There is an odd circularity in the work of Kevin Barnes. Back in 2005, of Montreal’s amazingly prolific and profoundly talented frontman was pursuing an Electronic/AfroBeat direction on The Sunlandic Twins and celebrating the arrival of his daughter Alabee. Ten years and five albums later, Alabee is a 10-year-old tween and Barnes and his wife Nina are navigating the stormy seas of separation and divorce.
Aureate Gloom, the new of Montreal album, might document some of the personal turmoil Barnes has experienced lately, but he stresses that his new collection should not be viewed as a road map of his relationship.
“I made the mistake of mentioning that in an early interview before the record even came out and people began writing about it as if it was a break-up album,” Barnes says from his home in Athens, Ga. “I don’t really address it very much on the record; it’s more about other things that happened in the wake of that. The songs aren’t about my wife, they’re about me struggling to find my balance, post break-up, so it’s kind of misleading. When people have been critiquing the record — like the Pitchfork review — they’ll often be like, ‘It’s a failed break-up album because it wasn’t very insightful or sensitive.’ It’s not a break-up album, so that’s why it’s a bad break-up album.”
As in interviews past, Barnes is a fascinating pretzel knot of creative dichotomies. He will talk candidly about influences and inspirations while denying he’s consciously channeling any of them. While Barnes has touched on any number of genres over the past 10 years, Aureate Gloom finds him and his new of Montreal iteration in the familiar Glam-Bowie-meets-Funk-Prince intersection of Sunlandic Twins, at least to a degree.
“It’s not that I’m trying to emulate someone specifically in a certain way or wearing my influences on my sleeve,” Barnes says. “It’s just a part of the whole process with me as far as being inspired and creating art. The catalyst is often something that I listen to or something that I watch, something I was turned on by and excited about which pushed me toward making my own creation. When you hear bits of Bowie or Iggy Pop or Prince or whatever it might be, it’s mainly because I love that stuff and it inspires me.”
Barnes is also quick to credit Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano for providing some measure of inspiration on Aureate Gloom, a title that Barnes has translated to mean “golden despondency.”
“It was a big part of the driving spirit for the record, also a bit of the poetry of John Ashbery,” Barnes says. “Musically, I guess it was influenced by a combination of feminine/masculine Rock; the Glam movement, the early Punk movement. Some of the stuff has a bit of a macho quality to it, but also a sensitivity and a bit of intelligence.”
Aureate Gloom may also stand as one of the band’s most potent Rock records since of Montreal’s affiliation with the Elephant 6 collective in the early ’90s. That aspect of the album could be traced back to Barnes’ pilgrimage to New York City when he was beginning to formulate the songs for Aureate Gloom, and that revisitation to a place that sparked an era of change had a fresh impact on the songwriter.
“I felt excited about making music that was influenced by that side of Rock, that nascent Punk scene from New York in the ’70s — Television, Patti Smith, the Voidoids — but also a bit of early ’70s Prog, like King Crimson,” Barnes says. “There are some meaty moments on the record that are definitely influenced by early caveman Rock. There’s also Soft Machine and Led Zeppelin … who can be very sophisticated harmonically and musically. It was just a blend of all these things.”
There is also a chaotic element to Aureate Gloom, with songs starting off in one direction and then drastically veering off down a completely different sonic path. Barnes doesn’t deny that at least some of it could be chalked up to his tenuous home situation, but he looks at it as a natural extension of his creative ADD.
“My personal life is always going to influence my work,” Barnes says. “But I think the collage aspect of a lot of the arrangements is something I naturally gravitate toward because I have a short attention span and tend to get bored with certain grooves if they go on for too long. It’s representative of the way my mind works — splashes of this, splashes of that thrown together in a hopefully not too terribly awkward way.
“I think bands like Os Mutantes and The Beach Boys’ Smile record were very influential; I like the feeling when you’re listening to a song and it does something very unpredictable because so much of music is dreadfully predictable. Ninety-nine percent of songs that get released, you could basically figure out what’s going to happen in 20 seconds. That’s why I like Prog records, before they got too virtuosic. I’m not in to noodling or showing off musically but I do like the unpredictable nature of that stuff.”
In that regard, Barnes’ approach to his work with of Montreal in general and on Aureate Gloom in particular has an almost painterly quality.
“I definitely have a visual connection to music and think about it in that way,” Barnes says. “It’s exciting because I do view it as an artform, not in a pretentious way, but it can be very powerful if you free yourself from any restrictions as far as what kind of artist you are and what kind of music you think people want you to make and just do exactly what you want to do. It can be very fulfilling. That’s why I do it. That’s why, after all these records, I still feel challenged and excited about the process and the future and what I can do next.”
OF MONTREAL plays Woodward Theater Wednesday. Tickets/more info: woodwardtheater.com.