Pearl Jam was indeed recording a Target commercial under the direction of Cameron Crowe last week at Seattle's Showbox theater, Billboard can confirm. But there's more to the story than an exclusive retail relationship.
While it has been known that Pearl Jam are no longer under contract after 18 years of recording for Sony-affiliated labels, there has been only speculation about who would release their next album and how. Kelly Curtis, who has managed Pearl Jam since day one, conducted a wide-ranging interview with Billboard on Sunday night, confirming that the band's next release - rumored to be called "Backspacer" and currently scheduled for an early fall release - would come without a U.S. label, but a consortium of partners, including Target as the "big box" retail partner.
"We'll have a lot of partners," said Curtis, who confirmed that deals were also finished or in the works with an online retailer, a mobile partner, a gaming company and with a network or possibly networks of indie retail stores. "Target ended up allowing us to have other partners. We'll be able to take care of all levels of the Pearl Jam fan...We wish we could tell the whole story right now, but all the deals aren't done. Target was cool enough to realize that little independent record stores are not their competition." Curtis was also quick to note that the album would be for sale via Pearl Jam's fan club, Ten Club.
News of the Target commercial taping first broke last week on antiquiet.com, which is also hosting a bootleg recording from the Target taping of a song that Curtis confirmed was called "The Fixer." While a first single hasn't been definitively chosen from the new album yet, the song is in the running. An official first single will likely be released in July.
Curtis said that the Target commercial was only one reason for the Showbox session; with singer Eddie Vedder on tour supporting his solo work for the next month, "we had a narrow window to get some footage," says Curtis. "We shot three or four songs that night." Curtis said that some of the footage may be used for a project that Cameron Crowe is working on in connection to the band's 20th anniversary.
Pearl Jam will play at least one new song tonight on the debut of "The Tonight Show" with Conan O'Brien. "That was booked months ago," said Curtis. "We didn't even know if the album was going to be finished when we booked it. It isn't like we're releasing a single after the show or anything." And while blogs are rampant with speculation that the band will play "The Fixer," Curtis said the band was still kicking around "two or three songs, all of them new" to perform.
Curtis also confirmed that the band would tour to support this latest album, and that internationally, the album would be released via Universal Music Group.
"I make decisions around the band's business that are consistent with their overall philosophy," said Curtis, "which is to sell music in a way that's accessible and affordable to their fans, on every distribution platform that their fans access music, and in a way that takes care of the little guys.
"Everyone's making assumptions because Target is a big corporation," said Curtis. "Its important to remember we just got out of this 18 year relationship with Sony, and I'm pretty sure they are a bigger corporation than Target. We have the freedom to pick our partners and more control when we've ever had before. We're excited to choose who we're in business with."
Curtis says it was important to him and to the band to redefine the notion of an "exclusive" retail partnership. "I appreciate the efforts of bands like AC/DC and Radiohead," says the manager, alluding to two of the bands that have self-released albums recently. "But I wanted our plan to be multi-dimensional to address old and modern ways of fans accessing music. It will allow all of our fans to have the same access."
"This is an ongoing experiment," said Curtis. "Every time we do something it's new for us, and were not trying to tackle the whole world at once. All we've been searching for forever is independence and control over our own stuff. The way of releasing records is changing every day. This is the best way we could do it ourselves in America. Right or wrong, we'll figure that out and make it better the next time."