Athens, Georgia-based weirdos Of Montreal have a lot going on. Their tenth studio album, False Priest, is set to drop September 13.
Of Montreal kicked off their last tour when they played for a full house at the Howlin’ Wolf this past May. After sauntering on stage, jorts-clad frontman Kevin Barnes began by asking the obvious question, Are you ready to party? To call the show, complete with a psychedelic video show and a finale wherein thousands of feathers shot like champagne over the crowd, a party is the understatement of the year. What happened was more like induced euphoria; the live show was an experience capable of transporting the audience to another world entirely.
InvadeNOLA contacted Bassist Davey Pierce to talk about that wild show in New Orleans, combating stage fright, and how indie rockers find their crazy outfits.
What’s it like playing the first show on a new tour, and how is that different from any other show?
Well, it’s a lot more nerve racking, especially this one. We have a drummer that’s filling in with us, and we never actually practiced with Kevin, so this show in particular, it was kind of a crap shoot. We didn’t know what was going to happen, what was going to work, what wasn’t going to work. It’s a good experience though, that first show. You work out a lot of the kinks, which sounds like a bad thing, but no one really notices what goes wrong, if things do.
How did you feel about your last show in New Orleans?
I felt really good about that show actually. We were all kind of pleasantly surprised, because, like I said, we had never actually rehearsed with this whole band before that. Dottie, Bryan and Clayton and I would run through songs with no guitar and no vocals, basically. We were all really nervous. When it came time, it actually worked out really, really well. It was a really fun show. The crowd seemed super into it. We love the Howlin’ Wolf, it’s such a great place.
With elements of theater, big time performance, and colorful costumes, Of Montreal is a great fit for New Orleans. Is this just coincidence, or are you inspired by our city?
I think it’s probably more of a coincidence. There are elements of weird everywhere that we go that we pick up on. Obviously, New Orleans has a lot of really cool Voodoo culture. It has this really cool element to it – you can’t help but take something out of it. For the most part, we try to bring a little bit from everywhere we’ve been, finding things on the road that we can use in the show. We actually found a good amount in New Orleans; a lot of its retired, but the last couple tours we had a couple Big Bird figurines we found, a plastic owl, all sorts of weird, strange stuff that we had on stage. We definitely enjoy it, but it’s more of a coincidence that we actually fit in really, really well there. People seem a lot more open.
Do you have any type of pre-show ritual?
Not really. You know, just sit around and have beers, smoke cigarettes – well, for a couple of us, – just kinda chill. We do one thing that that we call ‘bringing it in’ where everyone puts their hands in the center of a circle and you say something, usually something really absurd and stupid. It’s pretty much the closest thing to a ritual we have before a show.
So you don’t wear the same underwear for every show then?
[Laughs.] No, that would be gross. It would get sweaty. We wear a lot of the same costumes, just because we can’t really bring tons of stuff on the road with us. But we try to wash them as much as possible. [Laughs again.] Definitively not gonna be wearing the same socks for twelve days in a row or anything, you know?
Speaking of clothes, how do you come up with all of the awesome stuff you wear on stage?
Well it’s kind of a mishmash. Kevin has had some stuff made by designers. He has a designer friend in New York named Rebecca Turbow that did a lot of costumes for him. Most of us just kind of find stuff that we think is really cool. When all is said and done, you throw it on, put it together, and it’s like, “Wow, that’s really, really weird.” It works somehow. We spend a lot of time in thrift stores and secondhand shops. There’s namely one in Athens called Agora. It’s run by a wonderful lady. She’ll see something come in, and she’ll pull it for us. We go in there, and she’s got boxes for us. She’ll say, “I saw these and I thought they’d be perfect for you.” You pick through, and some are really awesome; some really aren’t right for me. I just look around, it’s whatever strikes your fancy at the time. I’ve been really going through a uniform kind of thing, you know, all black or all white, with a little bit of gold or something, because I get tired of all my own costumes. I haven’t really found anything cool and weird lately, so it’s kinda like, “I’ll just go monochromatic and see what happens.”
What’s usually running through your head when you’re performing?
Generally I’m just thinking “Oh please don’t fuck up.” [Laughs.] Over and over and over again. You know, I pay attention to the drummer mostly, and make sure that I’m locked in with him. Kevin and Bryan and Dottie – I just take cues from everybody. We do these shows all the time, we play the songs over and over and over again, and it’s really hard to keep them fresh and interesting for us. Once you play a song like 200 times, it becomes a little mundane. Nowadays, I find that Kevin and I, if we do make a mistake, turn around and start laughing at the other person. Things like that do kind of break it up, so you don’t become robotic. We definitely feed off the audience. If it’s a bad show, and the audience isn’t really into it, or no one is paying attention – which, nowadays doesn’t happen that much – if that happens, it’s really hard to put your all into it. But you kind of force yourself to do it. I’m a big proponent of just giving it your all for every single show.
Do your set lists vary from show to show? Or are they set in stone?
Well it depends on what kind of tour we are doing. For our last tour, we did pretty much the same set list the whole time, because we had this whole production that went along to it. It was very structured. There were seven performers that had their cues that they know, and everything had to be done right on time, otherwise the whole thing would fall apart. On tours more like this one, we can vary it a lot more, because the production is more based on what we’re doing, not so much what we’re doing based on the production. When we don’t have like a huge thing that we’re doing, it’s a lot easier to vary it, so on smaller tours, if you see us more than once, you probably have a better chance of seeing songs that you didn’t hear the night before.
How long does it take before you find your stride, and a tour begins to really take shape?
They pretty much start to take shape the first time we do it. You’ll get a basic idea at the first show, and then it constantly evolves, evolves and evolves. By the end of a tour, it will probably be something completely different than what we started with. At the end of the day, I’m always completely pleasantly surprised by what we wind up doing. It’s just this totally weird, evolving thing. It’s nice to be able to go up there and just wonder what’s going to happen. I feel like I can relate a lot more to the audience watching the show in that way, because you have as much of a clue as what’s going to happen as I do, most of the time.
Of Montreal will launch a ten-month tour, starting with two shows in DC, on September 13 and 14. Soul sister Janelle Monáe is featured on two tracks on False Priest and will be joining Of Montreal’s fall tour roster.