Free and organic rock? Sounds like a Conspiracy

by Tina Potterf for Seattle Times Magazine

Wellwater Conspiracy is a mini-supergroup, its founding members brethren of two of the best known hard-rock and grunge bands of the 1990s.

But don’t expect a leaden, guttural rock sound from this Seattle band featuring former Soundgarden — and current Pearl Jam — drummer Matt Cameron and ex-Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain. (Glenn Slater of the Walkabouts is also part of the Conspiracy). Instead, Wellwater Conspiracy has built a cult-like following with a sound that bridges psychedelic and classic rock with punches of pop.

In many ways the band’s fourth release, an eponymous recording hitting stores Tuesday, is more structured and refined than its previous work, but it still has the Wellwater trademark: free and organic.

“We don’t scrutinize parts too much,” McBain said. “It’s kind of ‘as-is’ rock.”

While many artists and bands heavily promote each release, Wellwater Conspiracy rarely tours and records music on its own clock, in between Cameron’s touring with Pearl Jam and the other members’ individual projects.

Wellwater Conspiracy is principally a side project that began with another side project, Hater, featuring the Wellwater fellows and Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd.

During the Hater-period, Cameron and McBain began to noodle around with songs that would eventually appear on the first Wellwater Conspiracy album, “Declaration of Conformity.”

Is it possible this little “side project” could one day become Cameron and McBain’s full-time avocation? The two recently talked about the prospects.

Q: Was Wellwater Conspiracy intended to be a studio project, rather than a touring band?

Matt: Yes, strictly a recording project. We didn’t really have the time to get a band together and to go out touring.

John: Initially it was just me recording my songs and us floating songs to friends. Never really any plans on playing this stuff out live. Once the first record came out and the response was good, we started playing around town. I think we’ve done about a dozen shows.

Q: Considering that Wellwater Conspiracy took shape at the height of the grunge movement, did you guys make a calculated decision to do a side project that was decidedly different?

John: It would have been easy for us to do the Soundgarden, Monster Magnet thing. I had always loved ’60s and ’70s rock. I really wanted to get into more of the pop stuff and away from the heavy rock. I think I was deliberately trying to steer myself away from that big, heavy guitar fuzz (rock). Three-minute little pop songs. I didn’t want to make it too heavy, too rock.

Q: Will Wellwater Conspiracy ever become your full-time gig?

Matt: I think all the elements would have to be right. We’re all kind of doing a lot with other groups. Full time to me means just making records and playing sporadic shows here and there. If I didn’t have the Pearl Jam gig, I probably would consider it. We don’t want to take it to the point where we are shoving it down people’s throats. We want to make it fun and interesting and keep the music exciting.

Q: Any bands on the Seattle scene right now that you guys are especially intrigued by?

Matt: I like the new Death Cab for Cutie record. And there’s this really wicked good band from Sacramento called Hella.

John: By far the best band I’ve seen in Seattle is Kinski. They are semi-instrumental, and they’ve kind of got a ’70s-German prog-rock thing going on. At times they can be really reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. I think they really are the best band in town right now because they are doing something completely different. They don’t have an agenda.

Q: What’s rewarding about working together on the Wellwater Conspiracy?

Matt: It’s completely outside of the parameters of the modern-day rock band. And we’re good enough as musicians to fully conceive and conceptualize our music, how we want it to sound and produce, arrange, everything. So I personally like working that way, where I have a lot of control over what the final product will be. Making records over the years, with big-time record labels, you can really lose focus on why you’re there, which is to make great music. It’s really nice to have an environment where there’s none of those outside pressures and still have an audience.

John: Just the recording process. If we could be recording everyday. It’s just so easy to do it with (Matt).

Q: What have learned about the music industry over the years?

John: The thing I’ve learned is own your recordings. Don’t sell your recordings. I would say just be in control of it and be stubborn. I’ve learned to be really stubborn and learned when to turn on the angry switch. Don’t sell your songs.

Q: Are some people surprised that you, as a drummer, Matt, can actually sing?

Matt: I think I surprised a few here and there. It’s always a little bit scary when the drummer wants to sing. I sang in high school; I always kind of sang back up. It’s kind of fun but I would certainly never want to become a lead singer. I’ll keep singing as long as my mom likes it.

Tina Potterf: 206-464-8214 or