Rock

How the 'Slow Burn' of 'The Slow Rush' Took Tame Impala to No. 1

Kevin Parker of Tame Impala
Djeneba Aduayom

Kevin Parker photographed on Jan. 7, 2020 in Los Angeles.

In February, Australian artist Kevin Parker released The Slow Rush, the first album from his psych-rock project Tame Impala since 2015’s critically adored Currents. While Interscope chairman/CEO John Janick knew fan anticipation alone would translate into strong album streams and sales, he also knew getting the rollout strategy right would be tricky: The famously reclusive Parker shies away from most self-promotion, which has earned him plenty of devoted fans — but also poses a marketing challenge.

"That’s the beauty of him: He won’t do anything that doesn’t feel organic and natural," says Janick, who signed Tame Impala in 2013. To preserve that authenticity on The Slow Rush, Interscope focused its efforts on pleasing Parker’s core fans by creating products and digital content that would lead to what Janick fittingly calls the "slow burn" of success — and still earn Parker a career high No. 3 debut on the Billboard 200.

The crucial first step was preparing vinyl, a time-consuming and expensive process that Janick believed would pay off. "There is that fan base that wants to own Tame Impala music," he says. Indeed: Of the 110,000 equivalent album units that The Slow Rush earned in its first week — the biggest sales week for any rock album in 2020 — 80,000 were pure sales, and 26,000 of those were vinyl. That led Parker to a No. 1 debut on the Vinyl Albums chart and the seventh biggest sales week in the chart’s nearly 30-year history.

Thanks to Parker’s reputation as a blistering live act, another 33,000 of those pure first-week sales came from a concert ticket/album sale redemption offer for a planned summer tour. But when the pandemic forced him to postpone, Janick says Parker "opened himself up" to more opportunities than ever, from remote late-night TV performances to a partnership with EA Sports in which he played to an empty soccer stadium for the Oct. 1 release of the FIFA 21 video game. Parker also reimagined the album through projects like The Slow Rush in an Imaginary Place, a mix of the project meant to simulate a live concert that he posted to YouTube, and remixes from artists like Blood Orange and Four Tet.

Interscope’s long-game streaming strategy also set up Parker for success. The label aimed for placement on niche playlists that editors cherry-pick from to populate mainstream playlists rather than targeting the marquee ones first — an approach that favors sustained engagement with an album over bigger, short-term wins. Parker also took advantage of Spotify’s Enhanced Album feature to create a special listening experience, including exclusive unreleased audio and video content captured in the studio. That attention on streaming laid the groundwork for even more success at alternative radio, where Tame Impala has been a staple since breakout hit "Elephant" in 2012, says Janick. In May, Tame Impala hit No. 1 on Adult Alternative Songs for the first time with "Lost in Yesterday," then topped the chart again in October with "Is It True."

"We want artists that are very opinionated — it’s their career, and we want to back them and give them the right opportunities," adds Janick. "That’s our job."

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 19,  2020, issue of Billboard.