Less than a week after Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, RNDM played one of their first shows at Brooklyn's 500-capacity Music Hall of Williamsburg. "There were no subways running," says bassist Jeff Ament. "You're watching the devastation on TV and thinking 'Should we even be playing a show? Partly because we're a new band and partly because of Sandy, some of those early shows there were super light turnouts. We're a baby band in every aspect, and we've been getting used to certain elements."
After spending the last 20 years filling arenas with Pearl Jam, Ament is starting over with RNDM (pronounced "R-N-D-M"). He formed the group last year with friends – songwriter Joseph Arthur and drummer Richard Stuverud – with the stripped-down sound of groups like Nirvana and the Jimi Hendrix Experience in mind. "I'm a big fan of power trios where there's only three instruments. I think there are aspects of those bands working here," says Ament. Adds Arthur, "It's a pure rock & roll band."
The musicians have been friendly since Arthur opened for Ament's project Three Fish in 1999. They stayed in touch until Ament called Arthur to sing on his solo track, "When the Fire Comes," off his latest solo LP, While My Heart Beats. "I was like, God, I hope I don't blow our friendship because I'm over-reaching my bounds," says Ament. "But within an hour, he responded and said, 'Man, I love this song.'"
In April, Ament invited the band to his Montana home to sing on some demos. "I started using this Brian Eno trick," says Arthur, "Which was like to just record me while I'm hearing it for the first time, and singing whatever initial ideas I have . . . For me, it's liberating, because I'm so used to being the master of my own ship," adds Arthur. "The art work and a lot of the visual concepts of the band have all come from him, and so it's nice to have someone with that much creative force like being in a band with them and they're bringing all these ideas that are great."
They recorded 20 tracks in four days, including the funky stomp "Williamsburg" and the upbeat rocker "Hollow Girl," which explodes into a pummeling, Crazy Horse-like instrumental collision. "It really does feel like a brand new band," says Ament. "Not a brand new band when you're almost 50, but a brand new band when you're 20 when everybody had tons of energy. It really has that feel."
After a fall tour last year, the band is considering adding more winter dates and recording some new material. "We've been on the road and we don't hate eachother," Arthur says with a laugh. "We're talking about putting out an EP, because we have eight tracks left over from the initial session. And now we've got six more. I don't really know when we'll put it out, but there's talk about some kind of EP or something soon."
RNDM's long-term schedule may depend on Pearl Jam's; the band recently had a meeting with Brendan O'Brien and followed up on sessions a year ago in Stone Gossard's studio and has announced apair of summer dates. "There's a lot of ideas kind of floating around right now," says Ament. "I mean, the cool thing about taking a year away from [Pearl Jam] is, you know, we could almost start from scratch and it wouldn't really be that big of a deal, you know? I hope it comes out this year at some point. But, if it doesn't, we have another RNDM record ready. If RNDM's my band for the next year, I'm stoked."
How does the Pearl Jam bassist feel about turning 50 in March? "I can't say that I'm really freaked out about it, just because I feel like my life's just awesome right now," he says. "I mean, I had a day off yesterday, you know, I went and skated with a bunch of my buddies in L.A. which, you know, included a bunch of old pros. It's hard to be bummed about it. You know?"
Photo by Danny Clinch