I think it’s easier to be productive and prolific if you incorporate your life into your art.
BY JAMIE ROBASH
Over the course of 14 records and countless singles, Kevin Barnes — the driving force and sole constant creator behind legendary Athens glam-pop patriarchs Of Montreal — has laid waste his most personal feelings to the point where the listener at times may feel like a priest in the confessional booth or a therapist scribbling notes as Barnes lays supine on a Freudian couch. The erstwhile Of Montreal frontman was just as forthcoming in a recent conversation with Chicago INNERVIEW as we plied him with questions about his creative process, his nonchalant attitude towards turning his personal life into art, and the direction he sees his prolific project moving towards.
Chicago INNERVIEW: Your latest record, Innocence Reaches, skews heavily towards contemporary EDM in places. How did that come about?
Kevin Barnes: I guess I was just feeling stuff like that at that moment and wanted to make it different from the records that came out before it. The record before it [Aureate Gloom] was more rock and prog and I guess had more of a ‘70s influence to it. So with the new record I just wanted to make something more dancey, more electronic. I’ve worked within that genre in the past and I kind of stepped away from it for a number of years, but I’ve always found it very challenging and interesting to work with drum programming and layering synths. So basically I was just excited about doing that again at that moment.
Chicago INNERVIEW: You’ve stated that your lyrics are like an open journal. Do you find making music therapeutic?
Kevin Barnes: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s easier to be productive and prolific if you incorporate your life into your art. There’s not much of a filter typically for me and I think when I listen to music, that’s what I connect with. If I feel there is a straight path from the singer’s voice to their life experience, it feels more exciting. And yeah, I guess that’s what I’m always trying to do with my own work.
CI: Your lyrics, which are oftentimes dark, are quite a contrast to the liveliness of your music.
KB: Oh yeah. The kind of music I like is more colorful and more buoyant. I don’t listen to like Radiohead or like really somber things like that. I tend to gravitate towards more colorful and funkier sounds. But when it comes to writing lyrics, it’s just going to be representative of where I’m at personally because I’m sort of a depressed person [laughs]. It just tends to end up more on that side, you know, that melancholic side. So yeah, just kind of combining those two things and not caring really that they are seemingly in opposition of each other.
CI: A specific question about the song ‘A Sport and a Pastime.’ Did you lift that title from its original in the Koran or is it an allusion to the James Salter novel of the same name?
KB: Oh yeah, that was a reference to the novel. It was something that a friend of mine turned me onto, someone that I was involved with, and it’s sort of a reference to her and to us.
CI: That novel takes place in France, which is where you began recording Innocence Reaches. Is that correct?
KB: Yeah my friend has a studio in Paris and I was living there and working out of there for a couple weeks. And that was one of the major catalysts for getting back into electronic music and dance music was working there because he has a bunch of analog drum machines and cool old synthesizers, so those were just the tools I could pick up around the studio and mess with. And it was a small studio in a residential area, so you can’t play loud rock guitar or record live drums or things like that. So it had to be a little more direct, so I was just plugging things directly into the computer so it sort of pushed me in that direction, which felt exciting.
CI: Does it feel different writing a record in Paris say than in Athens, Georgia, where you live?
KB: Well, it’s mainly being outside of my comfort zone, being away from my responsibilities. I like going on writing retreats because I can just focus all my energy on trying to create things every day versus when I’m at home, there’s a lot of distractions.
CI: In the arc of your musical career, you’ve experimented in many different genres. What do you see yourself gravitating towards for future Of Montreal records?
KB: I’m really interested in electronic sides of Asian pop music. I’d like to move more in that direction. Not necessarily straight k-pop, but I do find that sonic landscape interesting. I’d like to move in that direction a little bit more.