Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes Talks Touring, Depression, and Song Dynasties Documentary
It took Haruki Murakami three years to complete 1Q84, the Japanese author's nearly 1,000-page surrealist novel set in a fictionalized 1984 Tokyo. He described his creative process in a 2011 interview with The Guardian as "routine," waking each morning well before sunrise, diving straight into his "subconsciousness," and then writing until noon.
By comparison, Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes pens melodies while doing the dishes.
"I know that Murakami, and certain authors, will dedicate a certain chunk of time every day to writing," Barnes says. "I've never really tried to do that. If a melody line pops into my head while I'm dong the dishes, I'll write it out."
Barnes recently spoke with Crossfade from his home in Athens, Georgia, where Of Montreal is gearing up for the umpteenth leg of its latest tour. The 18-city trek kicks off Wednesday, November 28, at The Stage in Miami.
"We've had a couple extended breaks," he says. "But we've basically been busy since around March."
In fact, Barnes has been busy much longer.
"Before I discovered songwriting, I'd write songs in my head," he says. "My mom always told me that when I was a little kid, I was constantly singing and making up songs."
Barnes was born in Ohio in 1974. His dad was an accountant, and mom worked at a bank. "They encouraged [my creativity]," he says, "but I couldn't see through them that [a career in music] was possible."
For Barnes, it was a long, personal path to becoming a professional musician.
"No level of encouragement would get me to the point that I'm at now," he says. "You need people along the way to make you feel okay about what you're doing. You need people to tell you that you don't suck. But at the same time, no level of encouragement is going to make an artist out of somebody."
Persistence and passion paid off when Of Montreal released its first studio LP, 1997's Cherry Peel, as a three-piece indie pop-rock outfit on Bar None Records.
"Through my songs, I add beauty and mystery and happiness and love and new landscapes and sadness and laughter to a life that's not very interesting by itself," Barnes wrote in Cherry Peel's Bar None bio. "My life is elevated to a better place through my songs."
Nevertheless, Barnes doesn't perform songs from that record. Or any Of Montreal release predating Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, the group's 2007 breakthrough album.
"It's awkward to even think about Cherry Peel, or 1997," Barnes says. "It doesn't really feel real. It almost feels like a dream. I can still remember writing the songs, performing the songs, and I can remember the way it felt, but I don't feel that connected to them. That's why I don't play any songs from records that were made before 2007."
Since the release of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Of Montreal has pursued what's become its signature brand of abstract conceptualism, paving a creative road for other neo-psychedelic indie-pop acts along the way.
"It's so much easier for people to find an audience these days," he says. "As a kid, there wasn't much of indie scene. Nowadays, there are tons of people who are excited to help you."
Barnes admits that he isn't very nostalgic, but rather "always living the present." Despite a seemingly normal childhood -- albeit sans indie -- and a successful music career, the 38-year-old has publicly battled with depression in years past, and revisiting certain parts of his life may be too painful, he says.
"A lot of those times, especially early on for the first six or seven years [with Of Montreal], were a terrible struggle. To go back and think about those times is not something that really brings me much pleasure."
Avoiding them, however, is becomingly increasingly difficult.
On November 12, Of Montreal launched a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $75,000 for Song Dynasties, a feature-length documentary about the band's 16-year history.
"I'm not the one editing it," Barnes says. "I'll probably watch it, but it won't be something I spend too much time with, I think. It'd be weird if I just sat there and watched my documentary over and over again."
Instead, Barnes will likely be conjuring up a new record. He's "planning on diving head first" into the process early next year.
"I started writing songs for the next record and started thinking about what I want to do moving forward, but it hasn't reached the point where it has a defined personality yet," he says. "It's still coming together."
Conceptually, this new project is already shaping up to be quite different from previous Of Montreal records. Just like Murakami, Barnes is going to dedicate a daily chunk of time to his craft.
"For the first time next year, I'm going to go somewhere and write. I'm going to spend two-and-a-half weeks just being in this place writing, which I've never done before. I'm kind of interested to see if anything happens."
Of Montreal. With Levek. Presented by Mute Miami. Wednesday, November 28. The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $18 plus fees via completeticketsolutions.com. Call 305-576-9577 or visit thestagemiami.com.
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