When Pearl Jam entered the studio in the spring of 1993 to start recording the follow up to 1991’s Ten, the pressure was high. Like their contemporaries in the Seattle grunge scene, Pearl Jam had been quite suddenly vaulted to the forefront of pop culture. Even worse, they were often dismissively placed in a secondary role to Nirvana, whose lead singer Kurt Cobain took quite a bit of joy in bashing the band that he saw as a trend-chasing former hair metal act.
Looking to reiterate their aggressive bona fides, Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band sought out a darker and rawer sound for their second LP. They brought in producer Brendan O’Brien specifically to strip them of the studio sheen that had made Ten so immediately radio-friendly. Although they still had mainstream-friendly material, including acoustic numbers like ‘Daughter’ and ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’, the band were growing wearier of chasing hit singles, so much so that they rejected ‘Better Man’ for inclusion on the album when O’Brien opinioned that it could be a chart success.
The more radical sound that the band were aiming for was immediately audible on Vs.‘s opening track ‘Go’, during which Mike McCready can be heard slamming his guitar into the floor. O’Brien favoured this intimate approach, with studio chatter being heard throughout the album, including on the intro to ‘Daughter’. O’Brien also captured another moment of frustration on tape, this time at the end of ‘Rearviewmirror’, the high energy track that appears on side two of the LP.
According to Kim Neely’s Pearl Jam biography Five Against One, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was put under enormous pressure, both by the band and by O’Brien, during the recording of Vs. Abbruzzese entered into a volatile position, with two previous drummers having come and gone in just two years. Looking to capture the perfect take, O’Brien had Abbruzzese record the drum part over and over, to the point where Abbruzzese saw his frustration boil over. At the end of ‘Rearviewmirror’, the clattering of Abbruzzese’s drum sticks can be heard as he throws them across the room.
This apparently wasn’t the end of it either. The band were recording at a picturesque hillside studio called The Site in Nicasio, California, but the calming setting didn’t stop Abbruzzese from punching a hole in his snare drum and throwing it over the side of one of the studio’s cliffs, according to Neely. Abbruzzese never truly got comfortable in Pearl Jam, and although he contributed to two of the band’s best-loved albums, Abbruzzese would get the boot from the group less than a year after the release of Vs.
Check out the tantrum that concludes ‘Rearviewmirror’ down below.