Stone Gossard Discusses Painted Shield, Which Feels like NIN, Beck, and His Work With Pearl Jam

For Stone Gossard, co-founder of the Hall of Fame rock ‘n’ roll band, Pearl Jam, there is magic in music. And especially so when that music is forged in a group setting. Gossard, who recently founded the new rock project, Painted Shield, with the acclaimed Honolulu-born songwriter, Mason Jennings, appreciates when the sum of the parts in a band transcends the specific individuals. When that happens, Gossard knows the joyous-yet-unexplainable mystery of great music is present. For decades, this dynamic has been the guiding light for the former grunge icon. Now, Gossard and Jennings are bringing that same buoyant, collaborative sensibility to their new rock band, which will release its debut self-titled record on November 27th.

“That’s the only thing I look for in terms of impactful music,” Gossard says. “I like making music on my own but I really do think that the magic of rock ‘n’ roll and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is about two things coming together that create something bigger than itself.”

The band’s debut record is excellent. While the principle musicians are all quite skilled (Painted Shield also includes drummer Matt Chamberlin and keyboardist Brittany Davis), skill does not always equate to a solid record. Painted Shield, though, is some bountiful amalgamation of Nine Inch Nails, Beck and the best of Gossard’s work in Pearl Jam. The record’s opener, “Orphan Ghost,” is pensive and alluring, but the nine-song album really jumps off with a bang on the track, “Time Machine.” The song is a kick to the chest, electricity to the heart. “Knife Fight” follows and brings the rock edge up a notch. As it would happen, that specific song was the first breakthrough for Gossard and Jennings.

“That was the first song that we ended up doing together that made us both go, ‘That was really cool!’” says Gossard.

Painted Shield put out 500 vinyl copies of the first single about five years ago and all of a sudden, a band was formed. Yet, with the ups and downs of life, the tasks and unexpected travails, Gossard and Jennings didn’t collaborate – or even talk much – after the release. But their efforts serendipitously started up again. The proverbial ball started to teeter and then quickly roll down the hill, gaining momentum. Over the last couple of years, more and more back-and-forth conversation occurred. And over the past twelve months, the duo, along with Chamberlin and Davis, have really hunkered down. But the secret ingredient may have been their engineer, John Congleton, who put a darker, industrial tone on the mix.

“He created a lot of space, played on the record in a bunch of spots,” Gossard says. “John really did a great job. He evolved the record dramatically a lot. He really helped to create the atmosphere.” 

The band, which has already released the looming single, “I Am Your Country,” included many other standouts on the album, like the fuzzy, “Ten Years From Now,” and bopping, “On the Level.” To create the album over time, Gossard and Jennings, who first met one another about six years ago, wrote a lot of music and then broke a lot of it down. Eventually, they found their groove (“Everything just kept getting better,” Jennings says). They got to the core bits and rebuilt the album skillfully from the ground up with the help of their band mates and the mixing genius, Congleton.

“We did a lot of deconstructing,” Gossard says. “A lot of irreverent cutting and pasting. But we found a method that got us closer to that magic. I think there was a lot of that and, again, the addition of Brittany and Matt – their voices and influences really made it three-dimensional.”

Together, as song after song came together (often times digitally, in recording sessions over the computer), the quartet began to realize it had something special on its sonic hands. So, they dug in further, trusting the creative process. In a time when getting together in-person can often be difficult due to wild fires, social unrest or health pandemics, Painted Shield represents a small community of artists who made exceptional music when there was no other place to turn other than collaboration by any means necessary. Combining things, whether themselves as musicians or the musical parts they wrote, that’s the essence of the spell.

“It’s the simplicity of a lyric and a beat,” Gossard says. “Putting together a rhythm and a sentiment can give you chills. It’s a mystery that forever fascinates me. It’s literal magic.”

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