Interview: Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes

Of Montreal
No sprinkles, astonishingly. Photo by Patrick Heagney.

Exploring the roots of involuntary head-bop squadron Of Montreal's robotic funk-pop is actually pretty easy. At least in the sense that songwriter Kevin Barnes is pretty open about his creative process, and he more or less runs the whole show on his own. Unfortunately, this also leaves him without the moderating effect of other presumably-less-zany band members, whichs how we end up with songs titled "Wraith Pinned To The Mist and Other Games" and "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse." (And, for that matter: "Dirty Dustin Hoffman Needs A Bath," "Dustin Hoffman Thinks About Eating The Soap," "Dustin Hoffman Does Not Resist Temptation To Eat the Bathtub," and "Dustin Hoffman's Wife Makes A Sarcastic Remark, Cuts The Head Off A Duck, Places It Where The Tub Was, And Begins To Groan.")

But he doesn't like to talk about those days anymore. You might say he writes his riffs the same way he writes words: in bizarre, idiosyncratic, torrential blasts.

"It's almost like Stevie Wonder's in the room with me or George Clinton's in the room with me, and I'm trying to make them laugh and trying to make them dance or whatever."

More from the interview below.

The Hook: What can you tell me about your upcoming album, False Priest?
Kevin Barnes: It's not as fragmented as Skeletal Lamping – more conventional songwriting, it doesn't change every minute. We're trying to create a really good headphone record that can transport you to these different places and sort of scatter your brain in a cool way.

The Hook: Does less jumping around between riffs leave you with more material for another album?
Kevin Barnes: Sometimes I will actually write a full song on the piano before I start recording it, but typically I'll just start recording and just start layering ideas on top of each other. With False Priest I wanted to make something where there was a pocket that you could kind of lose yourself in.

The Hook: How do you think this change will go over?
Kevin Barnes: It gets ruined if I imagine someone listening to it. There are very few people whose opinion I would take to heart.

The Hook: Producer Jon Brion is one of them, I assume?
Kevin Barnes: He has an amazing understanding of how instruments work together. This record actually has a lot of trunk-rattling bass. We're really trying to push that side of things that normally I never had before. That's what comes out in the club.

The Hook: I'm having trouble picturing Of Montreal as a club thing.
Kevin Barnes: Not like I want to come on after Lady Gaga or whatever; we're not really trying to compete in that way. But it will be the sort of record that you will have a different experience if you listen on a really great sound system, whereas in the past it really wouldn't make that much of a difference.

The Hook: This seems to run counter to the "headphone album" approach.
Kevin Barnes: That's kind of the balance we're trying to strike.

The Hook: So, trunk-rattling bass in the live show too, then?
Kevin Barnes: Well, we'll be at the mercy of the clubs we're playing. But I've decided that I wanted to just get rid of the backing tracks completely and just have live instrumentation.

The Hook: Given how dense your songs can get, that must require a lot of musicians.
Kevin Barnes: I would love it if we could be like a fifteen-piece band or something, but it's just kind of cost-prohibitive.

The Hook: So did that decision affect the way you wrote the new material?
Kevin Barnes: No. To me, the recording is something that will last a lot longer, and hopefully people–- just like I listen to records that were made forty years ago or whatever, hopefully people will listen to Of Montreal records decades from now. The live show is fleeting.

The Hook: Wait, suddenly you're not as into the dancing?
Kevin Barnes: Well, in addition to making you want to dance.

Of Montreal performs at the Jefferson Theater on May 31. $35-$27 unless you win the free tickets in our contest prize package, 7pm.

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