By Jim Schutze
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"Does anyone know if I won a Grammy last night?" Dave Abbruzzese wonders. He says this as an afterthought, in the middle of a casual conversation with producer David Castell as the two stand in the messy kitchen area of Castell's Garland recording studio. The night before, Abbruzzese and the rest of Pearl Jam had been up for a Grammy in three categories for 1993's Vs. album, but Abbruzzese did not think to actually watch the televised awards show or check the day's paper to see if he had won the award. And he is not at all disappointed to find out Pearl Jam had lost to such bands as Soundgarden and Aerosmith.
"At the very least," Abbruzzese shrugs, "you could say I was a Grammy-nominated artist."
It has been a few months since the Dallas native was handed his pink slip from the world's most popular rock band and replaced by former Red Hot Chili Pepper Jack Irons, who is also among singer Eddie Vedder's best friends. And Abbruzzese has said little--to friends or to strangers--about his abrupt dismissal, refusing to feed a rumor mill that has cast him as everything from a backstabber to a greedmonger.
It has been well-publicized that he has been in Dallas for about a month now, recording at Castell's RSVP Studios with Ten Hands members Paul Slavens and Gary Muller, former Whild Peach guitarist Doug Neil, and Little Sister bassist Darrell Phillips (a bandmate of Abbruzzese's in the long-defunct funk-rock Dr. Tongue). Hell, it was in Rolling Stone's "Random Notes" section before any local paper had mentioned it.
But Abbruzzese has said nothing about the subject and does not really want to go into it on the record. After all, no matter what happened, no matter how many insider tales of conspiracy and manipulation Abbruzzese tells when the interviewer's tape recorder is off, his side of the story would be emasculated with one sentence from Eddie Vedder, whose every belch is taken as Sacred Truth from the believers. Suffice it to say Pearl Jam is Vedder's band, and Abbruzzese was expendable--last man hired, first man fired.
Consciously or subconsciously, he will make such comparisons for many years to come, like the minor-leaguer who recalls his few days spent in the Big Show.
"I think Pearl Jam will continue to make great music," Abbruzzese says. "As a band in the sense that I view a band, Pearl Jam hopefully is a band now. But to me, one of the main ingredients of being in a band is communication, and there's too many ingredients that aren't addressed by the members--too many things me as the drummer wanted to ask Eddie as the singer but couldn't because then he'd get freaked out and wouldn't talk to anybody for a week.
"Musically, I just think playing an average of five nights a week for three years does something for a person. Playing with that band helped me to develop. I always wanted to consider myself a melodic drummer more so than just a rhythm machine, and that band was a good tool for learning how to do that."
For the past month, Abbruzzese, Slavens, Muller, and Neil (with Phillips coming in and out every few days as his Little Sister touring schedule would allow) have been in the studio cutting hours and hours of tape. Though Abbruzzese had planned to record with Phillips long before he was kicked out of Pearl Jam, the loose, pressure-free recording session had extra significance for the drummer who was seeking to rid himself of the bad taste and feeling caused by the Pearl Jam debacle.
"I was comin' down for five days to visit my folks, and I was like, 'Shit, I wonder what Darrell's doin' and if Dave's studio is open and grab Doug and Darrell and go in and jam,'" Abbruzzese says. "I just felt like playin'." Slavens, who happened to be hanging out at Castell's studio when Abbruzzese called, was later brought in, and then Muller was added when Phillips left to go on the road with Little Sister.
"It just felt great to be in the studio with people that ate meat and smoked cigarettes and laughed and felt seemingly comfortable with who they were," Abbruzzese says. "They didn't worry about being politically correct or any of that. They were just themselves, getting along. To me it was something I needed to do. To quote Paul, he said I needed to get rid of that 'soul poisoning,' so it was something I felt would be good for me.
"But I also thought that to get all of these guys, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, in the studio for a month would be a treat."
Most of their material will be filed away, protracted jam sessions from which actual songs might be salvaged at some point. But there are at least 12 complete songs among the lot, pieces that range from the funk-rock-reggae "Waiting for Sid" to the jazz-rap of "2926 Refugee" to the faux-French-cabaret of "Poop de Deux" (recorded during lunch hour in an Oak Lawn cafe). Undoubtedly, it contains some of Slavens' finest vocals ever set to tape; he sounds, at various times, like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and a male Marlene Dietrich, showcasing a range only hinted at all these years as Ten Hands' frontman. Moreover, the music is wonderful--dense with fragile guitar and powerful percussion, the sounds of accordion and bass and ambient noise perfectly piled upon each other.