In Of Montreal's latest video, Kevin Barnes wears heavy makeup and a shiny white body suit. He looks like a spermatozoon. He dodges comets in outer space, swims with sharks, dances with men wrapped in Christmas lights, warms his hands by a fire with British colonials playing drums and banjos, and thrashes around with a giant lobster claw on one arm. Tripped-out-to-the-gills is Of Montreal's new aesthetic. Their sold-out show this week is rumored to be their most "ambitious and complex" to date. Over the phone last week, Barnes said, "We have a couple of video projectors and there are some freaky props I don't want to tell you too much about because I don't want to ruin—"
Okay, c’mon. Tell us some of the freaky props.
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Let's just say that it's visually... interesting.
Have you always worn makeup?
Not really, this is kind of a new thing. We started getting into it on the Sunlandic Twins tour, where we were just sort of experimenting with a glammier approach to the way we present ourselves live, and once I got into it I realized how much fun it is. It puts you in this different mind space, so instead of being your regular old self you become something exceptional.
Does someone do your makeup for you?
I do it myself. Some nights it's pretty spotty.
Where do you buy it?
I've been going to department stores. It's just been MAC products. But then I realized yesterday, I had this kind of retarded breakthrough: "What the hell am I doing wearing this kind of stuff? It's not even stage makeup. If I really want to get something really wild, I should get stage makeup."
So people can see it.
Yeah. Also I was like, "Why are these colors just boring? There must be cool colors out there." And then you realize most people don't want to look like a crazy peacock. You know, in their everyday life.
The song “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” from your last album, The Sunlandic Twins, was on almost every playlist I made for someone in the past year. I don’t know why. Do you know why?
Oh cool. I don't know, it might be one of those things where it hits you on a subconscious level, this real level that you don't really understand, but you just think: "I like this." I feel the same way about a lot of songs. I can listen to them hundreds of thousands of times and never get sick of them. The Beatles are like that for a lot of people. You can listen to the White Album or Sgt. Pepper's like a trillion times over your lifetime and never get totally sick of it.
Are you a stoner? I’m thinking of the song on your new album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, about “the chemicals.”
Yeah, that has nothing to do with drugs. That's the chemicals in your mind.
Yeah. I went through this chemical depression, and that's when I was writing a lot of the songs for Hissing Fauna. They're all songs about that experience. And I was experiencing it in the moment that I was writing the songs, and sort of asking myself: What the hell is going on? Why are you all of a sudden totally paranoid and plagued by these anxieties? And why is everything so distorted and confusing and fucked up? My lifestyle hadn't changed that much. And then I realized, well, there's something going on inside of me that I don't have control over, and then you realize how vulnerable you are to these things, these elements that you can't understand, or unless you go on medication and get it under control. It's like you're being betrayed by your body.
Sometimes if you just put on a dress or something your whole mood can change.
To some degree. I'd gotten to that point where nothing was working. I was borderline suicidal, and my relationship with my girlfriend had totally eroded and she'd gone back to Norway with our daughter and everything was totally fucked, and I was just like, What can I do? "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" is about that. The lyrics tell the story of what was really going on and the music sort of represents this other emotion that I wish existed. The music was really happy because I wanted to make something that would lift my spirits.
Well, your songs make me happy.
Aw, thanks man.