Friday, February 19, 2010

2010-01-25 - Express Night Out

On His Toes: James Huggins III on Of Montreal, James Husband

YOU MIGHT HAVE been surprised when — seemingly out of nowhere — Of Montreal announced new tour dates on Jan. 7. So was James Huggins III, the group's de facto drummer.

"It was announced online on the Polyvinyl Records Web site and Of Montreal Web site the night we were asked if we could do it," said Huggins, who will also open all the shows (including stops in Baltimore and D.C. this week) under the moniker James Husband. "I actually had no idea I'd be doing these Husband shows. I thought I'd have until March. So for me it's like scrambling to get it together."

This included assembling a backing band and rehearsing, which when we spoke to Huggins on the afternoon of Jan. 15, his band had yet to do.

Such is the life of a musician working for Kevin Barnes.

of Montreal

"It's incredibly frustrating," Huggins said of his boss, the enigmatic of Montreal mastermind. "He just doesn't work at the pace, or the schedule, or the sort of hours of operation, or linear mental process of anyone else on earth.

"He is so singularly devoted to this one thing that it's not, in his mind, unreasonable to call me at 5:30 a.m. and ask me if I've heard that rare Curtis Mayfield track from 1973 and do I think I can make a drum sound like that. And this is after having not spoken for a week," he continued. "He's only focused on making the album and that's what he does every night, and he's a super, super night owl. He wakes up when the sun sets and goes to sleep when it rises."

Additionally, the indie poppers had only rehearsed once for this tour at that point. For a band that spent most of 2009 on the road, it normally wouldn't matter, but Of Montreal live shows are far from normal. The 2008-2009 "Skeletal Lamping" tour saw David Barnes, Kevin's brother, creating the group's most elaborate stage setup yet, with moving set pieces, costume changes, actors and — at one show in New York — Barnes riding a white horse.

Barnes recently decided he wants to eliminate all pre-recorded backing tracks from the theatrical live show — telling Stereogum earlier this month that he'd like to have a massive 10-person band. For now, the group remains six members deep, but this tour will be the first without backing tracks, which means Huggins — who usually spends about half the show on drums and the rest on keyboards, synthesizers, guitar and bass — will stay at his kit for most of the show.

"I think were going to try to do all the 'Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?,' 'Skeletal Lamping', 'Sunlandic Twins' hits, but without any of the backing drum tracks so it's going to be a stripped-down-rock approach," he said. "It's something I've done before, but a lot of those songs have such complex multi-layered electronic sounds on them, and that's kind of the personality of doing them live. ... We've only tried it one day and so far a lot of the songs I do the big keyboard leads on — [like "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"], that's the song where I play the main big part, and its not even there — I'm playing the drums. It doesn't sound as weird as you think. We did it once and we were all just looking at each other like, 'Shit, that was fun,' so it will be what it is.

"It's kind of like: take a deep breath and hang on to your hat because this is the last hurrah," he added.

Huggins seems to be anticipating quite the shift once Barnes finishes Of Montreal's 10th album, which should come out later this year. As Huggins mentioned earlier, Barnes takes a very insular approach when recording, often composing and recording most of an album's parts by himself. This time, though, he may open himself up to another voice as he plans to mix the album with acclaimed producer Jon Brion.

"It sounds very similar to 'Skeletal Lamping,'" Huggins said of what he's heard of the record. "It sounds kind of like Part B of that or something, and there are definitely some differences ... Hopefully the fidelity will be a little bit different because the Jon Brion thing is happening, as far as we know, so it will be one different layer to the mixing. It will just be super hi-fi, plus he's going to have just different ears. [Kevin] wouldn't let any of us mix the record, but for someone like that I think he's going to try to relinquish some control."

The album also features guest appearances by Janelle Monae and Beyonce's sister Solange — both of which sing on songs Barnes originally wrote for them, but were too weird, so they became Of Montreal songs.

For now, Huggins is still focused on James Husband's first album, "A Parallaxi I," which was released in October. It's Huggin's first solo album — a collection of 10 years of recording that's finally seeing the light of day.

"I looked at them as sort of like a photo-scrapbook — 'Ohh, there's me in 2001 on New Year's Eve; there's me in 2006, the summer, beach house' — musical kind of snapshots of different times," Huggins said.

Despite the breadth of material, the album's startlingly cohesive. Only Huggins himself could distinguish his 23-year-old voice from his 30-year-old voice. There's shades of Huggins' work in various Elephant 6 groups — the Athens, Ga., musical collective that spawned Of Montreal and The Apples in Stereo. The album's more stripped down and lo-fi than of Montreal's recent work, with added psychedelic flourishes and quirky guitar parts.

Huggins describes his sound best, though, via a covers EP included with the album.

"If you want to say [my album] kind of sounds like The Beatles if they had listened to Guided by Voices and maybe a little bit of Gary Numan, well, you're absolutely right," Huggins added. "It was kind of like wearing my influences on my sleeve."

Express had Huggins take us through the EP's six tracks, which yielded some interesting stories about a bad break-up, beef with Jens Lekman and Huggins literally going out of his mind.

"My Shadow in Vain" (Gary Numan)
Well, I didn't discover Tubeway Army until maybe three years ago, and the only record that I had was "Replicas," which I guess many people consider to be the classical definitive Gary Numan work — and actually, there's a lot of songs on that record that I like better then this. I attempted this version of "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and I was happy with it but I lost ... I told you we had this machine at some point of misguided recording approaches, between our super-analog devotion and, like, discovering Mac-based recording software, we had this mid/late '90s digital eight-track and it took these little MiniDiscs, so I recorded the Gary Numan cover on the MiniDisc and — I don't know, Kevin can't tell me where it went, I don't know where it went — so I lost the machine. All the years in Of Montreal, you don't understand the amount of gear we've amassed and stored. So now I have the little MiniDisc but I could never find anyone who could play it.

So I happened to be in Sweden working on some other songs and I came across "My Shadow in Vain," because it just happened to be the only one my friend had in his studio. So I went, "Well, I really wanted to do that ["Are 'Friends' Electric?"] but I didn't have access to it and for some reason I never bothered to go and download or buy it — it all happened very quickly — so I decided kind of last minute I'll do ["My Shadow in Vain"]. It's interesting because I never really thought, "Hey, that's a song I really want to do because I love it." It kind of just happened to be like what we were going to work on that afternoon and we just recorded the Guided by Voices covers the day before. So I think I was still in the Guided by Voices kind of mood so I think that the way I sing the Gary Numan song was kind of like me doing Gary Numan as if they were Bob Pollard.

"Buzzards and Dreadful Crows" (Guided by Voices)
"Indian Fables" (Guided by Voices)
Part of the reason why I did those two in particular — and why I did the whole cover thing in the first place — was a pre-emptive shield against criticism of derivative influences. To me, it's like if you listen to my record and you think, "OK, he's got all these crazy chord changes, it's kind of lo-fi, he likes the thing with doubled vocals with delay on it — obviously he listens to "Bee Thousand" a lot.

James HusbandI was kind of saying by putting these out there, "If you're trying to guess my influences — here they are." This is a road map, so if you want to say it kind of sounds like The Beatles if they had listened to Guided by Voices and maybe a little bit of Gary Numan, well, you're absolutely right. It was kind of like wearing my influences on my sleeve. Certainly I did listen to a lot of Guided by Voices and I'm sure they have influenced me but the thing I like to believe — and maybe I'm repressing it — but I really do think that it's more coincidental the way that I record. I feel like it's kind of like you know how there's that big band now that everyone's talking about because they're super Top 40? They're called Owl City and everyone says he sounds like the Postal Service and he claims he didn't even listen to Postal Service. Part of me likes to think there are such coincidences where what I do happens to be similar to what he does but I'm not going to say that I'm ignorant to it. To me it's a compliment. Nobody's said that it's a negative thing.

"What You're Doin'" (The Beatles)
"We Can Work It Out" (The Beatles)
Both of them were me trying to use Paul McCartney's words to win back an ex-girlfriend who had left me and I couldn't write any songs. So I listened to both of those and said, "That's exactly what I want to say," so I recorded them specifically for her, sent them to her, then decided to use them later, but they were never meant for anyone else's ears but her. The "We Can Work It Out," I changed the lyrics — I didn't even notice it until I mixed it. In the first line of the chorus I sing, "Life is very strange," and they say, "Life is very short." I don't know why I said it but when I realized the mistake I said, "Well, I guess that's why they call it a cover version" and kept it.

["What You're Doin'" has] an interesting kind of story, too. When I recorded it — and still to this day — it's not a well known Beatles song, and when I recorded it about seven years ago it was before the reissues, that was before the "Love" project and all that, and even back then almost no one knew it. You could call yourself a big Beatles fan and not know that track, so whenever I'd play it people would think it's mine. So much so that I played it for a Swedish friend of mine and she played it for her friend and I get this e-mail four or five years ago from what I think is this girl — this is before I'd spent any time in Sweden — from this girl Jens — I thought it was Jennifer or something — saying, "Can I use part of your song to sample for a drum beat?" And I was thinking they were going to take that little [vocalizes opening drum beat].

So it turns out I said "Yes, but just make sure you give me credit and if this recording comes out that you give me copies and let me know," thinking it was this kid that was doing home demos. Turns out it was Jens Lekman. He used it, he released it and sampled the entire first part of me playing everything — took my guitar, bass, keyboards — and he released it on that record ["You Are the Light"] and it's called ["I Saw Her in the Anti-War Demonstration"]. He took the entire first verse, sampled it and just wrote his own song on top of it thinking he stole it from this unknown American and it turns out he had no idea it was a Beatles song. When I finally confronted him in Sweden I saw him, came up to him, I was like, "Hey, man, what the fuck? You didn't call me, you didn't credit me and are you aware that you're not taking my copyright, you're taking Paul McCartney's?" And he was like "What? No." He was really awkward, almost like he didn't believe me.

Since then I've had two more confrontations with him and I just gave up. I contacted his record label, I tried to ask — it wasn't like I was going to sue him, I just wanted credit. To this day people hear my song and say, "Oh, you're ripping off Jens Lekman." It was something I was really upset about a couple years ago because I was trying to get the record released and I didn't have any momentum and it was the peak of him becoming this indie darling and I was like, "C'mon man, just do me a favor, put me on the Web site." I even asked him [if I could] open some shows or something. I don't know — he's a weird dude. Not that I'm trying to spread bad blood but that is the true story.

"Out of My Mind" (Neil Young)
I tried to make it sound like you were listening to a crackly 45 in the '60s. The thing is that was true inspired madness. I was going through a heavy-duty winter time depression in between living in Sweden and coming home for the first time for Christmas after having lived there, and I took all this recording [equipment] to my grandmother's house in south Georgia, the middle of nowhere. And when I say my grandmother's house, she's not with us, it's just the house she owned, it's in Buena Vista. So I proceeded to just get ragingly drunk and spent six or seven days holed up in this house and I mean not even leaving the house. I got groceries, I got booze, I got recording equipment — I borrowed mics and cables from the church — like, raided the church — went into the church drunk late at night and was playing the piano. I was out of my mind — literally — and I was listening to all sorts of different shit and that song came on and I was like, "That is it! That is it!" And I decided to make it sound as old and washed out as possible and when I sang it I was wasted — I mean barely standing up — and I was genuinely singing. I felt like I was in a very fucked up place and it came out with a lot of emotion, so there you go.

2010-01-04 - Stereogum

January 4, 2010
Progress Report: of Montreal

[Progress Report] Every week or so, Jessica Suarez's Progress Report updates you on what your favorite bands have been doing. Or not doing.
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NAME: of Montreal
PROGRESS REPORT: Prepping False Priest ("I'm back and forth between The Controller Sphere, and False Priest") the followup to Skeletal Lamping, out sometime in August or September. Engineered by Jon Brion (probably). Featuring cameos from Solange Knowles, Janelle Monae and "one or two other people..."

The anticipated new of Montreal album may or may not be complete. Kevin Barnes says it all depends on how some upcoming sessions with Jon Brion work out. Barnes, who's always worked at home, alone, will meet up with Brion in early spring to work on the 16 songs that will likely make the new record. "If I wasn't going to go out there with Jon then they'd basically be done. They could be done. If I go out there with Jon and we both decide it's not working or whatever, I'll still have an album. And if I go out there and figure this is really great, then I'll have a different album," he says. Either way, the album won't be Skeletal Lamping over again. Barnes says the band is using this break to rethink their live performances, and have made an album that accommodates that. His plans are ambitious: he'd like to get rid of of Montreal's pre-recorded backing tracks, and round out the band line-up to ten or so musicians. "We're going to try to do something closer to the kind of bands that Curtis Mayfield or Stevie Wonder had in the '70s," says Barnes.

That goal has guided his songwriting process for the new record. Like Apples In Stereo's Robert Schneider, Barnes has been turning to '70s funk and R&B for some inspiration. Part of it is presentation: Barnes sees the new line-up as something like an of Montreal version of Parliament -- to be a band "...that's wild and freaky and has a theatrical element" but that also remains fun and danceable. Never mind that of Montreal's already freaky and theatrical. When you tour as much as they did over the last year or so, Barnes says, you become too practiced to need practice, and performing becomes too easy. But the other part is songwriting. Barnes says he likes to hang album covers up around his studio to provide a little encouragement while he's trying to write. He'll work on lyrics while on tour, but he uses his home studio to write and record. "...And I'll look at them because it kind of fills me with their spirit in a way," he says. Right now he's got covers up from Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and George Clinton (this is his favorite right now). He's also been writing and recording a few songs while drunk, for the first time in of Montreal's history: "Imagine me in my little studio and drunk, by myself! Some of the stuff is wild and bizarre and terrible. And some of it is wild and bizarre and kind of good."

In many ways Barnes' songwriting methods are consistent, even through the big shifts in the band's discography. He says he likes to write lyrics directed inwards, as if he's having a conversation with himself, or he likes to create characters that he can talk to within the lyrics. He still loves to work in fragments, because he gets excited about one melody or chorus but then quickly drops it for another piece. "I can't really have 40 30-second songs, so [I think] 'Let's just put these three together and have one three minute song,' and it's really schizo and weird. But it's fun, because that's the kind of music I like," Barnes explains. That may also explain why he'd like to work with Brion. For Barnes, songwriting is a "weird compulsion" and a "temporary pleasure." He doesn't like to listen back to songs once he's finished recording. So all the other stuff -- mixing, mastering --just isn't as easy for him. "I sent [Brion] some of the rough mixes from the new songs. And he was saying, 'Yeah, I can hear what you're doing with this, I can hear the idea, and I can help you realize your vision more than you have. Because right now it's a little murky," Barnes says. No matter what happens, Barnes is satisfied with the work he's put in: "Whatever we do here, if it's better, we'll keep it. If it's not, we won't," he says. "It's a win-win situation."

Oh, and Beyonce hasn't called Barnes, yet: "Maybe it will happen. I'd love to do it, it would be a fun experience. It's just something she dropped and hasn't really developed. I wonder about it, too, because I don't know how good I am at writing songs for other people. When I heard that she said that, I thought, 'Oh, I should try to get something going.' I started writing this song, and then next thing I know, it's so weird that she would never in a million years listen to it, let alone record it! It's a challenge for me."

2010-02-03 - Brightest Young Things

BYT Interview: Of Montreal and James Husband’s Jamey Huggins
February 2, 2010 by Phelps

The coveted opening slot for Of Montreal’s recently announced tour has gone to none other than their own drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jamey Huggins and his solo project, James Husband. Night in and night out, 12 years strong, Jamey has performed amongst the absurdity of an OM show, hopping from instrument to instrument while dodging masked villains and the occasional celebrity. His own work has him skewing towards traditional pop structure albeit with more instruments than a marching band and we caught up with him at the top of the 930 Club before OM’s show last Thursday. As easygoing a guy as you’ll find, James enlightened over afternoon tea us with tales of the conception of his album, near death Bonnaroo experiences and what must be one of the coolest neighborhoods in Athens.


BYT: So this tour was booked a couple of weeks in advance of the first date right? Were you guys scrambling to get it all together as far as each band, and the theatrics of it all?

JH: I guess we practiced about 6 days with both bands doing double rehearsals… it all came about very suddenly.

BYT: So, with your band, are there other people from Of Montreal playing as well?

JH: Yea, it’s 6 people traveling with me and 3 of us are in Of Montreal, and at various times during the show we have pretty much the whole band up there, a little help from the rest of the members. There really is no solid lineup, it’s just that I made a record and I’m lucky to have my friends that I collaborate with WANT to do it, you know? So, I had to reach out to a few other people to come along and kinda fill out the sound, like I have a cellist, and I have a singer that’s sort of being my double cause on the record I do usually 2 or 3 or 4 voices on the song. So, fortunately I got this guy who can sing very similar to me and he’s kind of being my double. But yea, for the most part it IS Of Montreal, and the two sets are very much like a family thing. The only real distinction between the two are obviously the material and there’ll be a lot more freaky costumery and stuff like that for the OM set. It’s fun for us to get to do kind of 2 sides of the coin, especially for me because on this tour, the whole tour, I’m exclusively playing drums in Of Montreal where as for the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been expanding my little arsenal of instruments to where I was up to like 6 or 7 different instruments I was running around to between 3 different stations and tonight I am just glued to the drum seat for the entire like 90 minutes or whatever. It’s physically exhausting, but it’s fun for me to get to play the songs in a different way cause all of the Georgie Fruit, over-the-top, drum programmed dance beats of the last few records are now being re-translated into just a straight up rock song. I’m still attempting to do some of those beats but most of them are inhuman so we’ve kind of distilled the songs and it’s all just guitar rock tonight. It’s gonna be a little bit different renditions of all that material.

BYT: You talked about the theatrics and the costumes which are a huge part of any OM but may not be typical of your set. Are both sets a blast for you?

JH: I mean, for the most part I’m oblivious to that because while it’s definitely going on around me I have so much to concentrate on that every once in a while, if they’re doing something really close to me I’ll kind of get distracted or if I hear the crowd react to something I’ll look up, “what was it?!” Like, the Susan Sarandon thing, I missed it! And I knew it was gonna happen, but I hadn’t met her before the show. Everyone else had been hangin out with her before the show and talking about what they were gonna do but since I was stressed out about getting my own shit together, I just wasn’t sure if it was happening or not. I was looking down, playing through a song, and I look up and see her walking past my drums to go offstage and I kinda looked at her, and it was just liked I missed the whole thing. Now I’ve only watched it on Youtube. But I have very little to do with all that, I just play the songs and they have a whole bunch of costumes and stuff, some of it I don’t even know what it is they’ve done, but, hopefully it’s entertaining.

JamesHusband_012810_0080 JamesHusband_012810_0109 JamesHusband_012810_0079

BYT: You guys started in Athens, are you still living there? Didn’t you live in Sweden for a while?

JH: Yea I just moved back to Athens this past summer so I’ve been there, about, I don’t know 7 months? Since like July or something? And I lived there for almost 8 or 9 years before that, and the whole Sweden time was just kind of over the course of about 3 years. Every time we were not on tour, instead of coming home I just went there because I had a girlfriend there, I had a studio there, I had an apartment there. I temporarily adopted it as, well you know, I thought I was gonna be this expatriate and had all these ideas that I was gonna BE Scandanavian but the truth is I’m too much of a Georgia boy and it didn’t last as long as I might’ve thought. I still love it there, I have a lot of Swedish connections, but now I’m firmly back in the US and living in Athens.

BYT: Is that where you’re from?

JH: No but I’m from Atlanta and it’s an hour away so I was born and raised in Georgia.

BYT: So this album was recorded some there, and some…

JH: About half and half…

BYT: Over the course of years, and geographically and time-wise, what made you decide that “OK, I have something cohesive enough for me to put out this record?”

JH: I didn’t though, that’s the thing. It was never intended to be an album of specific tracks and there’s this misconception when I hear people say ‘Oh, it took 10 years,’ it’s not that it TOOK 10 years, like it was slaved over, it’s just more that after a lot of time had passed, a certain sequence of events fell into place where it made sense to actually do something with it. I’d been spending all this time recording and not having any kind of home for it. I’d put out the random single here or there or online or something, and eventually it was Kevin (Barnes) who insisted that I take it more seriously. He was like, or I think I was playing him a new song, and he’s like “What the fuck happened to that last one that was so great?” and I was like “I don’t know” so he’s like “Why aren’t you putting this shit out?” So he went to Polyvinyl on my behalf and asked them if I took it seriously would they put it out and they, you know, he’s obviously very influential with the label. I don’t like to think that he called in a favor but in a way that’s exactly what he did, just to get the ball rolling, and then they were very excited about the songs and everything. So, yea it was just the right time plus I’d been so incredibly busy that I couldn’t really tour or focus on much more than Of Montreal for a couple of years cause we were doing like 250 shows a year and… I don’t know, it was just finally enough’s enough, it’s about time, and so here we are.


BYT: Speaking of those shows, I don’t know if it stuck out to you guys, but, I was at your Bonnaroo (2009) show….

JH: The smashfest?

BYT: Hah, yea, that was uh… well do you like festivals, or is it just get in, play, leave?

JH: No, I love festivals but Bonnaroo was probably one of the worst days of my life. I personally had sort of a nervous breakdown, ended up having to call an ambulance, I was passing out, I think I was just dehydrated, overstressed… But I BARELY made it through the show and within 15 minutes after the show I was laying down, getting Kevin’s wife to call 911 because I thought I was gonna die. I really think I had a mild anxiety attack brought on by massive dehydration, I just wasn’t aware of it. Kevin was in the same boat, the two of us were next to each other, shaking in the ambulance getting IV fluids cause both of us…

BYT: Well it is miserably hot there each summer…

JH: Well as far as the actual performance, I don’t know why but there was this tendency towards violence the last couple of months. I mean we do something different every couple tours but for some reason this whole idea of smashing shit… I don’t know what got into us. We started anticipating how many extra guitars we might need, just in case, and then it started spreading to the drums, the keyboards, and after you smash 2 or 3 expensive keyboards then it’s like god damn it why are we doing this? So hopefully that phase is over. I guess it has to be because tonight we only brough 4 guitars (laughing.) But, you know, that was just a one-off thing. Generally we love festivals although it’s frustrating because you don’t get to have sound checks and it’s hard to just throw it all on after the last band, you know? Festival situations require bands to have a flexible, quick setup and that’s annoying but for the most part it’s a free for all because people, when they’re outside, and wasted in the middle of the day, they tend to be a more active crowd and we like to go out in the crowd and stuff. It’s got ups and downs but we do a lot of em so I guess we better enjoy it.

BYT: It was amazing, for sure… so, are you playing some of the covers from your EP in your set?

JH: Yea, well I wanted to do 3 of em, but now it’s only 1 that’s actually on the record and now we’re doing another one that’s a Swedish song. That one to me is kind of the highlight of the set, and we do it in kind of a different way than the rest of the set. It’s got a little bit more of a dance feel, we have Kevin joining us, and it’s kind of diversion from the record.

BYT: So it’s on your record but the way you do it out here…

JH: No no no, it’s no on anything it’s just…

BYT: Ah, who sings it?

JH: It’s this artist named Lykke Li, so I’m singing it half-Swedish, half-English.

BYT: Oh, yea, of course. Do you know the band The Field?

JH: Fields?

BYT: The Field, they’re Swedish, I’m friends with them, they’re kind of electronic…

JH: OH YEA, of course, Andreas, he is on my record. He played the trumpets. Sorry, I forget about that because he’s involved in so many different things. He’s a very good friend of mine. He also plays with our mutual friend Jenny Wilson and she’s on my album too. The two of them came as a package deal, and I’ve played with them, they’ve played with me.

JamesHusband_012810_0001 JamesHusband_012810_0020 JamesHusband_012810_0013

BYT: So, being back in Athens, are you all still living there?

JH: Yea, all of us. Including our video techs, tour manager, sound engineer.

BYT: Is it the kind of thing where you’re growing out of your group house phase, or…

JH: We definitely, yea, everyone’s got their own home. We did the whole ‘live together as a band’ thing and that didn’t go very well. But we’re all pretty close to each other, like Brian and I live on the same street, he’s about 5 houses down. Davey lives right around the corner in between the two of us, and Dottie’s less than a mile from my house. We’re all just in a similar neighborhood.

BYT: I hadn’t heard your album until about a week ago but since then I’ve listened a lot, and…

JH: I think it’s kind of a slow burn. I’ve had a lot of people say that they listened to it once, and didn’t really have an opinion or something, and then put it on in their car or went to sleep listening to it and after a couple of days they heard it differently. That to me is interesting. I guess it’s not gonna have an immediate reaction in the way that perhaps an Of Montreal record does, where everything is really immediate. It’s definitely meant to be subtle and hopefully that comes across, but, it’s exciting for me just to have anybody listen to it because I’ve been secretly going around passing out CDR’s of a lot of this shit for years, just to friends.

BYT: Did you bring any of your other albums or CDRs here?

JH: No, I wanted to, it was something I’d planned on doing but when it got down to the double-rehearsals and preparing for this thing, I would have had to have 2 days to really get it all together, burn enough CDRs, make some kind of artwork. I still intend to do that.

BYT: Do you have one of those big CD spindles to do it all?

JH: No, I was just doin em… well I had a friend of mine who had one of those who I paid to let me do that for one thing, but for the most part I was doing them one-by-one on a single disc drive. But now that I have Polyvinyl it just makes more sense to go ahead and put out another thing. I’m hoping to cut this EP thing as soon as possible, and they’re on board for that so the more real shit I can put out is probably better. I guess people sometimes like the idea of a homemade, exclusive thing, but, to be honest even making it properly manufactured through the label it’s still gonna be a limited release anyway. I’ve got a whole other record ready to go, basically everything that didn’t go on this one, but not B sides. I intentionally saved some of the best oens for the next thing, cause I only chose, what is it 12 songs? 5 on the EP? And I had about 33 recorded so I’m excited to go back and look at those I chose to leave off and see how I can put em together to make the next one. The good thing is it’ll be pretty similar since it’s from the same time and I wanna get that out of my system so I can start recording new shit.


BYT: With the songs you do have on this album, you have a lot of different ideas, layered vocals, and instruments in a 2 minute song. It works, there are a lot of great pop songs, but is this something you strive for?

JH: I’m just a sloppy recorder and arranger I guess, and I have a tendency to just keep layering overdubs. That was part of the mixing process that was difficult for me, letting go of a lot of stuff and taking away. The guy who I worked with to do the final mixes, his whole approach was deductive editing which was a concept I was not familiar with (laughing.) It’s like, “Do you really need THREE guitars doing that?” And I’m like, “Maybe not,” so, let’s find the best one and kill the other two. So we started doing that more and more, and he’s going “You have three tracks of tambourine, why’d you do that?” and I’m like “I don’t know, maybe one was sloppy but I thought it might sound good doubled,” so we went through… the cleaning up of the mixes, to me, made them a little bit more, or slightly easier to listen to. If you hear some of the unmastered first mixes that I did myself, they have even more instrumentation. I think that’s just the way I work, I just keep putting stuff on there until I think it sounds good and now I’m learning how to take some away and that sometimes less is more. It’s fun for me because now doing it live we only have a possibility of 5 instruments. I’m hearing the songs with just the one keyboard, the one guitar line or whatever, and they seem a lot more open. I almost wish I could re-record them with the live band just for fun. They’re much more concise.

BYT: Do you guys do any recording while you’re on tour?

JH: We haven’t, because we haven’t had any, you know we’ve been…

BYT: Well I just mean from the sound board or whatever so you can listen to your shows.

JH: I wish! You know, we have in the past set up elaborate multi-track things to tape Of Montreal shows but to be honest we’re just lazy about it. There’s almost always so much other stuff goin on that our sound guy, if he has to do that, that’s another hour of work a night for him to setup, and he’s already doin a 7 hour setup. We’ve had a couple people who’ve taped some of these shows, and I’m hopefully gonna get copies of those.

BYT: What’s your taping policy exactly?

JH: We’re pretty open, because of course we want the archive, we just wanna hear it, you know? As long as no one’s selling it, that’s pretty much the only thing. We’re not very good about self-documenting so as long as someone else is willing to do it that’s fine with us. It’s just being cool about it. Don’t release it on your own indie label or whatever, (laughing,) and if it really sucks audio wise or performance wise, we’d like to know so that we can choose what gets out. I think they’re about to start making noise down there (sound check.)


BYT: Cool, well before we get out of here, as far as DC you guys have played a lot, do you ever get to go around and do shit or are you just in the club?

JH: We haven’t, in the past, really had much time but I think we’re actually gonna come back here on Saturday or Sunday. Not to play but because there’s apparently some huge snowstorm coming to Richmond and the club is asking us to cancel it or postpone because they think it’s gonna be so bad people aren’t gonna come. If it’s canceled, the plan is to go to DC and go to the Smithsonian or something.

BYT: Yea well if you’re back there’s tons of cool places right here on U St., lots of good soul food, Ethiopian restaurants, and…

JH: Yea, we have a date at an Ethiopian restaurants in about 3 hours.

BYT: Niiice, well James thanks man, I really appreciate all your time, and good luck with the show tonight.


2010-02-18 - Inside Vandy

Versus: Music
Q&A with of Montreal's James Huggins: "Nashville has always been a wild place for us"
By Alex Daly
Published Feb. 18, 2010.

Versus Magazine: How are you? You look tired …
James Huggins: Good, I woke up this afternoon and immediately was whisked away to play this Grimey’s in-store thing.

VM: And how did that go?
JH: It went really well, considering that I hadn’t even had half a cup of coffee let alone breakfast. And [one of our instruments] broke within the first five minutes, so we had to improvise ... but it’s a really cool little venue.

VM: How is the tour going so far?
JH: It’s almost over, actually. Tonight is the last night, and it’s disappointing, really, because I want to keep going. It’s been so short — it’s only been like, ten shows, and it kind of came out of nowhere. We had planned to take the whole winter off and then suddenly these dates popped up in January and we just kind of threw it together. It’s been short but it’s been really fun and super exhausting.

VM: Where were you guys before Nashville?
JH: This is honestly one of those embarrassing moments where I can’t remember.

VM: It’s probably a huge blur by now …
JH: I am totally ashamed to say that I can’t remember.

VM: Were there any gigs that come to mind as favorites so far?
JH: New York was incredible. We played the Hi-Line Ballroom. I hadn’t been there before and it’s relatively new.

VM: How is it doing two projects now [of Montreal and solo opening act James Husband]?
JH: It’s not something that I’m not comfortable with, because I’ve done it before. It’s just different this time because it’s the first real push of my new band, so I’ve had a lot of responsibility there. In addition to that, what used to be a sort of easy job for me has now been redefined, so I’m doing ten times the physical effort during the of Montreal shows, and it’s been physically exhausting me. I used to play the drums in the band for most of the songs for six of seven years, but for the last five years I’ve also been playing guitar, bass, keyboards, trumpet and only touching the drum set for like, four songs out of the set.

And on this thing I turn all of the last four albums which [consists of] electronic, dance-pop, very much drum-machine oriented music into straight up rock tunes. So the only things we have on stage are two guitarists, the bassist and a drum kit, so I’m playing for 90 minutes.

And this makes me sound like some kind of light eight, but I’m just not used to doing that ... I have an hour of cerebral, emotional performance, and then I have to switch off my brain and just bash the drums for an hour and a half, so the physical end of it is what’s really killing me. But every night we’ve done it, and I’m still kicking, so we’ll do it again tonight.

VM: What inspired you to do the solo act?
JH: Well it’s not really a new thing; it’s just newly officially billed. I’ve been doing it for, like, over ten years. I guess things are starting to finally slow down for of Montreal, because in the last few years we haven’t had more than a couple weeks off at a time in a year. We did something like 267 shows in 2007 and roughly the same in 2008, so I just haven’t had time.

But now [I] have time. I went to a couple of different studios, I was living overseas in Sweden, and I had time and I had access to a studio and [went for] it. It was just kind of long overdue, so the time came and I decided to just stick it out there.

VM: Listening to your music, it’s a very dynamic sound and ranges so much from the first song to the last. And it doesn’t sound anything like of Montreal. What inspired you?
JH: Well, it had very little to do with of Montreal. It’s more [about] the timetable and the places where the songs were recorded, because this is very much a collection of scattered recording from all over the place and from different times. So if they sound all over the place, it’s because one might have been recorded in my bedroom in 2002 and another might have been recorded in a proper studio in Stockholm in 2008. It depends on who I might have had with me to record with, or what I had written earlier in the year.

The whole point of it is that it’s not just meant to be an album. Many people have the misconception that it’s a new album and that I just went in with ten hot songs and I recorded them all in a week, but it’s much more like a collection of snapshots, like a scrapbook — like, “Here’s me at summer camp with my parents in 1983,” and “Here’s me at my college graduation” … it’s like that, but with songs.

VM: I was reading about that, about how you crafted this as just a huge collection of snapshots from different moments. And this style really brings diversity to the album.
JH: I’m all about diversity.

VM: Have you guys ever played here in Nashville before?
JH: Oh yeah, many many times.

VM: What do you think of the city?
JH: We love Nashville! Nashville has always been a wild place for us. People love to meet us up here and we tend to get whisked away. We have done probably six or seven other shows with [this promoter] both in two other small venues and twice in this venue. And I have performed once solo at the Ryman, but that was during tour when they just let me stand up there and play. It’s like a dream to play there. Nashville has a million other venues, but they don’t all cater to the kind of show we do. We have gone to very small rooms, as well, and played in Nashville at least 15 times over the last 11 years.

VM: I have personally never seen you perform before, so what are your shows like? What are they like for you?
JH: Well that’s the trouble with people who see us for the first time and people who saw us once even three, five or seven years ago, or even people who saw us once only three, five or seven months ago. We try to do a completely different show every time. And that doesn’t just mean in terms of a set list, I mean in terms of members in the band, different people on our performance crew, different video projects, different stage lighting … and for the past several years we have building our own stages to put on top of the venue’s stage.

And we have been getting bigger and bigger, and now we have these video projection things, because we have these groups of, well, I wouldn’t call them actors, I definitely don’t like to call them performance artists and I certainly wouldn’t call them dancers … but they kind of do something resembling all three. And for the last couple of years, [the show] has gotten really elaborate — we have 19 people on the road and only six in the band. We have tried to blow it out as big as we can get it for the bigger venues and festivals, but now we are doing these smaller shows and doing, like I said, rock ‘n’ roll versions of the grandeur of the past several years.

So in some ways I hope that someone like yourself wouldn’t feel gypped, because there is this legend looming out there that we are always going to put on this outrageous stage show. And we still are, to some degree, but I think it’s more interesting for us to focus on the music and do it in a different way. So if you look at the last four or five albums, what we do tonight will not sonically represent the album very well, but the songs are presented in a very live way.

We haven’t heard any complaints, but in the past it’s always been about totally recreating the record exactly. And we’d have two different computers, two different electronic brains that would control sound effects and drum patterns, and loops that go to our ears, so we’d all be playing along with the grid — it was all very robotic and complex, and it was all about blowing out as much sound and as much of the album as possible. But tonight it’s a much more minimalist approach [than] that.

It’s not some new thing we’re doing, but we decided that since we’re doing a small tour in the winter we might as well do it in a way that’s fun for us. So we’re going to try to play like we’re a live band again.

VM: Is it a collaborative thing, this creative side to the performances? Is it even the band that takes care of that or is there a side team?
JH: It’s all-inclusive — everyone in the band and on the crew has equal say and tends to get equal ideas rejected and accepted. It’s sort of compartmentalized, in a way. I mean, David Barnes, Kevin’s brother, who has always been kind of the sixth member of the band, doesn’t play any instruments, but he’s an artist and does all the artwork (well, most of the artwork — Kevin’s wife started doing some of the late stuff). But all of the imagery and artwork and videos that feature things that have to do with our band are done by David. He also kind of directs the performance bits and is responsible for most of the costumes and one-act plays that take place, so he pretty much gets free reign when it comes to that department.

But as far as the set and stage design, I have had a lot to do with that, and also our sound engineer and video engineer have hand-built everything together. Everything we use is hand-made, and those guys are the carpenters/electrical-engineers. And input for the video screens comes from Nick and also Dottie, the keyboard player’s fiance. We’ve been planning a big wedding party for them in the spring.

And then you’ve got everyone from our tour manager, who is onstage in costume every night, to various road managers and workers who are in costume doing their thing each night. But it’s like I said — I don’t think we have ever done the same show twice.

VM: Do you have any background in art or design? Or did you just figure this all out as the years went by?
JH: I grew up in a very musical but also very church-oriented, Southern Baptist family in Georgia, and my father is the musical director [of our church]. So not only did he make sing in the church choir and all that crap, but he would always put on the Christmas pageant and the school play etc. and my mom would always design the props, make backdrops and make costumes by hand and stuff. I had this very home-spun, “Waiting for Guffman”-style, tiny town theater experience, and I have always been acting in little plays. So I pretty much started out doing that stuff before we had any money.

In fact, five or six years ago, I had borrowed these huge slide projection screens from my uncle (I had used them for these church productions in the ‘80s). I set up three screens with old-school clips and slides of carousels and projected the whole slideshow behind the band. And then we started to get some money and decided to buy a bunch of new, high-tech electronics, so I turned things over to Nick. I was running this crap while playing drums in the middle of the show … Now, I have less of a hands-on approach and more just suggestions.

VM: You definitely have to come back and play at the Ryman with this theatrical aspect!
JH: We could do at least the most visually stunning show there, but certainly not the best musically, since every legend in the world has played there. Unless The Flaming Lips have played there — they are our one big competitor. It seems like everything we do, they end up doing bigger. But we’re close on their heels, and we’re doing it in a similar spirit but a different way.

VM: What do you foresee happening in the future with both James Husband? Do you see yourself continuing with your solo project?
JH: Absolutely. It’s not like it’s some kind of whim. It’s just a long overdue beginning of something that will be the focus of my attention from this point on. And that’s not to say that I’m going to stop playing with of Montreal — in fact, I think for the rest of this year [I’m] continuing to do both. I think we are going to do another leg or two this way.

But this whole temporary diversion of being a straight up rock band is not going to last very long. I think the plan for the next record, which is not going to come out until the end of the summer, is to totally revamp the whole thing, bring in additional musicians, and expand the band so the musicians are able to more closely recreate the record but without all the previous sampling technology that we were using. The idea is to have about ten or twelve [musicians] and multiple percussionists so we can do complex rhythms, because it’s just impossible for me to do as one man, especially since I’m not using any drum pads or anything. We want to bring in a couple of extra string players and horn players and make it more of a big-band sound, really a ’70s kind of band that would have that sort of instrumentation. But that all depends on us finding all of the right people — we are going to start auditioning people, talking to all of our friends in various bands and seeing their availability.

If we can pull it off it would be something of like a super group and much more focused on the music. I’m sure there will still be some sort of elaborate stage production, but the idea is to sort of scrap everything we have been doing for the last year and a half and create some new characters. We also want to get rid of the more colorful things and instead create some darker settings and lighting.

VM: Do you opt for the same kind of stage shows for James Husband?
JH: No, with that, it’s just about the music. I mean we already have all the [of Montreal stuff] set up there, so we sometimes will throw some of that on for the colors, but I think most of that would just distract you. The point of the James Husband project is for me to feel comfortable singing the songs. We tried doing it like a big rock band to make it more exciting, but the truth of the matter is, you listen to the album and it’s all pretty mellow — it’s all just about my singing. And I can’t sing very loudly or very well when a lot is going on, so I tried to make it a very soft band. I have a cellist and a clarinet player and I play mostly acoustic guitar … so it’s very, very much the opposite of a [loud rock show].

VM: You mentioned that tonight is your last show on this tour. Any idea when you’ll start up again?
JH: Well, I’m doing another run by myself, which is obviously not as easy because everything falls to my own resources. I don’t have the tour bus, I don’t have the crew of ten people … which is why it’s so nice to tour with of Montreal because, sure, I’m a member of the band, and it’s all my equipment and my money in a way (at least a fifth of it), but at the same time I’m looking at it like I’m a new artist and I got an opportunity to play with a band like of Montreal. So you remove the obvious conflict of interest, and it makes things a whole lot easier [to look at].

But, that being said, the five or six of us will jump in a van and do a small club tour in March, and then of Montreal will [start touring again] in June, so I’m doing both worlds for the next few months. Then we have Dottie’s wedding, which we are all taking a month off for, and then ... who knows. Maybe we’ll play some festivals, or something.