Kevin Barnes doesn't want to be all things to all people. In fact, he'd rather keep ‘em guessing.
BY A.D. AMOROSI
Maybe corny is the new sexy. Or maybe the liberated sexuality that Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes sings of is a musical solution to his problems.
But when Barnes talks about Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping and the sensuality rampant throughout, it's funny that when he's tries on his favorite track, it's the record's most diligently innocent one, "An Eluardian Instance," that's the sweetest love song he's written in a long time. "There's just a nice nostalgia there that's not too corny," observes Barnes. You can almost hear him sigh when he says so.
Moving from lean lo-fi pop to something more luxuriating like glam's grandeur has given Of Montreal its time in the sun. It would be a simple thing - if only people would let enjoy it.
"Ha, I don't know what happened to me," laughs Barnes, about being the earnest nice boy from Athens with an epiphany-filled ethereal pop band from the Elephant 6 collective first led astray by a woman from Canada. It would seem as if his first real loves were the Mersey bands of Britain, what with the initial Anglo ardor of 1997's Cherry Peel on Bar/None, or ‘98's The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy on Kindercore.
"To be honest, the first music I fell in love with as a kid was pop, soul and funk," he confides. "My first cassette tape was a Kool and the Gang greatest hits. I got into Prince at a very young age too. I didn't discover the Kinks and the Beatles till around high school, so you could say my roots are in freak funk more do than Anglo psych pop."
I could say that. OK. I will. That explains some of the funk. But the flamboyant fabulousness of 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and the new music's sensually branded glam pop came under the auspices of an alter ego, "Mr. Fruit" and that character's nascent sexual aplomb. Before you ask, he doesn't tell.
"I don't really know where this new direction came from. It's all very organic. Maybe I got sick of being so depressed and uptight and needed a new position. It just sort of evolved out of the depression and paranoia."
Much has been said of Barnes' depression. He started a band because he was sad a woman left him. It's been rumored he was recently in real trouble with his psyche. And of course, while early tracks of Of Montreal were silly and humorous ("Tim, I Wish You Were Born A Girl") many of Barnes' narratives since 1997 have evolved with dramatic sadness as their basis. While The Gay Parade saw the advent of Barnes' invented characters (in songs such as "Jacques Lamure" and "Mimi Merlot") and miserable conversations ("Advice From a Divorced Gentleman to His Bachelor Friend Considering Marriage"), albums like Aldhils Arboretum, found peppy melodies and bleak lyrics as their base - "Doing Nothing" and "Old People in the Cemetery," for example.
Before the current crop of sexually awake albums, his favorite Of Montreal record was Coquelicot, the epic and the open ended classic that is the transitional bracket between glistening pop and sexual healing glam. "It is pretty similar to Skeletal Lamping in its structure or lack thereof," says Barnes. "Coquelicot is the first record I really cut loose and completely abandoned the conventional pop song template. That is the one record that was a true collaboration with other people as well. It was a pretty great experience. Unfortunately it didn't sell worth shit and the band sort of fell apart quickly after that."
With that band disappeared and Fauna's main character - Mr. Fruit - doing most of the talking, phase two of Of Montreal seemed complete and successful.
But, why did Barnes need an alter ego in Fruit to begin with, and now that he's disappeared, is Skeletal Lamping all Barnes?
"I realized that it was me all along. There is no split personality thing happening."
He doesn't wish people to think that Skeletal Lamping is a concept album or that he was singing from the perspective of a fictional character. "SL is just as personal an album as Hissing Fauna. I'm just exploring and exposing different areas of my psyche. I think people tend to find sexuality to be more superficial than subjects like mental problems or relationship woes. I don't agree though. The psychological aspects of sexuality are extremely complex and fascinating to me. So much of our self concept is influenced by how we define ourselves sexually. I have chosen to not define myself and to allow for my self identity to be fluid."
What Barnes discovered that has made Skeletal Lamping so much freer and sexual than previously was that he was hung up; that time and energy and his current openness about himself and his music was ripe. "I guess I was in more of an introverted and hung up state of mind earlier on in my life. I seem to be going through a sexual awakening. I guess it is somewhat influenced by hitting rock bottom and being reborn. I couldn't have predicted it. I try not to second guess things. I just follow the organic spirit where ever it wants to go. That sounds like a hippy bumper sticker but it is true."
So why do audiences and critics seem confused by this new record and the personae or non-personae of it. Read Of Montreal's most recent press and it's as if every critic - but BLURT's staff of course - ain't doing a whole lot of fucking.
"I can't say," says Barnes. "I think that anyone who feels annoyed by the complexity of the album just lacks intellectual depth. I can't understand how these so called 'music aficionados' criticize the album for being too unpredictable and complex. I would have thought that critics would have celebrated the album for its exceptional quality but I've been shocked by how many critics have completely missed the boat. I guess I gave them too much credit."
And what's the something-something so delicious about Skeletal Lamping that is the secret to it success? Barnes can't help but stifle a giggle. "Every instrument on every song was recorded while masturbating," says Barnes.