Pearl Jam Drummer Gets Trippy

Side project Wellwater Conspiracy explores Matt Cameronís psychedelic roots
by Rebecca Rienks, Music Editor
Publication: Unknown | Date: Unknown

Drummer Matt Cameron is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of corporate music or the ups and downs of rock n’ roll. He has endured band breakups, weathered record label bureaucracy and railed against the stifling moniker of “grunge” while still finding time to snag two Grammys and create some of the most iconic and celebrated rock of the last 20 years. Cameron’s 6-year-old side project, Wellwater Conspiracy, finds him departing from the styles and sounds of alternative rock that he helped pioneer, to explore other facets of melody, lyrical creativity, and psychedelia.

In the early 90s, Cameron served on the front lines of rock n’ roll revolution, ushering in what would later be dubbed “the Seattle sound” as a part of Soundgarden. After the group disbanded in 1997, it didn’t take him long to join the ranks of another revered band from the grunge explosion, Pearl Jam, of which he is still a current member.

However, his accomplishments with two such renowned and legendary groups only serve to represent a faction of his sensibilities and inspirations as an artist. With the release of Wellwater Conspiracy’s self-titled third album, Cameron and fellow bandmates John McBain, founding guitarist of another successful band of the 90s, Monster Magnet, and keyboardist Glenn Slater, are looking to express another side of themselves.

“This is an aspect of us as musicians and I think John and I complement each other’s stylistic approaches as musicians really well,” Cameron said. “We’re just trying to create a freer atmosphere with our music.”

And atmosphere it is.

Peppered with lavish moments of guitar excess, watery vocals, and trippy electronic and drum machine beats, the band’s recently released self-titled album is an adventure down the road to post-alternative psychedelia and progressive rock.

“We’re certainly not out to compete with the modern-day rock n’ roll market,” Cameron explained. “We’re not interested in that and I think our music doesn’t sound like that at all. We’re just trying to achieve a little musical creativity and we’re just trying to have fun with it.”

Guitarist John McBain elaborated on Wellwater’s desire to maintain creative control and independence with their work.

“The industry wants to slap leather pants on you and make you wear those ridiculous orange-tinted glasses,” he said. “Matt and I had done that to a degree with our previous bands. Wellwater Conspiracy was a reaction. We just wanted to start all over.”

And start over they did. Wellwater Conspiracy signifies a return to the organic, melodic rock of early Pink Floyd, The Who and even The Beach Boys. Gleaning inspiration from European prog-rock and psychedelic bands of the late 1960s, the album fluctuates between the laid-back guitar and simplistic, dreamy vocals of “Galaxy 265” to the complex layers of electronic and instrumental sounds found on “Rebirth.”

In comparison to Wellwater’s previous releases, Cameron finds this release to be “better realized in certain aspects.”

“I think we’re getting to know our recording gear a bit better, and there’s just certain arrangement things that I think are a little more sophisticated this time around. We’re just trying to push the envelope a little bit,” he said.

As a whole, the record’s eleven tracks ebb and flow with the deliberate ease of a concept album. The opening track, “Wimple Witch,” is a poor choice to start the record, however, and is one of the weakest and most formulaic songs found on the album. Its mid-tempo, pop-rock style and dull lyrics are far too safe and unoriginal to open an album of such diversity.

Lyrics and vocals are, the record’s biggest faults. Wellwater is a bit of a departure for Matt Cameron as he adds the roles of primary lyricist and vocalist to his list of duties.

His vocals are overproduced, in the style associated with 60s and 70s rock, effects-laden and dynamically unimaginative.

High-pitched coos and echoey effects permeate the songs;. “Something in the Air,” Wellwater Conspiracy’s Beach Boys-esque track, finds Cameron’s voice sounding strained, as if he is attempting to maintain control of his falsetto. By the time the song’s electronic breakdown and syncopated beats kick in after roughly two minutes, the change is definitely welcomed.

Cameron recognizes the difficulties he faces as key writer and voice for Wellwater Conspiracy.

“I’ve always written songs on the side and I’ve always tried to write pop songs with vocals. I think John was kind of encouraging this time around to just have me be the main singer and write all the lyrics. I’m not really talented in that respect, but I think it works for our band. I think creatively there’s certainly more on the plate for me and I really enjoy that challenge.”

Songs like “Dragonwyck,” “Sullen Glacier,” and the final track, “Dresden Overture” best showcase Wellwater’s ability to put a modern spin on their inspirations with psychedelic, out-of-sync forays into guitar, drums, vocals, and electronica, as well as McBain’s stellar trippy and fuzzbox guitar work.

When compared with the material of Cameron and McBain’s current and former bands, the two enjoy working and creating beyond their distinguished realms, without the pressure and bureaucracy associated with a major label album or group.

“(Our sound) is completely different. We’re a little more of a studio project than a traditional group like Pearl Jam is. We both play a lot of instruments and we enjoy producing our own music and recording it ourselves, so it’s kind of outside the realm of the traditional band set-up,” said Cameron.

McBain echoed Cameron on Wellwater’s laid-back approach to writing and recording: “We don’t have a particular sound. Our goal is just to make albums, not to come up with a marketing plan.”

Wellwater Conspiracy is an album that takes the listener on a journey through ethereal musical landscapes, highlighted by McBain’s fluid and experimental guitar and the band’s interesting use of electronic effects.

While rough spots abound, the record’s instrumental tracks and extended jam sections are worth more than a cursory listen.

Although Wellwater Conspiracy has no current plans to tour behind its release, Cameron is quick to downplay the group’s presence as little more than your standard “side project:”

“It started innocently enough,” he said, “but we’re just really well suited to each other. It’s been one of those really good telepathic musical relationships.”