Q&A: Kevin Barnes On Of Montreal’s Next Album Aureate Gloom
of Montreal have finished recording the follow-up to last year’s Lousy With Sylvianbriar. It’s called Aureate Gloom, and it’s coming out in early 2015. Kevin Barnes describes it as a chaotic record that spans many moods and genres in an attempt to wrap his head around the personal upheaval in his life over the past year. I spoke with Barnes this week from Athens, where the band was preparing to depart for a North American tour that continues tonight in Charlottesville. We discussed the personal and musical circumstances behind the new project, and he offered some background on the demos he recorded in San Francisco for Lousy With Sylvianbriar. Check out his previously unreleased early recording of “Belle Glade Missionaries” and get the lowdown on Aureate Gloom below.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about the demos you recorded for Lousy With Sylvianbriar.
KEVIN BARNES: I made that when I was out in San Francisco the writing of the record. I demoed all the songs, sort of rough versions, just to get an idea of how I wanted to arrange them once I had the band together. So it’s just me playing all the instruments and kind of throwing something together.
STEREOGUM: It’s neat to hear one of your songs in that format just because you definitely get a lot of use out of studio. Obviously it’s not like of Montreal has never had any stripped-down acoustic songs, but it’s always cool to hear a song morph.
BARNES: With that record I was really trying to make something that would work with a stripped-down arrangement or with less frills going on in the orchestration. I wanted to make something that would work in an acoustic setting or with a smaller ensemble. So I think I had it in mind when I was putting down Sylvianbriar and that song in particular.
STEREOGUM: Did you pick out this demo in particular to share?
BARNES: I think that this one was selected by someone at the label, but I thought it was a good choice because it is one of the more complete sounding demos, as far as having a bass line and slide guitars and harmonies and all of that stuff. So it’s not extremely intimate sounding orchestration necessarily, but it does sound different from the full-band version.
STEREOGUM: When you make demos do they typically get that elaborate?
BARNES: Sometimes. I feel like the demos that I made for the new album were, a lot of them were extremely raw — just guitar and voice. I didn’t bother trying to do much percussion, or I didn’t really have a lot of instruments to play with when I was making the demos, so I was kind of relying on everyone to use their imaginations. So I’d be like, “OK, this part is going to sound like Led Zeppelin. Right now it sounds like someone who can barely play the guitar, but you have to use your imagination of how it will sound when we are all playing together.” Normally I try to take the guess work out of it and let people see. I try to produce what I’m hoping to hear as an end result with the demo.
STEREOGUM: The fact that these newer demos for the new project are more raw and leave more to the imagination, has that resulted in the songs going directions you hadn’t imagined or taking on new life once the band got their hands on them?
BARNES: I kind of misspoke. I kind of did two rounds of demoing. The first one is definitely a guitar and just doing something really simply. That’s when I was traveling. I did another writing retreat this summer up in New York City. I was staying up in this place where it was kind of weird for me to be there and this other place was like, don’t draw any attention to yourself and make as little noise as possible. So I felt a little more self-conscious. I was just trying to be a non-entity, so I didn’t want to make much noise. But I still wanted to be productive, so I was working with just an electric guitar plugged directly into the laptop. But once I had a sense of, “OK, this is how this is going to go,” the drummer, Clayton, and I got together and made bigger-sounding versions of everything in my home studio. And then he and I wrote all the bass lines and figured out where the keyboards are going to go, so basically we had a really good strong sense of how the arrangements were going to go and who was going to play what. Because basically we knew we weren’t going to have much time to work with because we went to this studio outside of El Paso, Texas called Sonic Ranch. The touring band, all five of us went out there. Everybody had some time to learn their parts before we went out there, so we had a pretty strong sense of how things were going to feel. It was just a matter of getting them to tape. So yeah, we went out to the Sonic Ranch and sort of dove right in the first day and basically did a song a day every day. We actually finished earlier than we had expected, so everyone is looking at me like, “Do you have any other material?” So I actually wrote a song while we were out there so we would have something to do for the extra day. And so we just tracked everything. I think it took about 11 days to do that, and mixing out there and that was another 10 or 11 days, so basically in about three weeks we had a new album.
STEREOGUM: You guys have now transformed the sound of the band several times over. There has been a lot of creative evolution over the years. Is the new album another departure? What was your vision for it?
BARNES: Well the reason I was in New York was I felt very inspired by the mid to late ’70s music scene in New York — you know, the sort of Max’s Kansas City, early days of CBGB and Television, Talking Heads. Bands like that. So I wanted to, even though the Manhattan of 2014 is basically like Disneyland — if I wasted to get the authentic “New York in the ’70s” experience I should have just gone to Philadelphia or Baltimore because that is probably more similar to how it actually was in the ’70s because now everything is so cleaned up. Anyways, I went to New York and just lived out there for two weeks and wrote some songs and kind of just wandered around, similar to what I did when I was on the San Francisco tour for Lousy With Sylvianbriar. The new album is sort of along those lines — not a complete homage to those bands or anything, but that was kind of the spirit behind it.
STEREOGUM: Can you offer any insight into the title and what it is about thematically?
BARNES: Yeah, a little. Aureate means something ornamental. It would be used more to describe something beautiful. So it’s kind of a juxtaposition of the two extremes: An aureate gloom would be a sort of aesthetically interesting or beautiful ugliness, if that is possible — a sort of beautiful misery or something.
STEREOGUM: Is there anything going on in your life that inspired that kind of thinking?
BARNES: The album is very personal. My wife and I separated in December, so I went off on some sort of journey, living a bit recklessly, a bit wildly, and just sort of reestablishing my sense of identity. Because, you know, when you are living with somebody and you’re a couple with somebody for as long as — we had been together for 11 years — so kind of reestablishing my identity outside of that coupledom. I was in a way just searching for something, some balance again after everything sort of exploded around me. I think I just reached this point where I really wanted to be alone and just sort of get my head together and move into some new chapter in my life and move into some new direction. The thing is, she and I are still extremely close. I still speak to her every day, and we have a daughter together, and I still love her, and she still loves me. But we just sort of reached this point where everything just felt so dead in a way. It just wasn’t moving forward anymore. It was just trapped in this space that became uninspiring. So, yeah, the album in a way is me writing about all the things that were going on. And in a lot of cases the songs aren’t really about one person or one event, it’s sort of everything that is going on mixed together. Like one line might be directed to one person, and another line would be directed to another person, and the next line might be me imagining how that person might react to what I just said to them. It’s just a lot of dialogue without a really defined author, so only I know who is saying what or what line is directed to who. So in that way I can see how it might be kind of confusing for people if they tried to figure out who the song was about or to think, “Oh, this is about this one person.” Because it felt much easier for me to keep my mind open in that sense and not try, say, “OK, this song is going to deal with this one relationship I’m having or this one disastrous event.” The whole thing will just be kind of lumped together, and I will deal with it all in this very abstract and unorganized way.
STEREOGUM: So it’s not like the album is linear.
BARNES: Right, every song there are a lot of starts and stops and moving into different musical styles, and different genres are referenced, and lots of different time signatures. It’s just sort of all over the place musically, and in a way it reflects the kind of state of mind I was in. One moment feeling, “What the fuck have I done?” and the next moment being, “Ah, I feel so liberated!” and the next moment feeling, “I’m the worst person in the world.” So it’s just reflective of that chaotic state.
STEREOGUM: I hesitate to say, “Oh, sounds like a cool record,” because the experience doesn’t sound like a fun thing to go through. But I’m excited to hear the results.
BARNES: Yeah, I mean I think that it is a really good record just in the sense that there is so much heart put into it, and it’s hard for me to be objective. Now that it is finished and the spell of it has worn off, I’m a bit muzzled. I feel like in a lot ways I get captured by a spirit of something and just sort of go head-first into it blindly and I don’t really second guess it or anything and it’s not really until a could weeks later, once the record is totally finished that I can say, “Whoa, what did I just do? What did I just create?” and I’m kind of in that state of mind right now. But I think that there are some really good songs on there, I mean I think all the songs are good and they are interesting and, you know, full of emotional power and magic.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a release date yet or a sense of when it will be out?
BARNES: Yeah I think it’s coming out early March or sometime in March.
STEREOGUM: You have to sit on it for quite a while.
BARNES: Yeah, that’s the worst part of it all. We made it really quickly, or it feels like we made it really quickly. And now we are going on tour tomorrow, but I would really like to play the new songs — and we are definitely going to debut some new songs and play a different new song every night. But still, that’s the thing I really want to be promoting, but like you said, you just have to sort of sit on it.
Aureate Gloom is due out in 2015. Check out of Montreal on tour in North America this month:
10/02 Charlottesville, VA @ The Jefferson #
10/03 Louisville, KY @ Headliner’s #
10/04 Columbia, MO @ The Blue Note #
10/05 Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre #
10/06 Minneapolis, MN @ The Cedar Cultural Center #
10/07 Des Moines, IA @ Wooly’s #
10/08 Denver, CO @ The Bluebird #
10/09 Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge #
10/10 Garden City, ID @ Visual Arts Collective #
10/11 Spokane, WA @ The Knitting Factory #
10/12 Seattle, WA @ Neptune #
10/13 Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom #
10/14 San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall #
10/15 San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall #
10/16 Los Angeles, CA @ The Mayan #
10/17 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom #
10/18 Las Vegas, NV @ Fremont Country Club #
10/19 Santa Fe, NM @ Skylight #
10/21 Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom #
10/22 Dallas, TX @ Trees #
10/23 Austin, TX @ Mohawk #
10/24 New Orleans, LA @ Howlin Wolf #
10/25 Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West #
11/20 Chicago, IL @ MCA Chicago (Kevin Barnes Talks David Bowie)
11/21 Chicago, IL @ Schubas (Kevin Barnes Solo)
1/13 Tallahassee, FL @ The Moon *
1/14 Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl Music Hall *
1/15 Gainesville, FL @ High Dive *
1/16 Orlando, FL @ The Social *
1/17 Tampa, FL @ Crowbar *
1/18 Miami, FL @ Grand Central *
1/19 Jacksonville, FL @ Freebird Live *
1/20 Macon, GA @ Cox Capitol Theatre *
1/21 Charleston, SC @ The Pour House *
1/22 Greensboro, NC @ The Blind Tiger *
1/23 Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge *
1/24 Chattanooga, TN @ Rhythm And Brews *
# w/ Pillar Point
* w/ Nedelle Torrisi