Kevin Barnes Gets Personal -- We Think -- On Of Montreal's New Stalks

Left-right: Nicolas Dobbratz, Davey Pierce, Dottie Alexander, Kevin Barnes, Bryan Poole, Kaoru Ishibashi, Clayton Rychlik
Left-right: Nicolas Dobbratz, Davey Pierce, Dottie Alexander, Kevin Barnes, Bryan Poole, Kaoru Ishibashi, Clayton Rychlik
Photo by Patrick Heagney

Of Montreal hasn't gone a year without releasing some kind of new, evolved material since their debut album Cherry Peel in 1997. Lead singer Kevin Barnes repeatedly claims the group's new album, Paralytic Stalks to be his most personal.

Barnes has written and produced most of Of Montreal's tracks since the start of the band, so when he claims that his album is going to be personal, it's going to be really personal.

With that in mind, Paralytic Stalks contains lyrics with fun references to parasites, blood, exposed brains, the time Barnes perhaps slipped in his own vomit, and the enjoyment of making people cry.

Kevin Barnes Gets Personal -- We Think -- On Of Montreal's New Stalks

True to Barnes' style, such lyrics are mostly sung in an upbeat tone, though Paralytic Stalks contains such a cacophony of sound that many of these lyrics remain indiscernible over the album's orchestrated pop clamor. That being said, it's possible to listen to the entire album and not have a clue about what Barnes is singing about.

Past the first song on Stalks -- "Gelid Ascent," which ends up with a cool Oasis-like stadium-rock sound to it -- I honestly wanted to write this album off as noise at first. That supposed orchestrated pop clamor of the album really just sounded like clamor to me. In fact, I still held that sentiment when I interviewed Barnes about a week ago. I thought it lacked the melody and hooks that Of Montreal's previous albums had.

Then, a couple of full listens later, it clicked. This is still Of Montreal. They're still loveable. So Paralytic Stalks couldn't appear in an Outback Steakhouse commercial, but there is some sense in this album's off-kilter sound.

I mean, Of Montreal has always been off-kilter. That's a given. Point is, Stalks still provides the intriguing glam-rockish psychedelic circus of sound that Of Montreal has always provided one way or another.

So, Barnes claims that Paralytic Stalks is a dark record. It isn't a brooding, dark record, like falling into the depths of a black metal album or something, obviously. Though, it would be funny to see Barnes performing in a black-metal getup... as his dark alter ego.

Barnes explained in his interview here that Stalks doesn't involve the likes of Georgie Fruit, or any other alter egos per se. Barnes is simply performing as his great self. Maybe that metal alter ego will appear in a later, heavier album, as Barnes hinted to us.

Rocks Off: Let's start off with an obvious one. What do you think your new album Paralytic Stalks says about you?

Kevin Barnes: It says that I'm a very charming man. It also probably says that I'm like a really fucked-up person, probably, so somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in the middle. Yeah. Probably not very charming, actually.

Paralytic Stalks came from a very dark place, and I hope that it reaches people that are in a similar state of mind and it makes them feel less alone and less crazy or whatever.

RO: Is there anything you could specifically attribute to that feeling?

KB: No, I think it's just, you know, being conscious. It's just something that is sort of in touch with my internal world or whatever. I go through phases sometimes where I think it's just, you know, personal imbalances. It's stuff that everyone goes through. Sometimes you're in a darker space than other times.

RO: Yeah, I think that's something we could all relate to. Is there any persona that you would like to attribute to Paralytic Stalks, or is this album, I guess you could say, in first person?

KB: Yeah it's definitely in first person. It's definitely directly from my personal life and I wanted to, I guess just felt, very naturally driven to make a very personal confession, a more intimate sort of record.

I'll do a persona sometimes if I'm in a better state of mind. If I'm in a happier state of mind it makes sense do a persona thing than If I'm in a more dark, frustrated mood. A persona is sort of... it's sort of a really difficult thing to pin down and say that oh, that's not me, that's a persona because of course everything you create is coming from you anyways. It can't come from the outside.

So, there's always going to be personas, but sometimes you use it as a device. You know, you use it as a writing device, a creative device, or whatever you use to create a persona so that you can sort of put yourself into a state of mind that you would actually feel most directly related to your most personal experiences.

So, I think it's still a personal thing, but you're able to kind of feel and say things that you wouldn't necessarily feel were true to your real life. They're sort of fantasy things.


RO: I heard that your tour kickoff show went pretty well via your opening band for that night, locals Wild Moccasins. Are there any stage antics, per se, that you might do in presenting these new songs? Will you be arriving on stage on a giant white stallion this time? Perhaps a black one?

KB (laughs): Well, we're not really doing anything sort of comedic, whereas in the past couple of tours there was absurdist comedy. This, this tour is definitely more visual. It's more hallucinatory and reportive visually. We have a pretty dense and intense visual production.

So, I guess in that way it's kind of heavier, I think, just because of the subject there of the record. It's a bit heavier and more personal so we didn't want to create something that was goofy and that wouldn't really follow. It wouldn't really be of the same spirit.

We wanted to make something beneath the music in a good way and a heartfelt way, yet that was still really interesting and had a lot of dynamic. Anyway, we've done that thing; you know, so many times in the past -- that funny/party thing. You know our shows are still... a celebration of life, in a way, but it's not as superficial.

RO: Are you going to be performing some of your older albums? Would you maybe lighten the mood to perform some of your older songs?

KB: Yeah, we are definitely including songs from previous albums. I'm trying to pick songs that, you know, sort of fit the mood so it's not completely jarring, because some of the stuff from previous records would definitely be. They would feel out of place up next to Paralytic Stalks.

So we're trying to take songs that fit the mood of Paralytic Stalks, but we also don't want it to be a downer so it's not just sadness, sadness, sadness. There has to be some kind of positivity and enjoyment. So we're trying to make them blend.

You know, it's funny, because the show that we did with the Wild Moccasins felt interesting for me because whenever we played any of the Paralytic Stalks songs next to other album tracks, it felt almost like I had like a personality crisis. I was kind of telling myself, "God, who am I?" And then I had this realization that all this stuff is just coming from my brain, that you know it's all me.

I don't have to feel awkward about singing a Skeletal Lamping song or False Priest song after a Paralytic Stalks song because it's all me. It's all genuine. It's all coming from a pure place.

RO: Any specific influences in your newest album?

KB: I was definitely influenced by 20th-century avant- garde music. There were certain compositional tricks that people were doing during the early 1900s and up until the '60s that I found interesting and tried to incorporate into my sound. I have a very... I'm just very interested in creating things that are very melodic but not predictable.

So, a lot of the sounds on this record in fact do sound melodic, and some of them have sort of a soul influence just as much as always. I always try to make something that has a melodic quality to it. I just don't want to create something predictable.

That's just for my own brain. I just get bored so quickly. I mean, I'll listen to something that is fairly predictable and I'll enjoy it, but I can't really make something like that myself. I mean, if I have the mind to do something differently, that organic spirit, I think I should use it... I'm never really satisfied with myself. I'm always thinking of something new.

RO: Awesome. Okay, I have about a minute. Picture your midlife crisis. If you were to make an album during that time, what would it sound like? Go!

KB: Oh, I thought about that, actually. I hope I go through one. I hope my midlife-crisis record sounds like... some sort of, like, guitar-rock record where I'm trying to, like, feel young and just wanna play some rock and roll (laughs). Yeah I hope I make a hard guitar-rock record.

RO: Any last words?

KB: YO HOUSTON! ...Well, I'm excited to be there to play for you fine, fine people.

Of Montreal performs Sunday, March 11th at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 7 p.m. Barnes also plays a solo-piano set 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth.

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