Although Kevin Barnes has experienced plenty of personal and professional change in recent months, he can't say exactly what inspired him to shake up Of Montreal's sound on the band's latest album, The Sunlandic Twins. The band's frontman and braintrust says with some certainty that it wasn't out of dissatisfaction, just an intuitive sense that something needed to change.
"You can only do one sort of thing for awhile before it gets boring," says Barnes as Of Montreal's tour van approaches T.T. the Bears, the venerable Boston venue hosting this evening's Pop extravaganza. "My roots will always be in that '60s psychedelic Pop, but I just became interested in other things."
The sonic shift on The Sunlandic Twins is actually a continuation of alterations that Barnes began on OM's previous album, last year's fascinating Electronic/Afro Beat-tinged Satanic Panic in the Attic, which was itself reflective of a number of changes within and outside of the band. Since the 2002 release of Aldhils Arboretum, Barnes married his girlfriend, Nina, who subsequently joined the band. Around the same time, longtime members Andy Gonzales and Derek Almstead departed to spend more time on their other bands and personal pursuits — Marshmallow Coast and family for Gonzales, Circulatory System and college for Almstead. After the legal shanghai of Kindercore Records (see kindercore.com for details of that particular debacle), OM signed with Polyvinyl Records for the release of the incredibly well received Attic.
The most recent change in Barnes' life is perhaps the most significant. Nearly four months ago, he and Nina welcomed daughter Alabee to their household.
Other than the standard sleep deprivation, though, Barnes doesn't see his new fatherhood as having had a significant impact on OM. Yet.
"When I was working on Sunlandic Twins, it was all just an abstract thought, becoming a father," says Barnes. "It hadn't really sunk in. I don't think its impact touched the recordings other than me being a little bit freaked out. I wrote a bunch of songs after Sunlandic Twins while we were in Norway — we had our child in Norway — and I was working a lot to keep myself sane, and a lot of those songs will be on the next record, so you'll get an insight into the madness of becoming a new father."
Although all of OM's albums to date have been homages to Barnes' passionate love of '60s Pop (particularly The Kinks and The Beatles, collectively and individually), they have all been distinct from one another in significant ways. The first albums were song-based Pop records while later works — 1999's The Gay Parade and 2001's Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies — were elaborate and craftily conceived concept pieces.
First with Satanic Panic in the Attic last year and now with Sunlandic Twins, Barnes looked to his newfound interest in Afro Beat and World Music to inform the OM sound. Barnes also acknowledges that on Twins he was at least slightly steered by his refreshed attention on David Bowie's Glam output and Brian Eno's Pop Electronica and the realization that he wanted to do something with drum programs in an effort to create a dancier atmosphere.
"I was always into that stuff, but it never found its way into my music until the last couple of records," says Barnes. "The thing I like about Eno is the snaky quality to his guitar sounds and the vocal harmonies, and the kind of nefarious or darker edge to it while retaining a really infectious, immediate Pop quality. Actually a big influence here is Prince from the '80s. Satanic Panic was more Fela Kuti, this record is more Prince."
Inspirations aside, one of the most significant departures in Barnes' process on The Sunlandic Twins was the fact that none of the new songs were road tested before entering the studio, which has traditionally been the case with each new Of Montreal album. The songs for Twins were written and then recorded on Barnes' laptop computer while the band toured Europe last summer, and the subsequent arrangements reflect their rather spartan beginnings.
"I was sort of limited in what I could do," says Barnes. "I didn't have a real drum set, I didn't have a piano or any of the stuff I was used to using, so I had to figure out a new way to do it."
Twins also represents the least amount of time that Barnes has ever obsessed over a record, finishing everything (on his own with only minimal outside vocal and instrumental input) in a brisk 10 weeks.
"It was so fast that I didn't even realize it was done when it was done," he says with a laugh. "I was like, 'Is that possible? Are we finished already?' The whole thing seems like a dream. I was just thinking, 'We're on tour again in support of a new record. How did this happen?"
Barnes recognizes Of Montreal's growth, and his own by extension, particularly with the last two albums. At the same time, he measures that growth by his own longstanding passions and knows that whatever new and different trails he blazes, it will always be predicated by paths he has already traveled.
"This is definitely a diversion," says Barnes of Twins. "If I continue to make records, each record will be different from the last one. I don't think this is something that lasts for 10 years. I might make another record in the same vein. I feel like a totally different person. When I listen to The Gay Parade or the earlier records, I almost don't recognize myself in them, so much has changed for me personally and emotionally. I'm a new person, and this is a new epoch."
OF MONTREAL performs Thursday at alchemize with St. Thomas and Campfire Crush