WERS.org - Artist Interview: Of Montreal - April 13, 2005
(no longer hosted on the web)
Waiting to record his band’s live mix at WERS, Of Montreal mastermind Kevin Barnes confesses that he was disappointed, touring England for the first time a few years back. He says he romanticized the nation in his head; he imagined a land full of knights and castles and the Beatles.
Instead, he found jet lag, cheap cuisine, and rude taxi drivers. All of these things later found their way into a song on 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, Of Montreal’s eighth album and their first for Polyvinyl. A critical success, the album heralded an evolution of the band’s sound from the lush, sprawling psychedelia typical of Athens’ Elephant 6 collective, to a new, more streamlined avant-pop. This transition was no doubt made possible partly through a new unity of vision: both Satanic Panic and Of Montreal’s new album, The Sunlandic Twins, were played, written, and recorded by Barnes alone, with merely occasional recourse to other musicians.
In other bands, such a dynamic could be limiting. Not so with Of Montreal. On tour, the band imbues Barnes’ ambitious arrangements with perfect theatrical verve; they perform daubed in glitter, with Nabokov-ian butterflies pinned to their guitars. The Sunlandic Twins continues the tradition of glimmering, propulsive hooks established in Satanic Panic, expanding the sonic palette to encompass influences as diverse as IDM and afrobeat. The songs drive, pull over, and at times meander, through landscapes at once gorgeous and nonsensical, like a canyon lined with daisies. And this, surely, is the key to Of Montreal’s music: it’s an alternative to reality, a place where all romantic expectations are gleefully exceeded.
Where do you get the inspiration for the titles of your records?
Kevin Barnes: That, I can’t really answer. It just sort of happens. This recent one, for a long time, the working title was The Voice of the Vanishing Twin. Because I heard that a lot of women, when their egg is fertilized, they actually have twins for a brief period, and then the one… I don’t know if it eats it necessarily, but it could I guess eat it, but then sometimes it just disappears.
The band name – I’m told it came from being obsessed with a girl from Montreal?
KB: Actually it has more to do with gymnastics. David has to tell the story though.
David Barnes: Do you want me to tell the truth about it?
KB: Tell the truth.
DB: I just don’t want to emasculate you. When Kevin was younger, he was like really into gymnastics. You know, like, boys’ gymnastics. He was actually really good at it; he traveled and competed in out of state meets and stuff. So he went to this competition in Montreal, which was a big deal, and then at the competition, he kind of choked. He was doing the pommel horse, and he fell off of the thing and actually was knocked unconscious for a couple of minutes. Just totally, out of it. And then after that... Kevin what happened?
KB: It was like, too much pressure. I was young.
You claim Montreal in your band name – do you ever get hostility from Canadians who think you’re just repping Canada to be cool?
KB: Yeah. A lot, actually.
DB: It’s just really confusing when we play in Montreal because there are these flyers and it’s like, Of Montreal tonight, in Montreal. And most Montreal people see the word Montreal probably so many times during the day that they just ignore it. Yeah so when we play in Montreal it’s really hard to publicize the gig.
KB: It sucks because a lot of people don’t like local music, so, they won’t go see us play.
DB: They think, Oh, it’s just a bunch of local jokers.
How would you compare the songwriting process when writing an instrumental track as opposed to a vocal track?
KB: I guess, maybe I spend more time on the music, because there’s nothing to distract me from it. Because a lot of time when you’re writing songs with lyrics you want to give the words their own place in the mix, so you probably tend to make things a little bit less busy, but when you’re thinking instrumentally there’s nothing like that.
So your wife’s in the band and I hear your brother does the artwork.
KB: That’s sort of true. Well, she played in the band two tours ago, but we just had a baby recently, so she’s at home. She sings a song on the new record and such. Her spirit can be felt.
Satanic Panic was very well received, from what I gather. What specifically were you trying to achieve with The Sunlandic Twins? Was it a conscious departure in any way?
KB: No, it’s just, I had fun making the electronic stuff on Satanic Panic, and I wanted to push that a little bit further, and experiment more with that genre. Because it seems like there’s this new wave of people just having fun again, and we kinda just want to be a part of it. It’s really fun music to play, and you can see a lot of weird stuff. So I kinda wanted to make an intelligent dance record, you know, that wasn’t just like [sings] “Everybody on the dance floor / Shake your ass for the deejay” or whatever.