The TFT Interview with Tim Bierman, Part 1

by John Reynolds on August 10, 2006

The 2006 U.S. tour is history, but fans everywhere are still high from the shows. As we all attempt to stave off the post-tour blues, TwoFeetThick hits the short-term memory rewind button back to mid-July, a sunny morning in San Francisco, and a Pearl Jam show day. TFT’s Kathy Davis and Jessica Letkemann took the opportunity to sit down with Ten Club head honcho Tim Bierman. And because the interview was so long and full of information, we’re serving it up in two parts. Check back next week for part two.

PART ONE: The Ament Montana connection, hanging out with his mom and PJ, how the Sonics and the Lakers got him the Fan Club gig, and more.

Kathy You knew Jeff back in Montana. Did you go to the University of Montana Missoula with him?
Tim We didn’t go to school together but we were kinda in school at the same time and we ran in the same circles of people who did similar things. I started working at a record store right when Jeff moved to Seattle. So, we’d crossed paths, we’d met, but we didn’t really hang out back in the early 80s.
Jessica I’m curious what record store it was.
Tim Rockin’ Rudys. It’s still there. I started working there and then I became a partner in the business. I ended up working there for 17 years, and in the meantime, Jeff had come to Seattle and had done his whole thing. Everyone knows that part of the story [laughs]. But right before Ten came out, Jeff and his brother Barry came back to Missoula and Jeff was starting to look for a place to buy, a little piece of property.
Jessica He had the money to buy property even as early as when Ten came out?
Tim Yeah. Jeff and Stone had always been really frugal, disclipined business guys. They were adults, they were hard-working, they were really aware of the value of a dollar, especially Jeff. He saw that the one thing that he really wanted more than anything was to have a piece of property in Montana. That was his goal to get out of his career. I don’t know what the deal was, but obviously they got something when they finished Ten, and once they got the advance, whatever it was, from Epic I think they knew it was going to be pretty successful. So he came back and brought the record into the store where I was working. We talked about mutual friends and, ‘do you remember me, and kinda not really, but I’m aware of what you’re doing now’ and everything. We kind of reconnected there. This was right when Ten was coming out, I don’t know if it had come out or if it was an advance copy or what.
Jessica Late summer or early fall 1991?
Tim I think it must have been September. Jeff could tell you better because he remembers things a lot better than I do. But anyway, so he finds a piece of property, starts to figure out what he’s going to do with it, and in the meantime he was staying in hotels. He would come into the record store every day and we would grab coffee, and I said, “Do you want to just crash at my house? I have all of these empty bedrooms.” “Fine.” So my house kind of became the crashpad for Jeff and his friend, Mike Mora [sp], the architect who helped him design his house. Even though we weren’t friends back in [Jeff's] Deranged Diction days, we became really close friends in Montana and through Montana. I was always Jeff’s connection. If you look at one of the Ten Club newsletters — and this was long before I worked for Pearl Jam, back in 1994 or something — there’s a newsletter with a collage of pictures of people that includes a little picture of me and underneath it says, “Saint Montana,” that Jeff wrote. [See photo on this page]. Jeff really loves Montana. I appreciated what he was doing. He appreciated what I was doing, a music guy. Then I toiled away, my dad died in ’92 and that next summer my mom and I were going to take a trip somewhere and we didn’t really know what we were going to do. And Jeff suggested that we come out and go to some Pearl Jam shows and just coordinate it with our trip wherever we went. Once he told us that, we decided to go to Ireland and England in ’93. So me and my mom go hang out with Pearl Jam.
Jessica Was that for the Slane Castle show? [Read about the Slane Castle concert, July 10, 1993, in the Concert Chronology]
Tim It was Slane Castle, and that was great for sure. The entourage was incredible. Neil Young. I was completely out of my element. I didn’t know what was going on. Jeff invited me to dinner one night and Neil Young was hosting this big dinner. I’m sitting at the table and I feel this presence behind me because people start saying hi to this person. He walked up right behind me and put his hands on my shoulder, like we’re at a table of friends, and then I realized it was Elvis Costello! And I was literally sweating and shaking. I was like, “this is a great way to travel. I’m never going to go on any trip that doesn’t involve Pearl Jam now because they have this inside connection.”
Kathy That’s the one of the main reasons I’ve seen anything for the last fifteen years. Where are they playing? I’m going to go there.
Tim

click to enlarge photo
Tim Bierman’s “Saint Montana” photo in Ten Club newsletter #5, December 1993. Note the cap Tim is wearing, that’s the logo of football’s New Orleans Saints.

So I did that a couple of times; I went on some trips so I got to know everybody really well, just as Jeff’s touchstone to Montana. I talk to anybody and so I found myself hitting it off with everybody, not just everybody in the band, but everybody in the camp. I left Montana in ’97 and moved to San Francisco and worked at Amoeba Records. I loved the store, but I was really struggling socially. It was a long way from Montana. There was a Sonics / Lakers playoff game on a Sunday and Jeff was going to take Ben Harper, but Ben Harper cancelled, so Jeff called me and said, “I know this is last minute but do you want to come down to L.A. tomorrow for this game.” I couldn’t really afford it, but I got on a plane and went. On the way to the game, he said that they were trying to figure out what they were going to do with the fan club. It was kinda getting to this point where it was losing money and they needed to figure [it] out.

Jessica There did seem to be a big switch over at that point.
Tim It was a reactionary situation from the word go. It was like, “let’s start this thing and then just sort of hang on.” They didn’t really have a business plan, they didn’t really even know what they wanted out of the whole situation. I think once it became big and started becoming a real thing, all of the sudden they realized that what they had is not what they wanted. They thought that making a big change would probably be the way to do it. We talked about it [at the game] and Jeff asked me what I thought because I have this retail background. And he goes, “You know what we really need, is we really need someone like you to run the thing.” I was like, “Hmm, ok.” So we went to the game. Lakers won. A couple weeks later I was going to Montana from San Francisco and I got stuck in Seattle. There was a storm or something and there was like a layover. So I went to Jeff’s house, Jeff and Pandora’s; we hung out and had a great night. Right before I said goodnight, I was like, “hey, when you were talking about that fan club thing, that raised some ideas.” He was like, “me too.” I was like, “If you ever wanted to work together, this would be the time to do it.” Two days later I was back in Seattle interviewing for the job.
Jessica You had to interview? With who?
Tim I had to do an interview. It was conducted by Nicole Vandenberg [Pearl Jam's publicist], and Anne Tillery, a woman who worked for John Hoyt at Pyramid [Communications] where Nicole came from. Kelly [Curtis, Pearl Jam's manager] just wanted to sit in on the interview. He was smoking cigarettes and playing solitaire on his computer. Anne and Nicole were asking me all the typical corporate interview questions, like, “what are your weak points?” I was very upfront. I went into this thing thinking, “If I’m going to work for one of my best friends, I can’t bullshit my way through this. It has to be above board.” So they were like, “what are your weaknesses?” [I said,] “well, I’m not very organized.” [all laugh]
Jessica No shit? You really said that?
Tim Yeah! I need someone to help me. And then they were like, “what about computers, how are you with computers?” And I was like, “well, you know what, I don’t have a computer. I’ve never had one and I really suck at it.” And they were like, “ok, well, you can get a book.”
Jessica At that point, the fan club didn’t seem really computer-oriented though.
Tim Yeah, but one of the goals was to become that way. So, Anne and Nicole were like, “well, we have lots of candidates to�.
Jessica “Don’t call us�”
Tim And Kelly was like, “How much do you want? You should start now.” [All laugh]
Kathy They said, “we’ll get back to you” and Kelly said, “when can you start?”
Tim Yeah, so I started right away. Those two shows at Memorial Stadium, that was when I started. 1998. [Read about the 7/21-22/98 Memorial Stadium shows in Seattle in the Concert Chronology] Was Missoula before that?
Jessica In ’98, Missoula was the first show of the tour, June 20 [Read about the Missoula show in the Concert Chronology].
Tim Right, so 6/20 was my first official thing [as Fan Club manager]. I probably started that week, and then I went over to Missoula, went to the show. I remember having a meeting with Nicole at that show. Then I came back, and it was those shows at Memorial Stadium, and that was my birthday week too. So I was telling these guys last night, Lee Smith, the promoter, “This is my job?! This is what I do for a living?!”
Jessica I always wondered, what is the person’s life like whose job it is the manager of the fan club?
Tim It is a fun job, it’s kind of a dream job. It’s a unique thing, the set of skills that I’ve developed, I don’t even know how to describe them. It’s something I can’t go out into the world and really use very many places, you know? It’s just an odd thing.
Jessica I don’t know. Since, like, 1998, when you started doing this, and Pearl Jam is, in a lot of ways, the model for the way other bands are doing their fan clubs now, and it seems to me that � and maybe I’m just Pearl Jam biased � but in the wake of PJ reorganizing the fan club in the late 90s and early 2000s, it’s become a job, a job description.
Tim I guess it has.
Jessica I mean, if you look on Mediabistro.com, which is this website that has media and record company jobs, last week Sony had an ad for fan club managers for different artists. The job description sounded like organizing tickets, and�.
Kathy Things that you do.
Tim Right, however, none of those people that are posting those jobs have any idea how to do it.
Kathy I think that kind of naturally blends into what we were wondering about what kind of positions exist at Ten Club. What do different people do? Do you have a person who specificially deals with ticketing? Kerensa does different things. How many people do you have working there? What do they do?
Tim We all take on as many roles as we can. We do all have job descriptions, but in order to get everything done, we help each other out. Like when we did the presale of the new record, we did that all ourselves. We could have hired it out, no problem. But instead, everyone dropped everything in their life for two weeks to be at the warehouse around the clock the whole time, including me. I don’t get to not be there. I was down there packing boxes.
Jessica There must be some pretty low fan club member numbers out there.
Kathy Because of our website, we have met some people with four digit numbers.
Tim The thing with the low numbers is, yeah, there are some four digit numbers. And every once in awhile I’ll look at the numbers and just… yeah. It’s not that they were there so long ago, it’s that they have been there ever since. Every year, you guys have maintained that, and it’s just incredible.
Jessica I sometimes ask “what’s your number?” when I’m at a show.
Tim People’s secrecy about their number is kind of funny to me.
Jessica Using XXX at the end?
Tim Yeah. It’s just funny that it’s the last three digits.
Kathy I was also going to ask about merch. Obviously, fans want merch. Does the 10 Club do all the distribution and warehouse everthing?
Tim For the fan club merchandise? Yeah, oh yeah.
Jessica I was always curious about old merch. Inevitably, you only had so much space in newsletters in the past, so couldn’t always feature all the old stuff. And then when the web came, I’m guessing, for various reasons, you don’t want to list things you only have two or three of, but what happens to those few things if somebody were to email you and say, “hey, do you have any of those beanies from ’98 left?”
Tim Sometimes we’re able to fulfill those dreams. [all laugh] But a lot of times not.
The TFT Tim Bierman Interview continues in Part Two next week, where Tim talks about making music (with Jeff and others), the future of 10C vault offerings, and the story behind inaugurating 10C member seniority. Stay tuned.

Go to Part 2 of Kathy Davis’s and Jessica Letkemann’s sit down with Ten Club head honcho Tim Bierman. Click Here

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

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