Falls. Once those guys found out that I had a half pipe, they would come up and skate two or three times a summer. I would go down to skate Helena or up to Havre. We had our own little scene.

What type of skating do you like? Are you into pool skating or street skating?
I like any type of transition. The only time that I’ve gotten hurt riding the last few years was on a mini ramp. I like to ride bowls and anything with corners and hips. There’s so much great stuff out there now to ride. When I was a kid, other than just riding a skateboard for transportation, I quit riding transition for about 10 years because there was nothing to skate. When I moved to Seattle, there were half pipes everywhere, but eventually those got torn down. Then, about five years ago, my friend Steve Turner, who is in Mudhoney, and my friend Chris Maneras, who I grew up with in Havre, Montana and lives in Seattle now, took me to Oregon and we skated Lincoln City. That was a mind blower. They were building these amazing parks. That got me completely hooked again. There was all of this amazing concrete in Oregon. In the past three years, Grindline has built some of the best parks on the planet around Seattle, so there’s plenty to skate.

In Montana, are they building any new parks?
Yeah, Grindline built a park last summer in Great Falls. It’s huge. It’s 25,000 square feet. It’s got a 100-foot long bowl that’s 10-feet deep in the deep end with an over vert pocket. Dreamland built a park in Kalispell, which is north of Missoula. The Dreamland guys just built a bowl in Anaconda. Now they’re starting a big park in Whitefish. Grindline is building a park here in Missoula next spring. We have two-thirds of the money raised so far. Everything is pushing out from the West Coast. It started with the parks in California, Oregon and Washington. Now there are parks in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. There have been great parks in Colorado for a while now. There are a couple of parks in Utah now, too. Arizona has always had good stuff. It’s amazing. There are more places to skate than ever. You can go anywhere and find something fun to ride.

Grindline built your bowl, too. How long have you had that?
Yeah. It was finished three years ago. It was one of the last things that the Dreamland and Grindline guys built together. It’s amazing. I kept going over to West Seattle and talking to Jay, Shaggy and Rabbi. I kept saying, ‘When are you going to come out and build something?’ Finally, they said, ‘We have two weeks off. We can come out and get it all rebarred, set up and ready to pour. Then we can get everyone together and get a big finish crew out there.’ Within a month of talking to them about it, my bowl was done. It was crazy. It went from talking about it to having a sick bowl in my backyard.

That’s crazy. It’s been said, that when you go out on tour, and you have time, you go to the skateparks and skate. Is that true?
Yeah, the last three big tours in 1998, 2000 and 2003, I hit as much stuff as I could. The last tour, we went to Australia, then we did a pretty big tour of the States and then we went to Mexico. I skated about 30 skateparks on that tour. We had a day off in Columbus, OH, so a buddy of mine flew out and we drove to Louisville. We got to hit some cool stuff. Even though we weren’t playing Louisville, I made the effort to get down there, because I’d heard so much about how amazing that pipe was. I think I have a pretty good feel for what’s out there through Buddy Nichols and Rick Charnoski. They came out last year and filmed our tour and took me to some cool stuff. The deeper you get into the subculture, the more you find out that there’s actually more stuff to skate than you know. There’s a lot more private stuff and skate spots that the general public doesn’t know about. It’s pretty cool. It’s such an amazing subculture. It’s a great way for me to get away from the 35 people in the tour family that I’m hanging out with the whole time. I’d just wake up at ten in the morning, hop in a taxi and head over to the skatepark, or I’d rent a car on a day off and drive to Louisville. I got to skate some amazing stuff. I hooked up with Buddy in NYC, Pineapple in San Diego and Skaterbuilt Dave at Laguna Niguel. There’s even more stuff to skate now, so I can’t wait to get back out there again.

I hear that you’re making a documentary with Buddy and Charno.
Well, what we did last fall was part of the ‘Vote for Change’ tour. I just love the way that those guys interview skaters and people that are around on the trips that they take. It’s the message of skateboarding being a way to get out and see the world. It’s such a cool thing. My favorite thing to do every year is when me and about ten other Montana skaters (Adam, Simon, Helena Pete, Brendan, Brown, Jag, Keith and all of the Missoula rippers – Colby, Keenan, Herb, Fireman, Matt, Bacon, Ross and Kyle) head out to Oregon for a week and just skate as much as we can. You run into so many amazing characters and people from all over the world that are doing the same thing that you’re doing. It’s one of the coolest subcultures out there. Even as popular as it’s gotten, it’s still small. The people that really like to go skate a lot are still not a lot of people.

Because of who you are, you could pick any filmmaker you want. How did you choose Rick and Buddy? Was it because they were skaters or because you guys were friends?
Well, probably both. Those guys came through here about three years ago right after the bowl was built. They came up with Greek and Matt Moffett. Shaggy brought those guys out. We all hung out for a couple of days. I think I saw them again in Hailey when they were promoting ‘Tent City’. I told them that we were doing this ‘Vote for Change’ tour, and it was a pretty cool thing. I thought it might be something they’d be interested in. Then I talked to the band. I basically said, ‘I think these guys could make something really cool. Trust me. It’s the right crew.’ So they did it. I think some of the interviews and the footage was just amazing. They would walk up to people on the street and ask them about the state of the country. They’d ask the people how they felt about the president or about the tour coming through their town. The diversity of answers and people was a unique way to reflect back on the tour. We got to see the people surrounding the tour. A lot of times, we don’t get a chance to go out there and talk to the people in depth. They did such a cool job with it.

What do you think about the state of the country?
It’s a mind-blower to me. I don’t know how they get away with it. You think about the trouble that Clinton got in for getting a blowjob. You think about the trouble that his wife had for supposedly cheating on some traveling. Then you look at the stuff that this administration is getting away with and it’s insane. A lot of kids have gotten killed on our side and even more families and kids have gotten killed on their end, because war is such a brutal thing, especially an unnecessary war about oil and revenge for your dad (George H.W.) Not to mention the bullshit Patriot Act, the deficit and the ‘Clean Air Act’ environmental shit.

Let’s go back to skating. When you were younger, who were the guys that inspired you?
Early on, I was inspired by all the Stecyk stories and photos. I was so young when I first read those stories that I didn’t quite understand. Stecyk was like Lester Bangs. Lester was a writer with a really weird angle on music and society. I just remember how dark those articles were. He had this really mystical thing going on that he was creating. Stecyk had the same angle on skateboarding as Lester had on music. I was totally attracted to the way he presented Jay, Tony, Shogo and Biniak. All of those guys were such characters in those stories. I think the more mystical something is, the more intrigued you become. The DogTown guys were my guys. The first pig deck that I bought was a Jim Muir DogTown. I ended up buying a Bulldog and a tri-logo Alva after that. Later on, there were tons of skaters that I liked. I was a big Chris Strople fan. Pineapple, George Orton, Rick Blackhart and Tom Inouye were amazing. I could flip through old magazines and name forty guys that I thought were amazing. Later on, it was Duane Peters and Steve Olson and the guys that brought punk rock into skateboarding. It was the Alva team, the Zorlac guys, Hosoi and Neil Blender.

What about Jimmy the Greek?
Greek is amazing. He’s one of the most fun guys to skate with. I’m not a shredder by any means. I can go get some grinds. Greek is one of the most fun guys to skate with, because he pushes you in such a cool way. He’s having so much fun out there. He’s talking the whole time. To me, that’s what it’s all about. To me, if you can get with a crew of people that are just laughing, skating hard, sweating, telling stories and joking around, there’s nothing better. Greek just exudes that. He’s pure positive energy.

What type of board do you like to ride now?
Two years ago, Tod Swank cut me out some of my own shapes. It has a pointy nose and it’s a stinger. It’s about 9 1/2 inches wide and 34 inches long. It has a 16 1/2 inch wheelbase. Skaterbuilt Dave sent me some cool Formica decks, but I ended up going back to the 7-ply deck with my own shape. Dave’s going to make me some 7-ply decks with his ridiculous Skaterbuilt concave. The first skateboards I ever had were the ones that my dad helped me cut out. My dad taught me how to bend plywood by soaking it in water. My dad taught me how to steam it, bend it and add on the kicktail. It’s always been about having my own board, with my own shape and paint job. That’s what’s so amazing about all the surfboards and skateboards that you painted. Every board was made for an individual. That’s one of the great things about skateboarding. There’s so much great art that has come out of it. There are so many creative people in it.

When did you first build your own skateboard?
The summer after my cousin gave me the skateboard magazine, we looked at the magazine and found some shapes that we liked. We cut out a Peralta Warptail and copied that. My dad looked at the picture and said, ‘I think that’s a piece of oak.’ We went down and bought a piece of oak, and he helped me cut out the block kicktail that went on top of it. My first three boards were homemade boards.

That’s the way to do it, man.
The Z blank wood was the only way to build a wider board for about ten years when everyone was riding popsicle sticks and 40mm wheels. You could still get a Z blank and cut your own shape. That kept it alive for me.

Right now, you’re riding a 7ply 9 1/2′ x 34′ with a 16 inch wheelbase. Is it a double-ender?
Yeah, it’s got a nose kick. It took me a while to understand why there’s that much nose. Then I realized that the extra nose made it that much easier to grab. Indy 169s and Shitfire wheels complete the deal. Shitbird Dave makes the best wheels on the planet.

How old were you when you started surfing?
The first time I went surfing, I was 18. A kid I met in college took me with him to California. He lived in West Covina, and he used to surf off the Huntington Pier. He took me down there and there were like, forty people in the water. I had no idea about the code of surfing. I had no skills at all. He just threw me in the water. I just about got pounded out there. I got run over a few times. I ended up on the beach, just shaking. Guys were yelling at me, because I was in their way. A few days later, he took me down to San Onofre. That was the first time I had some space on a wave. Unfortunately, being landlocked, I never had the chance to be near the water for a long period of time. When we’re out on tour, and there’s water close, I’ll go out surfing with Ed and Smitty. A few times a year, I’ll hook up with friends down in California. Once a year, I go to Hawaii. I need to be closer to the water for six months and actually develop the skill. Basically, I suck, but just being in the water is such an amazing thing. Being part of the earth, part of the ocean and paddling around and seeing dolphins is such a cool thing.

It is. When did you first start playing music?
When I was a kid, I took piano lessons and hated it. When I went to college, I was living in a dorm. My third day there, I was playing the first ‘Nervous Breakdown’ single. This kid John pokes his head in my room and said, ‘I just saw them three months ago.’ Then he left. I was like, ‘Whoa. Someone who lives on my floor saw Black Flag.’ That kid ended up being my best friend in college. Within a month, he had me playing bass. He played guitar. In another month, we had a drummer. Then we had a show. We learned ten songs. We learned a 999 song, a few Sex Pistols songs, four Ramones songs and a Dead Kennedys song. We wrote a couple of originals, and we were doing it. I was hooked. It was such a cool thing to play along with The Ramones records. It gave you inspiration and the feeling that you could do it. I never got that from listening to Aerosmith or Ted Nugent because it seemed like such an unobtainable and magical thing. Rock n’ roll was so good and so progressive that it seemed like you had to be someone really special to play guitar and sing that way. Punk rock gave everybody a chance.

Before you picked up the bass, you took piano lessons and learned how to read music?
No. When I started playing bass, we were doing everything by ear. Even to this day, a lot of what we do is by ear. There was a point after about a month of playing bass where the little bit of music theory that I had learned from playing piano, all of a sudden, hit me. I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ The piano translated to the bass. All of a sudden, I could speak a little bit of the language of music theory. It made it a little easier to communicate to the people in the band by saying, ‘Let’s go to the section in ‘A’ Minor.’ I didn’t like playing piano much, so I didn’t retain a whole lot.

In college, you formed your first band. What was it called?
Deranged Diction. I was Jeff Diction. Ha.

Where were you going to college?
I was going to college in Missoula. It was a cool time. There were about ten of us that were into punk rock here in town. We dressed like SoCal punkers. We had our striped shirts, torn up jeans and combat boots. Almost all of us were skaters. At that time, we’d go out and see any band that played rock n’ roll just to soak it in. We got into a lot of fights. There were a lot of altercations, because people didn’t like what we were doing. In ’81 and ’82 in Montana, it wasn’t really cool to have really short blond hair with a couple of earrings and a Black Flag t-shirt. It didn’t really fly here.

After you were in this band in college, what did you do to get into playing music?
The middle of my second year of college, they told me they weren’t going to continue the graphic design program at the college. That was my first reason to leave. Around that same time, we went to Seattle to see The Clash open up for The Who. The night before that show, X was playing. Going to Seattle and seeing X play at this club with over 800 punk rockers and then going to see The Clash and The Who was a pretty life-changing trip. The next two months, I kept calling my one friend in Seattle, and saying, ‘Hey, man, if I came out there, could I sleep on your floor until I get a job?’ He said, ‘No problem.’ By the end of April 1983, Sergio, the kid that was playing drums with me, and I moved to Seattle. I had $40 in my pocket. We worked some temporary jobs. Then I got a job, funny enough, working in a coffee shop washing dishes. I worked there for seven or eight years, pouring coffee and waiting tables. I met a ton of people through that coffee shop. The people that owned the shop were artists. The shop was in this cool part of town called Belltown, which, at the time, was rundown and full of artist warehouses. Everyone that worked at the cafe was a painter, musician or actor. There was a big gay community within the cafe. There was unique blend of people and creativity. I got turned on to all kinds of music and art. It was a cultural explosion for me. That’s when I met Mark Arm and Steve Turner. They were in a band called Mr. Epp. Within a year, we formed Green River. I skated with those guys and still skate with those guys. I met a bunch of guys who had a half pipe. Meeting those people and going to shows, and meeting the people that I worked with, turned me onto a lot of the friends that I have now. They were all skaters and musicians.

They call you the ‘godfather of grunge’.
[Laughs] I was the anti-Christ of grunge.

Wasn’t Green River one of the first notable grunge bands?
Well, we didn’t know what we were doing at the time. One of the first times that I met Mark was at a punk rock club called The Metropolis. I was actually deejaying that night. I was playing Minor Threat and Black Flag. Then I was playing Ted Nugent and early Kiss, Aerosmith, NY Dolls and The Stooges. I remember Mark came up and said, ‘Hey, that was a cool song that you played off that Aerosmith record, but the great song is ‘Nobody’s Fault’.’ We got into this great conversation. We were all into punk rock and the fact that I met someone who was into ’70s hard rock started this ongoing conversation. Within a couple of months, he called me up and said, ‘We’re starting a new band and we wanted to know if you want to play bass with us.’ At that point, it was Mark, Steve, Alex the drummer and me. Then a couple of months later, we picked up Stone [Gossard]. That’s what we were trying to do with our sound. We were trying to morph Minor Threat with SSD, Aerosmith, The Stooges, The NY Dolls and The Dead Boys and all of our favorite heavy rock and punk rock bands. I think between Green River and The Melvins that probably was the start of that sort of sound, at least in the Northwest. We were also heavily influenced by hardcore and the Texas scene and bands like Scratch Acid, Big Boys, Really Red and the Buttholes.

What about the band Mother Love Bone? How did that happen?
When Green River ran its course, Stone and I decided that we wanted to continue to play together. Andy Wood was the singer of Mother Love Bone and he worked at the restaurant that I worked at. Stone had done a few two-person shows with Andy, and he was such an amazing character that we thought we’d try to form this band around him. Unfortunately, that was a pretty short-lived endeavor. We did one tour, recorded an EP, and then Andy overdosed right before our album was supposed to come out. We never got a chance to do much as a band. It was devastating for me. I felt like we had worked so hard to get to that point. You feel like maybe that’s your one shot of making music at that level. When Andy died, I was contemplating going back to art school, getting my degree and becoming a graphic artist.

During that time in Seattle, was there a lot of partying going on?
You know what’s funny? By the time I was done with college, I had partied so hard I was over it. When I first met Mark, Steve and Alex [Vincent], they were all straight edge. We kind of locked into the thing that was going on in D.C. at the time. We were all into Minor Threat and SSD. We were into everything that Ian was saying. Being pro-thinking made a lot of sense to a young kid prone to making bad decisions. That lasted a few years, then gradually everyone started drinking hard and hanging out with different people. All of a sudden, there was lot of coke and heroin around. It was not uncommon to be at a party walking around and see a group of people shooting up. Luckily for me, I never had the money to do it. I had a job. I had to support myself, so I never really had the time. The few times that I did dabble in some of the harder stuff, it made me feel so shitty the next day that I couldn’t go skate or do the things that I worked so hard all week to do. It was more about survival that I didn’t get into that stuff. I didn’t have the money and time to be hung over. It’s insane to find out people are still doing blow now. It’s different when you’re in your twenties, but later on in life, when I see people still doing it, it’s a mindblower to me. It’s proven to have taken a lot of amazing people down.

Did you know Kurt Cobain?
I knew him a little bit. I think the media created a pretty big chasm between Pearl Jam and Nirvana. There were some things that were said in the heat of that time. He thought that Pearl Jam breaking out was because we were riding their bandwagon. There’s probably a little bit of truth to that. At the same time, Green River put out the first record on Sub Pop, and that created a space for other bands to be on Sub Pop. One of those bands was Nirvana. I never felt too bad about that stuff because I knew how hard we had been working at things. We were at the center of that whole thing when it started. The amazing thing is, we’re still making records. I feel bad that Nirvana never got to see what they could have become.

Sub Pop Records was how you guys broke out?
Well, the first Green River record was on Homestead and the next two were on Sub Pop. Sub Pop, at that time, was Bruce Pavitt’s bedroom. It was very much DIY. We were saving our money from shows and jobs that we worked to pay for studio time and make records. That’s carried through with Pearl Jam. Even now that we’re on a major label, we still do it the same way. We went to the record company and said, ‘This is how we want to do it. This is how we want to tour, this is how we want to make a record and this is the artwork.’ We’ve delivered everything the way that we wanted it to be. That’s what has been put out there. It’s what we decided on before any kind of record company involvement. That early punk rock DIY ethos has kept us going and kept us involved this whole time.

Do you think radio or TV or doing live concerts led you to become more mainstream?
I remember when it happened. We opened up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in New York. We played three shows at this club called Roseland. After the first show, a couple of the MTV VJs came back and said, ‘That was amazing. Do you guys have a video?’ We said, ‘Yeah, we just made this cheap live video in Seattle. It’s not the version of the song on the record. It’s how we recorded it live at this club.’ They said, ‘Can you get us a copy?’ We got them a copy the next day. The next night, they brought along the powers that be at MTV. The next week, our video got added into regular rotation on MTV. That was the first big exposure that we got as a band other than the Chili Peppers tour. That was one thing that got exploited. We finished that tour and went to Europe and when we came back from Europe. It was like, ‘What happened?’

What song was that?

When you play live, where do you prefer, clubs or big arenas?
I think it kind of depends. We’ve definitely had some big shows that felt really cool. It felt like everyone in the audience was there. Ed does a good job of reaching out and touching everybody and getting everyone involved in what’s going on. I like it all. It’s such a great diversity in being able to go out and do a theater one night, play an arena the next night and do an even bigger show once or twice a year. Almost every album cycle, we do shows at the Showbox in Seattle or some smaller 800 capacity clubs. Those shows are amazing. The sound is so much better for us in the smaller clubs. Those shows end up being a lot more musical. It’s all good. Arenas work if the sound is good. You can tell if people are responding or not in the bigger places.

You just enjoy playing?
Yeah. As long as we can hear ourselves and it’s musical and the crowd looks like they’re a part of what’s happening, it’s a pretty amazing experience from our end. Sometimes, with all of those people, it’s almost a more intense high because there is so much energy. If there are 20,000 people singing along to one of your songs or all moving the same way, it’s intense. We did some shows a few years ago in Mexico City, and without overusing the word ‘spiritual,’ it was like going to church. It was unbelievable. Everyone was singing along and clapping. They were singing soccer chants in between the songs. They were flicking their lighters to the beat. I get chills just talking about it. Sometimes a big group of people can create an energy that you just don’t find every day.

When you play in foreign countries, do you think that through your music, people understand what you’re trying to say?
It’s amazing how thorough our fans are in other countries, in deciphering lyrics and being able to sing along. They interpret the lyrics and understand what we’re trying to say. Ed has been so good in terms of writing lyrics with everyday themes for people. People can relate on that end. It’s amazing to go to Bangkok or Manila and have everyone singing along. There’s not an English-speaking person in this room, but everyone is singing along. How is that?’

In your career, who helped you the most to attain your success?
For us, it was the peers that we have that are around our age, like the Chili Peppers. Some of the bands that stuck through thick and thin, we look up to in a big way. We’ve been fortunate enough to be around Neil Young a lot over the last 10 years. We’ve played a bunch of shows with him. The band recorded a record called ‘Mirror Ball’ with him. He’s been a huge influence. Every once in a while, he says something that just motivates you in such a cool way. One time, I remember him saying to me, ‘You just keep making music. Just keep going in the studio and making music and touring. There will be up cycles and down cycles. It’s all about the music. You just have to keep making music.’ It was such a great thing to hear. He said that to us about ten years ago when we were contemplating not doing it anymore. To hear that kept us going. To hear, ‘You’ve got a real band here. You’ve got to keep that intact. You’re a gang. You’re a family. Keep it together and make music. That’s what’s important.’ To hear that from one of your heroes was pretty huge. The guy has been through everything. He’s the most inspired, relevant artist from his generation.

Neil Young inspired you and helped you stay together as a band.
He has a fatherly way of giving advice without being condescending. He said, ‘There’s a strength in what you guys are doing. There’s a power there that you won’t get from anything else. Your ego is telling you that you could do it on your own, but really you can’t. What’s going on in the band, between you five people, is where the power is.’ I think that’s true with a lot of things. Any sort of collaboration when you can work with someone that you really click with, something always amazing comes out of it. There are rough times and times where it’s difficult to communicate, but it’s almost always more rewarding than doing it solo.


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