Q&a Of Montreal - Kevin Barnes on his new album, despression, writing for Aretha Franklin & why he regrets doing THAT mobile phone ad
Hailing from Athens, Georgia, Of Montreal were founded Kevin Barnes around 1996. Having just marked the release of their first ten albums with a special cassette boxset, the band are turning their attentions to the future with their eleventh long-player, Paralytic Stalks, due for release on 6 February. Here Barnes explains how this darker, more personal album is a "Stanley Kubrick meets David Lynch meets Dario Argento horror movie" and why he regrets doing that mobile phone ad.
How the devil are you?
"Pretty good man. Pretty good. It feels great to have the record finished and ready to come out. You know, you make a record, you sit around for a bunch of months and wait for the point when it can finally come out... It feels good to be at that stage where people can hear it at last."
The new record is your eleventh studio album in fifteen years. Would you consider yourself a prolific songwriter?
"Maybe. I've already begun working on new stuff for the next record, so I guess so. [laughs] It's just part of my life. I don't think, oh God, I've gotta write a new album or new song. It just comes naturally. It's a pretty long process, songs don't come easily to me or anything, but yeah, songwriting is very much a part of me. I like to get in the studio and totally immerse myself in the spirit of the record. I don't want to have any distractions. When I get into that state of mind, it's a messy place to be. It's difficult to maintain relationships outside of it. I become obsessed with it."
How obsessed did you become making Paralytic Stalks?
"Err, I got pretty obsessed with it, sure. I was working through a lot of stuff emotionally at the time. I was in a very pessimistic, frustrated state of mind, dealing with a lot of self-loathing issues. I wanted to try to do something positive with that energy - I'm not sure how successful I was with that. The album is the most chaotic mess of ideas and emotions I have ever put together. I am proud of it, in a sense. It certainly captures what I was going through."
A cathartic process, then?
"Well, I suffer from, err, chemical problems, depression issues, all that stuff. I just have to fight through it. I'm not completely destroyed by my own mind but I struggle a bit with things - every twenty minutes I feel different. I'm having a nice conversation right now, but in a few minutes I could be banging my head against a wall. So, yeah, it's really cathartic having an outlet for all that stuff. I use music as a form of therapy."
You've just announced a US tour, with hopefully more dates to follow in the UK. Your shows are notorious for being extravagant, colorful affairs. What do you have planned this time round?
"In the past we've used performance artists to be more playful and, well, comedic. This time because we're doing something darker and more personal. We don't want to have people dancing around in pig masks or whatever. We wanted something that was going to work with the music a bit better. Something that's visually interesting and adds to the experience, using projection and lighting to create a more cinematic experience. The record is kind of cinematic, actually - kind of like a Stanley Kubrick meets David Lynch meets Dario Argento horror movie, you know?"
It's been a few years now since you appeared in a T-Mobile advert. You got a fair bit of criticism for it at the time. How do you feel about the whole thing now?
"I've been thinking about this recently. There definitely was a period where we were more involved in commercials and on TV more. Looking back, it's really embarrassing. God, man. I got so bored of it. When you get in that world, you become this kind of caricature. The TV world, it makes a character out of you. Look at Lady Gaga for example. She's been very successful at creating that whole Fame Monster persona. But eventually it just becomes more and more pathetic. You can't do it forever. It almost seems we became less successful for doing the whole TV thing. The way it works in the indie scene is the more commercial you become, the more people think you're selling out. The more people will turn away from you."
You regret it now? You wrote quite an angry response to your detractors at the time...
"I don't know why the hell we did it. I must have been crazy or something to go along with all that shit [laughs]. It's really bad for me as an artist. I was seduced by the possibility of becoming more famous. Now I'm just embarrassed. I can't believe I could be so petty. It's difficult - if you've never had money and someone's there offering you a lot of money to do something like that, it's a terrible predicament to be in. Am I just going to say No and be broke? That's the kind of quandary you see a lot of indie artists in. Having a romantic connection to an artist is important, you know? It's easier for me to like someone who's a bit of an underdog. I hope we always have that."
As someone who released records through the Elephant 6 Recording Company, a collective that included Netural Milk Hotel's Jeff Magnum among its number, are you happy to seen him back playing live again?
"I totally understand why someone like him would want to go into seclusion, to not do interviews. Not play shows. I think it's great if he's getting something positive out of it, that he's back doing it. I haven't talked to him about it so I don't know how he feels about it but hopefully he enjoys it and it will encourage him to make more music."
You have been rumoured to be working with Phoenix on their new album. Are there any plans to collaborate with other acts in the near future?
"Nothing like that, but I have been kicking around this idea that'd be fun to write songs for someone else. But every time I write with some one else in mind, I end up thinking, No I like this too much! I want it for the next Of Montreal record! [laughs] I would have loved to make a record for Aretha Franklin or Nina Simone. Someone like that. Those two had these tortured private lives and I'm kind of drawn to that. It makes the music feel more real."
What are your plans for the year ahead?
"The plan is simply to, yeah, release the record, go on tour, continue writing, just keep going, you know? I remember seeing this Bob Dylan interview where this guy was asking him, So you've been tour for like 40 years, when are you going to stop? Bob just looked at him like he was crazy. You just keep going till you die."
Al Horner @Al_Horner
Head to Ofmontreal.net for more.
10:00 AM | 04/01/2012
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