MUSIC: A close look at Of Montreal
Bryan Poole discusses kraut-rock and angst
Laura Anderson | Issue date: 2/27/07 | a & e
Among even the best of contemporary musicians, longevity is a rare trait. The most promising artists can easily be shrugged off after a sub-par sophomore release. Of Montreal challenges this trend. Its most recent release from Polyvinyl Records, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer, marks another high point in the band's nearly decade-long musical career.
In support of this album, the band has embarked on a lengthy tour that runs until the end of April, with a final show at the Coachella Festival in California. Band member Bryan Poole describes the tour so far as a successful one.
"The crowds have been great," Poole comments. "We've been selling out every show we've been playing…we have our minds blown every night. People are getting really into it and really excited."
For those unfamiliar with the band, Of Montreal is the creation of singer/guitarist Kevin Barnes. The group emerged from a bubbling music scene in Athens, Georgia amidst association with the prominent Elephant 6 Collective. The band released its debut album, Cherry Peel, in 1997 and several subsequent albums including the acclaimed Satanic Panic In The Attic in 2004. They have experienced fluctuating success and a changing cast of bandmates, settling on the current lineup about three years ago. Of Montreal has also experienced a high turnover in record labels, but Poole says the group is satisfied with its current situation.
"It's the best thing that's happened to the band. It's been almost night and day as far as getting the records out to people."
Of Montreal was originally influenced by sounds and styles long dissipated from the pop music sphere. "We started off being influenced by the Kinks, Pretty Things, all these sixties bands, psych bands, studio innovative bands," explains Poole. Recently, however, the band has moved away from an exclusive sixties focus.
"We're opening up to all sorts of things: world music, Afro-beat, Ethiopian music, kraut-rock," Poole later elaborates. This evolving stream of influence perfectly demonstrates the versatility of the band, and was likely its key to remaining successful over such a long period of time.
Of Montreal's most recent album is a product of this change, showing a darker side of Kevin Barnes than had been exposed in previous records, which were geared primarily towards escapist fantasy. Although all of the songs centre on relationship problems and personal crises, Poole hesitates to call Hissing Fauna a concept album.
"I think concept albums just don't work," he explains. "I don't think Kevin set out to make anything but to just write songs. They all happened to be a similar thing; they were heartfelt, they were personal. They were feelings about real events in his life."
Perhaps part of what makes this album so effective is its universal applicability. "That's what songs do for people," Poole says. "Love songs, or break up songs, or any kind of songs, people can apply it to themselves."
However, even on what could be categorized as a depressing album, Barnes doesn't lapse into acoustic angsty drivel, as lesser artists may indulge in when attempting to communicate personal pain. He has a gift for song writing that is evident in his music and challenging to his band members.
"It's demanding for sure, as far as the musicality of it," explains Poole. "Kevin writes insane songs. He always has and he always will. With Kevin's songs, your brain expands trying to play them."
As for the future of the band, nothing is set in stone. There has been discussion about future recordings and it is apparent that the band will continue making music together. "There are always plans for new records," Poole continues. "They're all malleable because this tour is going to be a long time in the making. It's just trying to stay hungry and creative; being good with one another."
Of Montreal plays in Montreal March 12 at La Tulipe (4530 rue Papineau). Call (514) 529-5000 for ticket information.