“Did you see Maroon 5 on ‘Saturday Night Live’?” Jeff Ament asked the other day. The Pearl Jam bassist wasn’t looking for an opinion on Maroon 5’s performance last weekend; instead, he was sharing his incredulity over the L.A. group’s all-orange wardrobe — the same look Ament has been going for in RNDM, his new power trio with singer-guitarist Joseph Arthur and drummer Richard Stuverud. “I wouldn’t have cared if they were good,” he went on. “But the song [wasn't good].”
Ament can rest easy: Beyond that shared color choice, RNDM stands little chance of being confused with Maroon 5. On “Acts,” its recently released debut, the band rockets through a dozen leanly propulsive art-rock cuts full of sharp grooves and the atmospheric vocals Arthur has honed over the course of his acclaimed solo career. (Listen to the band's song "Walking Through New York" below.) He and Ament checked in with Pop & Hiss ahead of RNDM’s show Wednesday night at the Troubadour.
Jeff, you’d played with Joseph on a few occasions over the years. What made you want to be in a band with him?
Jeff Ament: As a music fan, I just kind of love everything about how he makes records and how he’s able to be a solo artist -- the way he plays a looper live and paints onstage. I love how creative he is; he’s got no real fear of anything. And he was the same way making this record, just up for anything. That’s infectious. Richard and I had played together before, but with Joe being in the room, it just tore all the walls down. It was this completely open, uninhibited space to make music.
Joseph Arthur: Making this record and going on this tour has felt totally new to me. It’s really liberating.
Arthur: Because I’ve been on the [solo] path for a while, and even though I’ve been experimental and eclectic, there’s just something about the collaborative nature of this. It’s not me leading some situation and calling it a band; this is actually a band. The weight of it isn’t all on my shoulders. Creatively -- and in every other way -- everything is evenly distributed.
Ament: That’s why we’re wearing the orange outfits. When you’ve been in a band like Pearl Jam for 22 years, you create this set of unwritten rules, even though you don’t talk about it. This band is an exercise in breaking some of those rules down a little bit – to not be afraid to look goofy or write instrumental songs using synthesizers. Not to say that stuff doesn’t get done in Pearl Jam. It just doesn’t see the light of day, usually.
In spite of that free-form vibe, “Acts” feels like a record of songs, not jams.
Ament: We didn’t have a ton of time to think about it. Making the record, it was like Joe would show us a chord progression and we’d go and play it three or four times. It was kind of that Neil Young way of making records, where he comes in and you just sort of play the first thing that comes to your head.
You've each built a following from your other projects, but RNDM is a new band making the rounds. It’s probably safe to say Pearl Jam hasn’t played the Troubadour in a while.
Ament: I think we did in 1991. This feels like a first band that’s out trying to win people over. Every once in a while we’ll go do an in-store or play a radio station – I haven’t done that stuff in 20 years. And there are elements of that that are awesome, and then there are moments that are like, “God, this is awful.”
Arthur: It’s a welcome experience for me. A music career, for lack of a better word, requires rebirth and rejuvenation. Plus, I’m not coming from a Pearl Jam world – that’s a pretty rarefied place. A lot of these venues we’re playing are the ones I play on my own.
Ament: With a handful of the places we’ve played, it’s been too big a room. In Milwaukee we were at this 1,500-capacity hall and there were probably 300 people there. It was kind of brutal.
Arthur: Hard work keeps you on your toes, though -- it gets you back to the beginner’s mind. Otherwise you start thinking about maybe moving to Paris and becoming a painter.
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