Kevin Barnes, the frontman of Of Montreal, never ceases to change things up—be it between one album to the next, or even from the beginning of a single song to the end. While it might feel unusual, it is not uncommon to walk away from an Of Montreal track feeling as though you’ve listened to multiple songs in one.
Having lived out a high-energy music career since the late 1990s, one might expect Barnes to be running out of steam or creative juices by now. That couldn’t be further from the case. The proof is evident in both the release of Of Montreal’s 12th album and a live show that never sleeps.
“It’s been great. We’ve been on tour basically three months or something, with a week off here and there. It’s been nonstop all over the world,” Barnes said.
The tour follows in the footsteps of the release of their latest album “Lousy With Sylvianbriar.” For the writing of this album, Barnes trekked from his Georgia home-base all the way to San Francisco. As with previous sabbaticals—such as his time spent in Norway—this location change allowed time for Barnes to retreat into his head, while simultaneously venturing out and soaking up his surroundings.
“It helped me get into a vegetative mind,” Barnes said. “I was really influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s rock and folk music, and a lot of it was made in San Francisco during that time period. It was cool to be out there and wander around and explore.”
Although the writing occurred while on the West Coast, the recording took place back home in Athens, Ga., in Barnes’s home studio. Unlike previous instances where Barnes took on recording in solo fashion, this experience proved to be something nearly unheard of for Of Montreal, yet welcomed. Consolidated in the course of only a few weeks, recording the album was a democratic, unified effort, involving a new cast of members Barnes has assembled as the band’s current lineup.
“It was a lot of fun because everyone was contributing parts. Everyone was emotionally invested in a way that was very collaborative,” Barnes said. “It was great to have a group of people to bounce ideas off of and take pressure off of me.”
While “Lousy With Sylvianbriar” may not be an intentional divergence from albums past, like the others, this one proves nothing short of unpredictable.
Barnes freely admits that what happens beforehand certainly shapes what comes after, even if you don’t set out and say, “I’m not doing it like that again.”
“Everything is influenced by what came before it,” he said. “It’s hard to really step outside and say what is inspiring it—everything happens in an organic way.”
Despite the organic pathway of inspiration Barnes heeds, he has name-dropped several key influences, from Bob Dylan to Sylvia Plath. Plath’s influence even drove the name of the album itself.
“I felt like she was really influential, or her spirit haunted the writing process,” Barnes said.
Although there remains plenty of movement in the album tracks, overall “Lousy With Sylvianbriar” boasts a less frantic atmosphere and presents several songs that are largely stripped down.
“It doesn’t have to be glam disco pop all the time,” Barnes explained. “It’s cool because it allows for some more abstract things. It adds more dynamics to the show and different emotions are expressed.”
Barnes has taken Of Montreal’s theatrics around the world time and time again, and despite the over-the-top nature of the band’s performance aspect, it’s something he feels never needs to be toned down or altered for any given audience.
“I love it because we have our own thing and everyone is doing something different,” Barnes said. “I view it like when we go to some new places, we show them what we do. I never think we need to tone it down or anything like that. We just do what we do.”
With another album down and months of touring ahead, it is clear Of Montreal won’t be slowing down—at least not anytime soon. Barnes notes he already has multiple new songs written for yet another Of Montreal album. However, he might decide he wants to start from scratch since he is already moving on to new inspiration.
“It’s just what I do. And it’s my main focus,” he said. “It’s kind of like my identity centers around it, and I am always looking for the next inspiration to chase after.”
WHAT: Of Montreal with Boogarins
WHEN: 8 p.m., Monday May 5
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $17 – $20