Indie-pop band mixes equal parts Kierkegaard, Numan
(Originally published: 10/26/07)
Cloaked grim reapers. Banging gunshots resounding across the stage. Psychedelic neon spandex costumes. Death by mime.
While many people may picture the above scene and think of a particularly bizarre Cirque du Soleil production, they might be surprised to learn that these are just a few of the set pieces in your average Of Montreal concert, and some of the tamer at that.
“We design 100% of our own sets,” guitarist Bryan Poole said. “Right now, the pieces are very Gary Numan-inspired. And they take hours to set up.”
Rolling Stone magazine describes Athens, GA-based Of Montreal’s latest album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? as “funked-up indie pop that mashes together David Bowie’s space theatrics and Prince’s sexual hedonism.” Even such a ridiculously disparate definition does not even come close to conveying the full stereophonic experience of an Of Montreal album, and it is perhaps this musical richness that has steered the band toward even greater popularity.
Arising from the Elephant-6 recording collective of such influential power-pop bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, and the Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal languished in obscurity for almost ten years in what singer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Barnes called the “indie ghetto,” unable to break through to any greater fame than cult status.
The band, which has been recording since 1997’s Cherry Peel, owes much of its resurgence to Barnes, who writes all of the material and comes up with most of the set designs.
“Of Montreal is Kevin’s baby,” Poole said. “He usually writes all of the songs as well as the music, especially on the last couple of albums.”
Moving away from the Kinks-inspired ‘60s psychedelia of their earlier years, Of Montreal’s latest albums show a trend towards electronica and dance music awash in synths and drum beats while still retaining the absurdist lyrics and whacky vocal stylings that are Barnes’ signature.
“The first six years or so were tough,” Poole said. “Satanic Panic in the Attic [Of Montreal’s 10th album, released in 2004] was when people really started coming out to our shows,” Poole said. “We gained a lot of high school fans and it basically spread through word-of-mouth.”
With Panic and their second-to-last album, The Sunlandic Twins, selling over 70,000 copies combined, an impressive feat for any indie band, and a recently-aired Outback Steakhouse commercial featuring their music, Of Montreal is definitely a band on the rise. But it’s their live shows that have propelled them to live legends and indie must-sees.
“We’re influenced by all sorts of things,” Poole said. “Sly Stone, the Beach Boys, Funkadelic. Kevin’s brother Dave really helps with the theatrics as well. Expect a party.”
Of Montreal’s work is not over, however. “We’re going to go into the studio after Thanksgiving,” Poole said. “The new album [tentatively titled Skeletal Lamping] is probably going to continue the trend of our last three.”
“Kevin’s already written about forty to fifty songs,” Poole continued. “You’ll probably hear a few of them at the show.”
When asked when the album might drop, Poole said, “We’re hoping for a release date next fall. We’re already a good ways through the album artwork.”
A band that, according to Poole, was “on the verge of calling it quits” a few years ago now has one of the fastest-growing fan bases in alternative rock and is swiftly building up a reputation as one of the most progressive and entertaining bands playing today. Not to mention they put on a live show that is probably the most extravagant outside of Las Vegas.
“I’m very happy with where the band is right now, and the crowds at our shows are only getting bigger,” Poole said. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”