Kevin Barnes: "Selling out isn't possible"

Having faced a fan backlash after licensing one of its songs for use on Wal-Mart's Web site, Band of Horses announced recently that it had turned down an offer from the big-box retailer to profit from having its music on the store's television commercials.

Perhaps fearing a similar backlash, Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes recently sent a spirited essay to Stereogum in defense of the band's involvement in an upcoming T-Mobile promotional campaign. Here's some of what Barnes had to say:

"The pseudo-nihilistic punk rockers of the 70's created an impossible code in which no one can actually live by. It's such garbage. The idea that anyone who attempts to do anything commercial is a sell out is completely out of touch with reality. The punk rock manifesto is one of anarchy and intolerance. The punk rockers polluted our minds. They offered a solution that had no future....Why should it be considered such an onerous thing to view the production of art as a job? To me, the luckiest people are the ones who figure out a way to earn a living doing what they love and gain fulfillment from. Like all things in this life, you have to make certain sacrifices to get what you want....People who wanna be artists have the hardest time of it 'cause we are held up to these impossible standards. We're expected to die penniless and insane so that the people we have moved and entertained over the years can keep us to themselves. So that they can feel a personal and untarnished connection with our art. The second we try to earn a living wage or, god forbid, promote our art in the mainstream, we are placed under the knives of the sanctimonious indie fascists. Unfortunately, there isn't some grand umbrella grant that supports indie rockers financially and enables us to exist outside of the trappings of capitalism....Selling out, in an artistic sense, is to change one's creative output to fit in with the commercial world. To create phony and insincere art in the hopes of becoming commercially successful. I've never done this and I can't imagine I ever will."

Earlier this year, Of Montreal created a small stir in the indie-rock blogosphere when it licensed one of its songs to Outback Steakhouse. The restaurant chain used a re-recorded version of "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" with new lyrics. Here's a side-by-side comparison.

Of Montreal: "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games"

Outback Steakhouse TV spot



Rob Milne

Sep 15, 2010 at 9:01am

Revenge for the bassist's exit?

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Nicole Ealy

Nov 28, 2011 at 4:05pm

Mad props to Kevin Barnes. He is an artist who has a way with words and I have nothing but respect for him for sending that letter. It is nice to finally hear an artist's opinion on 'selling out' instead of the criticisms that come from the people, hipster or not, who are constantly 'buying in.'

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Sandra E

Jun 9, 2012 at 7:44pm

I do think he is a little harsh on artists that he does owe a debt to (punk rockers). There was a purpose served and yes many of them did suffer for their art in a way that was manipulative, but they were creating art too, just not with the kind of work ethic that he has. Are they not making a good enough living and having enough exposure without selling their art for advertising for companies with questionable business practices. I love having good music in adds, but just like Laurie Anderson's tmobile ads, it kind of hurts.

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Pierre Laplace

Nov 25, 2012 at 8:39pm

I had always wondered why the music in that Outback Steakhouse commercial was so surprisingly gorgeous and insightful.

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