The prolific songwriter is at it again on the band’s 13th studio release, Aureate Gloom
If the best art truly comes from a place of heartbreak, pain and transcendent inspiration, Kevin Barnes could be considered a modern-day Marcel Duchamp of the Dadaist movement.
Much like Duchamp, the lead singer of the Georgia-based indie psych-rockers of Montreal is a prolific creator, making a dozen albums since releasing his first album – Cherry Peel – in 1997. His 13th studio album – Aureate Gloom – came out in March.
Mostly penned during a two-week writing retreat in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan last winter, Barnes went to New York in the hopes of channeling the music of the late ‘70s – bands like the Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith. Adding his own psychedelic twist, the album was recorded in September at the Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas.
Aureate Gloom deals heavily with Barnes’ separation from his wife of 10 years, taking a somber tone in his wordsmith lyrics. The album also takes a look at current events – specifically the story of “Bassem Sabry,” who was a prominent Egyptian journalist during the Arab Spring who died by falling off of a balcony last April. Barnes tells Sabry’s story with the lyrics: “There must be a softer vision that you could kick to/In this aureate gloom, I assume/Both sides are embarrassingly backwards in their thinking/Bearing no one to side with, none I want to defend.”
Along with of Montreal’s extensive catalogue of music, Barnes takes his lyrics to a different plateau through highly theatrical shows, complete with huge costumes, impressive lighting and mind-blowing visuals to give the songs an even greater life from the studio recordings.
Barnes spoke with us last month from his home in Athens, Ga., as he prepared for a short European tour, discussing everything from his musical process to his love of Cleveland sports teams and professional wrestling.
Michael Yoder: How easy or difficult was it for you to work on Aureate Gloom?
Kevin Barnes: It’s always the same amount of difficulty as far as getting the thing together from start to finish. But I really didn’t feel like it was all that laborious of a process. It’s sort of integrated into my life in a way that’s very natural and organic. I just write songs. It just sort of happens. I don’t really wake up every morning at a certain hour and force myself to be creative. It happens when it happens, and I try to stay in tune to it. So a song happens, and then I decide how I want it to be arranged and orchestrated and then where I want to record it and who I want to help me record it and make it happen.
MY: Does it ever feel like you’re channeling a song from some other entity or place when it comes to you?
KB: I don’t imagine there’d be any reason for some other entity in some other dimension to have these stupid songs in their heads. [laughs] I think it’s just coming from inside of me somewhere, and it’s really just a combination of my influences and my experiences and my interests. I don’t think anybody else could write the songs, for better or for worse. It doesn’t really mean anything – these are the songs that I write. I don’t think of it as divine inspiration or anything like that.
MY: What was the first song for Aureate Gloom that took shape for you?
“It’s really just a combination of my influences and my experiences and my interests. I don’t think anybody else could write the songs, for better or for worse… I don’t think of it as divine inspiration or anything like that.”
MY: Where were you when you first heard the story of Bassem Sabry?
KB: I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it. It wasn’t big news in the U.S. or anything. I think I was just doing some research about the Arab Spring and somehow stumbled upon his story and found it very moving. It also seemed to represent what my attitude was towards the concept of the underdog going against the machine or going against the government or whatever oppressive regime that you’re faced with. He was very brave and risked his life to give a voice to the common person who was suffering under the cruelty of that regime. He paid the ultimate price for it, and it’s important for us to remember people like that.
MY: Do you feel like you’ve tried to be a champion of the underdog through your music?
KB: On some level, I feel romantically connected to underdog-ism – if that’s a term. But it’s easier for me to romanticize something that’s unpopular or overlooked or unknown than it is for me to get excited about something that’s really trendy or popular and in the moment. And I’ve always been that way – not just with music, but with sports teams and things like that. I’m always rooting for the team that doesn’t seem like it has a chance to win because it’s more exciting when they do win. It’s not really exciting when a team who’s supposed to win actually wins.
MY: Kind of like the Cleveland Browns?
KB: Yeah, exactly. The Browns are the thorn in my side, but I can’t stop loving them. I think it’s probably because growing up with the Browns and my dad screaming at the television set, but never turning it off. It’s just a weird childhood memory of being like, “But Dad, why are we cheering for this team? They stink.” And he’d be like, “Yeah, but they’re our team.” [laughs] I kind of have a weird relationship with sports just because growing up outside of Cleveland, I loved all the Cleveland teams. I’ve just been very loyal to them. I’ve been down in Georgia for a really long time, and I keep trying to get into the Braves and the Falcons and the Hawks, but it just never happens. I think that somehow it’s something like a spell that you get put under when you’re a really young age, and you can’t get clean from it and always care about it. [laughs] I guess it shows I’m not really as fickle as I might think I am.
MY: You’re known for your theatrics and creating characters for your live shows. What would be your ideal professional wrestling character you could portray?
KB: I’m definitely drawn towards the heel – sort of the villain in wrestling. I remember growing up, there was a guy named “Leaping” Lanny. He started off as this wimpy, skinny poet who would write poems and throw them into the audience. Of course, the audiences were these redneck, homophobic people who were booing him and screaming at him. The way he played that part was just so amazing to me. I was a kid watching this and thought, “God, this guy is so amazing – just antagonizing all these rednecks.” [laughs] He was forcing them to deal with their bigotry and ignorance, but they don’t really recognize it. For them, it’s just this animal reaction – sort of a visceral thing. To subvert the scene in that way was interesting for me. So if I was to have a wrestling persona, I’d be one of the people who everyone hates. I think it would be more interesting and definitely more challenging – more difficult to deal with people booing. I just like the emotional complexity of those characters, too, because they’re trying to get the audience pissed off, and they themselves will act very sensitive to the reaction that they’re getting. [laughs] So it’s a very complex dynamic, which is definitely more interesting than the Hulk Hogan guy that comes out and everyone loves.
of Montreal plays the Chameleon Club (223 N. Water St., Lancaster) on Monday, May 4. Icky Blossoms opens. 7pm. $18 at the door. 18+. Click here for more info.