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My Page: of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes

Kevin Barnes | June 09, 2018

Many years ago, I was approached by an advertising company to use the melody of one of my songs, “Wraith Pinned to the Mist, and Other Games,” as a jingle for one of their clients. The client, as it turned out, was Outback Steakhouse. When they initially reached out, I thought it was a joke because it seemed so far-fetched that a company like that would ever want to be associated with my band. When I think about Outback Steakhouse, I think of sweaty meats and pickup trucks with Confederate flag bumper stickers, not gender- bending or cross-dressing or queer pride.

A lot of people have asked me why/how I could have ever given them permission to use my song, so I’d like to walk you through the process. The way it unfolded was very surreal: They told me that the client only wanted to use the vibe of the song and that I didn’t have to do anything personally other than give them approval for their people to create something reminiscent of my song. They told me it would most likely only be used on radio and likely only for a few months. At the time, I didn’t have any legal representation or council, and I was just the lead singer of an indie band struggling to keep my small family afloat.

I had never done any corporate events, I had never been on television and I had no connection, whatsoever, to big business or corporate America. I viewed myself as an underground, independent artist, completely free from the mainstream. I felt like I lived in a parallel universe outside of the machinations of big-money capitalism. I made albums in my bedroom and I performed them with my close friends, and everything was always DIY. There wasn’t a lot of money in it but we were fulfilled by the process and received enough affirmation from the outside world to continue on.

Around the time the ad agency contacted me, my daughter was about one year old and I was feeling a lot of anxiety about balancing the want of chasing my dream with the need to support my child. So, when the agency seductively waved the check in my face, I couldn’t resist. It’s one thing to be a starving artist when you only have yourself to take care of, but when you’re trying to raise an infant, you can’t really be so idealistic about where your money is coming from, right? That’s not to say that I only spent the money on my daughter; I also bought some S&M gear and some Kenneth Anger DVDs and stuff, but most of the money went toward diapers and formula.