Unless you're a die-hard Of Montreal fan, it's difficult to keep up with the band. The band name serves primarily as a moniker of lead singer/songwriter Kevin Barnes, a Georgia native who has released a colossal amount of music over the band's 20 years: 10 EPs, 14 LPs and 7 compilation albums -- not to mention an album's worth of singles.
Prior to Of Montreal’s show at the Music Box on Monday, I spoke with Barnes over the phone while he was at his home in Athens, Georgia, where he was enjoying the cool gray skies while my phone proceeded to overheat mid-interview from the hot San Diego sun.
The secret to Barnes' longevity is quite simple.
"I drink mostly Yerba Mate tea," Barnes said. "That’s my secret.'
After his softspoken sarcasm, he continued:
"There are so many different kinds of songs a person can make, so I just kind of experiment, and I don’t put any limits on what I can do. There is so much I still want to do, and I'm really excited about the possibilities of the art form, so that's what keeps me going."
I always felt Of Montreal's music tapped into a certain area of the brain that doesn't get used -- there is so much weirdness happening in each song, from abstract lyrics to strange vocal harmonies -- that the colorful, '60s psychedelic pop becomes organized chaos.
"I guess some people will have a certain aesthetic they want to follow, or they will have a concept of what they want to do; they kind of just stick to it -- I don’t know what it is," Barnes said. "I've always been interested in records like 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society' or all of the Beatles records. They do a lot of genre-hopping, so I always felt like an album should feel like five or six albums in one. It shouldn't be just the same flavor over and over again."
Part of the reason Of Montreal becomes so weird is how Barnes can channel his emotions into his music, whether it's a deep depression or extreme happiness.
"Frustration can be inspiring in the sense that you're trying to escape from it and you're trying to transcend it -- create an escape from it," Barnes said. "So, I think that my art has been a form of escapism. If I'm going through a difficult psychological period or an emotional period, I often sort of immerse myself in the creative process because it is really fulfilling and it's also a good distraction. It gets your mind off the things that drive you crazy or try to channel that energy into something more positive."
At the same time, Barnes argues against being too in control of the creative process.
"I don’t really want to become a master of my emotions -- that would be kind of boring," Barnes added. "I like being at the whim of my emotions. That's why, when I've been on medication in the past, it's been sort of a drag, because I don't really want total equanimity inside my brain. I don't want everything just to work and for me to be extremely balanced at all times. It's actually kind of boring -- I like the highs and like the lows. When I feel good for too long, I actually get suspicious, like, 'What’s going on?' Then I try to blow something up in my life and just create a disruption, just to shake things up."
It's hard to believe Of Montreal have been around for over 20 years. I asked him if he has another another two decades left in him.
“Well you never know," Barnes said. "I'm working on a new album now.... But I think that I am a musician, I am a songwriter -- I've kind of always been that. I discovered songwriting when I was about 13. Up until now -- I’m 42 -- so I haven't lost interest or found a new interest that I like more. It's definitely in the realm of possibilities that I will be doing this if I live to be 60 or 70.”
Barnes has some limit's though -- there was that one time in Las Vegas where Barnes played naked: (here's a link, if you dare). I wondered if we could look forward to that again when he's in his 70s.
"Let’s hope not."
Musician, people-pleaser, lover, fighter and writer Matthew Craig Burke has been spewing musical words of wisdom since never. He lives off of peanut butter sandwiches, beer and Beck Hansen. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.