Of Montreal: Love and Marriage
Wednesday 31 August @ 03:35:24
Live Musicby Adrienne Urbanski
While love is probably the subject most commonly covered by music, the topic usually tends more towards that of heartbreak and loneliness than that of married bliss. Kevin Barnes—Of Montreal front man and mastermind—certainly has been no stranger to heartbreak, even naming the band after the hometown of a woman with whom he had a particularly bad breakup.
While Of Montreal’s music has always been melancholy, it was never without a quirky optimism, expressed in short ditties about the sadness of eating pancakes alone or meeting your soul mate only to realize they’re the wrong gender.
But on their new album Sunlandic Twins, Barnes finds himself taking on the more difficult role of writing an album centered on an inordinately happy marriage and the birth of a new child.
Even with this dramatic shift in his perspective on life, Barnes doesn’t really see the album as being especially different in tone.
“Really, though, our music has always been optimistic,” says Barnes.
Anyone who has listened to the circus-like happiness of The Gay Parade whilst suffering from heartbreak or melancholy will know that this really isn’t the music of commiseration, but rather music for dancing down the street once you’ve recovered. While Barnes’ lyrics show a man who knows sadness all too well, it’s always from the perspective of moving on and looking back.
Though he’s attempted to live elsewhere, Barnes always finds himself coming back to his home of Athens, Ga., finding attributes in the overlooked town that he can’t find elsewhere.
“It’s really a great community to be an artist in because it’s not very expensive and you don’t have to work a full-time job.”
One of Barnes’ attempts to live elsewhere took him to Minneapolis for a short period, a time he doesn’t remember warmly. While he had originally traveled to meet other artists and find new projects, Barnes instead found himself friendless and working the graveyard shift at a gas station.
“I didn’t really meet anybody, but I wasn’t being proactive so it’s all my fault.”
When it comes to his songcraft, Barnes seems to see a link between geography and emotion. While the desolation of the frigid streets of Montreal in winter inspired both the band’s name as well as the material for their first album, Sundlandic Twins pulls heavily from a sunny summer in Norway, the homeland of Barne’s wife Nina, and the location where much of it was recorded.
Although Barnes began recording the albums’ songs alone with his laptop during the band’s previous tour, he says the intimacy of the album comes not from this initial solitude, but from recording in the moody darkness of an abandoned lumber warehouse in Oslo.
As is typical with an Of Montreal album, the artwork for Sundlandic Twins was drawn by Barnes’ brother David, who he says has supported him throughout the course of his music career; even giving significant input into song arrangement.
The cover, perhaps the band’s strangest to date, depicts two yellow creatures wearing the faces of Nina and Kevin walking through a blazing planet populated by strange heart-like plantlife.
“It was inspired by a dream Nina had where the two of us were living on another planet called Sunlandia and we were the only two people living there,” says Barnes.
Throughout the album Barnes views his blissful married life by looking back at the darkness and insecurity from which his wife has delievered him.
“Since I’ve been with her I don’t need to be constantly looking for confirmation, because I’m constantly receiving it from her. I was very insecure as a person before I met her,” Barnes says.
Barnes reflects on this in “The Party’s Crashing in on Us” a rousing yet sparse number in which he thanks Nina for saving him from a dark, empty past. While all of Of Montreal’s albums maintain a basic pop simplicity of catchy choruses and sugary melodies, the density of Barnes’ songwriting varies from the short, rhyming numbers of Cherry Peel to the complex lyrically dense tracks of The Gay Parade. On Sunlandic Twins, however, Barnes keeps things simple, sticking to stripped-down verses and catchy choruses.
“This time I gave the lyrics a chance to breathe,” he says.
While Barnes celebrates his newfound stability in life through songs like “So Begins Our Alabee,” an ode to his infant daughter, Barnes still shows nostalgia for the days he spent looking to find himself in music. “Requiem for O.M.M. 2” shows Barnes reminiscing on the simpler life the band members shared as they first began to etch out a life for themselves.
In addition to being his most intimate work yet, the album also marks the first time Barnes did all the work for an album on his own, right down to the mixing and engineering.
The album’s credits read “arranged, composed, performed, engineered and mixed by Kevin Barnes” with a crossed-through credit to Prince preceding Barnes’ name.
“This was the first time it wasn’t at all collaborative; it was just my ego trip,” says Barnes.
The crossed through credit to Prince both pokes fun at Barnes’ dominating the album as well as gives a nod to one of Barnes’ heroes.
“I hope he comes to our show. We always put him on the guest list just in case. We heard he was going to come to our last show but he never showed up. We met him once at Seventh Street Entry: he came in during a sound check and sat there listening. He got onstage and showed me how to play “Purple Rain,” because I couldn’t get the chords quite right. It was incredible, because he’s such a legend. I just hope he doesn’t rip any of our ideas off,” Barnes says, laughing.
Barnes himself echoes the theatricality of his ornately dressed idol, often appearing onstage in eye-catching ensembles rivaling that of any runway.
“I’m a fairly creative dresser. At our live shows we try to make it as stimulating visually as it is [aurally] so our performance always has a very theatrical quality to it.”
Barnes fondness for wearing women’s clothing has led him to share clothes with his wife, perhaps taking their “twin” existence even further.
“Actually I’ve been wearing my wife’s pants during all of this tour,” Barnes says. ||
Of Montreal perform Sat., Sept. 3 at the Triple Rock Social Club with Grand Buffet and the Management. 5 p.m. $12. All Ages. 629 Cedar Ave., Mpls. 612-333-7499.