An Interview With Of Montreal
By Bryndis Ogmundson
By Bryndis Ogmundson
It is no secret to those who know me, or those who read my column religiously every month, that I LOVE Of Montreal. Last year, Satanic Panic In The Attic was my #1 Album of 2004, and this year I expect that The Sunlandic Twins will take the same spot for 2005. So, it was with absolute pleasure that I was able to do this interview with the Of Montreal mastermind, Kevin Barnes�
!: The Sunlandic Twins is doing very well in Canada, debuting at #7 nationally on our !earshot chart for the month of May. I'm wondering if you know how well it's doing in the States, or if how the album charts is something you even care about?
Kevin: No, it is doing really well actually. On the college charts it's number three, that's where it peaked, and it's been in the top ten for two months.
!: Yeah, it just debuted with us in Canada , it went from nothing to number seven and I'm sure it will go even higher than that.
Kevin: That's awesome!
!: You were one of only three non-Canadian artists in the top ten, which may have something to do with our CanCon thing here. Are you aware of the Canadian Content rule?
!: We have something known as CanCon here in Canada , which means that programmers have to play around 35%, or more, Canadian artists. For commercial radio, that means there is a lot of Avril Lavigne and Celine Dion, but it also works in the favour of more indie bands. Do you have any favourite Canadian bands?
Kevin: Oh yeah, there's a lot. I like Arcade Fire, The Unicorns, um�let's see, who else? I'm sure there's more, but I can't think of them right now.
!: What are you listening to right now? What's inspiring you to create at the moment?
Kevin: Well, guys like Brian Eno, and Queen, David Bowie, and Talking Heads, Prince. Even some seventies afro-beat stuff, like Fela Kuti.
!: It's funny that you mention Queen. I was listening to Satanic Panic In The Attic this morning and Queen popped into my head.
Kevin: Oh yeah, their sort of vocal acrobatic stuff, I'm really influenced by that.
!: Some of my friends just got back from seeing you perform in Seattle.
Kevin: Oh cool!
!: One of them commented that it was one of the best live shows he's seen. They were actually on their way to the Sasquatch Music Festival the next day. What I want to know is why did you decide not to just hop over the border and play Vancouver?
Kevin: Well, I guess just because it's such a long drive north, and then you just have to drive back south. I mean, I guess I really just don't know how far away it is from Seattle , I don't know, do you know?
!: I think it's about three hours.
Kevin: Oh, it's only three hours, ok. We probably should have done that. (laughter) We played Vancouver once, but it was like early on, so nobody knew who we were.
!: So you're not just banned from Vancouver, sort of like Madonna was.
Kevin: (laughter) Yeah.
(!: I really thought there was a big kafuffle about Madonna being banned from Vancouver with her Blonde Ambition tour, but I couldn't find anything about it after the interview. So my apologies to Madonna, but she was banned in so many other locales that it still seems like an appropriate comment.)
!: That's good. All right, well next time.
Kevin: Yeah yeah, I think we'll definitely try to do it next time.
!: To me, your music has a really great pessimistic-optimistic feeling to it. You celebrate the notion of love wildly, but you retain the ability to be a realist about love as well. My friend and I have been having conversations lately about love. She seems to think it can't last because we are biologically incapable of monogamy. I disagree. I'm like that Blur lyric, "I'm a professional cynic but my heart's not in it". Where do you stand on that?
Kevin: Well, I think it's all a matter of fate in a way. I'm not a fatalist at heart, but I think that to some degree it's sort of true that if you just happen to luck out and the chemistry is so good between you and another person, that it's definitely possible to stay happy with someone. And also I think that because we're always searching for someone we often settle because we get caught up in the moment and get excited about someone that might not necessarily be the ideal match for you. So, that's why a lot of relationships just kind of end after a couple years, or months, or whatever. I definitely believe in true love, I definitely believe that you can be with someone that you can stay with your whole life. Lots of people do it, and they're happy, they're not just codependent or whatever.
!: Exactly. Actually, I just read that you recently did get married.
!: That's excellent. I'm curious if you did the best indie rock boy thing ever and make a mix tape/cd for your wife when you were wooing her?
Kevin: Oh yeah definitely.
!: Did you! What was on it?
Kevin: Um, there was a whole bunch of stuff like, I put a Robert Wyatt song on. I was trying to think of things that she might not know of, so Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, and some Kinks, the more obscure Kinks stuff.
!: I want to talk about your album artwork. It is always so beautifully illustrated, and I know that has a lot to do with your brother David. I actually commissioned him to do a painting for my brother and his wife when they got married.
Kevin: Oh sweet!
!: Yeah, and it was wonderful, it was their favourite gift ever. So I'm curious if you commission him to do the art, or is it something that he enjoys to do, and do you think that makes him part of the band, because he has done the majority of Of Montreal's art?
Kevin: Yeah, sometimes, I think we've paid him a couple times, but normally it's like, "hey Dave, will you do this for me?" and he says, "yeah." It's also a special thing for him to be involved, and it's a special thing for me to have him involved. So it just feels like we're doing something that's really rewarding. So I don't think he expects a big payment and that it's just fine.
!: Your albums are very story-like, have you ever considered doing a children's book with your brother.
Kevin: Yeah, we've definitely talked about it, and he's actually working on one, and it seems like it'd be really really cool. It's so hard because it's so competitive and a lot of people want to do it. And so it's all about having an "in" in some way. So, we actually know this person that I think actually does that, she works at this publishing company that publishes children's books. Yeah, David's been sending her stuff, so hopefully that pans out.
!: That would be excellent. Even if you two did some illustrated adult fiction in the realm of Roald Dahl.
Kevin: Yeah, I love Dahl. Actually, it's funny that you mention him cause he was a pretty big influence on me.
!: I just love his adult fiction, and I think you and your brother could produce something like that.
Kevin: Yeah I love it too; I've read it all.
!: Yeah, it's good stuff. You did a bonus EP of covers, do you think you'd ever do a whole album of covers, or put together a compilation of music the way bands like Flaming Lips and Grandaddy have?
Kevin: You mean that mix tape thing?
!: Yeah, is that something that interests you?
Kevin: That's kind of a funky idea. I was a little bit confused when I first saw that, I saw that Ladytron also did it. It's a cool idea, it's just kind of strange that you're taking other people's songs and then selling it, I wonder how that works. I hadn't really thought about doing that, but I thought about recording a full record of cover songs. That would definitely be fun. It's just a matter of finding the time to do it because we don't really have that much time.
!: Do you guys have a lot of cover songs? Do you perform a lot of cover songs live?
Kevin: Yeah, actually every tour we go on we learn at least one.
!: What are you doing right now?
Kevin: Now we're doing "Alright" by Supergrass. But we also have these two David Bowie covers off of Low .
!: Which ones?
Kevin: "Breaking Glass," and "Be My Wife."
!: Speaking of Flaming Lips, they get invited to do a lot of festivals. I've never seen Of Montreal on a festival line up. Do you ever get offers to play them? Have you done any?
Kevin: I don't know, we haven't been contacted. We've done a lot of University festivals, but we haven't been asked to do any of the big ones.
!: Hmm, yeah I found it weird that you weren't playing the Sasquatch Festival the day after your Seattle show.
Kevin: I think we'd definitely be in to doing festivals.
!: Myself, I prefer the club venue to the festival. I find the club makes for a better show. But it is a good atmosphere at festivals, and you can see 10 great bands in a day.
Kevin: Yeah, the thing that stinks about it is that, the few festivals we have played we have to leave immediately after, so we never get to hang out or watch the other bands.
!: The last show I saw with a bunch of bands was in Vancouver a couple years ago. It was Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Destroyer, and a couple others. And Wayne Coyne from Flaming Lips kept coming out on stage during every band's set to check them out. It was cool to see him having fun, but it took away the mystique of having them headline.
Kevin: Destroyer! That's another band I love.
!: Yeah, Destroyer is great. And New Pornographers, do you like them too?
Kevin: Yeah, definitely.
!: What are Of Montreal 's plans for the next year? Is there another album in the works?
Kevin: Oh yeah, Caribou! That's another one. (laughter) Now they're all coming back to me. We're doing a lot of touring actually. We're doing another U.S./Canadian tour. We're going to play Montreal , Toronto and Hamilton again, as well as another three and a half weeks of shows. And then we're going to Japan , and Europe towards the end of the year. Then hopefully we'll have some time off to work on the new record.
!: And celebrate Christmas. (laughter)
Kevin: (laughter) Mmhmm.
!: Thanks so much for talking with me.
Kevin: Oh, thank you!