Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes: ‘I’ll Always Want to Make Our Music Special’
Atlanta's Of Montreal are probably one of the most interesting glam rock outfits of our day, from their eclectic theatrical live shows to their trippy album artwork -- and frontman Kevin Barnes' love and passion for what the band does plays a very big part in all of it. They're currently readying their 13th studio album, 'Aureate Gloom,' slated for a March 3 release via Polyvinyl Records, and they're already deep into working on yet another new record.
With their last LP, 'Lousy With Sylvianbriar,' they had taken a slightly more "rock" direction; from what we've heard, it appears that the new LP will follow that trend while blending a bunch of musical eras together, making it uniquely Of Montreal. It's a concept that's evident in the new singles 'Bassem Sabry' and 'Empyrean Abattoir' -- you can listen to the latter below:
With 'Aureate Gloom''s release on the horizon, we had the undeniable honor of chatting with the very interesting, talented and passionate Barnes about, well, pretty much everything. From the new album's recording process to what goes into visualizing his imagination in the form of art, music and stage presence, check out our exclusive interview below:
You've previously said that 'Aureate Gloom' is kind of "all over the place." Was that because it was difficult to choose just one theme?
Well, I think it's just the way my mind works. Naturally, I'm kind of pulling from all of these different kinds of influences. I try to create things that are fairly unpredictable to avoid songwriting cliches as much as possible, so I kind of write in a sort-of "collage" style -- and it works for me in a way that's in harmony with the way my imagination works. I think that's why the music is stylistically like that and I think that's why the songs are all over the place as far as tempo changes and key changes and musical style changes in the middle of the song. My songs are pretty much me in musical form.
Was this record harder to create than your past efforts?
Well, I think I'm just so kind of obsessed with writing, I've been doing it for a long time. It's kind of my only real passion, my only real hobby or whatever you even want to call it. It's what I'm doing all the time, I'm always thinking about songwriting and completely immersed in that process, and so, it's always a challenge, for sure, and it takes time to get a song to a place where I feel happy with it. I wouldn't say it's necessarily hard because I get a lot of satisfaction out of the process -- it's what I want to be doing. It's not something that's unnatural to me, it comes pretty natural to me actually.
As far as the recording process was concerned, it was cool because we demoed a lot of the songs before we went out to this studio in El Paso, so we had all of the parts written and we had all of the songs arranged in the way that we wanted to do them. We basically just went out to the studio in the desert and just started recording, working very quickly as a band. Everyone had their role and their parts down pretty much and we just knocked it out, basically one song a day.
Would you say that your last record, 'Lousy With Sylvianbriar,' was way more rock-inspired than your previous glam works?
I think 'Lousy With Sylvianbriar' was definitely rock-inspired as far as late '60s, early '70s music goes. It's kind of rock and country and what could be considered to be Americana, but Americana is sort of a bad term, at least in my mind. Americana is sort-of "middle of the road" boring stuff, more like bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers and early-ish Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and the Stones. Almost like outlaw rock and roll or something. I think the new record is still in that vein, but it adds different elements like prog rock elements at times and glam rock elements and also some early '70s punk elements as well.
What was it like to incorporate some of your brother's artwork into your albums, like 'Satanic Panic in the Attic' and 'Coqueliot Asleep in the Poppies'? Will we ever get to see some more of his work?
I think so, we were talking about it for the next record, which we're already pretty deep into. We have a song and visual concept already for that, and he'll make the artwork for that as well. He did make the artwork for 'Aureate Gloom,' so you'll see it there. The way he creates the artwork is that he listens to pretty much nothing but the album, almost 100 times on repeat, and he creates something that's inspired by the music.
From shaving cream suits to the myriad of costumed dancers to you riding a white horse, Of Montreal's stage presence has always been "out there." What goes into the planning of your live presence?
We typically spend a couple of weeks before the tour planning out what we are going to do or what the theme of the tour will be visually and theatrically, and get that side of the production together, and at the same time, we're rehearsing the songs and picking out what we're going to play on the tour. My brother is pretty much the man in charge of the theatrical side of things and he collaborates with some of the other performance artists and myself, but he generally creates most, if not all, of the content. If I have an idea like "I want to ride a horse on stage" then he will help me realize that vision.
Will you ever get sick of the costumes and fanfare of it all and revert back to a more "normal," regular Kevin Barnes?
I think I'll always want to make it special and not a mundane day-to-day sort of thing. I know there are people who have that mindset that it should just be how you are in your normal life because then it will be more "authentic" or something. But for me, I like the idea of putting on a show and I like the thought of it being something special, a special couple of hours in my day. I'm not walking around, going to the grocery store in those costumes and whatnot; my normal day is pretty boring but when I go onstage I can make it really fantastical and bizarre and wild. I think I will probably always want to do that.
What was it like to watch your feature-length Kickstarter documentary, 'Song Dynasties,' come to life?
Well, I have this sort of strange relationship to it because it's telling a side of the story and, of course, it's hard for me to be impartial because it's my story. It's also spun in a way that's a little sensationalized at times -- and I know that the director did that on purpose so that he would make an engaging story -- but for me it's kind of airing some dirty laundry that I wish wasn't put out there, you know? It's also not the full story because the story continues, he had to end the film where he did, but there's more to it. It's weird to have a documentary made about yourself; I can't imagine anyone liking a documentary made about them unless they're a complete narcissist. I think most people just feel awkward about it.
Is it annoying when people think you guys are from Canada?
[Laughs] It doesn't really happen all that much, believe it or not. Only people who don't really know the band, like "Oh, are you from Canada?" I mean, I like Canada, I kind of wish I was from Canada, you know what I mean? It would have probably been easier for us early on to get some government support or something. [Laughs]
You can get details on Of Montreal's upcoming LP, 'Aureate Gloom' -- as well as their current 2015 tour itinerary -- at their official website here.