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You can be Art Brut 102

Jane Lindholm May 24, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The top-selling album on the Billboard 100 chart this week is Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s big news when the Chili Peppers come out with a new album. Television appearances. Radio airplay. World premieres of the video on MTV. But for bands that aren’t quite as well known there’s a lot less hoopla. One British band debuts this week in the US, and they’re hoping they can get more than just some spins at a college radio station. Marketplace’s Jane Lindholm has that story.

JANE LINDHOLM: Three years ago, in London, a young man named Eddie Argos had a flash of inspiration: he wanted to be on Top of the Pops. That’s the modern, British equivalent of the Ed Sullivan show. In other words, huge. And kind of a daunting proposition for a guy who admits he has limited musical talent. Nonetheless, Argos formed a band. And then, he wrote a song about it.

It may or may not be your cup of tea, but that’s sorta the point. The band is called Art Brut — the French term for outsider art. As part of the punk movement, Art Brut the band has plenty of fans who might have considered themselves outsiders too. They identified with Art Brut.

EDDIE ARGOS [in song]: And yes, this is my singing voice, and it’s not irony, and it’s not rock and roll. We’re just talking to the kids.

In 2004 that song began hitting the pop charts in Britain. And Eddie Argos had another flash. Perhaps it was selfish to keep his band name and the joy of playing his music to himself. So Eddie decided to franchise.

ARGOS: I sort of felt a bit bad that I’d taken it just for us because I thought a lot of people could be called Art Brut, so I thought maybe we’d franchise it out.

McDonalds and Starbucks have dotted the world with their franchises. So now has Art Brut. Only Art Brut’s licenses are free. Eddie thinks there might be as many as a hundred of them worldwide.

ARGOS: There’s a Polish one, an Israeli Art Brut, there’s quite a few in America. There’s one in West Virginia. He’s Art Brut Pi. I’ve heard his version of Formed a Band. It’s quite good.

Each franchise takes a number. Art Brut 3.14159, Art Brut Pi, is Matthew Cox. He’s actually in Virginia. He heard Art Brut a couple of years ago on the web, bought a guitar on e-bay, and started playing. Pretty soon he knew a few chords and Art Brut Pi was born.

Cox doesn’t want to be a professional musician. Which is good, because not very many franchisees actually get any gigs out of the deal. But he says he sees a kindred spirit in Eddie Argos. And he likes being a part of the Art Brut community.

MATTHEW COX: My type of songwriting, it seems very jokey, but also it’s kind of deadly serious. That must really sum up why I must like their songs so much, because they seem light-hearted and jokey, but they’re actually very well-crafted and just really great songs. Which is why they lend themselves to cover versions very easily.

There’s even been a battle of the Art Brut Franchises in England. Art Brut 3 won that. Now the members of 3 are working on a record deal under their other name: the Space Peacocks. Matthew Bolton and Antony Baldacci also see a community in the franchise idea.

MATTHEW BOLTON: Oh yeah, definitely. And it’s a good time, it’s a good laugh.

ANTONY BALDACCI: The thing is, Art Brut aren’t anything like anything else that’s going on in England at the minute.

MATTHEW BOLTON: It’s more like a big group of outsiders rather than just one.

And that’s where Art Brut may have scored big. Celia Herschman runs the company Downtown Marketing, in New York, and a music label called One Little Indian. She says Art Brut may give away its music and persona for free, but that could score the band more fans — and more money — in the long run.

CELIA HERSCHMAN: They’re going to bands to engage them. When you go to an audience to engage them, you’re engaging on a one-on-one perspective: I engage you and hope that you will tell maybe 10 of your friends about me. When you go to a band to engage them, I engage you and you’re engaging your entire audience. It’s kind of the tripling cube from a marketing perspective.

The real Art Brut stands at the top of that pyramid scheme. Rock critics love them and two singles off their album “Bang Bang Rock and Roll” reached the top 50 charts in the UK. So Eddie Argos now seems poised to cash in. He hopes that as his band gains success he can carry his franchisees along with him.

ARGOS: There’s millions of them, I can’t stop it. I just like it. I’m like a proud father, that’s what it is. So it’s kinda nice.

But he still hasn’t gotten that call from Top of the Pops.

In Los Angeles, I’m Jane Lindholm, for Marketplace.

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