A better man

Drummer Dave Abbruzzese considers life after Pearl Jam

"We came into it with the idea we wouldn't have a direction, we would just go with what happened," Abbruzzese says. "If we left here with an hour's worth of music that sat well together in a record standpoint, then we'd have a record. If we left here with two things that we were really proud of, we'd be happy with that two. We'd have a tape we could give our friends for Christmas.

"It was a big thing to me to make sure nobody felt like there was any pressure for us to do anything. One thing I told everyone was, 'If you wake up in the morning and coming to the studio doesn't put a smile on your face, then don't come. It's no trip.'"

Abbruzzese does not plan to release any of this material, at least not yet. To his ears, the collected music does not add up to a "cohesive listening experience for a record" because it does not "make a journey." At the very least, he will bring Slavens and the rest of the band to Seattle for another few weeks of recording, after which time they'll decide whether they have enough material for an actual album they could shop around to record labels.

The obvious question, then, is how much of this relaxed situation was a reaction against the one he faced with Pearl Jam, a band that approached each recording session as though the weight of the world was perched upon Vedder's flannel-clad shoulders?

"I think this was just more of an open way to record," Abbruzzese says. "There's less ego in the room when the four of us plus Dave Castell are together, so that enables us to explore more. If someone has an idea, no one's freakin' out that their idea isn't being considered because everyone's being considered. It lent itself to a process which had similarities to Pearl Jam's, but also it was different because of the different people and because my ideas were able to be presented. It wasn't just the drummer giving ideas, but a member of the group of people working."

The drummer. If he says nothing else about his experiences with Pearl Jam, the sneer with which he says those two words spells it out. When he talks about the recording process with Pearl Jam, detailing the origins and evolutions of such songs as "W.M.A." and "Aye Davanita," there is no anger or bitterness in his voice; he speaks of technical tricks and musical madness, of Eddie Vedder's ability to make up lyrics over a simple drum-and-bass jam in the studio, of producer Brendan O'Brien's ability to bring out the best in a band that never worked the same way twice. At the very least, Abbruzzese knows he is left with two albums (1993's Vs. and last year's Vitalogy) that feature some fine work--such moments as "Go," "W.M.A.," "Animal," and "Satan's Bed," songs on which he is as integral to the melody as to the rhythm.

Yet Abbruzzese, who will continue to live in Seattle, concedes he was unhappy in the band for more than a year, feeling as though his opinions about music or other band-related dealings were given little, if any, consideration. The drummer. He says he had actually thought about quitting some time ago, but hung on because he genuinely liked the guys in the band, felt they were becoming his friends; and then there were the slight matters of fame and fortune to consider. When asked if his departure from Pearl Jam was inevitable, with him either being fired or quitting, he pauses for a second, then grins.

"When I told a friend of mine I got fired, his response was, 'Well, good,'" Abbruzzese says. "And I was like, 'What?' He said, 'You've been talking for a year wondering if you should leave or not,' and his theory was the only things that kept me in the band were the wrong reasons. Sometimes I think it was an inevitability, but at other times I think if I were still in that band the only thing that would keep me in it were the illusions of it all--the money and the fame part of it. And it would continue to make me sick just like it did before. It is the best thing.

"The biggest letdown to me was how it happened, which now in the long run supports how fucked up the situation was. If we would have all been in the same room and those guys would have looked me in the face and answered my questions rather than walking around them...They gave me excuses for why they were getting a new drummer rather than the reasons for why I got fired. If there's any hard feelings, any grudge that I have, it's to them for the way it was handled more so than actually what happened because I know now and I knew then that I would be the better off for being out of the band."

At the time he was fired, he was writing and recording with former Supertramp frontman Roger Hodgson, though Abbruzzese is unsure of what will become of that project. He also lent his playing to an orchestrated Hendrix tribute album being prepared by former Led Zeppelin-Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer that also includes Sting, Hendrix bassists Noel Redding and Billy Cox, Steve Vai, former Living Colour-turned-VH-1-jock Corey Glover, Spin Doctors guitarist Eric Schenkman, Stanley Clarke, and dozens of other musicians.

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