No Direction Home


Wednesday, March 7 at 8 p.m.

Freebird Live, 200 N. First St., Jax Beach

Tickets are $15


Over the past 15 years, no band has channeled glam rock, twee pop, dance funk and electro psych as successfully as Athens, Georgia’s of Montreal. Add in the group’s hyper-literate lyricism, fantastical artwork and notoriously flamboyant stage productions, and you’ve got a singular modern group with no antecedent and very few contemporaries. Primarily the songwriting, recording and performing vehicle of Kevin Barnes, the distinctive moniker was inspired by a failed relationship that the frontman had with a woman “of Montreal.” The band’s 11th studio album, “Paralytic Stalks,” does represent a surprising departure, however, by placing experimental dissonance alongside their trademark sound of danceable Bowie-esque pop. Folio Weekly chatted with Barnes about overcoming personal madness through art, Dadaist board games and the band’s ambitious upcoming tour.

Folio Weekly: Where did the motivation for this challenging new album come from, Kevin?

Kevin Barnes: I started listening to more avant-garde classical music in the last year, getting interested in things like micro-tonality and composition-style arrangements that aren’t really typical in pop music. “Exorcismic Breeding Knife” is a good example of that, where I was trying to create something that’sde. nitely in no way conventional pop.

F.W.: You worked with session musicians for the first time in a decade. Did that add to the heady, experimental brew?

K.B.: Kishi Bashi added a lot. He has more of a classical, musical-education background, so it was cool to explain to him what I wanted to hear. He’s such a talented violinist and arranger that he was able to create a lot of things that I couldn’t on my own.

F.W.: Yet for all that dense instrumentation, the album’s songwriting seems more personal and self-reflective. Did you have things you needed to get off your chest?

K.B.: Definitely. I went through a really dark period of self-doubt, depression and psychosis in my life, and I was just trying to redirect that negative energy into something more positive through my art. Trying to navigate through that madness and not be destroyed by it.

F.W.: In past interviews, you’ve emphasized your distaste for playing older material.

K.B.: It’s just a bit awkward, because I get so deeply immersed in the new project; when I do a song off of an earlier record, it’s almost like I’m covering it. I still feel there’s a thread that connects all the records together, but I’m not there anymore. I’m in some other place.

F.W.: So should we expect all new material on of Montreal’s upcoming tour?

K.B.: No, we’re going to mix it up. Going to concerts myself, I know the audience doesn’t want to hear just the new record. Audience members who’ve only seen us a few times before aren’t going to get sick of hearing us play a song that they love. But it’s tricky, because I can personally get sick of my own songs.

F.W.: You’ve released some fairly innovative ephemera with past albums, but the offerings with “Paralytic Stalks” were the standard CD, cassette, LP and T-shirt. What gives?

K.B.: Well, the CD is still a really popular format — the sound quality is still far better than mp3s. But I imagined that by now, CDs would be completely irrelevant, and everybody would be releasing art objects as album packaging, like we did with “Skeletal Lamping.” Maybe it’s too cost-prohibitive, or we haven’t figured out a marketplace for it yet. We are working on a Dadaist comedy board game, though, that should be ready by the time we go on tour.

F.W.: The tour actually starts in Jacksonville on March 7. Is it just because we’re geographically convenient to your Georgia home?

K.B.: I went to high school in South Florida, and I remember feeling isolated because there weren’t a lot of indie bands coming through. So I’ve always made a point of playing in Florida as much as possible.

F.W.: As a writer, I really appreciate of Montreal’s song and album titles, which could easily be collected into a poetry book of their own.

K.B.: I’m definitely a fan of the written word, and I’ve always had a thing for titles. It’s just another chance to do something creative; obviously, it’s not commercially palatable to name a song “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” but it’s more fun. ­ There’s a lot of laziness in music, and we don’t even question it. So I won’t give a song a really obvious title, because I want to think of something more creative. Just for the hell of it, and just because I should.

Nick McG

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