Seattle rockers Pearl Jam are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style—with a new music-heavy documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty, directed by Cameron Crowe, which was released briefly in select theaters, turned up on PBS in late October and is now out on DVD; a double-CD soundtrack album compiled by Crowe; and even a big, photo-filled coffee table book devoted to the group. All this from a band that has traditionally been boldly pushing forward at all times and gaining momentum with each passing year.
Pearl Jam Twenty features performances that span the group’s entire career, literally from their second gig opening for Alice in Chains in 1990 to the present. And though there is some interview footage of the band (some shot specifically for the film) interspersed along the way, it is still by and large a music film—Crowe and others have compared the approach to the much-lauded 1979 The Who doc, The Kids Are Alright.
Primary film mixer Eric R. Fischer in his studio space
The film’s primary mixer was Eric R. Fischer, who laughingly admits that he got the job “from pure nepotism. My brother, Andy Fischer, is a producer who has been working for Cameron for years.” That may true, but it doesn’t mean Eric Fischer was not highly qualified: “I’ve been an engineer since ’93, and on and off I’ve helped on a couple of things for Andy and Cameron. For instance, I mixed a couple of tunes for Elizabethtown. So when this project came up and they got closer to being finished with editing, Cameron asked Andy if I’d be interested in mixing the movie, and of course I said, ‘Yes.’ Engineering-wise, this is the direction I’ve been going the past couple of years—mixing for picture.”
Fischer came onboard once the editing was close to being finished (by Kevin Klauber and Chris Perkel, who also helped with the sound design and music editing), so he had the advantage of knowing what pieces of music were going to be used and how. Fortunately for Fischer, too, many of the recordings he was working with for the film were high-quality multitracks.
“Pearl Jam has a really extensive vault,” he says, “and over the years they’ve been good about gathering whatever sources are out there, in addition to recording all their live shows from a certain point on. Because Cameron has such a good relationship with the band, we had access to everything, so as we were getting into it and mapping things out, I’d say, ‘Let’s get the multitrack of “Jeremy” off Ten and do a 5.1 mix of that for this section of the movie,’ and a day or two later—boom—we’d have it. If multitracks were available and were recorded, we got ’em, so a lot of the live material was mixed from scratch.”
Brett Eliason, who was Pearl Jam’s front-of-house engineer for their first decade, has worked with them in the studio and spearheaded literally dozens of Pearl Jam live releases through the years, recording multitracks regularly in the late ’90s on ADATs before moving on to Pro Tools. John Burton has been the group’s main live recording engineer and audio archivist in recent years. “For the stuff that was before [multitracks],” Fischer notes, “we had a ridiculous assortment of sources, from 4-track to Hi-8 camera audio to DAT recorded alongside 16mm film.” Fischer also did all of the dialog clean-up, editing and mixing.
Fischer’s studio in the hip Silver Lake district of L.A. includes a Pro Tools|HD3 rig, a Sound Performance Lab SMC-2489 monitor box, five Yamaha HSM 80s near-fields and a Yamaha SW10 for a subwoofer. Though he owns a considerable amount of traditional outboard gear, for this project, which was mixed entirely in the box, he used only plug-ins. For example, “I’ve started using Sonnox plug-ins, especially the Inflator plug-in on the older 2-track stuff, and it worked great,” he says. “It’s kind of like a ‘loudness’ button on a stereo. It adds some upper-end harmonic stuff and it heightens the bottom end. It was a big help.
“I’ve also started using Waves plug-ins a lot—like the [M360] surround suite, and I absolutely fell in love with a couple of their EQs,” he continues. “For this project, I bought the UA DUO—the FireWire box that’s a processor for their plug-ins—and I started buying a lot of their plug-ins like the 1176. This is a competitive business, and when you have your own studio you get to that point where you think, ‘Do I spring for a $2,000 LA-2A or should I buy this plug-in?’ I actually almost bought an actual plate for this project because we were going for that Live at Leeds [The Who’s 1970 live album] plate sound, but the [UA EMT 140] plug-in was so good I didn’t need it.”
Fischer used multitrack masters to create surround mixes for 21 different songs in the film, and the full versions of each of those appear on a second DVD of complete performances of songs that are in the main documentary. As the band’s representative, Eliason made a few suggestions for tweaks, but in general it was left to Fischer to finesse the mixes. Then re-recording mixers Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett (both veterans with amazing credits) used Fischer’s stems “and took it to the next level,” Fischer says. “That was a nice learning experience for me working with them.”
Still, he says, “It was Cameron’s show. The film is a great journey. It’s not just another rock documentary. It’s much more.”
Video: Pearl Jam Twenty Trailer