Music News

Three questions with Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes

Among the most popular and successful of the bands associated with the Elephant 6 collective, Of Montreal started off as a sort of indie pop band with an experimental edge. Instead of sticking to a strict formula, however, the band evolved dramatically across several records, fearlessly exploring lyrical themes of disillusionment and alienation within the context of upbeat music.

In 2004, Of Montreal put out Satanic Panic in the Attic, ushering in a period of experimentation in which the act injected elements of soul and R&B into its songwriting. By the time 2008's Skeletal Lamping came out, the band had developed its music into a futuristic, psychedelic funk, with a highly theatrical and visually arresting live show to match.

If Eno-era Roxy Music, Gabriel-era Genesis and There's a Riot Goin' On-era Sly and the Family Stone could have their collective DNAs spliced, it would be a bit like Of Montreal's current incarnation. We spoke with the band's lead singer and founder, Kevin Barnes, post-soundcheck in Oslo, Norway.

Westword: You had a variety of packagings for Skeletal Lamping, some more traditional than others, with the non-traditional items including download codes and the like. What inspired offering your albums that way?

Kevin Barnes: Just to do something different. Now you can download music so easily that album packaging is kind of a dinosaur, and it's sort of dying away. We wanted to bring life back to album packaging and use the climate of the industry in our favor. Rather than think, "Oh, nobody cares about album packaging, so let's just stop making album packaging," do the opposite and make album packaging that's more valuable, more artistic and more important than your typical digipak.

You've covered Yoko Ono's "I Feel Like Smashing My Head Through a Clear Glass Window." Why Yoko Ono, and why that song in particular?

I always liked Yoko Ono, especially how conceptual a lot of her stuff is. A friend of mine had shown me some art books of hers. I think she gets a bad rap a lot of times.

Elephant 6 isn't really a going concern these days, but when you were involved in that whole thing, what kind of impact did working with that group of people have on you personally, and on what your band did and was able to achieve?

It was definitely inspiring for me to meet those people. To meet Will Hart, Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider — they were very inspiring and motivating for me. To see people that were a little bit older than us that were forging their own way on a DIY, totally indie level, was very inspiring to us. We realized we didn't have to wait for a major label to pick us up. We could actually put out our own records — record the albums ourselves in our bedrooms and yet still reach an audience.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.