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Out, Giving In, or Choosing What’s Right?
The Saga Between Relient K and Abercrombie and Fitch
By John Wehrle
The Anatomy of Tongue and Cheek, title of the new Relient K album, has taken on a whole new meaning to the band in recent months. Relient K was whirled into the center of controversy when their label, Gotee Records, signed an exclusive partnership between Relient K and clothes retailer Abercrombie and Fitch only to sever the contract later. This past week I sat down and talked to the band about their thoughts about the recent activities.
Here is the sequence of events. After releasing their popular sophomore release and finishing two full-length tours, Relient K heard about an exclusive offer from clothes retailer Abercrombie & Fitch through Gotee Records. The idea was to promote a biking video with several songs from Relient K playing in the background. The store had never worked exclusively with a band, and decided to use Relient K, because of their positive nature and appealing music. If you are a controversial clothing retailer, on the rebound to winning over conservative hearts, what better way than to enlist a good Christian punk band to promote your positive values?
In late October, Gotee Records' President Joey Elwood saw a great opportunity. He made the following statement, "I'm excited for the opportunity that is being afforded to Relient K, and I'm extremely appreciative of Abercrombie & Fitch for the exclusive exposure they're giving to the band. Hopefully, through this, Relient K will be able to begin making their thumbprint on our culture."
A similar statement was put out by A & F. Mike Brewer, New Media Developer for A & F, praised the agreement saying, "This campaign is a very cohesive Relient K feature, which is really the first time we have used a band across the board. It will be really excellent exposure for them, and we are thankful to get to use such rocking positive music! This campaign will definitely expand Relient K's audience."
From the start, the band had mixed emotions that A & F hand selected them for a beneficial partnership. Band mate Brian Pittman, bassist, remembers the first time he heard about the potential deal. "I was actually the only one that was upset and angry about it. At that point it was very preliminary, so we didn't have the time to think about it."
Matt Thiesen, vocalist and band spokesperson, was surprised when he heard about the offer. To his knowledge, he had never shopped at Abercrombie and had always considered the store controversial. But it didn't matter what the band thought, the record label decided to move ahead on the deal.
Pittman recalls, "The choice was never really given to us. The label made the choice." Within a week, controversy knocked on the front doors of Gotee records.
Bill Johnson, president of American Decency Association, and a vocal critic of Abercrombie & Fitch, said Relient K is making a mistake. "I am very disappointed and very troubled that a Christian band or any group of people that are naming the name of Jesus Christ in their music and ministry would in any regard feel comfortable aligning themselves with a corporation so blatant in targeting our youth through sexually erotic images," Johnson said. "It is very troubling to me. I for one will be urging people not to purchase their records. They have made a serious error."
Similar comments came to the record label from the editor of Focus on the Family's Plugged In, and from the communications department of Concerned Women of America.
Amid the initial controversy and rumors of a Gotee boycott, the label suddenly decided to sever the contract with A & F.
Turns out that it may be too late to pull the plug on the promotion. It's still featured in every Abercrombie and Fitch store across the country, and is highlighted on the front page of their web site.
Matt Thiessen, front man for the band, explains the situation. "As far as it goes, it actually turned out to be a pretty huge opportunity with Abercrombie using our stuff. Their desire for involvement with us has been exclusive. They have never done this much stuff with one band."
"It's crazy cause we are a Christian band. Why would a non-Christian company decide to work with a Christian band exclusively? To say we are not flattered would be lying like crazy because we thought this was an amazing opportunity. We don't shop at A&F and of course we're not into the fact that their catalog is raunchy. We look at this opportunity with a completely positive perspective."
The band went into the agreement with ministry in mind and left with a sour taste of the real world. Thiessen continued, "So much controversy has come out of it, that we have been forced to back out. All of the people that were mad at us in the first place aren't anymore. I guess their anger has subsided. Now, all of our parents are like, Why did you guys back down? You guys need to be doing stuff. You need to be going against the grain. Jesus did have the Pharisees telling him that he shouldn't hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes, but he didn't back down."
Pittman concurs, "I just feel like it's a very unfortunate situation when the church is wrapped up in doing what is safe. Staying in its own kind of bubble. This is ok to do; this is not ok to do without looking past any of the implications. It's almost like they either condone or condemn different ministries."
Thiessen noted that it all came down to an issue of respect. "You need to be responsible with what God has given you and need not kill yourself over one little controversy. Because the boycotts did call for not just boycotting Relient K but the entire record label, that kind of slipped it into us not being selfish. We have to be concerned with our label mates."
As for now, the Abercrombie
music campaign featuring Relient K will continue throughout the holiday
shopping season. No boycott has been planned.