Samick Motherlode

December 2014
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Interview: Mike McCready on Mad Season Reissue and New Pearl Jam

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Interview: Mike McCready on Mad Season Reissue and New Pearl Jam


Mad Season in a press photo.

In the process of getting this reissue in order and ready for release, did you encounter any difficulty, emotionally speaking, in listening to those songs you did with Layne and John Baker Saunders on tape?
Tons. I hadn’t listened to that record for 10 or 12 years. I’d listen to it if it was on the radio and I’d feel happy but sad, I don’t know if that makes sense. I’d feel like, I’m proud of this song but I’m also very sad that my friends are not around anymore. So getting over that and listening to the record again and listening to some of the live stuff, is kind of bittersweet. It makes me sad that Layne and Baker are not around to experience life now as an older guy. My values now are different than what they were when I was 26 and I think about what those guys would have been like if they were still around. It’s hard.

What led to the decision to re-release Above now?
The decision to do it came around a year ago. I was wandering through the Pearl Jam vaults and just looking at stuff we have in there and I looked over in the corner and I noticed a small two-inch tape of Mad Season live at the Crocodile Café. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t remember recording that!’ [Laughs]. I didn’t realize that existed so I was kind of shocked. Then it came back to me that we did have a mobile unit and Brett Eliason was recording it outside the old Crocodile Café. That was our record release show. I was intrigued and wanted to listen to it, so I got a copy of it and sent it off to Barrett and said, ‘Are you interested in doing anything with this record again?’ and he was into that.

How did Mark Lanegan get involved with adding vocals to the unreleased tracks?
We recorded a second record that we were going to call Disinformation. It was about 12 or 13 songs, eight of which were pretty realized —the rest were just demos. So we had all this music that was just sitting there that I thought would never see the light of day but luckily Barrett called his friend, Mark Lanegan. I’d wanted Mark to sing on this stuff forever, for 15 years, but it never kind of worked. So he said send me the stuff and picked three songs, “Locomotive,” “Black Book of Fear,” and “Slip Away,” and was agreeable to put them on the re-release. I can’t think of anybody more perfect to sing on any type of Mad Season stuff than Mark Lanegan now.

Let’s talk a little bit about your gear. What amps are you currently using right now?
I’m using 65amps right now—I think it’s a 30-watt. Peter Stroud makes them and I love the amps a lot. So I’m using that in conjunction with a Satellite head—Satellite is a local [Seattle] company—and I think it’s a 32- or 35-watt. I run both of those consecutively generally through four Marshall 25-watt speakers. I run a combination of the 65 and the Satellite generally the whole time when we’re doing Pearl Jam shows live. Then I kick on one more head called a, uh…hold on I’m trying to remember. I just changed my rig around…I’m never kind of satisfied.

Don’t worry, no guitarist ever is.
Yeah! What is that? It’s just kind of this obsessive weird thing.

I know exactly what you mean; I’ve blown so much money over the years. You can’t ever seem to get what you want.
Hence the Stones song. Who knew that song was about guitar players and their rigs? [Laughs.] But that third amp is a Savage head made by Andy Wolf who is the Stones guitar tech. I use the Savage for a clean tone, which goes through two 10" speakers. I use the two consecutively as I said before then when I’m about to do a solo I kick all three on. I think I might also use this Billy Zoom Reverb and Tremolo unit that I bought from him when X was out. He makes these things and they are amazing and I would highly recommend them to anyone.

What is on your pedalboard?
It has a myriad of things on it right now. I’ve got the tried-and-true original Ibanez Tube Screamer because Stevie Ray Vaughan used one and I’ve been using it ever since. I love the fuzz from it. I also use a Dunlop Crybaby Wah pedal. The thing I’ve been really excited about lately that I saw the guys in Soundgarden using at their rehearsal is the POG2—the Poly Octave Generator. I’ve been doing a little bit of scoring and I worked on an episode of Shameless and did this movie Fat Kid Rules the World and ended up using the POG on a few things because it makes the guitar not sound like a guitar. It makes it sound like a weird calliope or an organ—kind of makes some cool sounds. I also have a Line 6 delay, a Line 6 phase, the old MXR Phase 90 for sure. I just bought a 670 DOD flanger but I’m not sure if I’m going to use it or not but I’m gonna try to. That’s kind of it for my rig right now, but I’m always open to new things. Like you said, never satisfied.

What guitars have you been playing lately?
Well there’s the King of Kings, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul that I love and cherish. I was very lucky to find it from Danny’s Music in Everett [Washington] about 17 years ago. Right around the time of the Mad Season record actually. It was ridiculously priced back then, it was like $25,000 or something.

I know Emerald City Guitars downtown in Seattle has one priced at like $300,000 now.
I know dude, and last year it was like $400,000! I went down there and played it and I look at that thing all the time but I go, ‘I can’t pay $400,000 for a guitar.’ It’s like buying a fucking house, but I felt that same way when I bought this one for $25,000 years ago. I was like ‘This is a ridiculous amount of money.’ I traded a bunch of guitars in for it but I’m very glad I did.

Do you take that guitar on the road?
It depends. Some places I do and some places I don’t. I’m probably not going to take it out as much coming up but it’s hard because nothing sounds or plays that good. I use it for “Alive” when we’re out there. I can’t get the tone from any other Les Paul that that thing gets. I mean to be Spinal Tap about it, with the sustain I can hold it, have a bite and come back. [Laughs] It’s totally true though, the thing just plays like butter and it’s beautiful, a little dinged up. That being said, I’ll probably bring it out on the road this year. I probably shouldn’t but guitars are meant to be played. I don’t want to hold it and be precious with it to the point that I don’t enjoy it and it makes the songs sound better to me when I use that guitar.

What other guitars are you using at the moment?
So I have the ’59 Les Paul, I have a ’59 TV Yellow Gibson Les Paul Junior—kind of Johnny Thunders cutaway—which I totally love. Then I bought a ’56 single-cutaway Gibson Les Paul Junior. The latest one that I love a lot is the David Gilmour Fender Black Stratocaster. Whew! Andy Wolf had one of those and I played it and I was like ‘This thing plays amazing!’ I also have a ’52 refinished Fender Telecaster and a Gretsch Billy Zoom model. Those are my main ones right now.

How does your approach to playing a solo differ when you’re playing in the studio versus playing live? And how do you approach a solo in general?
I would say that 98 percent of the time my solos in the studio are either first or second take. When I’m not thinking about it and just feeling it, it’s always been the case that that’s been the best solo. So I usually just go with what my initial inclination is of what I grab out of the air. I don’t really know how to put it in any other terms than that. There have been a couple of times when I sat down and thought out solos. [Producer] Brendan O’Brien had asked me to do that for “Amongst the Waves” [on Pearl Jam’s Backspacer] so if you listen to that, that is a more thought-out solo. Live, I will definitely take more chances but that could be out of laziness. I didn’t want to figure out all my solos after I did them [Laughs]. Also, I feel different ways on different nights so I may start off fast, I may start off slow. Hopefully I’m not thinking about it too much and am just feeling the moment of the song. That’s when the best solos come out and I do the best stuff and it makes me go, ‘Wow, I just did that?’ And I don’t know how to get back to there, but that’s okay because it’s just a snapshot of that moment. Feeling is number one, which is such a cliché but it is definitely true.

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