Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
(be sure to check the original article for the splendid pictures)
Soundcheck isn’t going well for psychedelic popsters-cum-performance artists of Montreal. Kevin Barnes, mastermind of the oft-brilliant group, calls off the testing of the waters with An Eluardian Instance – a new single from 2008’s Skeletal Lamping, which, with its emphatic, brassy sound, would take pains to not sound enthused. But the rapture ends prematurely and the warm-up session at Òran Mór grinds to a halt as the tour manager leaves to scout the West End’s music shops for a proper adapter to cater for one of the group’s myriad musical implements.
When he returns empty-handed, it’s up to Barnes to rework the section of the song for which the equipment is necessary, eating away time for rehearsal, relaxation, make-up and, well… eating. Giving testament to the band’s prolific nature (they’ve released a seven-inch/DVD combo and a remix EP since November’s Lamping), he wraps it up quickly, ready to talk about one of last year’s most divisive records, the follow-up to the acclaimed Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
“I think it’s kind of funny when someone says ‘Oh, it’s too schizophrenic, too fragmented…’” Barnes says. “But yeah, that was the point. It’s like collage music, genre-hopping – some stuff is pretty progressive and some is extremely derivative, but intentionally so.”
With wild mood swings taking the record from depressed acoustic introspection to the sexed-up electro-pop of closer Id Engager - whether bad or good, the LP certainly keeps a listener on their toes.
“It can be rewarding to listen to something unpredictable: That was the goal, for better or worse. Obviously it’s not the best record ever, but it’s an interesting record.” Barnes sounds like neither plaintiff nor defendant when talking shop; rather than an apologist, he comes off more like a true believer: “It’s sort of indicative of the time we’re in right now, where people are looking for more creative music and artists are taking more chances.”
According to Barnes, sessions for the record started off in practical mode, applying a verse-chorus-verse theory, but this soon collapsed. “I abandoned that approach and just made one piece at a time. I was trying to make them, and it didn’t really flow - it sounded awkward. I felt like there’s no real reason. So many people are trying to do it the other way: write the perfect pop song. I would rather make awkward pop music than predictable pop music.”
The album's 'narrative' – a term used loosely here – could be described as equally erratic. While previous albums have woven stories or confessionals to the melodies, the emergence of his transgendered, middle-aged alter ego Georgie Fruit as a vocal character marks a step in a different direction for Barnes.
“I think the whole Georgie Fruit thing is sprung from my depression period," he says. "I didn’t really think about it at the time, but looking back on it, I think that maybe I just needed an escape from that: the darkness of the Kevin Barnes reality. When I balanced things out a little bit, this other character just rose to the surface.”
While this unleashing of an alter-ego has occurred throughout pop culture's androgynous past, perhaps most prominently with Ziggy Stardust, it’s not exactly common in the indie community. But this is something Barnes describes as getting out of his “comfort zone”, though he indicates that it was a natural process.
Their leader’s songwriting methodology seems to have paid off for the Athens, Georgia outfit, with increased sales and graduation to higher-profile venues, at least in their native US, coming with the new record. Barnes doesn’t dwell on this long, however, preferring instead to highlight the opportunities afforded to the band by the exposure: “This last tour that we did we actually played good-paying festival shows. We squirreled the money away, knowing we’d need a big budget if we put on this production.”
The ever-evolving of Montreal live show – which has recently included the singer being led to stage on a white horse or being hung from makeshift gallows – incorporates video and dramatic performance, at a level of production that has been building for years.
“At the very beginning, we were driven by the indie rock/punk rock mentality of ‘Don’t dress it up. Be as real as possible’." says Barnes "Ever since [2004’s] Satanic Panic in the Attic, we decided we were going to try something visually interesting, and it built up from there, tour by tour, adding new elements.”
With the time and thought put into each tour’s production – mostly by Kevin's brother David, who designs much of Montreal material (albums, posters, lamps) – the band thinks of it as “two separate productions that are lopped on top of each other. It’s not just throw a bunch of people on stage and goof off for three minutes; it’s definitely a planned skit.”
Barnes concedes that in the US, the larger crowds create an easier setting for stage play, but hopes the band creates a similar experience for UK audiences as well: “Over here, we’re still building something, so we still play smaller places and we’re bumping into each other. There are people falling off the stage, bumping over keyboards. But we want to do something visually cool, so even if there’s no room for it, we’ll do it anyway.”
And while for the band’s past four albums Barnes has been the principle songwriter, he maintains that in performance and many other aspects, it’s a cooperative approach with everyone pitching in: “Of Montreal has become like an art collective. Everyone’s invested, everyone wears a bunch of different hats. Everybody is involved. You’re not just going to do one thing.”
This is why, in Barnes’ world, you might be scouring music stores for equipment one minute – or investigating the phenomenon of Neeps & Tatties - only to be cavorting around stage in a pig mask or skin-tight red bodysuit the next. And when the dual performance finally comes, you can tell even though it may take a lot of work and coordination, the band’s getting as much out of it as the fans are.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Published on October 21, 2008 at 11:05am
Avant-garde artists, and in particular musicians, have struggled to strike a balance between genius and pretentiousness for decades. From Lou Reed's infamous noise exploration Metal Machine Music to the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka, which required listeners to simultaneously play four separate CDs in four separate stereos, art rockers have always braved a backlash when they eschew broad appeal in pursuit of a singular (and usually bizarre) creative vision.
Such is the case with Skeletal Lamping, the ninth album from the Athens, Georgia, group Of Montreal. Charged with the daunting task of following up 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? — the band's most critically and commercially successful album to date — lead singer Kevin Barnes crafted fifteen songs that are all nearly unlistenable. A disjointed blend of funk, disco and porn grooves, the record is as tedious as it is bizarre.
Like the brief and woefully inadequate curator notes that accompany contemporary art exhibits, advance copies of the record feature a four-paragraph essay that takes a stab at dissecting the music. "The record has its own internal logic," the back album cover proclaims, "and its many tangents and detours feel entirely intuitive and organic in context." The essay continues: "[Skeletal Lamping] rejects the notion of a fixed identity and encourages the listener to embrace their contradictions and to accept that one's self is nebulous and mercurial." It even calls the album "bizarre, complicated and dense."
"[Lamping] made itself in that way," says Barnes, who wrote and composed every song on the album by himself. "It could be complicated because of the way it's shifting and changing. It never really stays one style for that long. You could call it fragmented or schizophrenic."
The music itself certainly fits that description. Lamping completely abandons traditional verse/chorus/verse songwriting; instead, each song is a patchwork of minute-long bursts of sound that change rhythm and melody without rhyme or reason. For instance, the song "And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow," opens with a Scissor Sisters-do-Elton John piano lick. A sudden time change and moaning synthesizers take over. Just as abruptly, layered vocals of Barnes bawling over a drum machine appear before a brief but catchy palm-muted guitar sequence. It fades out with droning vocals and the same minor-key guitar chord strummed over and over. The song is just two-and-a-half minutes long.
"[The album] doesn't follow any logical path. I wanted to create something full of surprises and unpredictable," Barnes says. "Pop music can be so predictable and a lot of people follow the 'rules' in a way that's not very creative or interesting. I did that a lot in the past and I kind of learned to break free from that."
Barnes' lyrics are as fragmented as his production style. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of a black transsexual man named Georgie Fruit, a Barnes-invented character who he says was once a member of a failed '70s glam-rock band.
"It sounds pretentious but I really feel it just happened, I didn't sit down for weeks and weeks and create a character," Barnes says with a faint Southern drawl. "This voice was just unlocked inside me, and I gave it a name. All of these songs were flowing out of me, I thought it was a foreign entity speaking, but I realized it was a different part of my psyche that was unlocked and speaking to the world."
The 35-year-old Barnes, who is happily married (to a woman), insists he has no problem writing sincere songs about the life of his alter ego.
"I don't make a division between me and Georgie Fruit," Barnes says. "In fact, I sort of regret creating a name for that creative spirit. It might make people feel like it's less genuine, like it's fiction. I want people to realize that it's genuine, and it's coming from the heart."
Lyrically, Barnes has always bared his soul, particularly on Hissing Fauna, where he often sang about a painful separation from his wife and his struggle with depression that followed. But where he was able to distill his neurosis on that album into catchy, three-minute pop songs with sing-along-friendly choruses about chemical imbalance, Lamping feels like a hackneyed attempt at sexually transgressive shock art. It's not just the Georgie Fruit songs, either — often speaking in bizarre abstractions, Barnes alludes to everything from blowjobs in the boys' locker room to a prostitute turning tricks on the hood of a car.
The album drips with crude sexual imagery. He opens the song "St. Exquisite's Affections" by bellowing in his eunuch-like falsetto, "I'm so sick of sucking the dick of this cold, cold city." Other times he sings, "I took her standing in the kitchen/Ass against the sink" and "We can do it softcore if you want/But you should know that I go both ways," and "I want to make you ejaculate till it's no longer fun."
Barnes, who recently told Spin, "For a while, I really wanted to be gay but it didn't work out for me," again maintains that earnestness is not an issue when it comes to writing songs about homosexual encounters."I don't make the division between physical reality or intellectual reality or fantasy or dream reality," Barnes says. "Just because you held a brick in your hand and threw it through a window, doesn't mean it doesn't have the same value as dreaming you held a brick in your hand and throwing it through the window. Everything I'm writing about, I might not have physically experienced it — but I did experience it."
While the songs on the album are the sole work of Barnes, he says his bandmates have been critical in translating the album's hypersexuality and out-there imagery into a dynamic live act. And thus far, sneak previews of the Skeletal Lamping tour have looked like a three-ring circus on acid. A recent New York show featured a nearly naked Barnes riding a live horse onto the stage at one point and emerging from a coffin slathered in shaving cream at another. Band members were dressed like cowboys, tigers and the mythical creature Pan.
Barnes, Of Montreal and their peers in Athens' famed Elephant 6 Recording Company have always experimented in the hope of stretching the boundaries of contemporary music. For a time Barnes even lived with Jeff Mangum, the singer/songwriter behind Neutral Milk Hotel. But while Mangum was able to craft the creatively brilliant album In the Aeroplane Over The Sea from a series of recurring dreams he had about Anne Frank, when Barnes attempts to channel his own strange inner voice and shed all the trappings of pop music in the process, the result isn't as transcendent.
"You just create what you feel compelled to create," Barnes says. "It's more fulfilling that way. I've never tried to create for an audience or demographic because that would just be...well...really weird."
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Guitarist-vocalist Bryan Poole has worked closely with Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes for more than a decade. But it wasn’t until last year that he felt he had a real clue why Barnes would often compose and complete songs and albums with almost no input from other members of the band.
“I found out sitting next to him on an airplane that he never had real friends until he was 10 or 11 years old, people he could watch cartoons with or roughhouse with,” says Poole just hours before Of Montreal is to play at Oberlin College in Ohio.
“He had to create his own playland. He had to make up characters to keep himself entertained. He was able to explore his mind. To me, that’s a really great insight, and he just offered it up.”
Poole, who also has been part of pop experimenters Elf Power and The Olivia Tremor Control, admits that Athens, Ga.-based Of Montreal has had its “ups and downs and periods of drifting,” partly because of the way Barnes works. “But Kevin is kind of like Prince,” says Poole with admiration. “He can play and do everything himself, and he never has writers block.”
So although Of Montreal is still officially touring behind its fascinating late January release, “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?,” a dizzying, autobiographical account of a crumbling psyche that Barnes recorded virtually by himself while living in Norway and Athens, Ga., the band already is shifting gears.
Barnes, Poole, drummer-keyboardist-trumpeter James Huggins, keyboardist Dottie Alexander and bassist Davey Pierce are already playing several new tunes that will be part of the band’s next CD.
Poole offers a few song titles and brief commentary:
“Our Last Summer as Independents”: “Lyrically, it’s pretty straightforward. The music is influenced by the current Swedish pop bands, Belle & Sebastian and The Cure.”
“Georgie’s Confession”: “Georgie Fruit is one of Kevin’s creations, one of his alter-egos. He’s a 50-year-old black she-male who has been in and out of prison. He loves Prince and all that older soul stuff, like Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Funkadelic. He always tells it like it is.
“He turned up on a couple of `Hissing Fauna’ tracks, including `Faberge Falls for Shuggie’ (which is sung in an unnerving falsetto).”
“Softcore”: “That’s another Georgie Fruit song. (Sings) `We can do it softcore if you want/We can do it both ways’ ... It has a weird pop edge to it, but it’s definitely funky with a lot of cool harmonies that (sound like) Prince, Bowie, whatever.”
“Mingusing”: “It’s got some different sections. It’s not dour or nihilistic - or necessarily by Georgie Fruit.”
Poole says that because of the personal nature of the material on “Hissing,” Barnes has a hard time performing it live. Barnes’ inspiration for the record was a self-described “insane year” he spent with his pregnant wife in her native Norway to take advantage of the country’s health-care benefits, his subsequent culture shock and problems after the birth of their daughter that almost sundered the marriage.
Thus, “Hissing’s” exuberant-sounding, Human League-tinged “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger” has been sidestepped on this tour, and the 12-minute space-pop epic “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” has been played just once because it puts Poole and Barnes “in a negative head space.”
Poole notes he has lobbied for the song “No Conclusion,” but that it, too, has remained absent from the set list. “`No Conclusion’ is a 10-minute song on an EP (`Icons, Abstract Thee’) we put out as a companion record to `Hissing,’” explains Poole. “It’s awesome and it rocks. But when it came time to tour, Kevin said, `I can’t do it.’ He couldn’t sing the lyrics. They were too depressing, with no hope. I can understand, because the songs were a purging of all these things ... a terrible awfulness that exploded out of him.”
Poole, 37, was born and reared in Nashville, Tenn. “Chet Atkins babysat me one afternoon when my mom was cutting radio commercials and voiceovers,” he says. “I was like, 2 years old at the time.”
Poole remembers “always liking music,” although he preferred the late `70s and early `80s funk his sister listened to over the Frank Zappa and Chick Corea albums favored by his brother.
Eventually he discovered punk rock. “The Dead Kennedys were the first band I really liked, and toward the end of high school I wanted to start a band,” he says.
So he moved to Athens “and started playing and playing and playing.” After a time became part of Elephant 6, a musicians collective that would spawn such well-regarded indie bands as The Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and, of course, Of Montreal.
“I met Kevin in 1995, or early 1996,” says Poole, who was then a member of Elf Power. “He had come to town from Florida a few times before to find like-minded musicians to play with.
“A friend told me about him and said, `You two would get along.’ That he was already signed to a record label (Bar None) piqued my interest. And after I heard his demo tape, Kevin and I started hanging out.”
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The Surreal Life
– Rolling Stone, 2008-10-01
Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes is obsessed with Prince, suicide, and borrowing his wife's tights. Meet rock's newest damaged genius.
There are many things that Kevin Barnes' wife might prefer he not talk about. For instance, when she became pregnant a few years ago, the idea of becoming a father so terrified Barnes that he considered committing suicide. Or that after his daughter was born, his misbehavior on the road nearly destroyed their marriage. Or that he suffers from chronic depression, which he treats with the powerful antidepressant Cymbalta in a haphazard regimen. "I take it every three days or so," says the 34-year-old leader of the cult-fave psychedelic pop group Of Montreal. "I should probably take it more, but I kind of like that it messes up my mind. Every day is like a roller coaster — sometimes I feel really good, and sometimes I feel all tingly." Today is a Cymbalta day, which makes Barnes feel "introspective and weird." In the Athens, Georgia, band's industrial rehearsal space, downwind from a chicken-processing plant, Barnes stands quietly among his cheerful, PBR-drinking bandmates, with a purple Vitaminwater at his feet and a glossy Rickenbacker strapped to his slight frame. Dressed like Ziggy Stardust on a casual Friday — skintight red jeans, octagonal clear-frame sunglasses, a jaunty blue scarf adorned with tiny white stars — he absently noodles on "Day Tripper" before calling the song "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" from the band's new album, Skeletal Lamping (out October 21st). Three of his bandmates grab basses and pick out complex, strangely melodic lines as Barnes lets loose with an effects-heavy series of "ooh-ooh-oohs" that sound like Freddie Mercury on helium.
As with the last two Of Montreal records, Barnes recorded Skeletal Lamping (the title came to him after reading a Dylan Thomas poem) at home on his computer. An idea-packed pastiche inspired by Brian Wilson's SMiLE and Prince's Sign o' the Times, Lamping boosts the group's oddball pop with its polyperverse, sexed-up lyrics and kitchen-sink range — from hip-hop and disco to freaked-out soul and Stones-y blues. It arrives just a year after Barnes inadvertently introduced himself to the masses by allowing Outback Steakhouse to use his 2005 song "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" in its ads. (The Australian-themed chain added didgeridoo and changed the lyric "Let's pretend we don't exist/Let's pretend we're in Antarctica" to "Let's go Outback tonight/Life will still be here tomorrow.") "They told me it was just going to be a radio jingle," he says. "And of course it wasn't — it became the anthem of Outback Steakhouse. The reality is it's definitely not good to sell a song to a commercial, as far as allowing people to have their own memories of a song." Barnes posted an anguished essay, "Selling Out Isn't Possible," online, writing, "The pseudo-Nihilistic punk rockers of the '70s created an impossible code that no one can actually live by."
But looking back, Barnes says the fear that he'd damaged his credibility fueled Lamping's adventurous spirit. "I was like, 'If you're going to call me a phony, I'm going to prove that there's nothing about me motivated by record sales,'" he says. Take Georgie Fruit, a character Barnes introduced on Of Montreal's 2007 album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, and in whose voice he sings much of the new record. "He's an African-American man who was in an R&B band called Arousal in the Seventies," Barnes says. "They didn't go very far, and he ended up in prison, where he had a lot of weird experiences and decided to be a woman. So he had a sex change. He's very free — I think of him as a genderless superhuman, untouched by taboos or the boring parts of our culture." (Barnes is considering an Arousal "reissue" as a side project: "It would be totally fun." He's also working on an album with MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden under the name Blikk Fang.)
Of Montreal's live shows have evolved into over-the-top glam spectacles involving surreal props, whimsical sets and multiple costume changes — and, on one occasion, a fully nude Barnes performing against projected clips of Seventies gay porn. As the tours have grown increasingly baroque, Of Montreal have developed a reputation as kind of a Grateful Dead for arty, sexually ambiguous kids (plus David Byrne and Bono, who have both been spotted at gigs) who use the shows as an opportunity to dress up in hypercolorful garb, apply liberal amounts of makeup and glitter, and get supremely elevated on booze and drugs. In a few weeks, the band is heading off on its biggest tour yet, a theatrical production complete with elaborate costumes (drag, mythological creatures, giant kimonos), Madonna-size video screens and a cadre of "performance artists" who will act out choreographed scenes, including a brawl in a Deadwood-style saloon. "The inspiration is very Michel Gondry," Barnes says. "Or the kid in Rushmore that puts on those productions."
At rehearsal, Barnes' five bandmates appear to have been sent over from Indie-Rock Central Casting. Guitarist Bryan Poole has a Neil Young look involving bushy sideburns and an awesome tricked-out art project of a car (with a complicated back story about an artist friend's attempt to assemble a militia to capture a mysterious local known as the 8-Track Gorilla); bassist Davey Pierce lives in a garage next door among at least a dozen vintage mopeds in various states of operability; synth player Dottie Alexander sports a pink cheerleaderish skirt and polka-dot tights; and multi-instrumentalist Jamey Husband has an ascotlike scarf that recalls Fred's from Scooby-Doo. Rocking a cool straw hat and an unbuttoned cardigan without a shirt is drummer Ahmed Gallab, the latest addition. Gallab (who's been in town for less than a month and lives in the loft above the rehearsal space) emigrated from Sudan when he was a kid, and is eagerly waiting for rehearsal to stop so he can break his Ramadan fast. "There's two sides of Of Montreal," Barnes explains the next day. "There's the recorded music, which I've been predominantly doing myself. But the performing band is collaborative, and everyone is deeply invested emotionally and financially."
Barnes grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a well-off suburb of Detroit. "I listened to a lot of poodle rock," he says. "Mötley Crüe and Ratt were my favorite bands, and I covered my bedroom with pictures I cut out of Hit Parade and Circus." When he was 13, his parents — an accountant father (with dreams of becoming a stand-up comic) and teacher mother — bought him a black Pearl drum kit like Tommy Lee's. He formed his first band, Wit's End, singing and playing drums with a local kid named Mark Tremonti, who went on to become the guitarist in Creed. "Kevin was always a real talented guy," Tremonti recalls (the two haven't spoken since high school). "And he had a really cool voice and an artistic edge to him. Just to be able to write songs at that age was amazing. Our best song was 'Pull My Trigger.' It was pretty much a sex, drugs and rock & roll type of tune. You know, that Mötley Crüe thing. Dangerous lyrics. For a group of eighth-graders it was pretty edgy."
A year later, Barnes' father lost his job and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, to look for work, leaving Barnes with a profound feeling of uncertainty. He fell into his first major depression. "Things were fucked up, and I was getting into trouble at school," he says. "Even though I wanted to be a rebel, there was a part of me that was sweet and wanted to be accepted." (Tremonti remembers, "He didn't really adhere to authority — he was a guy who probably got in trouble more than the average kid.")
Barnes began suffering increasingly debilitating anxiety attacks, culminating in what he refers to as "a weird drug experience." "It was my birthday and my friends bought me all this pot," he says. "Maybe because I was still developing, I had this bizarre reaction where I totally lost my mind. I really thought I was dying. After that I became conscious of how vulnerable we are psychologically. I still feel touched by that experience, which used to bother me. Like, what the fuck is wrong with me — I still feel as crazy as I did when I was a teenager. But now I feel like it's good, like it fuels my creativity."
In Florida, Barnes made a crucial discovery — British Invasion rock, particularly the Beatles, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. "I was delivering pizzas, and I got The Kink Kronikles on vinyl," he says. "I put it on a cassette and listened until I wore it out." Playing along to an early Stones comp on guitar, Barnes taught himself chords, and by the time he finished school, he had released a collection of tunes on the influential indie label Bar/None. In search of a band, he headed to Athens after seeing the classic documentary Athens, GA. Inside/Out. "I was just dying to find like-minded people to play with," he says. "But I never thought in a million years that I would ever have a career in music — I was just a kid with a four-track recorder with no friends and no prospects."
Athens has two abiding passions: University of Georgia football and off-kilter art rock. Best known as the birthplace of R.E.M., Athens also nurtured freaked-out proto-alt bands such as the B-52s and Pylon, who exploded from acid-fueled UGA parties in the early Eighties. A decade later, when Barnes arrived fresh out of high school, a new scene was starting to take off — centered around a tight group of Beatles-and-analog-recording-obsessed indie bands that referred to themselves as the Elephant Six Collective. "It was just a great explosion of talent," Barnes says of his early years there. "Very bohemian, everyone living together, three or four people sleeping on the floor, everyone playing on each other's records. And there was the excitement of seeing Michael Stipe at a house party, wearing a straw hat, looking really cool. I'd be like, 'Oh, my God.'"
Until 2004's awesomely titled Satanic Panic in the Attic, the first Of Montreal record Barnes made by himself, the band was mainly inspired by the Elephant Six groups (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples in Stereo among them), whom Barnes befriended shortly after moving to town. "They were kind of like big brothers to me," he says. "I sort of worshipped them — like, God, they're making records and going on tour, they have a publicist, a booking agent, all these things." Living together in a series of communal houses, including a $400-a-month brick bungalow he shared with Neutral Milk leader Jeff Mangum ("It was a total party house — we had a skateboard quarter pipe in the living room and no heat"), Of Montreal cut several low-fi albums between day jobs. "We all wanted to sound like the Beatles," Barnes says. "And everyone was turning each other on to lost psychedelic classics — like someone would go on tour and discover, like, Os Mutantes or the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow and bring it back to the circle. Everyone would be really influenced by them."
Of Montreal's breakthrough, 2007's Hissing Fauna, veers from synthy electro pop to sun-splashed R&B inspired by psychedelic-soul great Shuggie Otis (name-checked on the standout "Faberge Falls for Shuggie"). On about half the songs, Barnes' vocals shift into a life-affirming falsetto — but the lyrics are more harrowing than groovy. Hissing Fauna's emotional center, "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse," finds Barnes singing, "I'm in a crisis/I need help/C'mon mood, shift back to good again . . . chemicals don't make me sick again."
Barnes met Nina Twin — a talented visual artist and musician — at a gig in Oslo in 2001. After a long-distance courtship, she moved to Athens and joined the band on bass. When she became pregnant in 2004, the couple moved to Nina's native Norway to take advantage of the Scandinavian nation's free health care. "The government actually pays you when you have a child," Barnes says. "So we said, 'Fuck it, let's put everything in storage, go to Norway and see what happens from there.'"
Barnes suffered the deepest depression of his adult life, becoming mired in anxiety, paranoia and persistent thoughts of suicide. (Heimdalsgate is the name of the street where they settled in Oslo.) "I was totally isolated, totally broke, we were couch surfing, and I had never imagined myself a father. I found the concept of having a child terrifying, and it is terrifying. There was so much terror in my mind. It was so much easier to live in a dream state where all I had to worry about was myself." And as scary as the pressures of fatherhood were, the fear that he'd have to give up music was worse. "We had been a band for seven years, but never had any commercial success," Barnes says. "But the thing that motivated me wasn't praise or acclaim — it was the process of creation. So there was no reason for me to stop making music, until there was the idea that, fuck, if I have a kid . . . I'll have to stop fuckin' around and take care of my kid."
Encouraged by their booking agent, the couple returned to the U.S. to launch a tour behind the surprisingly popular Satanic Panic. After an attempt to bring their daughter, Alabee, on the road failed, the tour continued without Nina — who became increasingly resentful of being left behind. "Understandably so," Barnes says. "Taking care of a baby is nowhere near as much fun as going on tour."
With Nina at home, and fueled by champagne and antidepressants, Barnes began bringing his glam superqueen live-show persona to the afterparties. "I think the medication allowed him to function, but it also caused his psyche to become more disassociated from feelings like empathy — especially when alcohol is involved," says guitarist Poole, who records his own psychedelic side project as the Late BP Helium. "He'd do stuff like come up to you and stick his hand down your pants and start jerking off your dick. Or, like, try to make out with you, or take all his clothes off and just start walking around at parties."
Nina and Alabee moved back to Norway, and for half a year Barnes went on without them. But then something clicked inside. "I was looking for another Nina, in a way," he says. "But I realized what I had with her was so special. And I was missing Alabee a lot. My whole life I've been sort of detached emotionally, but with Alabee I understand true love. When I'd go visit them in Norway, Alabee would stand at the windowsill and cry because she wanted to see me. That's when you realize you need to be there for your child, because she needs you, she loves you. And you can't take that lightly."
For now, Barnes and Nina seem happy. They just bought a chic, modern, three-bedroom house in the leafy Athens neighborhood of Five Points, separated from the neighbors by tall, shady trees and a long driveway. The sun-soaked rooms feel homey and somehow Scandinavian, accessorized with high-end kitchen gear, an upright piano, framed expanses of cheery Marimekko fabric, Nina's artwork and shelves full of tasteful books (spotted: Portnoy's Complaint, Gravity's Rainbow, Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Dave Eggers' What Is the What).
Barnes' mom lives in a house next door and helps out with Alabee. When he's not making music, Barnes spends a lot of time in front of his new flatscreen TV, watching NFL games. "When I was a kid, like in high school and stuff, I felt very feminine," he says. "But I'm also very athletic, very into sports. I read ESPN magazine. I watch SportsCenter all the time. I'm a big Cleveland Browns and Indians fan."
Sitting on his big new patio as the sun sets, with Nina puttering around in an embroidered housedress, Barnes seems relaxed. His sunglasses are off, revealing sleepy, vulnerable eyes. But the couple's hard-won contentment could be shaken in a couple of weeks, when Of Montreal hit the road again for a yearlong tour. "I'm not always a very attentive husband," Barnes admits. "And there's no way I could be with Alabee all the time and never do anything in the adult world. Nina's a lot like me — it's hard for her to have a three-year-old as her only companion. But she's going to be performing the first four or five shows, and I'm excited. Hope springs eternal."
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
OK, so it's been a while, but my head's been threatening to explode from over-stimulation. We're in Tokyo, and it's our last day in Japan. We've really ran the gamut over here--playing everything from a big outdoor festival in Kyoto, to a little club show in Nagoya (we really went nuts at that one--Kevin perfected his new concept make-up of "nose liner" and we performed a 15 minute noise jam while he danced around in my tights and underwear), to the hip Shibuya show in Tokyo. It's been a simultaniously amazing and humbling experience, and I have mixed feelings about leaving. Tonight we're playing a late night unplugged show (easy night for me) and we have most of the day free. I'm off to find some weird Adidas, cause man, they got em.
I'll check in from the States. Peace on yo mothas! Dot
PS the main shopping street in Harajiku is called "Takeshita"
Saturday, October 08, 2005
I feel like Ralph Machio
So things have been crazy, sexy cool thus far!! Our first show was unexpectly fun--we played a live show on Japanese national radio opening for Robyn Hitchcock, who ended up inviting Jamey to play drums with him for most of his set!! We all ended up going out for food and drinks in this hillarious posse and got many pointers from Robyn, who I hereby declare to be the coolest guy in the biz. There seems to be a certain solidarity amoung westerners abroad over here with everyone sharing in the wonder of discovering Japan.
Currently we are in Fukuoka, which is on a southern island, staying at our friend Sakamoto's parents' house. It's really interesting to be in a traditional Japanese home--every inch of the place is full of strange antiques, shrines to the ancestors, glass cases full of what appears to be samuri weapons, etc. His family is incredibly gracious (we just had a hardy breakfast of miso soup and salad) and we're trying our best to be polite and inoffensive. :)
So, we're off to enjoy our "relax day". We finally get to play again tomorrow. I'll let y'all know how that goes.
Much love, Dot
Hello hello, one and all!! Not much to blog about these days, as we are all on vacation at the moment. Everyone's scattered off to the four corners (well, three actually) of the globe to enjoy some much needed R&R. (I'm in Cali, Kev's in Oslo, Jamey's in Stockholm, BP's in Berlin, and Matt and Dan are holding down the fort in Athens). However, there's no rest for our wicked wicked booking agent who's been busy making plans for our summer. The big news is LOLLAPALOOZA! As a child of the 90's, this is about the weirdest thing I can think of doing this August. The lineup is really cool, and although I don't harbor any illusions of hanging out with Kanye (I'm sure they'll require that indie bands keep a 50 foot radius away from any actual "stars") it should be quite interesting to share a bill with the rich and fabulous. We'll be doing a short tour around the festival as well--dates are posted below.
Also, we're playing at the wedding of Derek Pressnal and Jamie Williams, our dear friends of Tilly and the Wall fame. They got engaged onstage at the last show of our tour together, so we're really happy to get to take part in their special day. (That sounded like a greeting card, I know, but something about those kids brings out the sweetheart in me.)
So, there's a blog. Hope you're all doing well--sometimes it's a difficult adjustment settling into "normal" life after a big-ass tour, and your messages and comments really brighten my days, so keep em coming!!
With much love and blogginess, Dottie
i was informed over sushi recently that my friend's totem creature was the spider. mine is most definitely not the snake. i have a recurring dream that i'm being attacked by snakes or at least one snake. last night i dreamed i was attacked by a really fucked up looking one that appeared almost as if it had just been run over by a large wheel or stepped on by a giant foot or something. it chased me around the pier i found myself on and eventually bit deeply into my neck. i had to tear the jaw off it's body in order to escape. i discovered that i had it's fangs inside my mouth and all of it's venom was running down my chin and down my throat. i find the more i drink the more violent my dreams become. sometimes i want to drink enough to find my way back to zero. zero is hot magic! the number 11 is supposed to be magic too. delmore claims that in dreams begin responsibilities and denton affirms that in youth is pleasure. i'm reading a great novel titled a man without qualities. i hope tonight i dream that i am a one of a kind sea denizon that is so respected even the tiger sharks know to stay the fuck back! i'll just float around eating sea wreaths and listening to my echoplex.
i'm really loving the Love Is All album "9 times that same song". i especially love the song "make out. fall out. make up." i've also rediscovered Michael Jackson's Thriller. it comes with some cool new bonus stuff like a demo version of billy jean. PYT is so nice, like morris day's mansion. i love the album cover. i want to rip it off someday. anyone have a really cute and stoned little tiger cub they'd let me borrow?
these are the bands that make loving fun, fiery furnaces, animal collective, deerhoof, caribou, four tet, loney dear, the knife, tv on the radio, mgmt, peter bjorn and john, lilly allen...god there's so much great music being made right now. it's insane!
i'm reading The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. it's scary the parallels between the main character's personality and my own. sometimes the best way to see yourself is through the mind of a fictional character. if that makes sense.
what have you, dear friends, been reading/listening to?
i woke up at 4p.m. in new orleans after a long night /day of weird dreams. nothing new. i tried to find out what channel was going to show the NFL championship games until i realized that today is saturday. i wandered into the venue and was happy to see that the stage was a decent size and that we were going to be able to do the full production tonight. i was also psyched that the green room was nice and that we had our own bathroom. a touch of class. i went on a hunt for a coffee house and of course the only one around was a starbucks. to my chagrin they closed at 3 so i looked for some food instead. on the recommendation of this bartender at a hotel bar i went to a cajun restaurant around the corner. on the way i discovered this really cool architectural object and took a bunch of photos of it for my film project. i sat down in the restaurant and quickly became self conscious. i hate that feeling. i wished i had "the wind up bird chronicles" with me or, at the very least, my mobile phone. reproaching myself, i overcame that pathetic little feeling and just sat there and analyzed last night's dreams. i have this recurring dream about being in a house possessed by an evil invisible force. probably an extension of the effects of my catholic upbringing. so many of my weird superstitions can be blamed on that.
hawk and a hacksaw's performance was rad as usual. it's amazing to hear sounds like that. so different from what you expect to hear at a rock venue. so inspiring.
our show was a lot of fun. the highlights for me were the debut of the three headed tiger bull and the first live performance of "the past is a grotesque animal". the low point was when a group of misguided creeps chanted "steak,steak, steak" after we played "wraith pinned to the mist". it just proves,no matter how much you want to add something positive to the world, there will always be people who try to bring you down. not to say our selling of a song to a corporate steak house was something positive, but sometimes you have to suck a little dick to get by. that's just a hard fact of life. but really, of all the evil organizations out there, it's hard to imagine the thought process behind heckling of Montreal. oh well.
still working out the kinks in the visuals but some progress was made from last night in memphis. i should mention that, in memphis, all of these super cute kids from little rock made the drive to see us and they brought us a bunch of hats, in response to my song "little rock". made me feel like a jerk for writing the song but they were good natured about it.
after the new orleans show, the venue quickly transformed into a dance club catering to the worst of the CK1 set. i felt like an alien so i went and hid in the bus.
after awhile i got bored and peeked my head out to discover these three indie kids hanging around so i began talking to them. they were very cool so we decided to go run around bourbon street together. i'm not the biggest fan of that scene but it's kind of cool to check it out every once and a while. lots of crazy drunk retards from the suburbs and sleazy characters. we did run into a bunch of kids that we're at the show and our entourage grew in number. we crashed this hotel party we heard about only to discover no party at all, just a couple sleeping on a fold out bed. we took the parade to a bar called one eyed jacks and had a gin and tonic. nothing too exciting. michael called and said we had to go back to the bus so the evening ended without climax.
when our new friends dropped us back off at the bus, one of them confronted me about my song "gronlandic edit". being a christian, he was offended by the song's apparent dismissal of all religion as a haven for the delusional and pathetic. it made me realize the strange and unpredictable nature of belief. it's so bizarre how an idea can seem so real for one person and impossible for another. i have nothing against religions as long as they don't foster negativity and division. i told him as much and he seemed satisfied.
so i jumped bak on the horse and we drove for twelve hours to san antonio through an intense rain shower.
is it bizarre that, without question,more music is being made in the name of the dance now than since the Reagan/Thatcher epoch? i have to wonder,what is it about conservative politics that gets us all moving our feet? The obvious answer must be, we're dancing to forget. We're dancing to forget Islamic extremists, we're dancing to forget global warming, we're dancing to forget the new cold war lurking on the horizon, we're dancing to forget the war in Iraq, we're dancing to forget George W and Cheney, we're dancing to forget Don Henley...
My question is this, when will we get to dance in celebration again? I guess in 2012 it will all become clearer.
i think it is very bad for an artist to have a desire to be liked. it is also bad for an artist to want to be disliked. although, from an audience members perspective, both have there potential upsides. for example, the average Barbara Streisand fan is not going to want to be verbally abused by Babs at a concert, but, a G.G.Allen fan would've been seriously disappointed if that legendary figure wouldn't have, at the very least, thrown a little of his own shit on to the crowd. But did G.G. throw his shit on to the crowd in an attempt to be liked or in an attempt to be disliked? Who knows? Not the shit, that's for sure. But performing and writing/recording are very different things. Most songwriters aren't going to allow themselves to present their personalities/public persona in an unflattering way. Most songwriters try to release their songs in an attempt to be noticed and to be loved, probably, and, since it is a big deal to release an album and a great opportunity for a writer to express the things they feel the need to express, it's not surprising that most writers rarely display a side of their personality that isn't somewhat likable or flattering. I think it's a shame because, most of us, can relate to that unflattering side of humanity. We can identify with, or at least are fascinated by, the socially damaging attributes inherent in all of us.
An example of a writer who faced these subjects head on is, Jean Genet. I am fascinated by his writings. His portrayal of the criminal and the profane is wonderful. The thing is, Genet was a criminal before discovering his calling as a writer and, if he would have never written anything down, or at least never have gotten published, he probably would have remained a criminal until his death and would have been forgotten forever. As it is, though, he is a celebrated writer and an inspiration for many other great writers, like W Burroughs, J Kerouac, M Foucault...What's my point again? Um...oh yeah, i think more pop songwriters should write about the regrettable aspects of the human mind. We shouldn't be afraid of looking ugly or terrifying. The funny thing is,in hip-hop at least, writers are already doing just that. But the difference is, they are portraying themselves in an ugly way unintentionally. They don't realize that bragging about how much money you make and how much pussy you get and how many people you have killed is not endearing. Maybe they do realize it and they just don't give a fuck. They want to brag cause it feels good to brag. It feels good to let the ego rage. I'm sure it does feel good. In fact, I can say from experience that it does feel good, because I am doing it myself on my new album. Ha.
Actually, that is what this rant is all about. I am exploring the dark and gloriously detestable sides of my consciousness. A lot of the people I've played the new songs for have been confused. I'm probably going to lose some fans but I don't care. I don't care because, I'm enjoying myself. I don't care because, I'm following the organic path of my muse, or whatever. Most of all I don't care because, the indie rock world is too polite and likable and I feel it needs the drunken uncle to show up, uninvited, to the birthday party and vomit on the couch. Not every year of course, but at least once in a while.
Category: Food and Restaurants
in honor of the 10th anniversary of the release of one of my favorite and most cherished albums of all time, Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea", i'd like to say a few words
i view that album as a high water mark in music. it's amazing that such a classic and important record could remain as, somewhat, underground as it has. in a way, it's great that it has, cause it has enabled everyone who has fallen under it's spell, to feel a special, personal connection with it. the songs penetrate the fog of my mind in such an uncommon way. i have been moved to tears at NMH shows. i can't say that that has ever happened before or since. i found myself crying, uncontrollably, and I couldn't make sense of it. after thinking about it later, i decided that it must have just been my body reacting to this beautiful force that was wrapping itself all around and inside of me. it was the only way, my poor little vessel, could respond to this insane, but benevolent, energy that completely had it's way with me.
the greatest aspect of the songs on ITAOTS, is that, though they are full of pain and confusion and passion and madness, they never seem self pitying or self indulgent. they never become pedestrian.
i feel that, jeff mangum's voice on that record, was a portal through which, the animal agony and maniac joy of the universal human spirit, found amplification.
what do you have to say? let's all share our NMH stories.
i've finished the new album. i've been working on it for over a year. it's mastered and ready to go.
it won't come out till october though. i am very happy with it. i worry that some people are going to misunderstand it. there's nothing i can do about that though, now, it is done. anyways,i didn't create it to give people something to like. i created it because i was compelled to.
it is possible to view this album as one long composition, with lots of different movements, or just as a collection of pop songs. i wanted to make an album that was unpredictable and, at times,startling, yet always hummable and catchy. some of the transitions are intentionally awkward. i did this to keep the listener off guard and to dismantle people's perception of how an album is supposed to be constructed. i am so bored with art that makes sense and "works". i wanted to do somethings that didn't "work". very few things pique our interest while they are working as we expect them to, things are far more interesting when they are not working. shocking people though, just for the sake of it, is so mundane. nothing on Skeletal Lamping was intended to shock. i just feel that,in most contemporary songs, you can basically finish the artist's sentences,musically and lyrically. i wanted to make an album where that was not possible.
i wanted to make a record that could truly surprise a listener. to create something that was, in turns, enraging,joyous,discomforting,playful,lovely,unpleasant,freaky,mesmeric...something that came close to capturing the labyrinthine complexity of this human consciousness.
i spend most of my time in a state of mild confusion and pensiveness. i imagine most people do too. this record is my attempt to bring all of my puzzling,contradicting,disturbing,humorous...fantasies,ruminations and observations to the surface, so that i can better dissect and understand their reason for being in my head. hence the title, Skeletal Lamping. Lamping is the name of a rather dreadful hunting technique where, hunters go into the forest at night,
flood an area in light, then shoot,or capture,the animals as they panic and run from their hiding places.
this album is my attempt at doing this to my proverbial skeletons. i haven't yet decided if i should shoot or just capture them though.