of Montreal's Kevin Barnes Talks New Album, Cassette Box Set, His Career
"I don’t think I’ve made a great record. I guess that gives me something to live for."
On October 25, Joyful Noise will release a cassette box set of psychedelic-pop mainstays of Montreal's entire catalog-- all ten albums, from 1997's Cherry Peel to last year's False Priest. The whole thing comes packaged in a wooden box (above) with screen-printed original artwork by bandleader Kevin Barnes' brother, David (who's done the cover artwork for all the band's albums in the past, too).
The retrospective package provides an opportunity to look back at of Montreal's career, from the band's lo-fi, 1960s psych-pop-worshipping beginnings to their zany, colorful, avant present. Rather than getting nostalgic, though, Kevin Barnes is looking forward-- he's currently putting the finishing touches on of Montreal's eleventh album, Paralytic Stalks, which is due early next year. Read on for our interview with Barnes, which touches on the new album, the return of cassettes in indie culture, and his feelings about his band's legacy as part of Athens' seminal Elephant 6 collective.
"The new of Montreal album is bit more esoteric, and it’s probably not something everybody’s going to like. The songs are way more intimate and confessional."
Pitchfork: Do you have a personal history with cassettes?
Kevin Barnes: When I first started recording, I used a four-track and I’ve got an incredible collection of cassettes in boxes that I don’t want to get rid of-- especially from when I was living at my parents’ house and doing nothing but recording songs. I have tons of early recordings that I haven’t listened to in forever. At some point, I’ll pull them out and listen to them and cringe. I think that could be really cool to release them at some point, though. There’s so much there. It would only be for the biggest fans in the world. All ten of them.
Pitchfork: Recently, cassettes have come back in vogue with certain, nostalgia-obsessed sects of indie culture. When agreeing to release this box set, were you taking that into consideration?
KB: I can understand the cassette thing, but I don’t really feel that connected to it. Its like the CD for me-- I don’t really like that tactile quality. Plastic just annoys me. It's easy to romanticize the past. That sort of goes hand in hand with vinyl as well. Having a connection to a physical object is really cool. At some point, people will be nostalgic about CDs, too. It's just human nature.
Pitchfork: What about those buyers who are purchasing things like your box sets for collector's purposes, rather than for the material that's inside?
KB: Whenever anybody's giving a shit about music on any level it's a good thing. It’s not like [collecting] guitars. I know people who just collect guitars and don’t even play them-- that's a different matter.
"I don’t really feel that connected to cassettes. Plastic just annoys me."
Pitchfork: This year marks of Montreal's 15th anniversary, and the band's been through a lot of sonic changes since your early albums. Do you think that you've retained fans from way back when?
KB: Every once in a while, somebody will come up and say, “I found out about you guys forever ago, around [1999's] The Gay Parade.” I was playing The Gay Parade for one of the guys in the band who had never heard it-- he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. I feel pretty detached from [that time period]. We never play anything [live] that was recorded before [2004's] Satanic Panic in the Attic. I closed the book on that period of my life and moved forward.
Pitchfork: So you're never going to play material from before Satanic Panic live again?
KB: I can’t see it ever happening. The only way it would happen would be if a record became popular in some weird random country. [laughs] Actually, The Gay Parade did sell really well in Japan. For a brief time period, we were like rock stars over there. But after a year, it had totally died out. [laughs]
What might have attracted somebody in the beginning is not really there anymore. Albums like Cherry Peel are extremely naive and sweet and not all that competent. It's like natural human development, you start off when you’re young and vulnerable.
Pitchfork: So what's your midlife crisis record going to sound like?
KB: [laughs] I don’t know. Maybe like a bagpipe record.
Pitchfork: What's the record in your career thus far that you're most proud of?
KB: There are moments of my records that I’m proud of, but I don’t think I’ve made a great record. I guess that gives me something to live for.
"I’m not really excited about playing any of my old songs live.
It would feel like I was wasting my time."
Pitchfork: With Jeff Mangum touring and Olivia Tremor Control becoming more of an active concern again, an Elephant 6 revival seems to be in place. A bunch of the E6 guys did the Holiday Surprise tour a few years ago-- if that kind of thing were to happen again, would of Montreal join in?
KB: I didn't go on the Holiday Surprise tour because we were too busy, and I’m not really that excited about playing any of those old songs. I don’t feel nostalgic about it. It would feel like I was wasting my time. I don’t mean that as a criticism against anybody else. I think it’s a defect for me that I can’t really appreciate it that much-- anything I’ve done always just seems boring and stale really quickly. I just want to keep moving forward.
Pitchfork: When's the last time you spoke to Jeff Mangum?
KB: A couple of years ago. He came to one of our shows and we were hanging out backstage for a little bit. He seemed to be in good spirits and it’s always great to see him. I’ve always admired him. He’s been sort of a big brother figure for me.
Pitchfork: You're finishing up a new of Montreal record, right?
KB: Yeah, there’s some moments on this record that are very different from anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a bit more esoteric, and it’s probably not something everybody’s going to like. I can see a lot of people having problems with it, but I can also see a lot of people loving it. I feel like so many records nowadays are disposable-- you’re not really expected to listen to the whole album, and no one does. With this record, I wanted something that was more of an experience that you would listen to from start to finish and have a very deep personal connection to. The songs are way more intimate and confessional.
Pitchfork: Any specific influences you're drawing from?
KB: Twentieth-century modern classical music-- Penderecki, Charles Ives, Ligeti. But it’s not a complete departure. There’s still funky elements, and it’s still very much a colorful pop record. But it goes into darker places. There’s one song in particular that is kind of polarizing in a strange way. I play it for a lot of people and it seems like they just feel confused by it.
Pitchfork: What's that song called?
KB: "Exorcismic Breeding Knife".