of Montreal tones down the extravagant costumes of his show in favor of being more vulnerable and open on stage
Gothic Theatre | March 29
By Jonny Rhein
In 2008, at The Roseland Ballroom in New York City, of Montreal frontman, Kevin Barnes came out on stage almost completely naked on a white horse. He’s worn drag, dressed as religious figures and cowboys, and he’s risen from a coffin covered head to toe in shaving cream. For Barnes, dressing up during performances is a way of self-expression, but sometimes he feels like he loses himself in the character.
He has recently toned down his extravagant onstage wardrobe. He doesn’t “want to just be a caricature of something,” he told The Marquee during a recent interview. “It’s fun to mix it up and sometimes be — well I’m, of course, always myself. I guess, just wanting to be more vulnerable and more open and accessible, spiritually and emotionally on stage.”
Barnes has been pumping out psychedelic pop hits for over two decades as of Montreal. The band’s roots that span over sixteen studio albums are made up of Beach Boys-esque harmonies, popping basslines, and intricate arrangements of melody and soulful chord progressions.
of Montreal’s latest release, UR FUN, is no exception. The album dives deeply into Barnes’ personal life and thoughts — his powerfully loving relationship with his girlfriend, Christina Schneider, his recent realization of his dissociative disorder, and his view of the current political climate among other things. His previous album White is Relic/Irrealis Mood dealt with the beginning stages of love, and UR FUN is the next installment in a series of autobiographical releases.
“Well, I’ve fallen in love during the making of White is Relic so there’s some songs about that — about the beginning stages of love, and then on this record, there’s a bunch of songs that are about my personal life and my relationship with my girlfriend,” Barnes said. “So, I think that’s definitely informed a lot of what has become creatively for me. The songs that are dealing with personal romantic things are definitely deeply connected to what’s actually happening in my real life.”
In the closing track on the album, “20th Century Schizofriendic Revengoid-man,” Barnes opens up about his experience with a dissociative disorder. It’s the feeling that the world in which you live is just a simulation, and the only thing that’s real is yourself. He still struggles with the disorder, but it’s not crippling and the depression medication helps.
“That is more a reference to my dissociative disorder and what I’ve sort of struggled with from that, and this feeling that I’m in this simulated reality and that nothing’s actually real. It’s something that hit me a couple years ago and I wrote about it a lot on the last record. It’s something that I’ve always had, but I didn’t really know the term for it, and then when I started investigating that a bit more I was like, ‘Oh! That’s what my ‘problem’ is!’”
To get these ten intimate songs onto tracks, Barnes spent long, twelve-plus hour sessions in isolation in his home studio, piecing them together one instrument at a time, and experimenting with different genres and production styles. He has worked with other musicians on past albums, but like much of of Monreal’s body of work, Barnes decided to take UR FUN into his own hands. Working alone without any outside factors provides him with a sense of escapism in the recording process.
“It’s fun to work by myself just because I kind of get lost in the vacuum of the creative process and lose track of time and space, and I don’t have to worry about appeasing anybody else or making sure that other people are taken care of or anything like that; I can just be totally self-consumed,” Barnes laughed. “In that way, it definitely feels more therapeutic and cathartic to just get lost in the whole process.”
Lately Barnes has been feeling more comfortable in his own skin. The vulnerability that shines on UR FUN has prompted him to reflect that energy onto the stage. He has done away with the drag and costumes on recent tours for the first time in years.
“Sometimes if you have a really elaborate costume, I at least have the tendency to sort of dissolve into that character or persona, and it can be fun, but it also can make you feel a bit more detached and guarded. It’s kind of cool to be completely unguarded and completely vulnerable on stage,” he said.
When he’s working in Athens, Georgia, Barnes doesn’t get out much; he lives a mostly insular life with little human interaction. He spends his time at home with his girlfriend and daughter. Living in a bus for weeks with his close friends and bandmates serves as a balance for his detached lifestyle in the studio.
“I think it’s really healthy for me to go out on the road and to force myself out of my comfort zone and to go on stage and perform the songs,” Barnes said. “It’s a totally different experience from writing the songs and recording the songs. It’s cool to feel that the music is coming alive in that way and it’s becoming more communal in that people are hearing it, and if they’re familiar with the songs and they’re singing the songs with me, it helps me break out of my shell and break out of that little vacuum that I live in.”
Barnes’ lack of drag and costumes won’t take away from the immersiveness of of Montreal’s live performance. The band has invested in new lights, new theatrics, and new visuals.
Given Barnes’ pattern of releasing an album every couple of years or so, obviously he has already been thinking about his next project.
“I already have three songs cooking right now,” said Barnes. “So far, I want to do something with more of a Latin vibe to it because I’ve never really worked with Latin genres — with Latin percussion and rhythms and production and things like that, so that’s where my head’s at right now. I don’t know if I’ll keep going in that direction, but that’s what I’m thinking right now.”
Gothic Theatre | March 29
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