Wellwater Conspiracy flows from Pearl Jam, Seattle music scene

by Tom Scanlon for the Seattle Times

Matt Cameron has been the drummer in two bands you may have heard of: Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. He toured the world with the latter for nearly 10 years. Then, when Soundgarden split up, he joined Pearl Jam, and started touring the world all over again.

Unless you’re a real music aficionado, you may not have heard of his third band: Wellwater Conspiracy. Though this is a flying-under-the-radar project, Cameron is pretty excited about it. … Well, as excited as you can be when you have that been-platinum, done-“Saturday Night Live” thing going.

“We’re very low-profile,” says Cameron, speaking in a very low voice as he sits in his Aurora Avenue recording studio, across from his Wellwater co-conspirator, John McBain. “We’d like to keep it that way.”

McBain was the guitar player with New Jersey space-rock band Monster Magnet when he met Cameron. McBain soon quit Monster Magnet and moved to Seattle, joining Cameron and Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd in Hater. Then Cameron and McBain spun off Wellwater Conspiracy in 1993.

“We were just goofing around,” Cameron says. But the stuff they recorded in Space Studios (which Cameron shares with other Soundgardeners) led to two albums, “Declaration and Conformity” (1997) and “Brotherhood of Electric: Operational Directives” (1999).

Now comes a third Wellwater album, “The Scroll and Its Combinations,” released in late May by TVT Records.

“It’s not going to be a big seller,” Cameron says, then shoots a glance at McBain and smiles. “If it did, that would be great.”

“There wasn’t a lot of money put into it,” adds McBain, smoking a cigarette on a weathered couch, “so our level of success is different than Korn or Limp Bizkit.” (Or Pearl Jam.)

Low-budget or no, “The Scroll and Its Combinations” is a ripping good album, with echoes of garage rock and psychedelic pop of the ’60s and ’70s. There are hints of Beatles, Who, Moody Blues, Cream. … Yet the album is far from a reheating of oldies; it has a decidedly fresh, funky feel – knowing, but not ironic.

“The Scroll” has received some good reviews. (Guitar Player magazine: “Intriguing tunes with great melodies and arrangements.”) And it’s a must for students and collectors of the Seattle scene, as it features guest work by Shepherd and Kim Thayil. While Cameron sings vocals on several tracks, among the guest vocalists is a fellow by the name of Wes C. Addle … it’s really Eddie Vedder.

“He’s been a fan of the band for a while, and wanted to do something with us,” Cameron says of Addle/Vedder, who does some of the best work of his career on the Wellwater song “Felicity’s Surprise” (written by McBain).

Philosophical rock question: Can you open for yourself? Cameron apparently did just that, when Wellwater Conspiracy opened for one of Pearl Jam’s Key Arena shows in November. Wellwater also played shows at the Crocodile and Sit & Spin last winter.

Now McBain and Cameron hope to line up more shows around Seattle, and perhaps a modest tour.

Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company