[MAIN GUY OF THE BAND OF MONTREAL]
In the winter of 2006, in a scene that repeated itself at venues across the country, Kevin Barnes of the band Of Montreal ascended the stage at New York’s Bowery Ballroom dressed in a wedding gown, announced his upcoming divorce, and asked the audience to join him in holy musical matrimony.
Barnes has since reconciled with his former wife, Nina, who is also the mother of his daughter, Alabee. Their separation, however, is the subject of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, a late-career masterpiece from a band that has been putting out magnificent records since 1997.
Of Montreal takes its name from the home city of another woman who long ago had a failed romance with Barnes. The band is actually of Athens, Georgia, home of the Elephant 6 collective, which spawned Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples in Stereo, and many loosely affiliated bands.
Barnes, now thirty-two, has only heightened his well-known theatrical antics with age. On the Hissing Fauna tour, he has appeared in a kimono, gold booty shorts with fishnets, and a ten-foot dress, which he enters through a ladder onstage. He also famously played naked at a winter show in Las Vegas, though he says that stunt will be reserved for the rare twenty-one-and-over show.
When I went to meet with the band in Seattle, they were playing a set at the radio station KEXP, during which they were threatened with having their tour van forcibly removed from the lot adjacent to the station’s studio. Later that day, I spoke with Kevin Barnes over coffee before that night’s sold-out show at the Showbox (the van was safely—and legally—stowed in the venue’s lot).
THE BELIEVER: What you are doing right now sounds more like how a novelist works. It seems unusual, though, for a musician. Most musicians either aren’t capable or aren’t interested in doing all the parts. How did you get to that point, and when did you realize that?
KEVIN BARNES: For me, it became a sort of meditative experience, like therapy. I first caught the bug when I was in high school, with a cassette 4-track recorder and a pair of headphones. It was a form of escapism. I wasn’t happy living with my parents, living in south Florida, going to school with these rednecks. Going into my bedroom, putting on my headphones, and getting lost in the creative process was extremely beneficial and healthy for me. Producing something of value in some way sort of justified and validated my existence.
I felt like there’s no point in me sitting around watching TV and feeling bitter and miserable. If I can turn these ideas, emotions, and internal conflicts into something more poetic and romantic and interesting that can affect other people’s lives as well as my own, then I should do it.
Of course, I didn’t intellectualize it in that way. I just have all these ideas and I work very fast. When I’m working, I just shut off. I have no sense of time or hunger or having to go to the bathroom. I’m so off in this other world, and I really love it. I feel so fortunate to have something like that. I think a lot of people—novelists, painters—have a similar experience.
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