Full Q&A with Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes on upcoming album, performance at Land of Nod Experiment
Of Montreal in Jackson? Believe it. The indie rock band is headlining the final day of the Land of Nod Experiment on Sunday in Leoni Township. The music festival is one of four dates on an initial push to start promoting "False Priest," the Georgia band's 10th album and Of Montreal mastermind Kevin Barnes' latest exploration of freak-out dance pop. Here is what Barnes had to say about the gig, the album's bass-bumping sound and his collaborations with up-and-coming R&B singer Janelle Monáe, who will join the band on tour in September and asked Of Montreal to contribute to her debut, "The ArchAndroid":
Is this show going to be the first opportunity for fans to hear some of the new material from “False Priest” that you haven’t had a chance to perform before?
Yeah, we’re debuting four new ones at Land of Nod.
I’ve only heard “Coquet Coquette” and some samples of other songs, but it sounds like your aim with this one is to help people get their groove on.
It’s definitely a very funky, dance-oriented record, but there are some kind of stranger, art-pop moments that happen later on in the record.
It’s not just mindless booty shaking, though. As far as the lyrics go, there are some literary, intellectual influences?
A goal of mine is to make something that can touch you on multiple levels, something that’s not just a dance song about dancing or a dance song about love. So I try to have an element of ... I don’t know really what you call it, but I put some time into the lyrics so it’s not just one-dimensional.
You’ve always had prominent bass lines, but it sounds like bass is taking an even bigger role on this one.
It’s not so much about the bass guitar as the subfrequencies. I went out to L.A. and worked with Jon Brion. We worked in the Ocean Way Recording studio, and we added some things like low synth bass and some 808, some things to really create a broad spectrum so it becomes almost panoramic in a way.
Was that the reason you decided to bring Brion on board, so he could add that panoramic sound?
That’s kind of his vision. You know, I always work at home by myself and I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m flying by my pants, kind of, just trying to be creative. I’m not really thinking about how it’s going to translate into speakers. I sent him some of those early mixes and he thought he could improve upon the general sound of the record. ... I trusted him because he has such a great track record.
Is there a continuation of the more experimental song-snippets we heard on “Skeletal Lamping,” or is it a return to a more standard pop-song format?
It’s definitely more pop-song format than “Skeletal Lamping,” but I think just because of the way my brain works ... I get bored so easily, I’m always trying to do something unpredictable, so it’s not totally straightforward. There was an aim to make something that had an immediacy to it. In a way, if you make it too segmented, you can’t really get into a groove because it’s changing tempos so often or song styles. There’s nothing to shake to.
Of Montreal’s sound has expanded so much over the last few albums. Has anything in particular been a catalyst that’s allowed for all this musical exploration?
I think the big thing for me was a couple years ago just getting excited about R&B and soul music from the ’70s. I’ve always had an interest in the genre, but I’d never really incorporated it into my sound. It became sort of an obsession of mine. It’s definitely sort of pushed me in this direction and inspired me the last couple years.
Was there anything that spurred that interest in soul and funk?
Just seeing how much I had in common with people like George Clinton and Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder, the magic of those recordings. There’s something so magical about it, and it made me want to try my hand at creating something like that. When I was making my early records, I was obsessed with The Beatles and The Kinks and The Who. I would listen to that all the time. More recently, the last couple of years, it’s been Prince and Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.
The press photo I got has like 37 people in it. How many people are actually going to be performing on stage?
At Land of Nod we’ll have a seven-piece (band). ... The reason we have so many people on the photo is we really want to emphasize that it’s not just a band, it’s more of a performance group. ... There’s so many people involved in performance art or video or sound or in the band.
Can you give any hints, even cryptic ones, about what we can expect costume-wise?
We definitely have some tricks up our sleeve, and we’re going to possibly involve some of the other, more theatrical performers that also have performances at the festival. We haven’t actually formally mapped it all out, but it will hopefully work and hopefully be interesting.
What do you enjoy about these festival gigs?
You can see a lot of bands and performances you wouldn’t see. You get to meet interesting people that you wouldn’t have the chance to meet. It’s always great to play outdoors rather than inside some stale, smoky venue, even if it’s a really nice theater. Most of the time we don’t play nice theaters. They’re cool places, but they’re not the kind of places you would want to spend time in if you weren’t performing. It’s always nice to get into nature.
As truly exciting as it is to have you guys here, you couldn’t convince Janelle Monáe to join you early so we’d get a chance to hear her, too?
I think she’s wrapped up in her own stuff.
You came to work with her just through connections with her Wondaland Art Society?
Basically, we kind of found out about each other and found out how much we had in common. Both our groups are so geared toward doing something exceptional, something ambitious. It was like birds of a feather in a way. It’s great because it’s definitely evolved in this way I couldn’t have predicted or imagined, as far as cross-pollination between the two worlds and all the collaborations that have happened and plans for collaborations. It’s the greatest thing artistically that’s ever happened to me.