Thursday, June 25, 2009

2008-05-01 - Eye Weekly

Kevin Barnes BY Sarah Liss
May 01, 2008 11:05

You’d have to be a bit daft to think Toronto’s hurting for music festivals, but since enterprising boy wonder Eric Warner quietly launched the prototype version of his Over The Top Fest in 2002, there’s been something particularly special about the local impresario’s springtime romp. Warner’s been adamant about keeping his shows all ages, even though finding suitable venues can be a headache, and he strives to book left-field acts. You always have a sense that the fest has been curated by a passionate music fan who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.

This year Warner and film curator Jeff Wright have expanded the film component considerably (see page 18); if all goes well, next year’s version will include theatre and dance. But independent music is still at the core of OTT, and this year’s roster of live shows — which run today (May 1) through Sunday (May 4) and take place at the Whippersnapper Gallery, St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Church, Sneaky Dee’s, The Mod Club and Ukula — is incredibly strong.

In addition to a rare live appearance by beat-driven minimalist legends Silver Apples (they play May 1 at the Music Gallery), here are a handful of OTT concerts that shouldn’t be missed.

One of these unmissables is an unconventional solo appearance by Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes. We tracked down the psych-pop visionary, who took time from working on Of Montreal’s forthcoming album Skeletal Lamping to answer some questions about his inimitable aesthetic.

You’re famous for your theatrical performances. Are you planning anything special for this solo show? You performed nude in Vegas last year — how can you beat that?
Well, the only alternative to playing nude is playing with your clothes on, and I don’t plan on stripping down, picking up an acoustic guitar and doing a solo show. I don’t put pressure on myself to entertain people.

You’re clearly someone who embraces androgyny and gender-bending — I’m thinking about your live performances and also comments you’ve made in past interviews about raiding your wife’s closet. Has that always been part of your life?
I think about gender roles a lot. Growing up, I always felt very feminine. I always felt different from the other boys. It wasn’t even a sexual thing — I just couldn’t relate to anything macho or overtly masculine. I never wanted to be that way. As a young boy, I identified way more with Prince than I did my own parents or friends. I’ve never felt compelled to cross-dress in private — I don’t even believe that cross-dressing is possible, since I don’t believe there are clothes that only women can wear or fashion that’s only for men. I don’t care about many social rules like that. I’m amazed that being nude in public is so scandalous and even criminal. In a way, it’s sort of cute how we, as a species, cling to these meaningless rules of conduct. I consider myself a member of the fourth gender. It’s not a physical state; it’s emotional. It’s a powerful place to be.

I’ve always identified with feminine male artists like David Bowie, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and Prince. I love how they transcend gender expectations without sinking too far into campiness — it’s a fine line for sure. I used to wish I were homosexual... I romanticized about it. I don’t like all the bullshit that “real” men are supposed to aspire towards. The thing is, unfortunately, I’m not really attracted to most men sexually. I’d much rather make out with a woman. Plus I realized there’s just as much bullshit in the gay communities; like Sartre said, “hell is other people.”

Some of the themes you addressed on last year’s Hissing Fauna (depression, suicide, isolation) were extremely dark. Does writing about such intense autobiographical material make you feel a bit too naked?
It’s not hard performing the songs ‘cause the subjects are things I’ve dealt with, and continue to deal with, every day. They haven’t lost their relevance for me. In a way, it’s easier to sing songs about heavier subjects than happier subjects, just ’cause I’m more often in a sort of pensive and freaked-out state of mind.

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