Tim Palmer’s studio memories
After all the depressing news recently it was nice to hear that Pearl Jam TEN has been inducted in the Recording Academy / GRAMMYs HALL OF FAME. A big congratulations to the band and all who were part of this record!
Some thoughts on the album, a long post but some may find it interesting:)
I had been away in Los Angeles for many months producing ‘Neverland’ the first ‘rock’ signing to the newly formed Interscope records.
Before I left to return to London, my home at that point, I received a demo tape from Michael Goldstone. It was his latest signing to Epic Records. They were a band formed out of the ashes of the great Mother Love Bone which I had mixed for him. The members of Pearl Jam had liked what I had done for Mother Love Bone, so they were interested in me mixing their new band, then called “Mookie Blaylock”. The demo tape sounded really good, it was clearly ‘Alternative’ but at the same time hinted at a more classic rock sound, one example being Mike’s classic rock guitar solos. Eddie’s vocals seemed unique and the band sounded very fresh to me.
As I had mixed Mother Love Bone without ever meeting any of the band, a meeting was set up between the members and myself. We ended up going to watch a Lakers game. It was a fun night and we all got along well and agreed that I should mix one song to make absolutely sure it was all going to sound right. I mixed the song ‘Once’ in Los Angeles at the great A&M studios and everybody seemed happy, so the album mix was a go. Around this time the band changed their name, so I was actually about to mix the debut album by Pearl Jam.
My only issue was that I did not want to be in LA any longer, I needed to get back to London. We agreed to mix the album at one of my favorite UK residential studios called RIDGE FARM.
Ridge farm was about 30 miles outside of London in the Surrey countryside, a recording studio converted from a 17th-century mediaeval farmhouse. It had a great big NEVE console in the control room which was situated high up in the barn. As it was ‘residential’ the band could all stay, and we could all eat dinner together each evening. I lived close by, so I could drive to the studio each day. Ridge Farm was a fabulous place with great staff and cooks, a pool, and a tennis court, it had famously hosted sessions with Queen, Thin Lizzy, Roxy Music and I had recorded the first album by The Mission there.
The band flew to the UK that June and we began finishing the record together. The recordings were already in great shape and having been produced by the late Rick Parashar and recorded by Dave Hillis and Don Gilmore. There were some vocal parts to finish, and a few guitar overdubs to get done, including the big outro solo for the song ‘Alive’ which Mike nailed in one take. I remember the sessions being very low pressure, there was no great weight of expectation on our shoulders, and A&R man Michael Goldstone was back in LA! (He came over for the last couple of days). I mixed a song each day and took it home each night to check on my home stereo. As I drove in each morning I had the chance to do a ‘car check’ and make any final revisions before the band arrived in the control room.
Pearl Jam’s TEN album is an interesting album as even though it is often seen as one of the cornerstone ‘Grunge’ albums it is not a particularly ‘Grungy’ sounding record. Most of that is due to the time period of when we worked on the record. We never discussed the idea of the record being mixed dry, or stripped back. The ‘Seattle Sound’ hadn’t really made it to the mainstream yet, remember ‘Ten’ was released before Nivana’s ‘Nevermind’. The big rock records of that year were Skid Row, Metallica, Tesla,Van Halen and Extreme.
Instead of feeling pressured to make a dry, grunge-sounding album, I felt free to just do what felt right for each song. Reverb, delays and backwards reverbs were all still de rigueur at that time, so I did not feel constrained . On ‘Ten’ I used the reverb and delays to add to the depth of the sound: the EMT plates at Ridge Farm were fantastic and at that time, I really enjoyed moving from a fairly ambient sound straight into a very dry sound—especially on drums and vocals.
As we were stuck in the middle of the countryside, getting equipment was very slow. I wanted to add some small percussion parts to a couple of tracks but didn’t want to wait around for them to be delivered. So I just used what was in the pantry rather than waiting; hence my credit for ‘pepper shaker and fire extinguisher.
Pearl Jam suffered a setback after completing TEN, when Dave Krusen left the band to check into rehab. I think his contribution to the record was substantial, and often overlooked. The groove on those tracks was superb.
We finished the record in about 2 weeks. Michael ‘Goldie’ Goldstone came over for the last few days and he was happy. We just needed to get a great sequence. Time was booked to put the record together at a mastering room in London, but the band were late for their flights so didn’t attend that session. I sat and just made the cross fades at the start of the album that seemed right to me and hoped they liked them.
It’s funny looking back. I remember telling the band that the song BLACK was way too long and I tried to edit the end section down. Luckily Eddie Vedder stood strong and we left it alone. It’s now a fan favorite and clearly I was wrong !
Later on, when the ‘Seattle Scene’ was in full flow, some of the band expressed a view that they wished the album had been a dryer more stripped down record. Of course that’s fine to look back with hindsight, but to me it is what it is. We made all the decisions collectively and you can’t go back and change your high school photograph, just because its now out of style. A record is a snapshot of time, it’s a reflection of sorts.
The album was a fabulous journey for me, and I really enjoyed working with the band. It’s a record I am still proud to be a part of. Thankyou to Michael Goldstone for trusting me with his artists, my manager Sandy Roberton and of course the members of the band.