Painted Shield 2 Out Now
Painted Shield's 2 — the second release from Pearl Jam co-founder Stone Gossard, folksinger Mason Jennings, soul innovator Brittany Davis, and iconic drummer Matt Chamberlain — is more than the sum of its parts. It's a different equation entirely, reaching far beyond its members' individual careers to create a genre-bending, rhythmic rock sound that makes room for electronic soundscapes, organic bombast, and four-way songwriting collaborations that defy categorization.
"It's the assassination of genre," says Davis, pointing to a track list that includes full-throttle guitar rock ("Dead Man's Dream"), nocturnal funk-pop ("Til God Turns the Lights On"), and percussive, synth-driven atmospherics ("Alien"). A meteoric solo artist whose debut single, 2022's "I Choose to Live," was a battle cry of perseverance from a non-binary, African-American, blind musician in a divisive world, Davis has never been reluctant to break boundaries. That same spirit permeates Pained Shield's work. "We kill the idea that there's a formula you're supposed to follow," Davis continues. "We make things our own. It's like saying a word in another language, when the word in English doesn't exist. Even if you can't always translate it, you can still feel it."
2 was written while the recording sessions for Painted Shield's self-titled debut — a blend of moody synthesizers and riff-ready roots rock, championed by outlets like American Songwriter for its "eclectic aesthetic" — were coming to a close. Gossard and Jennings had been working together since 2014, turning their cross-country friendship into a long-distance collaboration whose songs reached far beyond Jenning's sharply-written folk records and Gossard's history-making alt-rock. Although inspired, their collaborations were sporadic at first, with Jennings funneling his focus into solo projects 2018's Songs From When We Met and Gossard regularly hitting the road with Pearl Jam, the band he'd helped hatch from the ashes of Mother Love Bone in 1990.
Things changed during the quarantined months of 2020, when the two homebound friends began emailing songs back and forth at a quicker pace. Gossard widened the circle by adding drummer Matt Chamberlain — one of the highest-regarded timekeepers in modern-day rock & roll, having performed with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Wallflowers, and Bob Dylan — and solo artist Brittany Davis. Chamberlain and Davis had both released music of their own on Stone Gossard's influential label, Loosegroove Records, but this was something new. This was a chance to explore the far-flung corners of the musical interests shared by four songwriters with four different backgrounds. A chance to blur the lines between genre and generation. 2021's Painted Shield captured that period of evolution and exploration, but it was 2022's Painted Shield 2 — the band's first record to include writing equal-sized contributions from all four members, with Davis and Jennings sharing vocal duties — that truly defines the full scope of the band's abilities.
"At this point, we're wide open to be whatever we want to be," says Chamberlain. "This doesn't have to be a traditional rock band. It could be an electronic-rock thing. It could be more folky, like Mason's solo material. It's a crazy combination once you add Brittany, who's from the church and comes at the music from a funky R&B angle. I don't know what the hell this all is. It's just fun at the moment."
The four musicians tracked Painted Shield 2 at their respective home studios across America. Chamberlain, his tour dates as a member of Bob Dylan's band brought to a halt by the Covid-19 pandemic, found himself at home in Los Angeles, creating beats, instrumental beds, and looped soundscapes using drums and modular synthesizers. A thousand miles to the north, Gossard — still fresh from the upper reaches of the Billboard Top 200, where Pearl Jam's eleventh album, Gigaton, had climbed to Number 5 in 2020 — was generating idea of his own in a Seattle studio. Those demos — an electric guitar riff here, a moody blend of drums and synths there — all found their way into a shared Dropbox folder, where the band's two vocalists chimed in. Jennings added melodies and lyrics, allowing the ambiance of each each instrumental demo to steer him in some thematic direction. Brittany Davis did the same, tossing funky bass parts and synthesized guitar solos into the mix. They both sang, too — sometimes separately, sometimes blending their voices into lockstep harmonies.
"There's a real harmony to the way Brit and Mason inhabit both a lyric and vocal together," says Gossard. "When they're doing dual lead vocals or a really strong harmony throughout an entire song, I equate it to something as identifiable as X, where a band develops this voice that's two people but one sound."
For Jennings, Painted Shield 2 offered the same kind of collaborative catharsis.
"Matt or Stone would send over some musical ideas, and I'd listen to these musical beds and just see what wanted to grow there," explains the singer/songwriter, whose released another solo record, Real Heart, between Painted Shield and Painted Shield 2. "It was a question of, 'What's going to fit?' It was all about listening, getting into a song's specific state of mind, and trying to make each piece of music better, rather than creating something from scratch."
The songs deepened and diversified as they bounced from person to person. "The music could've gone in any direction at any point," Gossard remembers. "We flipped songs on their heads. We had Brit singing some of Mason's songs. We had guitar riffs being played by synthesizers. We had Josh Evans serving as our producer, taking in a lot of information from four musicians and giving us a nice synthesis. There was this sense of shared ownership. We knew we were making something that belonged to all of us."
The result is an album that takes aim at the head, the heart, and the hips. It's a mix of the electronic and the organic — a moody rock album that genuinely moves, from the funky fire and industrialized guitar crunch that propel "Til God Turns the Lights On" to the raw garage-rock that supercharges "Falling Out of the Sky." On "Dead Man's Dream," the band builds a bridge between the dance floor and the stadium stage, with syncopated guitar riffs and rapid-fire verses giving way to an explosive chorus. Painted Shield's sense of movement can be soft and deliberate, too. "Life in Rewind" is a fever dream of a slow-simmering soul song — equal parts gospel grace, 1960s R&B spirit, and dreamy reverb — and "White" is a leisurely piece of left-field folk, laced with watercolored streaks of digital noise.
"I'm so inspired by working with such inspiring, creative people," says Jennings. "I've been releasing albums for nearly 25 years, but I haven't done anything like this before. It's very much an active project, too. We're halfway through 'Album Three' already."