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."