Q&A with Kevin Barnes:
So you just started the False Priest tour — I understand you've got an ambitious stage setup. How's it been going so far?
Kevin Barnes: It's been great. We're doing a lot of really theatrical things, visually, which should be interesting. We're having a good time, and that's the most important thing, I guess.
Is there a specific visual moment in the live show that you're excited about?
We built this dragon prop that requires four people inside of it to make it work, and then we have a saddle on top of it, so I'm riding this dragon across the stage while I sing a song.
And there's a line early into the new album about dragon rape.
It all connects together in some strange way.
Is it true that you titled your last three albums, (False Priest, Skeletal Lamping, and Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?), before any music was written?
Yeah, when I was writing songs for Hissing Fauna, those two titles came to me, but they didn't seem like song titles, they seemed more like album titles, so I named the next records from those two.
Does that help you conceptually, when you write, to have the borders of the album titles?
It gives a little bit more focus, so I know what I'm working on. It helps to communicate better when you can create a sort of cosmology for [the albums].
You collaborated with über-producer Jon Brion on False Priest. How was it working with him?
It was great on so many different levels. I learned a lot, and he contributed something amazing to the overall production. It definitely wouldn't be the album it is without him.
The bass line on "Famine Affair" is killer. I keep wondering about the lyric, what the "bad thing" is — seems like it could be any number of toxic influences.
It could be interpreted any number of ways: it could be someone in your life, a crush of some kind, or just a negative influence that's sabotaging you and making your life a bit more fucked up.
You're going to Europe after a couple weeks in the States. Do you find that crowds react differently to Of Montreal overseas?
No, it's pretty similar. We definitely attract a specific kind of human being no matter where we play, so you realize the world isn't that different whether you're in Denmark or Ohio — the same kind of people are interested in Of Montreal. It feels like a global family.
You recently added Janelle Monae to that family, who's on tour with you. How did you come together?
We met backstage at a show in Atlanta. She got turned on to our music through the Wondaland Arts Society [collective], and she'd just filmed this video where she was riding a horse, around the time we'd just had a show in New York where I rode a horse onstage, so we bonded over that initially, and then realized how much we had in common. Our two art collectives [WAS and Of Montreal] have done a lot of collaborating, and we're definitely following the same spirit, artistically and emotionally, so it's cool that we're all on the same page, and we just love to hang out with each other.
Collectives these days are few and far between in the States — they can be so powerful, but also require so much coordination, juggling many moving parts and people. Do you think you'll keep growing the Of Montreal collective?
Definitely. From a live performance standpoint, there's no way I could accomplish what we do by myself. Having everyone contribute all their talent to things that I can't do, and me contributing things that they can't do, that's what a collective should be, all these people coming together who can contribute something special and exceptional, and then you've created something that no one person could create by themselves.
Your brother David has done your album artwork since the early days, and you both have such attention to detail. Were you encouraged artistically, growing up? When did you start working together?
We weren't discouraged, but my mom and dad weren't that involved in the arts. They were encouraging on many levels, though, as far as buying me instruments and letting my early bands practice in the garage, so they definitely supported us from the beginning.
David and I started working together when we were in high school. I was making these little four-track cassette recordings, and would take some of his art work and put it together and give it to my friends, like these little self-releases. And when we started putting records on labels, he was the only person I wanted to create the art.
You're really prolific as a songwriter. Is there a constant creative flow, or are you just super disciplined?
I'm always trying to think about new ideas, and keep my ears open and my mind open to any new inspiration, but I don't really have a writing routine where I wake up every day and from this time to this time, write. I have to, in a more organic way, just let the ideas happen when they happen.