Although I got my high school degree in Texas, I was fortunate enough to come home to Germany for the graduation of my former class. I remember going to the party and walking past the party room. I heard this monster riff, incredibly fat drums, a strained voice mumbling incomprehensible lyrics, and the refrain taking off in the best head-banging mode I had previously only encountered in metal (I never liked metal in my teens, I found it a bit ludicrous to be honest). But this song… THIS song! Damn, it took your head clean off, and it had an honesty I had never heard in metal.
Turns out, it wasn’t metal at all. I grabbed someone who had danced to it and asked “who the hell was that?” He just grinned and said: “Nirvana”.
Yeah, Smells like Teen Spirit had come, and it pushed me in a new direction. Suddenly there was this energy, this music that fused punk and rock and metal. I immediately sought out everything I could find, stumbled over the term “grunge” (before it became a marketing ploy), and discovered Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney… and Pearl Jam. Oh man, Pearl Jam pushed me even further. It was the band I had waited for all my life. They were unabashedly emotional, they were good songwriters, they were fierce and tender and angry and raw and refined and defiant and vulnerable. And they had Eddie Vedder. This surfer guy who was slumming it in California had come out of nowhere, and he sang these deep songs with a voice that grabbed your heart and tore it out again and again. Back then, he did sing a bit like he had a hot potato in his mouth, but the emotional delivery was impeccable. He was so intense he was scary – look at the MTV unplugged concert and watch his eyes.
Now I’ve been a Pearl Jam fan since the get-go, and they are the one band that has never, ever disappointed me. They’ve grown, as bands should, they’ve developed and branched out, they have mellowed (a bit, as adults should), but they still have it. They rock, and they can still tear your heart out. But Eddie…he’s been a mixed blessing for me. I started writing songs on the guitar, simple ones, trying to avoid complexity for the sake of emotion. That was an important step. But, alas – I tried to sound like Eddie Vedder. It’s been bad for my voice, because 1. I don’t sound like him, 2. my voice is in a lower register, and 3. I should have developed my individual voice instead of emulating someone else. To this day, I have to be conscious of the Vedder-trap, and to sing what my voice wants me to sing.
Amusingly, I once read that Chris Martin from Coldplay had the same problem when he was starting out. Got to admit it, though, being inspired by an artist makes it all worth it. Even the few artistic missteps you take on the path of discovering what makes you you.