Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009-07-28 - Supersweet

"I felt like I had been in a sexually hibernated state of mind all through my twenties. In my early thirties, I started waking up to sexuality and exploring it, thinking about it a bit more."

Trying to pin down psychedelic pop act of Montreal in their brief British summer tour has been as tricky as a slippery eel, yet we wrestled like a bitch on heat and finally spoke to them on their US turf. Their evasion hasn’t been without precedent, with touring injuries, back to back shows and broken down vehicles but still the band still are fighting fit. Even twelve years later, face painted enthusiast and front man Kevin Barnes is wonderfully meticulous about sloppy spelling, reminding SUPERSWEET “of Montreal, is with lowercase “o””, just in case we get it wrong (as if we would...)

It’s tempting to imagine that Barnes is completely eccentric in his personal life in reflection of the obscure directions fulfilled within his music. Blissfully as normal as the rest of us, he tones down off-beat motivations to watch Sports Center, host cocktail parties, play volleyball and take part in "pretty conventional stuff". Admitting that people usually are surprised by his homely activities, simply reveals how much a distinct mark of Montreal’s illustrious affair with music has left over the past twelve years.

Long before he established himself as the genius behind the ecstatic pop experiments in Georgian sensation of Montreal, Barnes spent every day working on music. "All I really did when I was in high school was go home, hide in my bedroom and just make four-track recordings all day," he says. The intimate bedroom demos eventually saw the light of day on the 2001 compilation The Early Four-Track Recordings. Every song is named after the actor Dustin Hoffman from hilarious track ‘Dustin Hoffman Does Not Resist Temptation to Eat the Bathtub’ to the incontinence song ‘Dustin Hoffman Becomes Indignant and Wets Himself'.

Revealing the reason for homage to the Marathon Man, Barnes concedes that "It was a funny, kooky idea to pretend like it was a concept album, even though the songs had nothing to do with the titles, and nothing to do with Dustin Hoffman. It was just a spontaneous thing the band created over lunch one day." Placing jovial stints aside, Barnes has progressed a long way since high school recordings, releasing eight studio albums of diverse pop music, all leading up to the climax of 2008's Skeletal Lamping.

Skeletal Lamping is of Montreal's most overtly sexual record, both musically and lyrically. Each track is a none-too-subtle exploration of lust which just as much about getting you off, as making you ferociously dance. Lyrical vivid, of Montreal explicitly boast with words "I want to make you come / 200 times a day" and "I took her in the kitchen / ass against the sink" making the band's previous work look downright innocent by comparison. In fact, it was Barnes's shifting attitude towards sex that inspired him to take the record to a more provocative place: "I think I was just going through a sexual awakening," he says, "I felt like I had been in a sexually hibernated state of mind all through my twenties. In my early thirties, I started waking up to sexuality and exploring it, thinking about it a bit more. It was kind of natural that it also came through in my art."

Although Skeletal Lamping differs from of Montreal's previous records in numerous ways, it maintains the sense of humor that runs through their songwriting and notoriously decadent stage performance. While Barnes performed an actual a comedy tour in 2005, called ‘A Pollinaire Rave’, the front man confirms that he now expresses his comedic impulses through of Montreal. Telling SUPERSWEET that "there's always a sense of humor involved in the theatrics” Barnes answers “I think it's just incorporating that into what of Montreal is now, whereas before, ‘A Pollinaire Rave’ was sort of a separate thing. Now it's all together as one."

Always challenging dance-pop conventions, Barnes comments on the problems of adhering to such structures today: "Sometimes I think that people follow the pop template too much.”. Barnes observes how “There's a pressure that if you want to have a commercially successful song, it has to fit into these parameters, and I think that's definitely unhealthy for the art of music". To combat this anxiety, the singer welcomes song structures as a challenge and a creative liability all because "It's kind of fun to fit as many ideas as you can into three and a half minutes!"

Ready for the artistic exertion, work on of Montreal's anticipated next album False Priest is already in motion, with approximately six songs completed, yet Barnes is still writing and experimenting before deciding what will be on the new record. The creative kook describes the new album as “very funky dance music” complimented with "a lot of strange lyrical imagery”, sneakily hinting that the record will feature some longer songs than we're used to hearing from him.

Continuing the of Montreal legacy, Barnes adds False Priest to their self-produced selection of albums, yet the singer is always open to working with other producers under the right circumstances: "It all depends on what sort of chemistry there is between me and the other producer, and I don't know if I could get to that place," Evidently, producer Jon Brion recently released an EP of remixes from Skeletal Lamping, swaying Barnes’s ideas of collaborative production. With little opposition to possible Brion-produced of Montreal record, the singer ponders the idea, thinking it "could definitely be good. It could definitely be interesting."

After the exciting change of direction that was Skeletal Lamping, it will be fascinating to follow of Montreal in their rapid ascent to giddy new heights of dance-pop.

2009-08-21 - Under The Radar

“We’re kind of making this psychedelic, No Wave, funk album.”
Aug 21, 2009 Web Exclusive

Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes is currently in his Athens, Georgia, home studio working on the band's tenth album, which will be titled False Priest and is tentatively due out next spring. We briefly spoke to Barnes this past Wednesday about his progress on False Priest, which he says is influenced by Parliament and the '80s No Wave scene. "We're kind of making this psychedelic, No Wave, funk album," says Barnes.

So what are you guys working on right now? Are you working on the new record already?
Kevin Barnes: Yeah actually, I'm working on a new record it's gonna be called False Priest. Right now, I'm just kinda like fooling around, just making songs and experimenting. And I'm not so much thinking about what songs are going to be on there or what I'm going to do with the songs. I'm just going to be really free and not think about the outside world at all. I think that's the best way to make musicif you're not thinking about anything other than just being absorbed by the creative process. So that's what I'm trying to do now is just listening to a lot of music and making a lot of music and just kind of immersing myself. I have enough songs now for one album, but I want to just keep writing, see if there's anything else pops up. And then we'll probably release it in the spring of next year.

You said you're listening to a lot of music. What kind of stuff are you listening to that's informing what you're doing?
I've been listening to a lot of Parliament. I've got like The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and of course Mothership Connection and there's this crazy one called Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome. I love it because it's so playful. And it's so funky and groovy. But I just watched this documentary of them and I couldn't believe that we weren't really necessarily influenced by them directly, because we have so much in common. Like the stage show is just so crazy, and there's just so many people on stage, and wild costumes. And you know, so far beyond what everybody else was doingespecially as a black artist. I guess you have Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix and people like that, but at that time [Parliament] were like the biggest freaks in the world! The best band in the world! I think, when I'm watching this, I'm like, 'man if I was alive back then, I'd just would've been like a Deadhead for them, just following them everywhere because I just connect with it so much'it's just so free and crazy and so awesome. There's a lot of Parliament that I'm listening to, and Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wondera lot of soul stuff and funk stuff. Then I've got a couple of No Wave compilations from the New York, early '80s, No Wave scene. Like Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and people like that. I'm getting into that. So we're kind of making this psychedelic, No Wave, funk album.

Cool! You should get George Clinton to come down and sing guest vocals or something.
Man. I'd be extremely intimidated, first of all. Because he's like the real deal.
Seriously just out there, kinda like in a Sun Ra sort of way. Probably not as far as Sun Ra. I'd be like, 'man, sitting next to George.' Just even being on the same block as him would be just amazing.

I saw him at the airport recently.
Are you serious?

Yeah, he was at the baggage claim area at the same time I was.
Oh my god, that is so funny!

He was in a wheelchair and he had some woman like, wheeling him around.
He was in a wheelchair?

Yeah, he probably couldn't be bothered to walk. He's George Clinton man; he doesn't have to walk if he doesn't want to.
Yeah, it's easier to sit in the chair. How old is he?

I don't know, he's probably in his 60s or 70s at this point [Editor Note: He's 68]. I'm not sure. Maybe he has a reason to be in a wheelchair, but I got the sense that he just wanted to be pushed around by a lady.

But I don't know for sure.... Well, is there anything else you can tell me about what you're working on? You think it's going to come out next spring?

It sounds like it's going to be funkier than your last record? Is that the plan?
Well, our last record was extremely schizophrenic. I was trying to piece together the different compositions to create something very unpredictable. It was still had sort of funky, dancy elements, so it's not like this new thing I'm doing is completely new for me, it's just this weird evolution, sort of freaky evolution that is just sort of happening and I'm just letting it happen. So it's not going to be a total departure from Skeletal Lamping or Hissing Fauna, but it's definitely different, it has a different quality to it. But it's really difficult for meI'm sure for you too or anybodyto describe music with words. It's kind of visceral.

2009-08-18 - Suicide Girls.

of Montreal's Kevin Barnes

By Jay Hathaway - Aug 18, 2009

of Montreal's Kevin Barnes has been experimenting with pop music for almost 20 years, all the way back to recording home demos in high school. He started of Montreal in 1997 in Athens, GA, and fell in with the Elephant 6 collective, which included bands like Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Apples in Stereo. Since then, of Montreal has put out nine records, including Barnes' biggest critical success, 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

The subject matter of Hissing Fauna was darker than anything of Montreal had released before, but that gave way to the sex-soaked disco of their most recent album, Skeletal Lamping. The band's sound has changed dramatically over the years, especially with the addition of more electronic and dance elements. Although their upcoming record, False Priest, is only starting to take shape, Barnes sees it continuing in the funky, danceable direction of Skeletal Lamping.

We caught up with Barnes on the phone to chat about the adventures and eccentricities that come with being in of Montreal, and found out that whatever you assume about the guy in the eye makeup and the wild outfits is probably wrong.

Jay Hathaway: I've never seen this answered anywhere, so I have to ask: why did you name all those songs after Dustin Hoffman?
Kevin Barnes: It was just a weird spontaneous decision when my brother and I were putting together that album [The Early Four-Track Recordings], which is all songs I'd done when I was 18. At the time I released the album, I was 27 or something. It was a funny, kooky idea to pretend like it was a concept album, even though the songs had nothing to do with the titles, and nothing to do with Dustin Hoffman. It was just a spontaneous thing we created over lunch one day.

JH: Have you been saving any demos since then, that might turn into another project like that?
KB:There's a ton of unreleased stuff that I had done from that time period. All I really did when I was in high school was go home, hide in my bedroom, and just make four-track recordings all day. So there's a lot of stuff. Personally, I don't find it that interesting. I don't think about it, 'cause I'm only interested in what I'm working on at the moment. If I ever got a record label together, just a pet label, I would just release things for fans and people who are actually really into that stuff. Maybe. I haven't really given it much thought.

JH:So, about the stuff you've been working on recently ... what did you think of the critical reception for Skeletal Lamping?
KB:I try to avoid album reviews, because 99% of the time, they're totally inaccurate, and I don't really benefit from reading them. I don't really get anything out of it. No new insight that I didn't already have. I'm kind of absorbed in making the album, and then when I'm done, I just want to move on to the next thing. Unless I'm just totally bored, I'm really not that interested in hearing what people have to say about it. I don't really worry about what critics have to say about my record, but it seems like people liked it as much as they liked Hissing Fauna, just judging from attendance at shows and things like that.

I wish that rock criticism had more value. I think it could be very beneficial for an artist to have an outsider's perspective on what they're doing. It can be sort of an insular experience. I think it could be good if it were someone whose observations you actually respected. It would be good to hear what they had to say. For the most part, though, you can just tell in the first couple of lines if there's going to be a terrible review, in terms of what they're bringing to the table. Their observations are just so far off from what your inspiration was, or motivation or anything.

JH:Whose opinion do you think would be valuable?
KB: For me, it'd be someone who's an artist themselves. Someone who's produced albums I really respect. Someone like David Bowie, or David Byrne, Brian Eno, Prince. The kind of people who are my idols. If they had something to say about the record, it would definitely be extremely interesting. Ray Davies. Stevie Wonder. Sly Stone. Anybody I'm influenced by. As far as straight-up rock journalists, I don't really follow that scene, so I don't really know who's considered to be good.

JH: I was going to ask you whether you would prefer if people took you more or less seriously than they do now, but it sounds like you don't particularly care ...
KB:It's hard to make a generalization, like, "In general, do people take me seriously?" You'd never be able to quantify that. I definitely hope that people know I spend a lot of time and put a lot of emotion into every single thing I release, and it's the most important thing to me when I'm working on it. At the same time, I'm not pompous and pretentious and want everyone to pore over everything I say and dissect it or make it super-intellectual. Everything I do is more organic, it just happens. When I'm done with it, I can move on.

JH: You've talked a bit before about your performance persona. Who is this guy, and just how separate is that, to you?
KB: It's a weird thing. My brother and I talk about it sometimes before we go onstage. It's so integrated into our lives that I never go, "Shit, I've got a show coming up tonight and I've gotta prepare for it!" It's just second nature, now. It's so natural now, performing and living. It all just happens, and I don't spend much time thinking about it, making a division like, "What's the real me?"

JH: It's tempting to imagine, just from listening to your music, that you guys are very eccentric in your personal lives. Do you think that's true? What's the most eccentric thing about you?
KB: Something that people might be surprised by is that I like watching SportsCenter. I'm really into sports. I like watching baseball, basketball and football. My cousin and I play tennis and basketball all the time. My friends and I have these volleyball cocktail parties, where we make drinks and play volleyball. We get the cops called on us all the time by our neighbors. It's really conventional stuff.

JH: It's funny that the conventional stuff is what would surprise most people. That's an interesting position to be in.
KB: I think that, in general, everybody is eccentric. Aside from a small minority of people that are as one-dimensional as they appear, I think most people have a secret life. Most people are extremely interesting. Anybody that you see just walking down the street is probably a very interesting person. I don't think that artists are necessarily more interesting than non-artists. Someone like Salvador Dali, who was just performing all the time, I mean, his whole life was a performance. He probably seemed more interesting than other people. If you're not envisioning the world looking in it at you, you're not documenting all the things in your head.
You might be extremely eccentric, and you'd have no idea. In our band, everybody thinks that every other member of the band is totally crazy, that they are the only sane one. It's probably like that with all groups of friends. It's some weird aspect of the human condition that we think everyone else is crazy, except for ourselves.

JH: If your band were the cast of a sitcom, what would that show look like?
KB: I can never really draw that parallel. It's kind of too abstract. There's a guy, Jamie, who plays the keys and bass and drums. He's been in the band for 10 years or something. He's definitely got kind of a Larry David character. He's a magnet for those kind of weird interactions with people. He's the one who's always getting in a fight with the old woman behind the counter at the convenience store, being screamed at by the Indian guy who runs the liquor store, or whatever. There's always some weird story with him. So I guess maybe Curb Your Enthusiasm would be close.

JH: Have you been doing any comedy stuff over the past few years, since A Pollinaire Rave?
KB: There's definitely a comedic element to our live show. Everything my brother and I come up with - well, not everything, but at least 70% - is supposed to just be funny, and kind of absurd. It's not really this heavy statement about religion or politics or whatever. Just because there's this weird person in a McCain mask hanging this guy in gold lamé, that doesn't really mean anything. It's supposed to just be funny. There's always a sense of humor involved in the theatrics. I think it's just incorporating that into what of Montreal is now, whereas before, A Pollinaire Rave was sort of a separate thing. Now it's all together as one.

JH: Skeletal Lamping was your most overtly sexual record, both lyrically and musically. How did it turn out that way?
KB: I felt like I had been in a sexually hibernated state of mind all through my 20's. In my early 30's, I started waking up to sexuality and exploring it, thinking about it a bit more. It was kind of natural that it also came through in my art. I think I was just going through a sexual awakening.
I was listening to music that people consider more sexual, like funkier stuff, soul music and R&B. When you think about what music would seem like the most sexual music, most people would say Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" is the sexiest song. But in kind of a funny, weird way, it's almost cliche. Like the scene in a move where someone's about to have sex, and "Let's Get It On" will come on, and everyone will start laughing.

JH: Well, even with sex, it's important to have a sense of humor about it.
KB: Definitely. It has to be fun and playful. Otherwise, I don't know what the hell it is, if you're not having fun. Rape, or something. That's the line between consensual sex and rape, a sense of humor.

JH: What do you think is the most boring thing that's happening in music right now?
KB: It's hard to say. I think everyone has these filters in their head where if something's boring, it doesn't even really register. You just sort of ignore it. But I think any time people try to imitate something successful, it just becomes more watered-down. The whole vocoder R&B thing is pretty boring now. So many people have done it that it's just a dead horse at this point. Unless someone can do something with it that's still interesting. That's the cool thing about music. Everyone borrows from everyone else, and movements evolve that way. They need to evolve that way. Nothing's completely original, but everything has a trace of originality.

JH: And maybe if you can synthesize it from enough other parts, you won't even be able to recognize them anymore.
KB: Totally. Certain things, at their source, they're coming from a place that maybe even a person who's influenced by a person who's influenced by this thing doesn't even know it anymore. They don't even know they're influenced by the Beatles, because they're influenced by someone else who was influenced by the Beatles. On the family tree of music, you don't know all your cousins, aunts and uncles.

JH: What do you think about the Beatles, by the way?
KB: I was a humongous Beatles fan. At one point in my life, they were my favorite band. I had every single record, I was obsessed with reading all the biographies. I was really infatuated with them. I guess within the last 6 or 7 years, I sort of got more interested in other things. I still really love them, but I don't get the same charge out of listening to Revolver that I did at one point. I do know them better than I know any other band.

JH: What's your take on the three and a half minute pop song? Do you think it will ever die, and do you think it would be a good thing if it did?
KB: I don't think it would necessarily be a good thing. Sometimes I think that people follow the pop template too much. There's a pressure that if you want to have a commercially successful song, it has to fit into these parameters, and I think that's definitely unhealthy for the art of music. There's also a great challenge in that. It's kind of fun to fit as many ideas as you can into three and a half minutes. I've never really, with the exception of maybe two or three songs, I haven't really explored longer pieces. I've pretty much stayed within that area of 4 minute songs. On the new record, I've actually started writing longer. Everything is about six and a half minutes.

JH: What's your relationship with the Elephant 6 collective right now? I've heard you're still in it, you used to be in it, or you were never really in it at all. What's the deal there?
KB: I think Elephant 6 was always this nebulous collective anyway. It wasn't really a specific group. It started off as a bedroom project, just for fun. At that time, in the early '90's, there weren't that many indie labels anyway. It was just them trying to empower themselves and release their own records. The core group was Apples in Stereo, and what became Neutral Milk Hotel, and what became Olivia Tremor Control, and then Elf Power was a part of it, too. We were kind of a part of it, but on the fringe.
I looked up to them as big brother figures. They were a little bit older than me, and they had done all the things I wanted to do: release records, self-produce, go on tour, and do it all on your own terms. I wanted to be a part of it. I was sort of just pulling their coat from behind, like "Hey guys, can I come to the party, too?" Now we've been able to establish our own thing, so I'm not really a part of Elephant 6 although I guess it still exists to some degree. Only briefly was it ever a fully-functioning label that would sign bands and release records. It was really more like a friend collective that became a movement, in a way.

JH: Would you consider working with another producer on an of Montreal record?
KB: Every record that I've made has been home recorded, and every of Montreal record has been self-produced. I've never hired anyone to help us with it, or gone into the studio, with a few exceptions. Everything's been done with crappy equipment in some small, little bedroom. The new record that I'm working on, I've just kind of attacked it the same way I have the last three or four records, doing all the parts myself and recording everything in my house.
I think I would, in the future, like to start working with other people as an experiment, to see what might come of it. People like David Bowie, for example - he always seemed to benefit greatly from other people's influence. Brian Eno or Tony Visconti or whoever. People that could bend his mind in a way he wouldn't have known naturally, and really great things can come out of collaborations like that. I've been a bit paranoid and insular the last four or five years, but I see myself coming out of that and wanting to work with other people in the future.

JH: The EP you did with Jon Brion was really interesting. Is there a possibility he might help produce an of Montreal record?
KB: I think it could definitely be good. It could definitely be interesting. It's kind of weird, the way I work, because everything is just done in the moment. I don't do any sort of planning beforehand. I just start experimenting and something will evolve out of that. I guess if you had a producer, the two of you together would just do the same thing. It could be fun. I'd have to be in a certain state of mind where I wouldn't feel like I had to perform for them. The thing I really like about recording and creating music is the process, where you shut off the rest of the world. It's a dream state of mind. All the ideas are coming, and you're caught up in the wave of creativity. It all depends on the chemistry between me and the other producer, as far as whether I could get to that place if there was somebody else in the room.

JH: What do you know about this new album, so far?
KB: It's going to be called False Priest. It's very funky and definitely dance music, but it's kind of hard to explain the vibe of it right now. There's a lot of strange lyrical imagery and sort of funkier sounds and ... [laughs] I don't know how to explain music, ever. I've got about six or seven songs. I'm just writing and experimenting and not really worrying about what songs are going to be on the record. I'm just trying to have fun with the creative process, and edit myself later. Probably in five or six months, I'll say, "Ok, what songs do I like the best? What kind of record should this be?"

JH: Are you familiar with Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies? Do you ever use those?
KB: I actually have them on my phone. I've used them maybe once or twice. There's one that I read that says, "Don't build a wall. Make a brick." That was really good advice. It's sort eerily helpful. Every time I check it out, it's usually good advice. I think it's a fantastic tool for musicians.

JH: of Montreal are known for quirky song titles. Which comes first, the song or the title?
KB: Usually, I might have a title and I won't really think what I'm going to use it for. It's somewhat random. Usually the title doesn't really connect with the song. It's just something I thought sounded interesting. It's strange that people are so lazy with song titles. A song title is almost always a lyric from the song, and almost always a lyric from the chorus. It's such a generic way of identifying songs. I think it's more fun to just be creative with every aspect of the songwriting process. Why not be creative when you're titling the song, too?

JH: You're going to have to say the names of your songs so often that's it's probably a good idea to pick something you can live with hearing all the time.
KB: Yeah. It's hard, too, because a lot of our song titles are so strange that even the band members have a hard time remembering "which one is that again?" Especially songs that have foreign words, 'cause a lot of the songs are named after places in Norway, so they have this weird sound, like Heimsdalsgate or Gronlandic Edit. I'm really fascinated with words. It's so remarkable that we're able to express these really complex human emotions with one word. It's all about finding the right word to really articulate the feeling. You have all these words at your disposable, but you have to find the precise one.

JH: And sometimes the word you need is in another language ...
KB: There's things that, if you are very well-educated, you'll know that you can't really say this in English, but this is the term in French. I guess there's a term in French for someone who's strange-looking but beautiful at the same time. Not a conventional beauty. I don't know what that word is.

JH: So, I shouldn't capitalize the first "o" in of Montreal, right? Unless that's changed in the past few years?
KB: I don't know what we have to do to make people realize the o is always going to be lowercase. Seven out of ten times, the o is uppercase, and it's not really such a big deal. We don't have an official font or an official logo, so I guess it's just natural that when people don't know what to do, they just capitalize the o. Aesthetically, I prefer it to be lowercase in "of."

JH: Is it just because of the aesthetics? It's not like a bell hooks or e.e. cummings thing?
KB:It's sort of like that. It's just that when I see the o in uppercase, it looks like this weird pregnant monster.

2009-08-24 - "The Secret Of My Success" - Blurt Online

Kevin Barnes doesn't want to be all things to all people. In fact, he'd rather keep ‘em guessing.


Maybe corny is the new sexy. Or maybe the liberated sexuality that Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes sings of is a musical solution to his problems.

But when Barnes talks about Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping and the sensuality rampant throughout, it's funny that when he's tries on his favorite track, it's the record's most diligently innocent one, "An Eluardian Instance," that's the sweetest love song he's written in a long time. "There's just a nice nostalgia there that's not too corny," observes Barnes. You can almost hear him sigh when he says so.

Moving from lean lo-fi pop to something more luxuriating like glam's grandeur has given Of Montreal its time in the sun. It would be a simple thing - if only people would let enjoy it.

"Ha, I don't know what happened to me," laughs Barnes, about being the earnest nice boy from Athens with an epiphany-filled ethereal pop band from the Elephant 6 collective first led astray by a woman from Canada. It would seem as if his first real loves were the Mersey bands of Britain, what with the initial Anglo ardor of 1997's Cherry Peel on Bar/None, or ‘98's The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy on Kindercore.

"To be honest, the first music I fell in love with as a kid was pop, soul and funk," he confides. "My first cassette tape was a Kool and the Gang greatest hits. I got into Prince at a very young age too. I didn't discover the Kinks and the Beatles till around high school, so you could say my roots are in freak funk more do than Anglo psych pop."

I could say that. OK. I will. That explains some of the funk. But the flamboyant fabulousness of 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and the new music's sensually branded glam pop came under the auspices of an alter ego, "Mr. Fruit" and that character's nascent sexual aplomb. Before you ask, he doesn't tell.

"I don't really know where this new direction came from. It's all very organic. Maybe I got sick of being so depressed and uptight and needed a new position. It just sort of evolved out of the depression and paranoia."

Much has been said of Barnes' depression. He started a band because he was sad a woman left him. It's been rumored he was recently in real trouble with his psyche. And of course, while early tracks of Of Montreal were silly and humorous ("Tim, I Wish You Were Born A Girl") many of Barnes' narratives since 1997 have evolved with dramatic sadness as their basis. While The Gay Parade saw the advent of Barnes' invented characters (in songs such as "Jacques Lamure" and "Mimi Merlot") and miserable conversations ("Advice From a Divorced Gentleman to His Bachelor Friend Considering Marriage"), albums like Aldhils Arboretum, found peppy melodies and bleak lyrics as their base - "Doing Nothing" and "Old People in the Cemetery," for example.

Before the current crop of sexually awake albums, his favorite Of Montreal record was Coquelicot, the epic and the open ended classic that is the transitional bracket between glistening pop and sexual healing glam. "It is pretty similar to Skeletal Lamping in its structure or lack thereof," says Barnes. "Coquelicot is the first record I really cut loose and completely abandoned the conventional pop song template. That is the one record that was a true collaboration with other people as well. It was a pretty great experience. Unfortunately it didn't sell worth shit and the band sort of fell apart quickly after that."

With that band disappeared and Fauna's main character - Mr. Fruit - doing most of the talking, phase two of Of Montreal seemed complete and successful.

But, why did Barnes need an alter ego in Fruit to begin with, and now that he's disappeared, is Skeletal Lamping all Barnes?

"I realized that it was me all along. There is no split personality thing happening."

He doesn't wish people to think that Skeletal Lamping is a concept album or that he was singing from the perspective of a fictional character. "SL is just as personal an album as Hissing Fauna. I'm just exploring and exposing different areas of my psyche. I think people tend to find sexuality to be more superficial than subjects like mental problems or relationship woes. I don't agree though. The psychological aspects of sexuality are extremely complex and fascinating to me. So much of our self concept is influenced by how we define ourselves sexually. I have chosen to not define myself and to allow for my self identity to be fluid."

What Barnes discovered that has made Skeletal Lamping so much freer and sexual than previously was that he was hung up; that time and energy and his current openness about himself and his music was ripe. "I guess I was in more of an introverted and hung up state of mind earlier on in my life. I seem to be going through a sexual awakening. I guess it is somewhat influenced by hitting rock bottom and being reborn. I couldn't have predicted it. I try not to second guess things. I just follow the organic spirit where ever it wants to go. That sounds like a hippy bumper sticker but it is true."

So why do audiences and critics seem confused by this new record and the personae or non-personae of it. Read Of Montreal's most recent press and it's as if every critic - but BLURT's staff of course - ain't doing a whole lot of fucking.

"I can't say," says Barnes. "I think that anyone who feels annoyed by the complexity of the album just lacks intellectual depth. I can't understand how these so called 'music aficionados' criticize the album for being too unpredictable and complex. I would have thought that critics would have celebrated the album for its exceptional quality but I've been shocked by how many critics have completely missed the boat. I guess I gave them too much credit."

And what's the something-something so delicious about Skeletal Lamping that is the secret to it success? Barnes can't help but stifle a giggle. "Every instrument on every song was recorded while masturbating," says Barnes.

You go.

Monday, July 6, 2009

2009-07-06 - The Skinny

of Montreal: Wild Mood Swings

Posted by Jason Morton, Mon 06 Jul 2009

(be sure to check the original article for the splendid pictures)

After several universally lauded LPs, psych-pop outfit of Montreal unleashed the divisive Skeletal Lamping on the public late last year. Jason Morton steps into the expressive world of Kevin Barnes.

Soundcheck isn’t going well for psychedelic popsters-cum-performance artists of Montreal. Kevin Barnes, mastermind of the oft-brilliant group, calls off the testing of the waters with An Eluardian Instance – a new single from 2008’s Skeletal Lamping, which, with its emphatic, brassy sound, would take pains to not sound enthused. But the rapture ends prematurely and the warm-up session at Òran Mór grinds to a halt as the tour manager leaves to scout the West End’s music shops for a proper adapter to cater for one of the group’s myriad musical implements.

When he returns empty-handed, it’s up to Barnes to rework the section of the song for which the equipment is necessary, eating away time for rehearsal, relaxation, make-up and, well… eating. Giving testament to the band’s prolific nature (they’ve released a seven-inch/DVD combo and a remix EP since November’s Lamping), he wraps it up quickly, ready to talk about one of last year’s most divisive records, the follow-up to the acclaimed Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

“I think it’s kind of funny when someone says ‘Oh, it’s too schizophrenic, too fragmented…’” Barnes says. “But yeah, that was the point. It’s like collage music, genre-hopping – some stuff is pretty progressive and some is extremely derivative, but intentionally so.”

With wild mood swings taking the record from depressed acoustic introspection to the sexed-up electro-pop of closer Id Engager - whether bad or good, the LP certainly keeps a listener on their toes.

“It can be rewarding to listen to something unpredictable: That was the goal, for better or worse. Obviously it’s not the best record ever, but it’s an interesting record.” Barnes sounds like neither plaintiff nor defendant when talking shop; rather than an apologist, he comes off more like a true believer: “It’s sort of indicative of the time we’re in right now, where people are looking for more creative music and artists are taking more chances.”

According to Barnes, sessions for the record started off in practical mode, applying a verse-chorus-verse theory, but this soon collapsed. “I abandoned that approach and just made one piece at a time. I was trying to make them, and it didn’t really flow - it sounded awkward. I felt like there’s no real reason. So many people are trying to do it the other way: write the perfect pop song. I would rather make awkward pop music than predictable pop music.”

The album's 'narrative' – a term used loosely here – could be described as equally erratic. While previous albums have woven stories or confessionals to the melodies, the emergence of his transgendered, middle-aged alter ego Georgie Fruit as a vocal character marks a step in a different direction for Barnes.

“I think the whole Georgie Fruit thing is sprung from my depression period," he says. "I didn’t really think about it at the time, but looking back on it, I think that maybe I just needed an escape from that: the darkness of the Kevin Barnes reality. When I balanced things out a little bit, this other character just rose to the surface.”

While this unleashing of an alter-ego has occurred throughout pop culture's androgynous past, perhaps most prominently with Ziggy Stardust, it’s not exactly common in the indie community. But this is something Barnes describes as getting out of his “comfort zone”, though he indicates that it was a natural process.

Their leader’s songwriting methodology seems to have paid off for the Athens, Georgia outfit, with increased sales and graduation to higher-profile venues, at least in their native US, coming with the new record. Barnes doesn’t dwell on this long, however, preferring instead to highlight the opportunities afforded to the band by the exposure: “This last tour that we did we actually played good-paying festival shows. We squirreled the money away, knowing we’d need a big budget if we put on this production.”

The ever-evolving of Montreal live show – which has recently included the singer being led to stage on a white horse or being hung from makeshift gallows – incorporates video and dramatic performance, at a level of production that has been building for years.

“At the very beginning, we were driven by the indie rock/punk rock mentality of ‘Don’t dress it up. Be as real as possible’." says Barnes "Ever since [2004’s] Satanic Panic in the Attic, we decided we were going to try something visually interesting, and it built up from there, tour by tour, adding new elements.”

With the time and thought put into each tour’s production – mostly by Kevin's brother David, who designs much of Montreal material (albums, posters, lamps) – the band thinks of it as “two separate productions that are lopped on top of each other. It’s not just throw a bunch of people on stage and goof off for three minutes; it’s definitely a planned skit.”

Barnes concedes that in the US, the larger crowds create an easier setting for stage play, but hopes the band creates a similar experience for UK audiences as well: “Over here, we’re still building something, so we still play smaller places and we’re bumping into each other. There are people falling off the stage, bumping over keyboards. But we want to do something visually cool, so even if there’s no room for it, we’ll do it anyway.”

And while for the band’s past four albums Barnes has been the principle songwriter, he maintains that in performance and many other aspects, it’s a cooperative approach with everyone pitching in: “Of Montreal has become like an art collective. Everyone’s invested, everyone wears a bunch of different hats. Everybody is involved. You’re not just going to do one thing.”

This is why, in Barnes’ world, you might be scouring music stores for equipment one minute – or investigating the phenomenon of Neeps & Tatties - only to be cavorting around stage in a pig mask or skin-tight red bodysuit the next. And when the dual performance finally comes, you can tell even though it may take a lot of work and coordination, the band’s getting as much out of it as the fans are.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

2008-10-21 - River Front Times

Sing the Body Politic: Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping challenges and shocks listeners

By Keegan Hamilton

Published on October 21, 2008 at 11:05am

Avant-garde artists, and in particular musicians, have struggled to strike a balance between genius and pretentiousness for decades. From Lou Reed's infamous noise exploration Metal Machine Music to the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka, which required listeners to simultaneously play four separate CDs in four separate stereos, art rockers have always braved a backlash when they eschew broad appeal in pursuit of a singular (and usually bizarre) creative vision.

Such is the case with Skeletal Lamping, the ninth album from the Athens, Georgia, group Of Montreal. Charged with the daunting task of following up 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? — the band's most critically and commercially successful album to date — lead singer Kevin Barnes crafted fifteen songs that are all nearly unlistenable. A disjointed blend of funk, disco and porn grooves, the record is as tedious as it is bizarre.

Like the brief and woefully inadequate curator notes that accompany contemporary art exhibits, advance copies of the record feature a four-paragraph essay that takes a stab at dissecting the music. "The record has its own internal logic," the back album cover proclaims, "and its many tangents and detours feel entirely intuitive and organic in context." The essay continues: "[Skeletal Lamping] rejects the notion of a fixed identity and encourages the listener to embrace their contradictions and to accept that one's self is nebulous and mercurial." It even calls the album "bizarre, complicated and dense."

Reached in Asheville, North Carolina, the second stop on a short North American tour, Barnes maintains the essay isn't just PR-firm penned nonsense.

"[Lamping] made itself in that way," says Barnes, who wrote and composed every song on the album by himself. "It could be complicated because of the way it's shifting and changing. It never really stays one style for that long. You could call it fragmented or schizophrenic."

The music itself certainly fits that description. Lamping completely abandons traditional verse/chorus/verse songwriting; instead, each song is a patchwork of minute-long bursts of sound that change rhythm and melody without rhyme or reason. For instance, the song "And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow," opens with a Scissor Sisters-do-Elton John piano lick. A sudden time change and moaning synthesizers take over. Just as abruptly, layered vocals of Barnes bawling over a drum machine appear before a brief but catchy palm-muted guitar sequence. It fades out with droning vocals and the same minor-key guitar chord strummed over and over. The song is just two-and-a-half minutes long.

"[The album] doesn't follow any logical path. I wanted to create something full of surprises and unpredictable," Barnes says. "Pop music can be so predictable and a lot of people follow the 'rules' in a way that's not very creative or interesting. I did that a lot in the past and I kind of learned to break free from that."

Barnes' lyrics are as fragmented as his production style. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of a black transsexual man named Georgie Fruit, a Barnes-invented character who he says was once a member of a failed '70s glam-rock band.

"It sounds pretentious but I really feel it just happened, I didn't sit down for weeks and weeks and create a character," Barnes says with a faint Southern drawl. "This voice was just unlocked inside me, and I gave it a name. All of these songs were flowing out of me, I thought it was a foreign entity speaking, but I realized it was a different part of my psyche that was unlocked and speaking to the world."

The 35-year-old Barnes, who is happily married (to a woman), insists he has no problem writing sincere songs about the life of his alter ego.

"I don't make a division between me and Georgie Fruit," Barnes says. "In fact, I sort of regret creating a name for that creative spirit. It might make people feel like it's less genuine, like it's fiction. I want people to realize that it's genuine, and it's coming from the heart."

Lyrically, Barnes has always bared his soul, particularly on Hissing Fauna, where he often sang about a painful separation from his wife and his struggle with depression that followed. But where he was able to distill his neurosis on that album into catchy, three-minute pop songs with sing-along-friendly choruses about chemical imbalance, Lamping feels like a hackneyed attempt at sexually transgressive shock art. It's not just the Georgie Fruit songs, either — often speaking in bizarre abstractions, Barnes alludes to everything from blowjobs in the boys' locker room to a prostitute turning tricks on the hood of a car.

The album drips with crude sexual imagery. He opens the song "St. Exquisite's Affections" by bellowing in his eunuch-like falsetto, "I'm so sick of sucking the dick of this cold, cold city." Other times he sings, "I took her standing in the kitchen/Ass against the sink" and "We can do it softcore if you want/But you should know that I go both ways," and "I want to make you ejaculate till it's no longer fun."

Barnes, who recently told Spin, "For a while, I really wanted to be gay but it didn't work out for me," again maintains that earnestness is not an issue when it comes to writing songs about homosexual encounters.

"I don't make the division between physical reality or intellectual reality or fantasy or dream reality," Barnes says. "Just because you held a brick in your hand and threw it through a window, doesn't mean it doesn't have the same value as dreaming you held a brick in your hand and throwing it through the window. Everything I'm writing about, I might not have physically experienced it — but I did experience it."

While the songs on the album are the sole work of Barnes, he says his bandmates have been critical in translating the album's hypersexuality and out-there imagery into a dynamic live act. And thus far, sneak previews of the Skeletal Lamping tour have looked like a three-ring circus on acid. A recent New York show featured a nearly naked Barnes riding a live horse onto the stage at one point and emerging from a coffin slathered in shaving cream at another. Band members were dressed like cowboys, tigers and the mythical creature Pan.

Barnes, Of Montreal and their peers in Athens' famed Elephant 6 Recording Company have always experimented in the hope of stretching the boundaries of contemporary music. For a time Barnes even lived with Jeff Mangum, the singer/songwriter behind Neutral Milk Hotel. But while Mangum was able to craft the creatively brilliant album In the Aeroplane Over The Sea from a series of recurring dreams he had about Anne Frank, when Barnes attempts to channel his own strange inner voice and shed all the trappings of pop music in the process, the result isn't as transcendent.

"You just create what you feel compelled to create," Barnes says. "It's more fulfilling that way. I've never tried to create for an audience or demographic because that would just be...well...really weird."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

2007-10-15 - PopWire / PopMatters

Indie-pop band Of Montreal are touring as they work on their next CD.
15 October 2007

by Len Righi

Guitarist-vocalist Bryan Poole has worked closely with Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes for more than a decade. But it wasn’t until last year that he felt he had a real clue why Barnes would often compose and complete songs and albums with almost no input from other members of the band.
“I found out sitting next to him on an airplane that he never had real friends until he was 10 or 11 years old, people he could watch cartoons with or roughhouse with,” says Poole just hours before Of Montreal is to play at Oberlin College in Ohio.
“He had to create his own playland. He had to make up characters to keep himself entertained. He was able to explore his mind. To me, that’s a really great insight, and he just offered it up.”
Poole, who also has been part of pop experimenters Elf Power and The Olivia Tremor Control, admits that Athens, Ga.-based Of Montreal has had its “ups and downs and periods of drifting,” partly because of the way Barnes works. “But Kevin is kind of like Prince,” says Poole with admiration. “He can play and do everything himself, and he never has writers block.”
So although Of Montreal is still officially touring behind its fascinating late January release, “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?,” a dizzying, autobiographical account of a crumbling psyche that Barnes recorded virtually by himself while living in Norway and Athens, Ga., the band already is shifting gears.
Barnes, Poole, drummer-keyboardist-trumpeter James Huggins, keyboardist Dottie Alexander and bassist Davey Pierce are already playing several new tunes that will be part of the band’s next CD.

Poole offers a few song titles and brief commentary:

“Our Last Summer as Independents”: “Lyrically, it’s pretty straightforward. The music is influenced by the current Swedish pop bands, Belle & Sebastian and The Cure.”
“Georgie’s Confession”: “Georgie Fruit is one of Kevin’s creations, one of his alter-egos. He’s a 50-year-old black she-male who has been in and out of prison. He loves Prince and all that older soul stuff, like Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Funkadelic. He always tells it like it is.
“He turned up on a couple of `Hissing Fauna’ tracks, including `Faberge Falls for Shuggie’ (which is sung in an unnerving falsetto).”
“Softcore”: “That’s another Georgie Fruit song. (Sings) `We can do it softcore if you want/We can do it both ways’ ... It has a weird pop edge to it, but it’s definitely funky with a lot of cool harmonies that (sound like) Prince, Bowie, whatever.”
“Mingusing”: “It’s got some different sections. It’s not dour or nihilistic - or necessarily by Georgie Fruit.”

Poole says that because of the personal nature of the material on “Hissing,” Barnes has a hard time performing it live. Barnes’ inspiration for the record was a self-described “insane year” he spent with his pregnant wife in her native Norway to take advantage of the country’s health-care benefits, his subsequent culture shock and problems after the birth of their daughter that almost sundered the marriage.
Thus, “Hissing’s” exuberant-sounding, Human League-tinged “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger” has been sidestepped on this tour, and the 12-minute space-pop epic “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” has been played just once because it puts Poole and Barnes “in a negative head space.”
Poole notes he has lobbied for the song “No Conclusion,” but that it, too, has remained absent from the set list. “`No Conclusion’ is a 10-minute song on an EP (`Icons, Abstract Thee’) we put out as a companion record to `Hissing,’” explains Poole. “It’s awesome and it rocks. But when it came time to tour, Kevin said, `I can’t do it.’ He couldn’t sing the lyrics. They were too depressing, with no hope. I can understand, because the songs were a purging of all these things ... a terrible awfulness that exploded out of him.”
Poole, 37, was born and reared in Nashville, Tenn. “Chet Atkins babysat me one afternoon when my mom was cutting radio commercials and voiceovers,” he says. “I was like, 2 years old at the time.”
Poole remembers “always liking music,” although he preferred the late `70s and early `80s funk his sister listened to over the Frank Zappa and Chick Corea albums favored by his brother.
Eventually he discovered punk rock. “The Dead Kennedys were the first band I really liked, and toward the end of high school I wanted to start a band,” he says.
So he moved to Athens “and started playing and playing and playing.” After a time became part of Elephant 6, a musicians collective that would spawn such well-regarded indie bands as The Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and, of course, Of Montreal.
“I met Kevin in 1995, or early 1996,” says Poole, who was then a member of Elf Power. “He had come to town from Florida a few times before to find like-minded musicians to play with.
“A friend told me about him and said, `You two would get along.’ That he was already signed to a record label (Bar None) piqued my interest. And after I heard his demo tape, Kevin and I started hanging out.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

2008-10-01 - Rolling Stone

The Surreal Life

Rolling Stone, 2008-10-01


Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes is obsessed with Prince, suicide, and borrowing his wife's tights. Meet rock's newest damaged genius.

There are many things that Kevin Barnes' wife might prefer he not talk about. For instance, when she became pregnant a few years ago, the idea of becoming a father so terrified Barnes that he considered committing suicide. Or that after his daughter was born, his misbehavior on the road nearly destroyed their marriage. Or that he suffers from chronic depression, which he treats with the powerful antidepressant Cymbalta in a haphazard regimen. "I take it every three days or so," says the 34-year-old leader of the cult-fave psychedelic pop group Of Montreal. "I should probably take it more, but I kind of like that it messes up my mind. Every day is like a roller coaster — sometimes I feel really good, and sometimes I feel all tingly." Today is a Cymbalta day, which makes Barnes feel "introspective and weird." In the Athens, Georgia, band's industrial rehearsal space, downwind from a chicken-processing plant, Barnes stands quietly among his cheerful, PBR-drinking bandmates, with a purple Vitaminwater at his feet and a glossy Rickenbacker strapped to his slight frame. Dressed like Ziggy Stardust on a casual Friday — skintight red jeans, octagonal clear-frame sunglasses, a jaunty blue scarf adorned with tiny white stars — he absently noodles on "Day Tripper" before calling the song "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" from the band's new album, Skeletal Lamping (out October 21st). Three of his bandmates grab basses and pick out complex, strangely melodic lines as Barnes lets loose with an effects-heavy series of "ooh-ooh-oohs" that sound like Freddie Mercury on helium.

As with the last two Of Montreal records, Barnes recorded Skeletal Lamping (the title came to him after reading a Dylan Thomas poem) at home on his computer. An idea-packed pastiche inspired by Brian Wilson's SMiLE and Prince's Sign o' the Times, Lamping boosts the group's oddball pop with its polyperverse, sexed-up lyrics and kitchen-sink range — from hip-hop and disco to freaked-out soul and Stones-y blues. It arrives just a year after Barnes inadvertently introduced himself to the masses by allowing Outback Steakhouse to use his 2005 song "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" in its ads. (The Australian-themed chain added didgeridoo and changed the lyric "Let's pretend we don't exist/Let's pretend we're in Antarctica" to "Let's go Outback tonight/Life will still be here tomorrow.") "They told me it was just going to be a radio jingle," he says. "And of course it wasn't — it became the anthem of Outback Steakhouse. The reality is it's definitely not good to sell a song to a commercial, as far as allowing people to have their own memories of a song." Barnes posted an anguished essay, "Selling Out Isn't Possible," online, writing, "The pseudo-Nihilistic punk rockers of the '70s created an impossible code that no one can actually live by."

But looking back, Barnes says the fear that he'd damaged his credibility fueled Lamping's adventurous spirit. "I was like, 'If you're going to call me a phony, I'm going to prove that there's nothing about me motivated by record sales,'" he says. Take Georgie Fruit, a character Barnes introduced on Of Montreal's 2007 album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, and in whose voice he sings much of the new record. "He's an African-American man who was in an R&B band called Arousal in the Seventies," Barnes says. "They didn't go very far, and he ended up in prison, where he had a lot of weird experiences and decided to be a woman. So he had a sex change. He's very free — I think of him as a genderless superhuman, untouched by taboos or the boring parts of our culture." (Barnes is considering an Arousal "reissue" as a side project: "It would be totally fun." He's also working on an album with MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden under the name Blikk Fang.)

Of Montreal's live shows have evolved into over-the-top glam spectacles involving surreal props, whimsical sets and multiple costume changes — and, on one occasion, a fully nude Barnes performing against projected clips of Seventies gay porn. As the tours have grown increasingly baroque, Of Montreal have developed a reputation as kind of a Grateful Dead for arty, sexually ambiguous kids (plus David Byrne and Bono, who have both been spotted at gigs) who use the shows as an opportunity to dress up in hypercolorful garb, apply liberal amounts of makeup and glitter, and get supremely elevated on booze and drugs. In a few weeks, the band is heading off on its biggest tour yet, a theatrical production complete with elaborate costumes (drag, mythological creatures, giant kimonos), Madonna-size video screens and a cadre of "performance artists" who will act out choreographed scenes, including a brawl in a Deadwood-style saloon. "The inspiration is very Michel Gondry," Barnes says. "Or the kid in Rushmore that puts on those productions."

At rehearsal, Barnes' five bandmates appear to have been sent over from Indie-Rock Central Casting. Guitarist Bryan Poole has a Neil Young look involving bushy sideburns and an awesome tricked-out art project of a car (with a complicated back story about an artist friend's attempt to assemble a militia to capture a mysterious local known as the 8-Track Gorilla); bassist Davey Pierce lives in a garage next door among at least a dozen vintage mopeds in various states of operability; synth player Dottie Alexander sports a pink cheerleaderish skirt and polka-dot tights; and multi-instrumentalist Jamey Husband has an ascotlike scarf that recalls Fred's from Scooby-Doo. Rocking a cool straw hat and an unbuttoned cardigan without a shirt is drummer Ahmed Gallab, the latest addition. Gallab (who's been in town for less than a month and lives in the loft above the rehearsal space) emigrated from Sudan when he was a kid, and is eagerly waiting for rehearsal to stop so he can break his Ramadan fast. "There's two sides of Of Montreal," Barnes explains the next day. "There's the recorded music, which I've been predominantly doing myself. But the performing band is collaborative, and everyone is deeply invested emotionally and financially."

Barnes grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a well-off suburb of Detroit. "I listened to a lot of poodle rock," he says. "Mötley Crüe and Ratt were my favorite bands, and I covered my bedroom with pictures I cut out of Hit Parade and Circus." When he was 13, his parents — an accountant father (with dreams of becoming a stand-up comic) and teacher mother — bought him a black Pearl drum kit like Tommy Lee's. He formed his first band, Wit's End, singing and playing drums with a local kid named Mark Tremonti, who went on to become the guitarist in Creed. "Kevin was always a real talented guy," Tremonti recalls (the two haven't spoken since high school). "And he had a really cool voice and an artistic edge to him. Just to be able to write songs at that age was amazing. Our best song was 'Pull My Trigger.' It was pretty much a sex, drugs and rock & roll type of tune. You know, that Mötley Crüe thing. Dangerous lyrics. For a group of eighth-graders it was pretty edgy."

A year later, Barnes' father lost his job and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, to look for work, leaving Barnes with a profound feeling of uncertainty. He fell into his first major depression. "Things were fucked up, and I was getting into trouble at school," he says. "Even though I wanted to be a rebel, there was a part of me that was sweet and wanted to be accepted." (Tremonti remembers, "He didn't really adhere to authority — he was a guy who probably got in trouble more than the average kid.")

Barnes began suffering increasingly debilitating anxiety attacks, culminating in what he refers to as "a weird drug experience." "It was my birthday and my friends bought me all this pot," he says. "Maybe because I was still developing, I had this bizarre reaction where I totally lost my mind. I really thought I was dying. After that I became conscious of how vulnerable we are psychologically. I still feel touched by that experience, which used to bother me. Like, what the fuck is wrong with me — I still feel as crazy as I did when I was a teenager. But now I feel like it's good, like it fuels my creativity."

In Florida, Barnes made a crucial discovery — British Invasion rock, particularly the Beatles, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. "I was delivering pizzas, and I got The Kink Kronikles on vinyl," he says. "I put it on a cassette and listened until I wore it out." Playing along to an early Stones comp on guitar, Barnes taught himself chords, and by the time he finished school, he had released a collection of tunes on the influential indie label Bar/None. In search of a band, he headed to Athens after seeing the classic documentary Athens, GA. Inside/Out. "I was just dying to find like-minded people to play with," he says. "But I never thought in a million years that I would ever have a career in music — I was just a kid with a four-track recorder with no friends and no prospects."

Athens has two abiding passions: University of Georgia football and off-kilter art rock. Best known as the birthplace of R.E.M., Athens also nurtured freaked-out proto-alt bands such as the B-52s and Pylon, who exploded from acid-fueled UGA parties in the early Eighties. A decade later, when Barnes arrived fresh out of high school, a new scene was starting to take off — centered around a tight group of Beatles-and-analog-recording-obsessed indie bands that referred to themselves as the Elephant Six Collective. "It was just a great explosion of talent," Barnes says of his early years there. "Very bohemian, everyone living together, three or four people sleeping on the floor, everyone playing on each other's records. And there was the excitement of seeing Michael Stipe at a house party, wearing a straw hat, looking really cool. I'd be like, 'Oh, my God.'"

Until 2004's awesomely titled Satanic Panic in the Attic, the first Of Montreal record Barnes made by himself, the band was mainly inspired by the Elephant Six groups (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples in Stereo among them), whom Barnes befriended shortly after moving to town. "They were kind of like big brothers to me," he says. "I sort of worshipped them — like, God, they're making records and going on tour, they have a publicist, a booking agent, all these things." Living together in a series of communal houses, including a $400-a-month brick bungalow he shared with Neutral Milk leader Jeff Mangum ("It was a total party house — we had a skateboard quarter pipe in the living room and no heat"), Of Montreal cut several low-fi albums between day jobs. "We all wanted to sound like the Beatles," Barnes says. "And everyone was turning each other on to lost psychedelic classics — like someone would go on tour and discover, like, Os Mutantes or the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow and bring it back to the circle. Everyone would be really influenced by them."

Of Montreal's breakthrough, 2007's Hissing Fauna, veers from synthy electro pop to sun-splashed R&B inspired by psychedelic-soul great Shuggie Otis (name-checked on the standout "Faberge Falls for Shuggie"). On about half the songs, Barnes' vocals shift into a life-affirming falsetto — but the lyrics are more harrowing than groovy. Hissing Fauna's emotional center, "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse," finds Barnes singing, "I'm in a crisis/I need help/C'mon mood, shift back to good again . . . chemicals don't make me sick again."

Barnes met Nina Twin — a talented visual artist and musician — at a gig in Oslo in 2001. After a long-distance courtship, she moved to Athens and joined the band on bass. When she became pregnant in 2004, the couple moved to Nina's native Norway to take advantage of the Scandinavian nation's free health care. "The government actually pays you when you have a child," Barnes says. "So we said, 'Fuck it, let's put everything in storage, go to Norway and see what happens from there.'"

Barnes suffered the deepest depression of his adult life, becoming mired in anxiety, paranoia and persistent thoughts of suicide. (Heimdalsgate is the name of the street where they settled in Oslo.) "I was totally isolated, totally broke, we were couch surfing, and I had never imagined myself a father. I found the concept of having a child terrifying, and it is terrifying. There was so much terror in my mind. It was so much easier to live in a dream state where all I had to worry about was myself." And as scary as the pressures of fatherhood were, the fear that he'd have to give up music was worse. "We had been a band for seven years, but never had any commercial success," Barnes says. "But the thing that motivated me wasn't praise or acclaim — it was the process of creation. So there was no reason for me to stop making music, until there was the idea that, fuck, if I have a kid . . . I'll have to stop fuckin' around and take care of my kid."

Encouraged by their booking agent, the couple returned to the U.S. to launch a tour behind the surprisingly popular Satanic Panic. After an attempt to bring their daughter, Alabee, on the road failed, the tour continued without Nina — who became increasingly resentful of being left behind. "Understandably so," Barnes says. "Taking care of a baby is nowhere near as much fun as going on tour."

With Nina at home, and fueled by champagne and antidepressants, Barnes began bringing his glam superqueen live-show persona to the afterparties. "I think the medication allowed him to function, but it also caused his psyche to become more disassociated from feelings like empathy — especially when alcohol is involved," says guitarist Poole, who records his own psychedelic side project as the Late BP Helium. "He'd do stuff like come up to you and stick his hand down your pants and start jerking off your dick. Or, like, try to make out with you, or take all his clothes off and just start walking around at parties."

Nina and Alabee moved back to Norway, and for half a year Barnes went on without them. But then something clicked inside. "I was looking for another Nina, in a way," he says. "But I realized what I had with her was so special. And I was missing Alabee a lot. My whole life I've been sort of detached emotionally, but with Alabee I understand true love. When I'd go visit them in Norway, Alabee would stand at the windowsill and cry because she wanted to see me. That's when you realize you need to be there for your child, because she needs you, she loves you. And you can't take that lightly."

For now, Barnes and Nina seem happy. They just bought a chic, modern, three-bedroom house in the leafy Athens neighborhood of Five Points, separated from the neighbors by tall, shady trees and a long driveway. The sun-soaked rooms feel homey and somehow Scandinavian, accessorized with high-end kitchen gear, an upright piano, framed expanses of cheery Marimekko fabric, Nina's artwork and shelves full of tasteful books (spotted: Portnoy's Complaint, Gravity's Rainbow, Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Dave Eggers' What Is the What).

Barnes' mom lives in a house next door and helps out with Alabee. When he's not making music, Barnes spends a lot of time in front of his new flatscreen TV, watching NFL games. "When I was a kid, like in high school and stuff, I felt very feminine," he says. "But I'm also very athletic, very into sports. I read ESPN magazine. I watch SportsCenter all the time. I'm a big Cleveland Browns and Indians fan."

Sitting on his big new patio as the sun sets, with Nina puttering around in an embroidered housedress, Barnes seems relaxed. His sunglasses are off, revealing sleepy, vulnerable eyes. But the couple's hard-won contentment could be shaken in a couple of weeks, when Of Montreal hit the road again for a yearlong tour. "I'm not always a very attentive husband," Barnes admits. "And there's no way I could be with Alabee all the time and never do anything in the adult world. Nina's a lot like me — it's hard for her to have a three-year-old as her only companion. But she's going to be performing the first four or five shows, and I'm excited. Hope springs eternal."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2005-10-00 - MySpace Blog

Saturday, October 15, 2005

OK, so it's been a while, but my head's been threatening to explode from over-stimulation. We're in Tokyo, and it's our last day in Japan. We've really ran the gamut over here--playing everything from a big outdoor festival in Kyoto, to a little club show in Nagoya (we really went nuts at that one--Kevin perfected his new concept make-up of "nose liner" and we performed a 15 minute noise jam while he danced around in my tights and underwear), to the hip Shibuya show in Tokyo. It's been a simultaniously amazing and humbling experience, and I have mixed feelings about leaving. Tonight we're playing a late night unplugged show (easy night for me) and we have most of the day free. I'm off to find some weird Adidas, cause man, they got em.

I'll check in from the States. Peace on yo mothas! Dot

PS the main shopping street in Harajiku is called "Takeshita"

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I feel like Ralph Machio

So things have been crazy, sexy cool thus far!! Our first show was unexpectly fun--we played a live show on Japanese national radio opening for Robyn Hitchcock, who ended up inviting Jamey to play drums with him for most of his set!! We all ended up going out for food and drinks in this hillarious posse and got many pointers from Robyn, who I hereby declare to be the coolest guy in the biz. There seems to be a certain solidarity amoung westerners abroad over here with everyone sharing in the wonder of discovering Japan.

Currently we are in Fukuoka, which is on a southern island, staying at our friend Sakamoto's parents' house. It's really interesting to be in a traditional Japanese home--every inch of the place is full of strange antiques, shrines to the ancestors, glass cases full of what appears to be samuri weapons, etc. His family is incredibly gracious (we just had a hardy breakfast of miso soup and salad) and we're trying our best to be polite and inoffensive. :)

So, we're off to enjoy our "relax day". We finally get to play again tomorrow. I'll let y'all know how that goes.

Much love, Dot

2006-04-16 - MySpace Blog

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hello hello, one and all!! Not much to blog about these days, as we are all on vacation at the moment. Everyone's scattered off to the four corners (well, three actually) of the globe to enjoy some much needed R&R. (I'm in Cali, Kev's in Oslo, Jamey's in Stockholm, BP's in Berlin, and Matt and Dan are holding down the fort in Athens). However, there's no rest for our wicked wicked booking agent who's been busy making plans for our summer. The big news is LOLLAPALOOZA! As a child of the 90's, this is about the weirdest thing I can think of doing this August. The lineup is really cool, and although I don't harbor any illusions of hanging out with Kanye (I'm sure they'll require that indie bands keep a 50 foot radius away from any actual "stars") it should be quite interesting to share a bill with the rich and fabulous. We'll be doing a short tour around the festival as well--dates are posted below.

Also, we're playing at the wedding of Derek Pressnal and Jamie Williams, our dear friends of Tilly and the Wall fame. They got engaged onstage at the last show of our tour together, so we're really happy to get to take part in their special day. (That sounded like a greeting card, I know, but something about those kids brings out the sweetheart in me.)

So, there's a blog. Hope you're all doing well--sometimes it's a difficult adjustment settling into "normal" life after a big-ass tour, and your messages and comments really brighten my days, so keep em coming!!

With much love and blogginess, Dottie

2006-10-03 - MySpace Blog

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

i was informed over sushi recently that my friend's totem creature was the spider. mine is most definitely not the snake. i have a recurring dream that i'm being attacked by snakes or at least one snake. last night i dreamed i was attacked by a really fucked up looking one that appeared almost as if it had just been run over by a large wheel or stepped on by a giant foot or something. it chased me around the pier i found myself on and eventually bit deeply into my neck. i had to tear the jaw off it's body in order to escape. i discovered that i had it's fangs inside my mouth and all of it's venom was running down my chin and down my throat. i find the more i drink the more violent my dreams become. sometimes i want to drink enough to find my way back to zero. zero is hot magic! the number 11 is supposed to be magic too. delmore claims that in dreams begin responsibilities and denton affirms that in youth is pleasure. i'm reading a great novel titled a man without qualities. i hope tonight i dream that i am a one of a kind sea denizon that is so respected even the tiger sharks know to stay the fuck back! i'll just float around eating sea wreaths and listening to my echoplex.

2006-12-14 - MySpace Blog

Thursday, December 14, 2006

i'm really loving the Love Is All album "9 times that same song". i especially love the song "make out. fall out. make up." i've also rediscovered Michael Jackson's Thriller. it comes with some cool new bonus stuff like a demo version of billy jean. PYT is so nice, like morris day's mansion. i love the album cover. i want to rip it off someday. anyone have a really cute and stoned little tiger cub they'd let me borrow?
these are the bands that make loving fun, fiery furnaces, animal collective, deerhoof, caribou, four tet, loney dear, the knife, tv on the radio, mgmt, peter bjorn and john, lilly allen...god there's so much great music being made right now. it's insane!

i'm reading The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. it's scary the parallels between the main character's personality and my own. sometimes the best way to see yourself is through the mind of a fictional character. if that makes sense.

what have you, dear friends, been reading/listening to?

2007-01-22 - MySpace Blog

Monday, January 22, 2007
i woke up at 4p.m. in new orleans after a long night /day of weird dreams. nothing new. i tried to find out what channel was going to show the NFL championship games until i realized that today is saturday. i wandered into the venue and was happy to see that the stage was a decent size and that we were going to be able to do the full production tonight. i was also psyched that the green room was nice and that we had our own bathroom. a touch of class. i went on a hunt for a coffee house and of course the only one around was a starbucks. to my chagrin they closed at 3 so i looked for some food instead. on the recommendation of this bartender at a hotel bar i went to a cajun restaurant around the corner. on the way i discovered this really cool architectural object and took a bunch of photos of it for my film project. i sat down in the restaurant and quickly became self conscious. i hate that feeling. i wished i had "the wind up bird chronicles" with me or, at the very least, my mobile phone. reproaching myself, i overcame that pathetic little feeling and just sat there and analyzed last night's dreams. i have this recurring dream about being in a house possessed by an evil invisible force. probably an extension of the effects of my catholic upbringing. so many of my weird superstitions can be blamed on that.

hawk and a hacksaw's performance was rad as usual. it's amazing to hear sounds like that. so different from what you expect to hear at a rock venue. so inspiring.

our show was a lot of fun. the highlights for me were the debut of the three headed tiger bull and the first live performance of "the past is a grotesque animal". the low point was when a group of misguided creeps chanted "steak,steak, steak" after we played "wraith pinned to the mist". it just proves,no matter how much you want to add something positive to the world, there will always be people who try to bring you down. not to say our selling of a song to a corporate steak house was something positive, but sometimes you have to suck a little dick to get by. that's just a hard fact of life. but really, of all the evil organizations out there, it's hard to imagine the thought process behind heckling of Montreal. oh well.
still working out the kinks in the visuals but some progress was made from last night in memphis. i should mention that, in memphis, all of these super cute kids from little rock made the drive to see us and they brought us a bunch of hats, in response to my song "little rock". made me feel like a jerk for writing the song but they were good natured about it.

after the new orleans show, the venue quickly transformed into a dance club catering to the worst of the CK1 set. i felt like an alien so i went and hid in the bus.
after awhile i got bored and peeked my head out to discover these three indie kids hanging around so i began talking to them. they were very cool so we decided to go run around bourbon street together. i'm not the biggest fan of that scene but it's kind of cool to check it out every once and a while. lots of crazy drunk retards from the suburbs and sleazy characters. we did run into a bunch of kids that we're at the show and our entourage grew in number. we crashed this hotel party we heard about only to discover no party at all, just a couple sleeping on a fold out bed. we took the parade to a bar called one eyed jacks and had a gin and tonic. nothing too exciting. michael called and said we had to go back to the bus so the evening ended without climax.

when our new friends dropped us back off at the bus, one of them confronted me about my song "gronlandic edit". being a christian, he was offended by the song's apparent dismissal of all religion as a haven for the delusional and pathetic. it made me realize the strange and unpredictable nature of belief. it's so bizarre how an idea can seem so real for one person and impossible for another. i have nothing against religions as long as they don't foster negativity and division. i told him as much and he seemed satisfied.

so i jumped bak on the horse and we drove for twelve hours to san antonio through an intense rain shower.