Matt Cameron: There’s Something in the Wellwater

by Jared Cobb
for Drum! Magazine, June/July 2001

There’s something in the Well Water at Space Studios in Seattle and Matt Cameron is drinking it down in quenching 24-Track gulps.  After reaching platinum success with Grammy Award winning Soundgarden and filling the riser for grunge legend Pearl Jam, Cameron embarked on a journey of Retro-Rock and self expression by forming Wellwater Conspiracy with Ex-Monster Magnet John McBain. 

The duo’s love for unadulterated analog recording and their desire to break the chains of industry exploitation blends to create an old sound that’s newer than now. Cameron and McBain trade instruments on the Scroll and Its Combinations, swapping guitars, drums, bass and vocals with boundless freedom.

Drum!: How do the risks and rewards of doing a project like Wellwater Conspiracy compare to playing with Pearl Jam?

Cameron: We don’t have a big deal or a big management situation or anything, so there’s a lot less pressure. But you’re not going to get any monetary rewards that a band like Pearl Jam would. I think musically, it’s very rewarding for both of us and that’s the main reason we like doing it. We just do what we want to do and that’s kind of the beginning and the end of it. We don’t have to write a hit single or be on MTV or any of that kind of junk. In that respect, it’s great (laughs). I think that’s reward in and of itself.

Drum!: Why do you and John McBain gel so well musically?

Cameron: We share an interest in certain types of sounds and eras of bands and recording, and we just crack each other up. So it’s still a fun recording project in that sense. But I think we both understand the way a good rock band should work and we both like songs that have interesting melodic twists and rhythmic changes and things like that.

Drum!: The drums sound fantastic on this album.

Cameron: Oh, thanks. It’s kind of raw. It’s not a ProTools drum sound, that’s for sure (laughs). You can hear some low end and stuff.

Drum!: What’s the secret to getting that old-school raw drum sound?

Cameron: I used a lot of old drums. I have an old Yamaha kit from the beginning of Soundgarden and I used that quite a bit as well as the first Ayotte kit that I got from them. And I used a lot of cracked cymbals, going for that Steve Gadd kind of sound.  We try to use as few mikes as possible to keep the mixing simple. I like to get a good overhead sound and a kick and snare mikes. (We use) tom mikes as well, but not always. I try to have the sound that goes on tape really represent the way that I play dynamically. It’s a little easier to mix that way because I’m not trying to compensate for some lack of dynamics in my playing.

Drum!: Is there a method to playing with expression or is it just a feel you develop over time?

Cameron: For me it was a matter of really hunkering down and getting really comfortable with the drum set and learning enough about it to where I could go outside of that and find some form of expression. And that, for me, just came from taking lessons on how to get comfortable with my posture and my hands. I think that really helped me get super comfortable with playing the drum set.

Drum!: What’s next?

Cameron: I’m going to do another Pearl Jam album with the Pearl Jam boys, probably sometime next year. And I’m sure they’ll want to do some touring. Then I wouldn’t mind doing some more studio work. I’ve got a kid now and I’m definitely into being a dad and staying home. I’m now the older generation, which is kind of absurd.

Drum!: What advice would you give to all the young players following your career?

Cameron: If you have fun as a young musician, it doesn’t matter how far you get on the business side. As long as you have some form of expression, which might lead to a creative endeavor, I think that’s just a really healthy thing to have in your life. Music is such a wonderful form of expression. I wish more people knew something about it. I think the world would be a better place.