Of Montreal - RFB Interview
18 Jun 2014
"I have about eight songs written and now it’s just a matter of figuring out how I want present them, produce and record them..."
Of Montreal is the brain child of Kevin Barnes, the music creates a fantastical cartoon universe, complex layers of music twist and turn whilst Kevin spouts beautiful formed, willfully honest and emotionally dense lyrics. The band started in the late 90’s connected to the Elephant 6 scene, which also spouted Neutral Milk Hotel (Jeff Mangum is listed as a contributor to 1999’s The Gay Parade). But it was 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic which brought the disco sound which we associate with the band, to be honed with subsequent records The Sunlandic Twin and the 2007 behemoth Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?.
Last year’s Lousy With Sylvianbriar was seen as a slight musical return to the early albums in influence. Channeling 60’s Rolling Stones, Gram Parsons and Dylan, it is a stellar modern psychedelic folk rock record. With the grassroots influence and musicality, it’s no less complex than previous records, Kevin’s song writing really has the space to shine and the album can be listed as a highlight in the band’s ever expanding catalogue.
Live is where the band thrive, known for their colourful live shows they are accompanied with mesmerizing projections, bizarre stage props, imaginative costumes and on very rare occasions horses! The band are bringing their rock and roll circus to London to headlining the RFB Electric Ballroom stage on the Saturday of this year’s Camden Crawl.
We were lucky enough to get an exclusive chance to speak to Kevin in advance of the show to discuss their show, plans for the next album and the forthcoming documentary about the band.
Are you looking forward to coming back to London, it feels in some ways that of Montreal have a special connection with the city? Some of the best shows I’ve seen you play have been in London it always seems like you’re enjoying your self on stage here.
For us London, San Francisco, New York, Paris the big cities are usually the best shows cause people are like minded, fully engaged in the art that they’re creating and the art that they are into, and in a way and they feel special and usually it’s a very fulfilling experience.
Do you have any special London memories from shows or just being here in the city wandering around?
Yeah you know just hanging out and partying, the last show that we played in London was definitely a highlight of the tour.
That was spectacular seeing you crowd surf from the stage to the back of the room and then just start signing autographs, that was a really special moment. It seemed like you were really enjoying yourself.
Yeah, I was, I was really happy that night, it felt like a really good show and that space is really cool and we’d never been there before.
Have you got any special plans for the Camden Crawl Electric Ballroom live show?
Yeah, well this tour is complete different from the last tour, it’s different personnel, it’s going to be more dance focused, the last couple of tours have been sort of full band and playing more of the songs from Lousy with Sylvianbriar our last record and following that vibe, but this tour is going to be way more beat heavy dance heavy and we’ll be playing mostly songs exclusively from Sunlandic Twins and Hissing Fauna.
You know that Prince recently played a secret show at the Electric Ballroom. Maybe you can challenge Prince’s residual energy into your live show?
It’ll be great to hear more of those songs slightly older songs live again. Will the next album will be more back to the sound from those albums?
Well the next record I’m working on right now is probably going to be more influenced by bands from the late 70’s in New York, bands like Talking Heads and Television.
So a bit more post punk-y new wave
A bit but also there’ll be some prog influences, and it’s hard to say right now as we haven’t started recording yet, but right now as I’m collecting inspiration for the record, I have about eight songs written and now it’s just a matter of figuring out how I want present them, produce and record them.
I always pretty much worked out of Athens cause I have a home studio here, it’s so much more economic.
You can spend as much time as you want, you have to be very strict with yourself when you have your own studio cause you have the luxury of time
Yes, well I’ve been working with an engineer and he and I kind of co-engineer the record. He only has like two weeks so it kinda helps us to have a deadline. Also having other musicians coming in to play on the record, and they have other things they have to get off to, so we have a sense of a time frame.
Will that album be recorded later on this summer?
We’re going to start messing around and experimenting with stuff in August and then start recording in earnest in September
I hope you have air conditioning in the studio, the Athens heat, I’ve been in Athens in August and it’s quite an experience.
It’s pretty intense, but by now I’m kind of used to it
You’re playing in Moscow before you come to London, are you looking forward to it?
I’m excited, I’m a little bit nervous because it’s hard over here to know what it’s really like over there, we get all this stuff about oh it seems like such an oppressive government and oppressive system, the whole Pussy Riot scene. They seem to be so insanely homophobic, so all that stuff kinda freaks us out, cause I’m definitely a dandy, and for a dandy a homophobic country is a dangerous place.
Will you have time off to see the city?
Yeah we do have some time off to see the city to hang out and hopefully not get beat up
A documentary film about the band, The Past is a Grotesque Animal, is being released on the 24th June, “a personal, accessible portrait of an artist” and retrospective of the band’s career.
The film is coming out in a few weeks, that must be exciting for you?
I’m not sure that it’s really exciting, it’s a weird movie, it’s not really about the music, it’s more about the drama of being in a band.
How much involvement did you have in it?
I did some interviews but I wasn’t steering the ship or anything, it was another person’s vision. I had some say in editing certain things out that I thought were a bit too brutal and just unnecessary. There was a cut that I couldn’t even deal with, maybe it would’ve been interesting for people to see how low a situation could get as far as relationships falling apart and people feeling depressed. It got really really dark. It does still have that in the documentary, there’s still a lot “I got kicked out of the band and I’m sad” and “Kevin is an asshole” and blah blah blah… It’s not something that I’m ever going to watch but I guess other people could find it interesting.
It feels like there’s generally a lot of nostalgia these days and what with the oM and E6 films and Neutral Milk Hotel reforming. What nostalgia do you have for the Elephant 6 scene?
Well I’m kind of a bad person, in that sense I really don’t have any nostalgia or any sentimental feelings about the past or Elephant 6, I don’t really think about it
or care about it. It was just this time period in my life and, it’s not like I don’t have fond memories, but it was really a period of frustration for me, you know we were just starting out and so many years of playing shows to 20 people and sleeping on people’s floors, those were the hard years. And then there was a lot of fighting, whatever.
I always thought it was nice how you and your brother (artist David Barnes) have been working together for so long, he’s been involved in the artwork and the live shows and I was wondering how that collaboration works.
Well for the album artwork, it’s usually me giving him some sort of direction but him taking it in some new area I couldn’t of imagined, cause that’s what does. He would normally listen to the music and get immersed in the spirit of the album and let that influence what he creates for it.
And with the live stuff, it’s totally him, I don’t know if it really has anything to do with the album or the songs or things like that. I mean I’m sure he’s listening to it when he makes the visuals but it’s kinda this mysterious thing that I don’t really know that much about, I don’t really know his process, I just know that it’s amazing.
So it was his idea to wear the lycra body suits?
Yeah, all the theatric stuff that’s pretty much him
Is he going to be with you at the London show?
He’s not, but our video guy will be.
Has the live show element always been part of this. The first time I saw oM in 2003 the show wasn’t really like that. Was the theatrics always part of the show or is that something that has developed as there’s been more resources and the music changed?
Yeah I think that very early on, whenever David could get away from school, he’d come and do something, we always wanted some sort of theatrical element, some sort of visual element, he didn’t do so much touring for a while, it wasn’t maybe until Sunlandic Twins until we got back into it, and have got heavier and heavier into it since then.
Of Montreal are on stage at 9pm at the Rock Feed Back Electric Ballroom stage at the Camden Crawl. Tickets