A band in a constant state of flux, of Montreal never ceases to surprise and seduce their listeners. With a show coming up in Stockholm, we caught up with bandleader Kevin Barnes to talk about the difficulties of music making, Sylvia Plath, and the band’s twelfth studio album Lousy With Sylvianbriar.
Ever since Kevin Barnes first founded the band in Athens, Georgia in 1996, of Montreal seems to have been in a constant state of flux. With Kevin Barnes as the only consistent member, the band has moved from vaudeville and psychedelic twee pop to a mixture of electronica, funk, and glam, just to arrive at softer and more straightforward sound at their latest album, Lousy With Sylvianbriar. With a show coming up at Stockholm venue Kulturhuset on March 4, we caught up with Kevin Barnes to learn more.
What is it that drives you to keep making music, and to keep transforming?
– I never feel satisfied with anything I create. I guess that motivates me to keep trying new things and exploring different genres. It’s a fun challenge to try to create a different sounding album every time, I approach it almost like starting a new band.
What is it that you want to convey with your songs?
– I just want the songs to be unpredictable and to have a strong personality of their own. I want them to be emotive and intelligent and to never feel cliche or boring.
I want the songs to be unpredictable and to have a strong personality of their own
What would you say is the hardest thing about writing music?
– I guess the hardest thing is to not repeat yourself. The more songs you write the harder it can be to produce songs that don’t sound like your own style. I try to avoid developing a sound or a musical identity. I’m always trying to defy what I’ve created in the past and to keep pushing forward into new directions.
Do you ever listen to your old albums? And if so, is there any one that you think stands out, or that means more to you than the others?
– I don’t often to listen to the albums once they’re completed. Years will go by without me listening to the older records. I find them very fulfilling to create and in the moment they are the most important things in my life, but very quickly I grow bored with them. I don’t think I’ve made a great album yet, but there are a few songs on every record that I feel proud of. Some of my favorite songs are The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, Ye, Renew the Plaintiff, You Do Mutilate?, and Colossus.
Where did you find inspiration and influences for the latest of Montreal album, Lousy With Sylvianbriar?
– I was listening to a lot of Graham Parsons and The Grateful Dead and Dylan and Leonard Cohen and reading the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsburg.
There are some references to Sylvia Plath on the album. Could you tell us more about how she inspired you?
– I was reading a lot of her work during the writing and recording process and I felt like her spirit was sort of haunting the album. I wanted the album title to reference her because I felt like she was very instrumental in the way the album turned out. It’s kind of abstract, but it’s just a sense that I had.
You relocated to San Francisco when writing the album. How did that affect the process?
– I think it was great for me to be in a beautiful and exotic environment and to be able to focus completely on writing and reading. I didn’t do much socializing, I would wander around the city and spend a lot of time inside my head thinking about song/lyric ideas. It was a very inspiring period of time for me.
I felt like her spirit was sort
of haunting the album
With this album, you eschewed computer recording in favour of live recordings, saying that “you wanted to work fast and to maintain a high level of spontaneity and immediacy”. Where do you think this longing for spontaneity and immediacy came from?
– Probably as a reaction to the last group of albums that I made, where I worked mostly as a solo artist and did everything myself over the period of many months. I wanted this album to be more of a collaborative effort, and for the personality of the musicians to be very present. I felt the need to work very quickly and to try to finish the album within a couple of weeks. It was a lot of fun and it was a very rewarding experience.
Most of the musicians partaking in the recording were new recruits. Do you think that had any affect on the outcome of the album?
– I think it helped to make the process feel very unique and exciting. It’s always good to bring in some fresh energy. The new musicians were very emotionally invested in the album, and I think that made it more fun and rewarding for me. We were all feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm and excitement. It was great to make an album as a band and to share the experience with my good friends.
So what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
– My big dream is to avoid shadow trolls and my great hope is to someday soon understand why cattle is so crispy.
of Montreal will perform at Kulturhuset in Stockholm on March 4.