We had the chance to chat and dine with a red skinny-jean-clad Jamey Huggins from Of Montreal before the band played the first of two sold-out shows at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. Read on to find out about on-stage battles, the bustle of being on tour, and Jamey’s new solo side project as James Husband.
Muso’s Guide: So the tour’s been going well so far?
Jamey Huggins: Um, yea, all the shows have been sold out; audiences have been enthusiastic, if not maybe a bit misbehaved. We’ve had a few ejections.
MG: What happened?
JH: You know just, them jumping on stage and getting drunk and stage diving. A couple of our people got hurt [laughs] because of our own antics on stage, fighting. Not really fighting, but choreographed fights, a couple of bumps on the head, you know. I’ve got some wretched calluses.
MG: How did that happen?
MG: So how is it being back in Boston? I saw of Montreal perform at the Orpheum earlier this year.
JH: Yea, I really liked that place.
MG: Will the show be a lot different being at a smaller venue tonight?
JH: Well that’s just it—it’s a lot smaller.
MG: So will you be able to have all your crazy scenes on stage? Is it harder to pull off?
JH: Yeah, sometimes it works better because it’s so compact. Um, it might look a little bit more effective because it’s such a smaller stage, and it’s easier to transform a smaller stage so that it looks like a different room. But yea, everything’s up there, whether or not it’s gonna function [laughs]. But a lot of stuff broke in New York and we haven’t had a chance to replace them; technical things, all kinds of things. Instruments, amps, videos, boxes, light bulbs. We haven’t had a chance because we’re playing every day and traveling every night. We’re crossing our fingers that we don’t have a technical issue tonight.
MG: Do you think you’ll get to do any sightseeing while you’re here?
JH: I mean, it’s already after six, the doors are in less than an hour, we’ll be on stage in two and a half to three hours, and during that time I just want to get this delicious Thai food down and maybe have a little time to prepare, clean up a little bit. That’s the thing— you almost never get to sightsee. We were in New York for three days I didn’t do anything that wasn’t related to the band.
MG: So I hear you’re working on a solo album now?
JH: Well I’m done with it. It’s set for end of the summer, late August.
MG: Do you know what it’s called yet?
JH: No, I’m still working on the title. I have to come up with all the artwork and stuff in the next maybe two weeks.
MG: And you’re going by James Husband for that?
MG: How did you come up with that name?
JH: Uh, it’s not really that creative, because it’s just a really slight a variation of my real name—a syllable. I think there was this guy who was a manager for a ‘60s group, um, they were called The Pretty Things. And I was reading in their liner notes about these things involving their manager and his name was something like David Husband, and I had never heard of that as a last name but I guess it really is like a common British last name. Um, but I just liked the sound of it [laughs]. I don’t know. Something to give it a little bit of, uh, a shift of focus from reality.
MG: How is the sound of the solo stuff different from Of Montreal?
JH: I’m not trying to go somewhere different with it, because a lot of the stuff was recorded and written before Satanic even came out, and a lot of the stuff is six years old or more. Uh, and it’s definitely not danceable. I mean, I guess you could dance to it, some of it. But there’s no real electronic element to it. It’s much more rooted in like ‘60s/’70s kind of production and instrumentation. If anything, it’s a little bit more like, uh, R&B influenced, but less Motown. More like Memphis-style. And then some of it’s almost country-ish, but I can’t help that ‘cause I’m from Georgia. But I don’t know. There’s a lot of different styles in there. It’s definitely more of a headphone record, not like a Saturday night kind of record. It’s more for the car than dance floor.
MG: So did anyone else from the band work on the album with you?
JH: Dottie plays the saxophone and sings a little bit. Bryan played some ripping electric guitar solos, I guess on only really one song. But that’s the thing about doing what I do, is I can play everything, so I do. I mean, to me, that’s part of the fun—playing all of it, so I do that until I run into something I can’t handle, like a cello or a horn or something. I do play trumpet, but not nearly as good as the guy that I got on the record. And I have this cellist who did some really great stuff. So yeah, other than that it’s a one-man band. But I intend to change that because we’re gonna make it a live touring thing. Most of Of Montreal will be involved with that. I mean I’ve done shows with all these guys. In fact I’ve even done like whole opening tours with of Montreal. But, you know I’ve never fully realized it. It’s kind of like a project that the rest of the band was enthusiastic about. And finally, I guess, Kevin was the real driving force, and kind of convinced me to go and work with Polyvinyl, on the initial release. So I guess I have him to credit for kind of lighting a fire under my ass. When it does come out, we’re gonna try and do a whole tour, treat it like the real thing.--
A continued conversation (first part here) with Jamey Huggins of the glamtastic American band, Of Montreal: this week read about the band’s almost overnight success in Europe, opening for Franz Ferdinand, and life on the Of Montreal tour bus.
MG: of Montreal just played over in Europe—how was the response different over there?
JH: Uh, well, it’s a weird thing, you know? Like, in England it’s such a hard thing to get an audience. And then suddenly, the last time we were there, or the time before this last time, we were really struggling for some press. And we played a show for like 200 people> or something, did a couple of interviews, and then the last time we were there, we sold out this like 1,500 theatre and had to turn away like 300 people who were trying to get in. It was like overnight we were suddenly like legitimate in London after we’d been playing there for years at these really small clubs. And then like, the Franz Ferdinand concert, we opened for them and did that.
MG: How did that show go?
JH: It was kind of a nightmare, actually. Nothing to do with them, you know, they’re absolutely great. They were really kind and everything, the band, but we had to go on in this really small space. And for of Montreal to do an opening set for anyone, it’s kind of tricky. So we played like six or seven songs, and we had a major technical meltdown where our in-ear monitoring died, so no one could hear what they were singing, we couldn’t hear each other. We fixed it after a couple of songs. But still, it was great. And then we went to France and had a fantastic show in Paris. For some reason Paris loves the new of Montreal stuff. We sold more copies of Hissing Fauna and Skeletal Lamping in France than all of the rest of Europe combined.
MG: Why do you think that is?
JH: Well, I don’t know, the French like electro. And those records are very much, like, beat-driven. Um, but also I think we have a really great press team there. We just happened to get lucky with some really great, super enthusiastic, super influential people. And I guess, they told us this one story about this really popular TV host who has, like, several million viewers, and does this show, and apparently she made some little statement where she held up Hissing Fauna on her show and said “This is the best record of the year, and if everyone watching the show doesn’t go out and buy this tomorrow I’m gonna stab my hand with this…” She had like a knife, and was holding up the record with this knife, and was stressing how emphatic she was that France needed to listen to this strange American band.
MG: I guess it worked, then.
JH: Well, I’m sure that’s part of it. But it’s weird, cause in France, they play us on like regular radio, you know? More of like the Clear Channel rock station or something. So it’s like weirdly somehow more legitimate or something. They don’t have the sense that we’re like an indie band.
MG: So will there be more crazy costumes tonight? Any family members making cameos again?
JH: Yeah, you know, it’s always a revolving cast, depending on who can do it. I mean, if we had our way, we’d have them all every night. People have been kind of trading off, taking legs of the tour. So like we had Nina [Barnes, Kevin’s wife] in New York, and we even had Alabee [Kevin’s daughter] on stage.
MG: What did Alabee do?
JH: She danced, and sort of rode on her mother like a horse. Um, but we have David Barnes and his little troupe of, uh, performers. So I think there’s about five of them tonight. It’s kind of been shifting from night to night. He’s gotten really good at writing sort of little scenes. They’re kind of like one-act plays and provide something like a music video. I see it as they’re like mini videos for each song. Some of it’s like pre-planned, some of it’s live stuff. But in addition to that, uh, he’s taken to writing out like actual characters that reoccur and stuff. So, the last tour, it was a lot more, kind of like, theatrics, dancing around, and choreographed fights, stuff like that. But this time around he has like names for the characters and actual like acting teams and stuff. He’s been writing them on the bus and trying them on stage. Last night, they tried something I’d never seen before, where they had like a Christmas morning. So they had all these performers dressed up like little kids in pajamas and such, and they were all opening presents, but then inside one of the presents they rigged up a smoke machine. So like, three out of the four kids open their presents and there are gas masks, and they’re all excited about their gas masks, and they put them on, and the last kid opens his present and it just shoots out gas. Strange things like that. And tonight they won’t let us use it. Apparently this stupid Great White thing [a deadly nightclub fire caused by pyrotechnics at a concert in 2003], all smoke machines are illegal in every venue in this state. Which is ridiculous, because there’s no fire involved. So there will be no smoke tonight.
MG: Think there will be an extra crazy crowd tonight, being 4/20?
JH: I don’t even know what that is. I mean I know that people smoke pot at 4:20 in the afternoon or something. I don’t know, I hadn’t given it any thought.
MG: So what’s it like on the tour bus?
JH: It’s just like any other environment. Just certain times of the day it might be really wild, and everybody is hanging out. Just sort of doing what you do. And other times it’s like a tomb and all you can hear is some snoring.
MG: What are your thoughts on Kevin stripping at shows?
JH: Well that’s only happened once, and it was like three years ago. I think he’s outgrown his exhibitionist phase a little bit. And he’s actually been dressing a lot more masculinely. But he’s still wearing like a pink woman’s Indian kind of garb. But I think he’s grown into another phase.
MG: Who does your makeup before the show?
JH: Everybody does their own. I’ve gone away from it a little bit, from the sort of glammier stuff. Now it’s more like stage makeup.
And now for the final piece in our interview with Jamey Huggins of American band, of Montreal: we discuss the new of Montreal album, Kevin’s gin-induced inner comedian, and the misconceptions that the band’s creativity stems from drugs.
MG: So is there a new of Montreal album in the works yet?
JH:There’s definitely a new one. It’s probably about six or seven songs right now.
MG: Any idea what it’s called yet?
JH: Well Kevin gave all the albums their titles since Hissing Fauna. This one’s called Controller Sphere. All the album titles are in that one song ['Faberge Falls For Shuggie']. Uh, Skeletal Lamping, Controller Sphere, a couple more, I forget. We’re playing two of them, two brand new ones that are going to be on that record: tonight, one of them, and the other tomorrow night.
MG: What are they called?
JH: Well Kevin’s still working on the title, but it’s temporarily called “Cokehead Cokehead.” But, it’s not at all inspired by the drug. The original lyrics are kind of based around the word coquette, and then, we were joking around at this radio performance, and I think I misheard it and said, “It sounds like you’re saying cokehead.” And he thought that was hilarious so now he’s been calling it like ‘Cokehead’.
MG: What’s your favorite song off of Skeletal Lamping?
JH: Um, I think it’s probably ‘Nubile Miscreants’. I really, really love playing it live. It’s definitely my favorite song to perform. And also I think the lyrics are really good. At first I was kind of upset by it. I couldn’t understand who [Kevin] was singing about. But then I finally realized that if anyone should know better, I should know that when he sings about ketamine-addicted teenagers and, you know, college dorms, that he just makes that shit up. There’s nobody. All those lyrics about Rachel, crystal meth, and uh, I think it’s a stroke of genius cause like a lot of our fans think it’s reality. For me, it’s just really clever story-telling. And the rhymes are really good. It’s just not his typical song. A little bit more literal, not just fancy word play. There’s an actual little story there. And that’s kind of what he used to do, in the pre-electro days. A lot of character-based stories with like names and little sub plots and stuff. Plus, it’s got a nice groove to it. A lot of the songs are so, uh, what’s a complimentary way to say this? Uh, I don’t know, it’s kind of like awkwardly arranged. The whole point of it is it’s supposed to be jarring and unexpected. But that one to me is a little breath of like, a couple of minutes of the record that it’s really like groovy. And it doesn’t have a whole lot of like erratic kinda things happening in it. I don’t know, for some reason I just really like it.
MG: Are there any of Montreal pre-show rituals?
JH:Yea, but nothing like really surprising. I mean, Kevin and I like to bathe. Not, not each other [laughs]. But a ritual of getting as clean as possible before we get really dirty. You know, we all sit around and put a little makeup on and stuff and everyone has their, like, beverage ritual: certain things they will or won’t drink before the show.
MG: What are they?
JH:Well I’ll start with the dont’s [laughs]. Dottie and I are not allowed to drink whiskey or red wine before the show but Kevin and Bryan are heavily encouraged to do so.
MG: Why is that?
JH:Well, everyone’s had their own ups and downs with alcohol, and, uh, for some reason if Dottie and I drink anything brown, like whiskey or red wine, we tend to get really aggressive with each other and fight. And so we have banned it from ourselves. It wasn’t like a band decision. We just said that we weren’t allowed to do that any more cause we were fighting with each other right before we’d go on stage. But Kevin, if he drinks whiskey, becomes like a standup comedian, and if you’re lucky enough to catch him on a rare night, or if for some reason, every one in a while he’ll do a shot of gin, which is a terrible thing to shoot, but sometimes there’s nothing to mix it with. But if Kevin drinks maybe two shots of gin, or like a really strong gin and tonic, then he’ll talk to the audience more and put on these little characters. He can be really fun if you just get the right amount, the right concoction [laughs].
It’s the same way with Bryan, you know. He’s hilarious. But he’s become kind of more distant with the crowd. It used to be that he’d talk just as much as we played, you know. Five or six years ago, there would be enough banter in a single show to release a half-hour of spoken word. And a lot of times he’ll just go into poetry or something. Uh, but, you know, there’s also something to be said about being professional. And maybe we shouldn’t be drunk, and maybe we should actually play stuff, play the songs [laughs]. But you know, every once in a while it comes out that way. But maybe for 4/20, who knows? Maybe Kevin Barnes will be stoned off his ass [laughs].
Uh, that’s a frustrating thing we were talking about last night, this sort of presumption that we all use drugs. But besides beer, a little bit of gin, and some kombucha? And some, you know, Ibuprofen, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. People have a really hard time accepting that creativity can come from imagination. And it’s really amazing how widespread that attitude is among people who are fans of music and art, but they, themselves, can only imagine that it’s created by having some kind of mind-altering chemical in your brain or whatever. But I guess if you’ve never written a song or made a painting, then it must seem to you or that type of person, maybe it does seem like they could only imagine coming up with an idea only if they were in a totally different mindset. But if you’re a songwriter, you can be more sober and normal to come up with something really entertaining. And that’s the whole thing. A lot of the songs that we do are so unconventional and so weirdly lyrical and strange arrangements and stuff, but that’s because we want to make something different. It’s like a conscious choice to make something that hasn’t been done before, to make it really interesting and colorful and unexpected as possible. And that can be done, you know, on coffee and um a good night’s sleep, you know? Or at 4 in the morning, whatever. But there’s definitely no speed involved, or like ecstasy or anything, or for God’s sake acid. Which is what we always get accused of; described as like “such and such…on acid.” I don’t know, that’s a frustrating thing, because Kevin, especially, has never done anything like that. But, um, I understand a lot of our fans do. And there’s a lot of college students who come to of Montreal shows as if it were a rave or something and all take X and coke and come in off their tiny faces, high as a kite. And then I wonder if they can even remember the show.
MG: That’s all for now—I’ll let you get back to eating your dinner. Thanks, Jamey!