Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes: The New Gay Interview
“Biting the prick that feeds me.” “I take it both ways.” “Something happened in the parking lot.”
The above quotes come not from some old episode of Undressed, but rather the newest Of Montreal album Skeletal Lamping. Though it doesn’t actually get released until the 21st, anyone who’s listened to its easily-available leak has probably noticed two things: That it marks an even further departure from the Athens, Georgia bands formerly Beatles-inspired retro pop and that it’s unbelievably filthy.
Lead by the flamboyant (to say the least) Kevin Barnes, the band gained its biggest notoriety with last years “Hissing Fauna…,” a falsettoed, danceable amalgam of Queen and Beck. “Lamping” takes the glitter one step further. Below the fold, check out Kevin’s opinions on glam rock, stage personas and public nudity. There’s also an Of Montreal mixtape for those interested in hearing more.
The New Gay Zack: Having listened to Skeletal Lamping a couple times, I think its safe to say it’s one of the queerest record I’ve ever heard.
Kevin Barnes: I wouldn’t say it’s straight-up queer. It’s completely open and free without any sort of politics or agenda. What I was trying to do was create this idealistic human consciousness where anything goes and there are no restrictions and no boundaries.
TNG: That also begs the question of how you identify in terms of sexual orientation.
KB: I don't.
TNG: On the record, you say thing like “I go both ways” and that you’re “sick of sucking the dick.” Have you ever slept with guys?
KB: I’ve had experiences.
TNG: I know that your last record was predicated on marriage troubles. Were you having any relationship issues during this one?
KB: My wife and I are totally cool now. She’s on tour with us, doing theatrics.
TNG: Then what’s this album about? Is it relationships, sex, dancing…
KB: It’s an everything album, it’s not just one specific thing. I was trying to create something that mirrored my experiences and consciousness, it’s ambivalent and all over the place and contradicting itself. I’m proud of it for that reason, that it is very complicated and dense and bizarre.
TNG: You’re last couple records have been a departure from the sound you started out with, and I’ve even heard some fans call the current one polarizing. Is this an indication of your new direction, or just a one-off recording?
KB: I don’t know where I’m going to go lyrically. Musically it will have slightly more structure to it, but I don’t have any clue about what I’m going to sing about. The spirit I’m seeing for the music will be more chaotic.
TNG: It also seems like a lot of people that didn’t care much about Of Montreal during your first couple records, like Gay Parade, have become big fans since your sound started to change.
KB: I think that “Gay Parade’s” sound, for whatever reason, it just didn’t resonate with that many people. Some got it and understood, but most didn’t. It seemed more anachronistic, totally from the sixties, the sort of music that young people didn’t listen to at the time. They didn’t like “My Fair Lady” and The Beatles, those were the major influences. Now we’ve incorporated more influences by contemporaries, it’s pulling from all sorts of places that it hadn’t before.
TNG: Like who?
KB: Prince, David Bowie, Brian Eno, people like that. Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, Fema Kuti.
TNG: All these influences came through really clearly as well. Did you set off to make an album that sounds so much like those influences?
KB: Not really. When I’m creating music I’m just making something I find interesting. So if there’s a scream that sounds just like Prince, or an obvious vocal thing that sounds just like someone else, that is more of an homage to the person who inspired it.
TNG: What’s your relationship to glam rock?
KB: I love that genre because it was this great combo of masculine and feminine. I don’t like listening to things that are too one-sided. I liked it because there were guys playing muscular sounding music, but dressed really flamboyantly. That’s what I was doing with the record, it’s not gay or straight or anything. It’s everything.
TNG: With the makeup and the costumes you have a very recognizable stage persona. Where does that end and the real you begin?
KB: Where I stand socially, politically and sexually, it’s all just in my head. If I go to the grocery store I won't put on a tutu and mascara, but when I’m performing it’s fun. It’s like a little fashion show and art experience. To do an exaggeration of reality, this exaggerated state of being where you have the opportunity to freak out, that’s really what I want to feel. It shouldn’t be a voyeuristic thing for the audience to watch the band get freaky, it should be a communal thing where people “think this is my chance to dress up and freak out.” It should be empowering to everyone. You don’t get that opportunity very often.
TNG: I understand that you have a very elaborate stage show planned. What can you tell me about it?
KB: Visually we have three or four projector screens showing grainy images. We have four performance artists on stage and they are creating these visual scenarios, they’re just doing their own thing. I want to create meta performance art where there’s so many different levels in all these different ways, create something mathematical and complicated and interesting.
TNG: Skeletal Lamping also had a lot of different levels to it. You’d go from one really happy, upbeat song to another one asking why you are so damaged. What was your mood like when you were writing the album?
KB: It’s just like an every day life. There’s ups and downs, you never really know where you’re at or where you
(end of the interview?)