Earlier this year, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready completed the music for a new documentary, The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash, which premiered this week at South by Southwest. The movie, directed by Thom Zimny (Elvis Presley: The Searcher), uses archival footage and interviews with Cash’s family and friends and attempts to add color to the story of the Man in Black. It also proved to be a transformative experience for McCready.
“I got to actually go to his house and play at his studio, which was a total honor,” McCready tells Rolling Stone. “I actually sung a song there, which is terrifying to me, because I’ve been around so many amazing singers in my life.”
The guitarist credits some of that courage to sing from his recent collaboration with visual artist Kate Neckel, Infinite Sound and Color. He’s helped her to feel more comfortable making music, and she has encouraged him to embrace his artistic sensibilities, something he’d long denied after growing up in a household where his art-teacher mother had surrounded him with works of the Old Masters that intimidated him. Both McCready and Neckel told Rolling Stone in a recent feature that they had forced themselves to be more vulnerable and embrace the things that scared them. “That’s part of this vulnerability,” McCready says of working on the Cash doc. “I think this project with Kate helped me have the confidence to sing. I never felt comfortable singing.”
He’s happy that working on the music for The Gift occurred at the same time he was working on Infinite Sound and Color. Neckel says it became part of one artistic confluence. “When Mike was working on the Johnny Cash thing, I was sitting down at the studio [with him], and he just passes me a guitar,” she says. “He’s like, ‘Here. Start drawing on this guitar with a Sharpie.’ That’s how our whole process has been. It’s super organic and natural. It’s never serious. It’s like, ‘Here, let’s try this.’”
As for Pearl Jam, McCready says he hopes to work on something new with them soon. “We haven’t done anything since we were on the road last year,” he says. “I’m not sure what we’re doing. I’d love to do something, but I don’t have anything right now on the table. We just had a big touring year last year, and two giant shows in Seattle for a homeless benefit. And those were amazing and exhausting and exhilarating. When we all get back together, I’m sure we’ll be creating again. But I don’t have any timeline on that right now.”
In the meantime, McCready and Neckel are prepping the opening of their Infinite Color & Sound exhibition, Sway. It opens at Seattle’s Winston Wächter Fine Art gallery on March 22nd.