Rumors started over the weekend on sites like Antiquiet and Stereogum that Pearl Jam had staged a secret show at Seattle’s Showbox theater Thursday night, where they shot a Target commercial with longtime buddy and filmmaker Cameron Crowe. After an interview with Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis, EW can confirm that the band has established a partnership with Target for the release of their next record, currently titled Backspacer, which is tentatively slated to drop September 22.
Curtis, who is in Los Angeles preparing for the band’s appearance on the premiere of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show this evening, says he wishes this information could have stayed in the can a bit longer: “We wanted to announce this when we could talk about everything, who our partners are,” he tells Music Mix. “It’s not just via Target. They’re obviously the big retail chain that we love and adore that’s going to release this record. We’re also going to release it through our fan club, and Target was cool enough to allow us to pick up little indie [stores], too. They’re taking care of the little guy. The little guy is not their competition.”
More after the jump…
The Thursday night show was indeed a shoot with Crowe: Possible first single “The Fixer” was filmed for the Target ad, and three other tracks (including a cover of band fave “Sonic Reducer”) may appear on additional materials for online or European release. Despite the fact that the audience was made up of paid extras — “There’s a lot of unemployed actors in Seattle,” says Curtis, “and we wanted to go through all the proper unions and make sure everyone got paid” — and that all those in attendance signed non-disclosure agreements, word of the Target partnership leaked out via blog posts and Twitter, causing some predictable cries of “selling out” and “hypocrisy” from the usual corners of the net. Curtis, while not thrilled by this turn of events, feels it was inevitable. “Some story was going to come out regardless — we wanted to at least be able to confirm that it’s not what you think it is. If something is talked about and it’s wrong, it just becomes fact.”
The new album marks the first to be self-released by the band, who were signed to Sony for the past 18 years. (2006’s eponymous avocado album was released by J Records, a Sony subsidiary.) “When we decided we were going to release this record ourselves in America,” Curtis says, “we removed that whole layer of the record company. And by the way, [the record company is] a bigger frickin’ corporation than Target is. They owned our music and owned our masters. Now we own everything, and control everything, and we’re choosing who we want to be partners with. Who will allow us the freedom to pick the kind of people we want to work with? Target was the only one out of all those [big chain] guys that was forward-enough thinking to allow us to think outside the box.” Along with making the record available at small independent retailers, Curtis also hints at a cell-phone partnership, and says some green and charity initiatives are in the works.
When asked why the band — whose anti-corporate stance has, whether perceived or real, become part of their identity over the past two decades — chose to team up with a big-box retailer rather than following the Radiohead or Trent Reznor models of direct self-release, Curtis says, “With all due respect to everybody, everybody’s trying to figure this out, right? I think it’s really important to us to be able to have a level playing field, so everybody has access. So it’s not just people with computers. It’s people that go to Target, it’s people that go online, it’s people who might want to hear it on their cell phone, it’s people who want to go through the fan club.
“This is all an experiment. We’re trying to figure it out. It’s changing all the time, and this is the best way to do it ourselves that we can think of. By the time we put out our next record it could be completely different, or, you know, all those things will fail and we’ll go back with our hat in our hands and beg for our jobs back at Sony.” He laughs. “I doubt that. It’s not an exact science. And people need to relax just a little bit. We’re doing the best we can.”