Interview: Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes


Written for the Evening Times newspaper (Glasgow)

Date: 12/2/14

THE cult US group that defies definition is preparing to bring its rare concoction of theatrical music back to Glasgow.

“Scottish audiences are pretty raucous and wild, I love it,” says Kevin Barnes, frontman of the American rock band, Of Montreal.

“That’s what we want, we don’t want people approaching our shows in an academic way and critiquing it in their minds. We want people to dance and go wild and have fun.”

Their visually captivating and colourful shows illustrate the band’s dramatic imagination.

According to Kevin, their shows are “musically wild and alive and full of energy and emotional depth.”

“It’s hard to say what people can expect because they’re not going to have heard anything like it before.

“It’s not something that can be easily condensed into a sentence.”

The sound Of Montreal produces varies, with inspirations ranging from the iconic David Bowie, and “pretty funky” 80s synth pop to “Americana” music similar to Bob Dylan.

“We’re basically a combination of all that popular music blended together in a weird way,” the contemplative 40-year-old added.

Originally founded by Kevin in 1996 in Athens, Georgia, the group have experienced constant change with the release of each album.

Its 12th record, Lousy with Sylvianbriar, is the “beginning of a new chapter” for Kevin as he re-located to San Francisco for musical inspiration.

He said: “It’s the closing of one period and opening up of another, in that the people that I have worked with for the past six or seven years are not in the band anymore.”

The thought of previous band members attending the performances of the new line-up provokes a mix of emotions for Kevin.

“I think that on a certain level, there’s too much ­baggage,” he said.

“When you’re not playing in a band anymore, it’s just like any kind of relationship. You don’t really care much about your ex and how they’re doing, you kind of tend to just move on.”

While this saddens a part of Kevin, their recent release signals a new direction.

“In a way I think it’s good for me, as I’m just a really restless person so I’m always looking for new sources of inspiration,” he said.

“I guess before, I felt like it was just getting too stagnant, and I wasn’t really moving in the direction I found exciting anymore.”

The new members are currently proving “really helpful on both a symbolic and musical level” for him.

“They are all incredible musicians and they understand music theory and other aspects of the creative process that I don’t, so we work really well together,” he said.

Every version of the band has produced different material, and Kevin describes each record as having its own “identity, personality and spirit in a way.”

“If you go back through the whole catalogue, it might not even seem like the same band,” said.

“There are a lot of early records from which we don’t even consider playing songs because it just feels so different.”

He describes their recent record as a “sort of late 60s, early 70s counter-culture singer-songwriter Americana”.

Artists such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the poetry of Sylvia Plath influenced the album recordings that were controversially made on a tape machine in the frontman’s room.

Compared to previous records that feature a variety of instruments both clashing and meshing together, the simpler music arrangement of the 12th record works to avoid distraction from the vocal performance and lyrics.

“The record is very lyric driven, and I just got into the poetry of song-writing and wanting the lyrics to be interesting and captivating,” he said.

With this creative process wrapped up, Of Montreal are looking forward to their return to Scotland at the Glasgow School of Art on February 18.

The theatrical group is known for their flamboyant and engaging performances, with previous shows including a white horse appearing on stage.

“The tour with the horse was really special and was the biggest production we’ve ever done,” he said.

“We’ve also done slightly smaller versions of that, and it’s always interesting, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Kevin promises a “pretty emotive and psychedelic video production” that will make up the backdrop of the Glasgow show.

“There will be costume changes, and that whole theatrical thing,” he said.

“It should be really interesting and probably the best thing happening that night in Glasgow – I hope.”

Of Montreal, The Art School Student Union, Scott Street, February 18, 7pm, tickets from £9.


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