Of Montreal ready for Halloween spectacular
Graphic by Haley Henschel
Kevin Barnes is a remarkably soft-spoken individual, especially in contrast with the hyper-literate, vaudevillian bombast of his recorded output—never mind his band of Montreal’s legendary, super-saturated, super-saccharine live shows. Barnes, a staple of the indie-rock scene since of Montreal’s debut in 1996, has covered remarkable ground during his tenure, playing everything from twee pop to psychosexual meditations over extended passages of prog rock.
Ever prolific, Barnes recently released his 12th album, Lousy With Sylvianbriar.
“Sylvianbriar’s a name I made up, and it’s an homage to Sylvia Plath,” Barnes said. “I was reading a lot of Sylvia Plath when I was working on the new record, and she ended up haunting the record in a way, in a good way, in an inspiring fashion in my life and in my mind.”
Sylvianbriar is a stark departure from the unhinged madness of the last few of Montreal releases, and the artwork—a departure itself from David Barnes’ typical combination of the fantastic and the grotesque—reflects that.
“This is the first [artwork] in a long time that my brother [David] didn’t do, and mainly I wanted to have a different look, a different aesthetic than the previous records, just because it is pretty stylistically different from the last couple records,” Barnes said. “The motorcycle was sort of symbolic of the spirit of the record, which is taking a lot of inspiration from late ’60s, early ’70s [music] … the first really big youth movement in this country—artistically, politically, sexually.”
The recording process for Sylvianbriar likewise diverged from Barnes’ typical later-period method of assembling all of his compositions personally.
“Of the early first five or so records I made, they were all done on an analog tape machine,” Barnes said. “This new record was also done on an analog tape machine, and I didn’t use any sort of modern techniques . . . it was all just human beings playing instruments in the room together. That was fun. That was a cool challenge for me.
I just sort of hit a point with [recording everything personally] where I felt like it was getting a bit stale, a bit homogenous, because all the ideas were just sort of coming from one person, so I really wanted to makes something that was a bit more collaborative.”
The album has been touted as a return to form in a sense to the whimsical sound of early records, but the deeply personal and dark lyricism that’s permeated later-period of Montreal records—replete with deviant and sexual pathos and self-referential black humor—persists in a jarring juxtaposition.
“I think there will always be that contrast between wanting to view the world in a more positive way, but naturally viewing it in a slightly more cynical way,” Barnes said. “And there’s something therapeutic about writing from a darker perspective that helps you exorcise those demons a bit more, I think.”
The group’s live act, distinct from Barnes’ typically solipsistic studio work, has also seen a facelift of sorts.
“The people who played on the record, there are two people who have never toured with us before,” Barnes said. “Most of the people are either brand new or pretty new.”
Any fears of the band subduing their more excessive or elaborate displays during their live shows in the face of the protean Sylvianbriar are groundless, though.
“It’s important for us to put on an interesting visual performance in addition to the music, so there’ll still be animations, projections, performance art and costume changes and all that. It’s going to be an event, it’s going to be interesting,” Barnes said.
When asked about of Montreal’s upcoming Halloween show in Madison, Barnes cryptically intoned “Basically every night is Halloween, with all the costumes and theatrics and stuff, but we do have something up our sleeve, and we’re very excited for that.”
Of Montreal plays the Majestic Theater Thursday at 8 p.m.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter