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How An Indian Trio Roped in Former Pearl Jam Drummer Drummer Dave Abbruzzese

Pseutopia, comprising Mithun Raju from Thaikkudam Bridge, bassist Shyam Narayan and vocalist Laji George, drop a tribute video for Chris Cornell

Mohan Kumar K Apr 19, 2019

Multi-city alt-rock and Pseutopia (left) and former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

When an Indian band gets a former Pearl Jam drummer to lay the beats for them, it’s nothing short of a collaboration coup. In a way, this is a resurrection of sorts for the three-piece, multi-city band, Pseutopia. The trio recently dropped their debut video (a tribute to the late Chris Cornell), where the artist pounding the drums is none other than Dave Abbruzzese, the drummer on iconic Pearl Jam’s albums, Vs. and Vitalogy.

The band comprising Laji George on vocals, Shyam Narayan on bass and Mithun Raju on guitars took the Zeppelin-esque “Seasons”—a Chris Cornell fan favorite from the Singles soundtrack (1992)—and launched it into the hard rock realm. Raju says, “When Chris Cornell died, we decided to do a tribute. The project got delayed but through a contact we sent a demo to Dave. He liked it, and agreed to be a part of it.”

With the three members scattered across Kochi, Bengaluru and New Jersey, the band has been recording their album remotely. Pseutopia, however, is not a new band. The roots of the band can be traced back to their school days, way back in the Nineties. In fact, a part of Pseutopia was elemental in the formation of progressive rock titans Motherjane—in 1996, drummer John Thomas and bassist Clyde Rozario formed the band with Raju and George.

Pseutopia, in its current avatar, with an alternative rock legend lending his weight on their comeback, has turned some heads. The stats of their tribute video shows good overseas response, but not much hits from India. Last month, the trio released a video for their single “Crooked Nose,” an unrestrained, string laden acoustic song. But the band and Abbruzzese are eager to drop an original in the near future. “I am currently tracking the drums and, in my opinion, the song is a very exciting piece of powerful work,” says Abbruzzese.

In a chat with Rolling Stone India, Raju and Abbruzzese talk about Pseutopia, Cornell’s death and future projects.

You guys must be kicked about the collaboration with Dave Abbruzzese

Mithun Raju: We’ve been influenced by the mid-Nineties sound led by the likes of Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden and Dave has been a childhood hero, especially after watching Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged.

What were your thoughts on collaborating with an Indian band after you heard the “Seasons” demo?

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Dave Abbruzzese: My first thought was that I had to do this.  The version they did really spoke to me. I could instantly feel what they were doing and the interpretation was powerful.

Why did you choose “Seasons” as the tribute song?

Raju: We love the song. The song being an acoustic song had the potential to be heavier. Also, it’s not easy to pull off a Chris Cornell song.

How did you take to the news of Chris Cornell’s death?

Abbruzzese: I will never forget it. I have had the benefit of a great many people in my life leaving an indelible imprint on my life. As I get older, they get older and too many of them are gone. Always unexpected and always a stark reminder to cherish the times as they are happening. I had a hard time accepting the news that Chris was gone for so many reasons. My love and respect for Chris and his brother Peter (I played drums on Peter Cornell’s Champion album) made this a particularly challenging event. It still is.

You’ve been the drummer on two of the most influential Pearl Jam albums. How was that experience? Do you wish things were different?

Abbruzzese: Yes. How was the experience? Ha! That is a small question with a huge answer. It was a good experience. We worked our asses off and we generated the success that followed. It was truly amazing to be a part of such a powerful group. From where we were when we were getting started to where we were when I was fired from the band… it was a rewarding experience.

I don’t look at life in such a way that allows me to wish things were different. I make every effort to appreciate all aspects of my life experience. That being said, I do wonder what the music would have been [like] had the band continued with that line up.

How has been the response so far for the song? Over 113,000 views at last count.

Raju: The song has received little attention in India. A major chunk of listeners are from the US and South America. We’ve been getting great reactions from around the world. Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) even shared the link on his Instagram page. We’ve very satisfied with the response.

I’m told that everybody is thrilled with the Chris Cornell tribute and there’s going to be at least one more Pseutopia track with you? 

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Abbruzzese: The fact that our version of the song has been received so well is very rewarding. I am proud to have been a part of this track. And yes, there is another track coming soon.

You guys have been friends since school days. In a way Pseutopia began to take roots back then…

Raju: We formed Pseutopia during our school days in the Nineties even before Motherjane happened. We later met John Thomas and Clyde, and Motherjane happened. Pseutopia never took off because we all went our separate ways until the Internet and Skype brought us back together.

Three members in three different cities. How does that work?

Raju: We’ve been working and recording remotely and began releasing our demos on platforms like Reverbnation back in 2011. They were popular as an underground entity. Making the videos have been a challenge.

You’ve recorded enough material for an album. Can we expect your debut record soon?

Raju: Our plan is to release the songs as singles as we feel the music culture is at a stage where not many listeners buy and listen to an entire album. We’ll release songs at regular intervals along with some videos on YouTube. We’ve recorded nine songs that need to be mixed. We’re also concerned about the financials and logistics. We might release a full-fledged album eventually.

What’s been your creative approach to your two main projects, Pseutopia and Thaikkudam Bridge?

Raju: They are two entirely different types of bands. One is a multi-genre mish-mash while the other sticks to an alternative rock sound. Thaikkudam Bridge has a wide range of musicians influenced by Hindustani to hip-hop while in Pseutopia we have similar taste and thought process and are clear about what we want. Rarely do we have a difference of opinion. It goes without saying that creatively, Pseutopia gives me more room to experiment.

Anything brewing as far as new projects or bands anytime soon?

Abbruzzese: I have been working on my own record for quite some time. Shawn Smith (part of Seattle rock bands Brad,  Satchel who passed away last week) and I have collaborated on some really great music. I am currently working on drum tracks for Joel Beazer, Symphinity, Bennie and the Jets, Nerd Table and other projects. I keep busy behind the kit and am enjoying music as much as ever. Thank goodness.