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Montana pearl
One of Jeff Ament's favorite things about being a rock star are "being able to play a show every night" and "being able to play music together." Here Ament (right) is shown on stage with Mike McCready, Pearl Jam's lead guitarist.
Photos courtesy of Pearl Jam

Sentinel's Melissa Meyer scores an interview with Jeff Ament

The '90s music scene started where the '80s left off - with hair bands and nauseating pop songs. The Paula Abdul and Madonna flavors were becoming stale, although in Seattle, a town known for its coffee houses, something new was brewing.

The new music was grunge rock, and it would bring out a whole new culture embraced by a society tired of the peppy beats and crimped hair of the '80s. It was fresh, in-your-face and left out the neon spandex.

One of the most influential bands in this new genre was Pearl Jam, made up of musicians who cared more about the music than what they were going to wear for their next concert.

I had the honor of interviewing Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam's bass player, on music, life and the future. Here is a look into the life of a rock star, who started out as a small-town boy and grew into a musician adored by the world.

On March 10, 1963, Ament was born in Havre to George and Penny Ament. Three months later, his family moved to the sparsely populated town of Big Sandy, a dot on the map between Great Falls and Havre.

Growing up, Ament's responsibility was to take care of the family's cows and chickens. He didn't outgrow these duties until he was old enough to drive, when he took over a garbage route that picked up elderly people's trash.

In his free time Ament would ride his bike, hang out with friends and go to the swamp. Big Sandy was a small town, but Ament and his friends managed to make the best of it.

"We raised as much hell as we could," Ament said.

No matter how big of a fight Ament put up, there were strict hair and dress codes at his school that tamed his wild style. Fashion statements such as torn jeans and facial hair, which defined grunge rock, were banned by his high school's dress code. Ament enjoyed bending these rules by wearing his father's used clothing.

But school wasn't always a battle for Ament. He enjoyed English and journalism and fondly remembers his seventh through ninth grade English teacher who would bring in his guitar and play Australian songs if the students had finished their work that week.

Along with being a fine student, Ament was active in sports. He tore up the football field, dominated the basketball court and sprinted to victory in track.

"I pretty much hated football thoughŠI was hurt all the time," Ament said.

Ament's family vacations consisted of visits to relatives in Oregon and Minnesota, who also lived on farms. It wasn't until he was a teen-ager that Ament experienced big-city life.

"I didn't know any different until I was 13," Ament said. "That's when we went to California for the first time."

From then on, life started changing for Ament. He knew how much effect music had on the rest of the world and wanted to get involved. Ament could see Big Sandy was not the music capital of the world, so when high school graduation rolled around, he left and headed to Missoula to study design at the University of Montana.

Missoula was more cultural than Big Sandy had ever been, but there were still some aspects of the town that didn't work for Ament. He realized his fashion and style choices were slightly different than the mainstream at that time.

"In 1981 having pierced ears and short bleached blonde hair wasn't the cool thing," he remembered.

After two years at UM, Ament moved to Seattle and began working as a barista at a coffee shop to earn money for art school. Before he could earn enough for tuition, however, his musical career took off.

Ament started the band Green River with some friends in 1984. It dissolved in 1988 but Ament still kept playing and being involved in the music scene. The big break for Ament and the rest of the soon-to-be Pearl Jam happened when a demo tape fatefully slipped into the hands of California surfer and musician, Eddie Vedder.

Vedder showed immediate interest, flying to Seattle to see the new band. Pearl Jam was born. They quickly went into the studio and recorded songs for their debut album.

"It all happened really quick," Ament recalled.

Pearl Jam's debut album reached the no. 2 spot on the charts. The band soon hit the road not only to tour the United States and Europe, but to introduce the world to a new style of music.

"I love to tour," Ament said. "My favorite memory is having 10,000 Filipino kids all singing along to our music."

Touring wasn't as glamorous as they expected, though. The band didn't have a lot of time to see the sights in the seemingly never-ending cycle of show to bus to hotel and over again.

Other than being a world traveler, Ament's favorite things about being a rock star are "being able to play a show every night" and "being able to play music together."

Living like a rock star isn't all crazy parties and wild, good times though.

"The first five or six years were a pretty big adjustment," he recalled. "Going to the grocery store was a big deal."

Ament stayed grounded by buying a house in Montana so he could be close to his family and where he grew up.

Pearl Jam released records throughout the '90s, but unless you were fortunate enough to see them perform live or spot a member at a grocery store, it was hard to catch a glimpse of the semi-private grunge rock group.

Ament explained that Pearl Jam doesn't feel natural acting in music videos. He also explained it would be seemingly impossible to top their last video for the song "Jeremy," which won an MTV Video of the Year Award.

Fans confined to their hometowns need not give up hope. For their newest record, Pearl Jam will release videos of their live performances.

In the next 10 years of his life, Ament plans to settle down and start a family. No matter what happens in his personal life, Ament still wants to be involved with the music process.

Pearl Jam has something special. They've been together for 10 years and have been able to survive and continue to release well-received music.

Local fans will be able to experience some of the magic when Ament and the rest of the band travel to Missoula to start a new leg of their tour. The concert is May 28 at the Adams Center.

Sophomore Melissa Meyer is a reporter for Sentinel High School's student newspaper, the Konah.

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