Of Montreal. I shall loudly and without hesitation say right now, yesterday, and tomorrow that they are one of the top pop bands in the land. They make the most dour indie kids dance like toddlers and smile like fools on their non-stop tours, and continue to release irresistible albums overflowing with crazily inventive imagery and sounds upon sounds that mingle everything good from the bands you love (The Beatles! The Kinks! The Beach Boys! and on and on...). Kevin Barnes, OM's lead singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist renaissance guy, answered a few questions for us before their last tour, and if you didn't happen to catch that, they are going on tour again in September in support of their latest album, Satanic Panic in the Attic.
Sarah: It seems like you've had less-than-ideal situations with your first labels; how is Polyvinyl treating you so far? Have you ever considered starting your own label?
Kevin: I am very happy with Polyvinyl. They are very artist friendly and everyone that works there seems very nice. We did seriously consider starting our own label for awhile but it just seemed like such a huge undertaking. None of us wanted to take the initiative and so it just never happened.
Of Montreal's line-up has changed a lot over the past year, with Derek Almstead (who joined Circulatory System) and Andy Gonzalez (of Marshmallow Coast) leaving, BP Helium returning, and Nina (Kevin's new wife) and Jason NeSmith joining...how has that changed your sound?
Now there are more people in the band than ever before. The sound is a lot denser and we can do a lot more. Bryan and Jason have really good voices so we are able to pull off some vocal harmonies that we weren't able to in the past.
I'm always in awe of your live shows...you all always play with such enthusiasm and joy, and manage to sound great on top of that. Do you still enjoy touring? What are your favorite songs to perform? Where do you like/not like (ahem, Canada) going?
I really enjoy performing live. This tour has been a little bit of a challenge to prepare for because there are so many new musicians. When Andy and Derek were in the band we were very comfortable working together and things seemed to come together a lot easier. It has been a good experience though working with new people because I think we had grown sort of complacent in the former line up. Now there is a new energy and excitement. It is also really great to play with Nina on bass and travel with her and share the touring experience with her. My favorite songs to perform are Penelope, Old People In The Cemetery, Spike The Senses, Vegan In Furs, Jacques Lamure, Doing Nothing, Neat Little Domestic Life... My favorite place to play so far was Tokyo because they made us feel like rock stars.
Are you planning on doing any skits/theatrical miscellany (A Pollinaire Rave-style) on the upcoming tour?
Yes we have some theatrics planned for the upcoming tour and like the A Pollinaire Rave tour we will most likely develop the skits as the tour progresses.
Are Cherry Peel, The Gay Parade, and Coquelicot... going to be rereleased? If so, when? Does it fill you with rage that they went out of print?
All of them are going to be repressed in time for our tour. It is very disappointing that they went out of print in the first place but what can you do. That in itself is motivation to start our own label.
Your brother David is an amazing artist (and a kind and generous guy as well)...Did you have an artistic upbringing? Have you and David always collaborated? Do you do any visual art of your own?
We didn't really have an artistic upbringing but our parents did encourage us to pursue the things that interested us. When we were very young we would make little plays together and perform them for babysitters. I'm sure we were adorable. Unfortunately I received zero visual art talent. I have tried in the past to paint and draw but with depressing results.
How long have you been playing music?
I started playing guitar when I was around 13. It became an obsession and I didn't put it down for a long time. My parents moved us from Detroit to West Palm Beach Florida when I was 15 and I was so lonely. If it wasn't for my four track during those years I probably would have become a monk and taken a vow of silence.
Of Montreal has covered many, many songs (covers include songs by everyone from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, the Kinks, the Shins, VU, Broadcast, and the Misfits )... Are there any songs you wouldn't attempt because you feel that they're kind of untouchable, songs that are so perfect as is that it would be wrong to attempt them?
There are a lot of songs like that. I don't think it is a good idea to record a cover of the Beatles' Day In The Life but then again that kind of makes me want to try. I think all songs are fair game. We don't tend to change the songs too drastically when we cover them. It is a lot of fun just to pretend we are a different band for an afternoon.
You have such a gift for the surreal, and a knack for storytelling. What are some of your inspirations and influences?
My biggest influence would have to be Roald Dahl. His way of combining the morbid with the comical really inspired a lot of my writings. I also love the films of Bunuel and the writings of Borges. Musically my heroes are Ray Davies, Syd Barret, Os Mutantes, the Beatles, Faust, Lou Reed, Robert Wyatt...
Have you heard/seen/read anything amazing lately?
I really loved "Everything Is Illuminated" by Johnathon Safran Foer and "Corrections" by David Franzen. Right now I am reading the "New York Trilogy" by Paul Auster.
If you could kidnap anyone and take them to an art museum, who would it be?
I think the person that most needs a trip to an art museum is Donald Rumsfeld. I don't know if it would do much good but something needs to happen to that sanguinary jerk to enlighten him.
And finally, if it's not too much, could you come up with a list of 12 anythings -- 12 favorite sounds, dog breeds, months, whatever you think would make a lovely (or horrifying) dozen.
1 mouthful of Donkey Kong players
2 antennas to pick up french sleepers' dreaming transmissions
3 bright photographs of an idiots image of the ozone
4 traps to capture a soggy moment
5 knives that peak out from behind an owls wing that has been salted
6 prayers spoken loudly into the plastic ear of a part time racket ball
7 has beens smelling the flower sprouting out of the armor of misty dancers
8 tastes of chocolate that make babies misbehave
9 blind autistic 21 year old men who fear having to climb into a ditch during inclement weather
10 guitar solos that make the future beard of Ted Leo fear the touch of porcelain scarves
11 thimble ship captains who are trying to divine the significance of the red armies flaming red fungus tit
12 smiling cats croaking after a glimpse into nightmare onanism
Interview conducted by Sarah Akers, who lives in North Carolina and says the most wonderous things.