Monday, June 22, 2009

2000-??-?? Splendid Ezine

This article, while purportedly informative and entertaining, is also meant to serve as an impassioned plea to readers: please pay more attention to Of Montreal. I have noticed over the course of the last year or so that, of all the bands currently existing in the revolving musical circus known as the Elephant Six Collective, few if any receive less press than Of Montreal... Which is strange, for they're possibly the Collective's most prolific act -- and when you're talking about the E6, that's quite an accomplishment indeed.

The core members of the group -- Kevin Barnes, Jamey Huggins, Andy Gonzales, Dottie Alexander and Derek Almstead -- consistently churn out whimsically-titled and fiendishly catchy records full of sunburst 60’s inflected pop. Of Montreal's most recent full-length, The Gay Parade, was a pop tour-de-force on a par with Pet Sounds or the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday. We expect even greater things from their forthcoming opus Coquelicot Asleep with the Poppies, which is due in early 2001. When not occupied with the recording of the new album, members keep busy by collaborating with other musicians/friends in groups like My First Keyboard, Great Lakes, Summer Hymns and Marshmallow Coast. All told, Of Montreal's members have released -- under various guises -- over a dozen albums, EPs and singles over the last couple of years, and perhaps even more importantly, most have been spectacular. This is a band worthy of your praise, your listening time and most assuredly your undivided attention.

Attention was a hard-won commodity during our interview with Of Montreal -- an interview conducted in a busy restaurant, open to the street, while the band members attempted to wolf down dinner before heading for the stage. Interviewing several members of a group can be confusing enough; interviewing them over dinner is often next to impossible. As a result, while we've done our best to provide an accurate representation of who said what, some statements may have been attributed to the people who didn't actually make them, or interpolated from semi-audible responses. Life can be confusing sometimes.

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SPLENDID: So how did the first night of your tour go?

DEREK: Great.

DOTTIE: Really good. It exceeded expectations.

KEVIN: We didn't know what to expect because none of us had ever been to Murfreesboro (Tennessee) --

DOTTIE: (sarcastically) We'd heard amazing things about it...

KEVIN: It's a rock and roll town. It turned out to be really really great despite the early sound problems.

JAMEY: The continuing sound problems.

DOTTIE: Which is always great to print in interviews...badmouthing the clubs we just played in.

KEVIN: But a really nice sound man.

JAMEY: But that was our first night, not only for the tour, but to try out our new "acting bits". We're putting on two little one act plays during the set, and last night three of the six members of the band had never even heard one of them, and had to actually come on stage and act it out, and one of (the plays) kind of turned into...well, it didn't work out.

DOTTIE: Unintentional comedy.

JAMEY: But tonight we're gonna iron out the pieces.

SPLENDID: That's good. What are they about?

JAMEY: Well, one of them is a detective story that Kevin wrote, and one is a sort of vaudeville kind of musical number that I wrote.

SPLENDID: Will those be appearing on the new record?

JAMEY: One of them will, and one of them's on our new 7", so they're both available, or will be soon.

DOTTIE: The new 7" is a split between Of Montreal and Marshmallow Coast.

JAMEY: It's the three newest songs that we've recorded.

DOTTIE: Kindercore put it out, but it's kind of a tour-only thing...

JAMEY: Not really.

DOTTIE: That's what we want to call it.

JAMEY: It's the newest thing. It's got Marshmallow Coast on one side, a song that Andy wrote about David, and then on the other side it's got a duet that Kevin and I sing together, that we wrote, and then that other skit is on there too.

KEVIN: It's a super-limited release. Only 500 copies.

JAMEY: But I'm sure there'll be plenty of them downloaded as MP3s.

SPLENDID: Do you have problems with your stuff being bootlegged via MP3?

DOTTIE: No, it's really only ones that we've made ourselves, and put on the website.

DEREK: The only ones that I see a problem with is, there's some 3 CD box-set of Jeff Mangum's solo stuff that's out there on the web, being sold, and Jeff buys up all the copies he can when he finds them, because he wants to put that stuff out.

DOTTIE: It's just random stuff, bootleg stuff that he's not happy.

DEREK: We don't have that problem. Not yet.

SPLENDID: Yeah, he seems to provoke that kind of fanatical reaction.

DOTTIE: He ended up paying a few hundred dollars for a copy of his own stuff.

SPLENDID: Okay, new question. The Singles and Songles album: what prompted its release?

KEVIN: Two main things. First, we new it was gonna take a long time to make this new record, so we wanted to put something out so people wouldn't forget about us, and the other thing was that we didn't have a very good deal with our label -- we signed the contract when we were pretty young and we didn't know anything about record contracts, so we had a pretty crappy royalty rate. So Kindercore -- the label we've been doing stuff with recently -- offered us a pretty good deal, so to get out of the contract we released the Singles and Songles album.

DEREK: It's our last option at Bar/None.

JAMEY: A third reason is there are some extra songs that never get put out --

KEVIN: Yeah.

JAMEY: Most everything's on the singles and Japanese releases and stuff, but there's some other stuff that probably wasn't going to make it on any record, so it's a good chance to put it out.

DOTTIE: And also we recently licensed all of our records in Japan, and they have a policy when they release a record -- they want bonus tracks. So over the past year we've had to record about six bonus tracks, which was a lot of fun.

KEVIN: Yeah, and the funny thing is that we re-released Singles and Songles in Japan with another bonus track.

DEREK: A new bonus track to put on the bonus tracks compilation that's all stuff they already have.

SPLENDID: Have you guys toured Japan or even been there yet?

DOTTIE: We're going in August for the first time. It's probably our biggest news -- we're all really excited about that.

SPLENDID: Is it just you guys going, or are you taking any other bands with you?

DEREK: I think maybe our biggest news is that we just signed a lease for a new house that we're all gonna live together in -- except for Andy. But it's a big pink house so we're gonna live in Big Pink for a year, at least, and record our record. But yeah, Elf Power is coming with us to Japan.

DOTTIE: They're playing a couple shows with us, and then we're playing one label showcase where I think we're the only American band in Tokyo.

DEREK: Calvin Don't Jump is playing too.

KEVIN: Whoever they are.

SPLENDID: You brought up the new album...I can't pronounce the name of it -- Co-quee-a-lot?

KEVIN: Coquelicot.

SPLENDID: Yeah, that. What stage is it at? Will we see it before the end of the year?

KEVIN: It'll be done by the end of the year; it probably won't be released until the beginning of Spring (2001).
DEREK: It's probably about one fifth done.

JAMEY: I'd say closer to a third.

DEREK: You think a third?

JAMEY: It's ten out of twenty-seven songs, or something?

KEVIN: It's like eight or nine songs done. It's a long album.

JAMEY: We've been working on it already for almost nine months. But not continuously. We've been really slow.

DOTTIE: It's been really sporadic, like we'll work on it and then we'll have to do a bonus track, or go on tour, so it's kind of jumpy.

SPLENDID: Will it be a single album, or a double?

DEREK: It'll just be a long-playing CD.

JAMEY: It'll probably be close to 74 minutes I think.

DEREK: Yeah, but most of the songs are short anyway, so you can have 27 songs on there that are all under three minutes long.

JAMEY: I've clocked it and right now it's at 23 minutes -- nine songs.

DEREK: Ooh. We may have to trim the fat a little bit to make it all fit, but it'll work out.

SPLENDID: And that'll come out on Kindercore?


DOTTIE: We've just signed with them, so it'll be our first record for them.

KEVIN: It's the first record that we've really all collaborated on, the five -- the six -- of us.

SPLENDID: Everything else I guess you mostly did yourself?

KEVIN: No, not really. Derek and I were the original members, and we had a third guy who didn't really contribute that much to the recording. And then he left and we slowly started gathering everyone else in.

DEREK: Everybody started slowly integrating. But The Petite Tragedy has one song that everybody plays something on, and then The Gay Parade is where everybody starts to slowly filter in, and now it's all the way there.

JAMEY: It'll be the fully realized Of Montreal.

SPLENDID: Are you hashing out new album stuff on the road?

JAMEY: Not really. This is kind of like the greatest hits tour. Last time we played we realized we were playing a lot of new songs and people weren't familiar with them, so we got on our website and asked people what songs they wanted to hear, and we took the most requested songs. We're playing a lot of stuff from the first and second album -- the favorites.

DEREK: We're playing a few new ones.

JAMEY: But mostly it's like a Greatest Hits set.

DEREK: With a couple of songs from Singles and Songles, too.

SPLENDID: I know you have a lot of side projects -- Dottie, you have My First Keyboard.

DOTTIE: I wouldn't even mention that or call it a side project. I've recorded three songs, maybe, in the history of it. It's not really a band...if I ever get around to writing a song, I have a ready-made band.

SPLENDID: So you have no definite plans for a My First Keyboard record.

DOTTIE: No. Derek and I are both in Summer Hymns, and we're all in Great Lakes as well, so.

JAMEY: And another band we'll be getting around to tonight, which is called Marshmallow Coast!

DOTTIE: Marshmallow Coast!

DEREK: You probably know this, but we're doing Marshmallow Coast and Of Montreal stuff, so we get to go onstage twice.

JAMEY: And unlike the Of Montreal set, almost all of the Marshmallow Coast set is new songs from the new record -- it was just recorded recently and you might want to ask Andy about it. It's an incredible record and he wrote it. So, Andy...

ANDY: (looking startled) I've gotta talk?!

JAMEY: How long do you think it'll be before that record comes out?

ANDY: We're gonna have a meeting when we get back. A couple of months I guess.

JASON: I read on a website that it's going to be called Marshmallow Coasting. Is that true?

JAMEY: I like to call it simply -Ing.

ANDY: Yeah. Yeah.

SPLENDID: So how's the new Of Montreal material different from the greatest hits?

KEVIN: More hi-fi and creative. We've all grown musically...

JAMEY: I guess we're paying a lot more attention to the recording -- not that we didn't in the past, but we're continuing to develop the production and the recording of it, and I think that's the thing we all get into the most -- creating the song in the studio. The songs now are starting to take shape as we record 'em...more so than in the past, when they were totally written and we just recorded 'em.

DOTTIE: And our relationships as friends...we're all so much closer and I think it comes across as more intuitive when we record. It's easy to know what will please people, or what works, or what somebody else will write. For me at least, I've noticed that a lot, and I feel like it's coming across in the new recordings.

DEREK: We're more used to playing together.

DOTTIE: Yeah, more used to being a band.

JAMEY: Also we have David with us for the first time on this tour, and last night was his first time performing with us. He's responsible for all the artwork except for The Petite Tragedy, and he designed a lot of the costumes and our backdrop that you're gonna see tonight, and he's sort of responsible for the images of Of Montreal.

DEREK: That's the image.

DOTTIE: David goes by many names. He's commonly known as Lecithin Emulsifier, and he contributes to all of our records.

SPLENDID: Not to totally veer off, but on the topic of Summer Hymns and Great Lakes, is there any plan to do anything else beyond the two records you've released? Are those "real" bands?

DEREK: Yeah, they're totally real bands.

DOTTIE: The second records are being written right now.

DEREK: Nothing is a side project.

JAMEY: If you've got new songs that you want to make a record with, it's so much more difficult to find new people to form a band with. We already play together, so it seems natural that every new band -- not that they're new, as those bands have been around for two or three years now --

DEREK: They've just never had records.

JAMEY: We feel more comfortable playing together, so it always ends up being the four or five of us.

DOTTIE: It makes sense, too. If one of us is preoccupied -- if, say, Jamey was preoccupied with Great Lakes -- we wouldn't be able to do anything (as Of Montreal) anyway, so we might as well just go help him. Plus it's really fun -- the bands are all so radically different... but Summer Hymns is actually in the process of recording our next record.

SPLENDID: That's pretty quick. The last one just came out.

DOTTIE: We actually sat on that one forever. Those songs have been around forever. It feels like a long time, anyway.

SPLENDID: Okay, now I've heard this from another band, so I'll ask you: do you ever feel slighted, being associated with the Elephant Six collective?

JAMEY: What, because of it? Like, people wouldn't listen to records because of it?

SPLENDID: Not so much that. I talked to another group, and they'll remain nameless, but they said that if you aren't one of the "big three"...

JAMEY: The only time we ever even think about it is when someone asks us a question about it...

KEVIN: We never think of ourselves as Part of the Elephant Six Collective, y'know? We never think about it.

DEREK: I don't think anybody does, really. I think for Robert and a few other people, maybe, it's really important to mention it, but for us it's like they're our friends, we put the logo on our records and all of a sudden we got all sorts of attention because of it, and that's great, but we're just friends. We hang out and we like each other's music --

JAMEY: And there's no competition whatsoever. All the bands are totally equal.

DEREK: Most of the time if it comes up in an interview, people will say "Explain the whole Elephant Six thing."

SPLENDID: There are people who write "This is another great record from the Elephant Six collective" rather than "This is another great Of Montreal record."

DEREK: I don't feel like it's under-appreciation -- that's just the critics' way of bringing people into it.

JAMEY: Either way you're fucked, though. If you make a record that sounds like a psychedelic sixties pop record, if you're not part of the Elephant Six you'll be accused of trying to rip it off, and if you are they'll say you're not as good as Jeff Mangum. Either way it's just air. It doesn't mean anything.

DOTTIE: Within the Elephant Six bands, like if we tour together, there are fans who are Elephant Six fans and then there are crossover fans -- each band attracts different fans anyway. People are gonna like what they like.

JAMEY: It's cool when they all play together. I love it when there are four, or five or six bands all playing together. It feels very powerful.

DEREK: Those are always amazing.

SPLENDID: Like Kindercore's Expo 2000?

JAMEY: Yeah, that's gonna be one of those.

DEREK: All five bands that I'm in are playing that show.

SPLENDID: Do you just get one whole day to yourself where you stay onstage all day?

DEREK: That would work out really great, because then I could just set my amp up on the stage and just stand there all night...but unfortunately I doubt it'll work that way. I'll have to come back every night...

SPLENDID: It sounds like a huge deal.

DEREK: It's gonna be really fun.

DOTTIE: It's fun to watch Kindercore grow from, like, parties in their back yard to putting on this seven-day event.

DEREK: We've known those guys forever. I knew Dan and Ryan before they even started a record label.

SPLENDID: It seems like they grew up so suddenly and so well, even before the hook-up with Emperor Norton.

DEREK: They're smart guys, and they're ambitious...

DOTTIE: Derek, will you help me eat some of this salad? I didn't realize it'd be so huge.

JAMEY: Do you have anything else you'd like to say, Kevin?

KEVIN: Wha? Is there a question out? I was kind of spacing out.

JAMEY: (in fake Beatles-ish voice) Do you have anything that you'd like to say to your brother David?

KEVIN: (in similar bad fake accent) I think he's a swell fellow really. I think he's doing a top-notch job.

JAMEY: He slept all day today.

KEVIN: He slept on the floor of the van, just like a good little brother.

DOTTIE:, that's zucchini. That's deceptive. I wanted cuke, not zuke.

SPLENDID: Okay, when people start arguing about vegetables, it's time to stop the interview.

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Jason Jackowiak has written sixteen episodes of the Pokémon TV series -- none of which have been broadcast in the US, due to their excessive nudity.

[ graphics credits :: header - Michael Byzewski | live photos - George Zahora :: credits graphics ]

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