Living With Lions tells FACTOR where to stick their 13 grand

Now this is fortuitous. We were just having a friendly debate about government arts funding and along comes Living With Lions to play the Pawn Shop on Friday night.

This is the Vancouver punk band at the centre of the storm of controversy surrounding its new CD, “Holy Shit” and its allegedly blasphemous artwork, which was funded by FACTOR, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recording. The US media outlet LA Weekly uncovered the connection, which irked the ire of Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, who expressed “profound disappointment” to FACTOR, which asked Living With Lions to change the artwork, which the band refused to do, so they gave back the 13 grand and change, recalled the record and removed the FACTOR logos from the CDs.

There. The band didn’t want it anyway.

Guitarist Chase Brenneman says, “Once FACTOR allowed the government to censor something, it wasn’t an arts funding program anymore. It’s propaganda funding, to our eyes.”

FACTOR issued a statement that points that that “our contracts with funded parties include language prohibiting certain kinds of offensive material.” Read the whole thing here.

Living With Lions still thinks FACTOR is a worthy program that helps a lot of emerging artists, and giving the money back was the right thing to do. A lot of people on both sides of the issue agree. FACTOR funding is actually a loan, repaid from sales of albums like a standard record deal; if the album doesn’t sell, only then does the loan become a “grant.” Living With Lions didn’t hesitate to repay the funds, but in doing so opened a can of worms. What about all the other FACTOR-funded music that may or may not offend the Canadian Heritage Minister? Billy Talent has some pretty controversial material. It looks like FACTOR artists had better mind their manners from now on.

There’s a famous case in the US over a 1987 photograph called Piss Christ that was partly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The artist, Andres Serrano, was paid $15,000 for his work. He didn’t give it back, though he did get a lot of death threats.

“Art is supposed to evoke emotion,” defends Brenneman. “When you allow the government to censor artists, how are you going to create art?”

Obvious knee-jerk answer: without government funding?

It’s ironic that Living With Lions is not the political, anti-religious punk band the general public might be expecting from all the hoohah that started merely as a “joke for our fans.” There’s not one single slam against Jesus in the actual music of Holy Shit, which is filled instead with the usual brand of speedy, confessional, personal songs you’d expect from a bunch of pop punk musicians in their early 20s.

Even more ironic beyond the “ridiculous” amount of publicity Living With Lions has enjoyed is that this incident may have nudged the band into a new direction – similar, say, to the sudden improvement in Sum 41 after getting caught in a civil war in Africa. You can sober up quick in the real world. In this case, it’s an awareness of government.

“They said this was about us spending taxpayer money improperly,” Brenneman says. “But the government spends taxpayer’s money on things I find offensive and inappropriate on a daily basis, so I think that argument is completely flawed.”

He adds, “This has definitely motivated us to be more politically aware.”

Now you’ve done it, Heritage Minister James Moore.