The Athens, Ga., band Of Montreal has changed its sound about as often as it's changed its lineup, but songwriter/singer Kevin Barnes has always been at the heart of it all. Their latest, Lousy With Sylvianbriar, finds the Barnes-led collective leaning away from the dance/funk tilt of the last few records and more toward the organic psych rock that’s been Of Montreal's foundation from the beginning.
Of Montreal will be at the Irenic in North Park on Saturday, and SoundDiego spoke with the prolific frontman to preview the show.
Scott McDonald: Can you run me through the process of making the new record? It had to be different.
Kevin Barnes: It was very different. We recorded it onto an analog tape machine in my home studio with a full band. The last few records I’ve done have basically been solo records. On this one, I wrote all the songs, but we worked them out as a band and did most of the live tracking together. The last couple of records were labored over for months and months, but we were able to get this one done pretty quickly. We basically finished it within three or four weeks.
SM: Is there ever a catalyst to the changes in sound from album to album?
KB: It’s all what I feel excited about in the moment. I just roll with that and never really worry about whether it fits into the catalog of other songs. If I’m feeling inspired by something like Fairport Convention at a particular moment, I’ll probably write a song that sounds like that – or, really, anything else that I’m inspired by.
SM: How are the new songs working live?
KB: They work. And it’s been cool to have them in the set. They have such a different vibe than the rest of the other songs, it’s been a challenge to try to fit them in with the glam/dance side of things. At first it was a bit awkward putting songs from Slyvianbriar next to songs from things like Hissing Fauna, but night after night of playing around with it, they’ve all come together in a way that makes sense. Nothing is jarring, and it really feels like it’s all part of the same organism.
SM: Things are still coming from such a personal place. Does that ever become difficult?
KB: Not really. The only time it ever gets at all awkward is when there’s a song I wrote for a person in the moment and it felt really powerful, then the relationship changes, and you’re left with this really passionate song about a person who you’re not really passionate about any more. Or if you write a song when you’re really angry with someone, then the anger dissipates, and all you’re left with is an angry song.
SM: I guess you could just change the muse of those songs to whoever is currently pissing you off.
KB: [laughs] You could totally do that!
SM: You still putting time into the theatricality of it all?
KB: It’s something that we definitely take seriously and get some sort of fulfillment from. We always want to do something exceptional and not just your typical live-music experience.
SM: It’s crazy to think that you’re only a couple of years away from a 20th anniversary. Doesn’t seem possible.
KB: It’s gone really fast. But it’s like a weird compulsion for me. I just have to do it. We all have to do it, and we’d be there whether people wanted us to do it or not. That’s kind of how it was in the early days, anyway. But it always feels fresh and in the moment.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com