Don’t Do Anything That’s Going To Confuse People: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 1

This appeared, in feature format, cut by about 70%, in Issue 2 of TN2, the college newspaper culture supplement I edit while waiting for people to say something interesting on Twitter. I saw that of Montreal were playing The Academy, emailed Polyvinyl who have a correct reputation for being sound, and, after a phone interview for Totally Dublin fell through during the Skeletal Lamping tour last year, I finally got to sit down and talk to a person I genuinely consider to be a genius. Closest I’ve ever met anyway.

I suppose I was gonna start with, what does False Priest signify?

False Priest signifies freedom, creativity… the actual False Priest himself symbolizes betrayal of humanity.

Did you know that when the lyric was written on Hissing Fauna?

No, it could mean anything really. Or it doesn’t have to mean anything either. I try to just live in an organic fashion, especially artistically. I’m not one of those artist who spends a lot of time thinking about the concept or creating a whole mythology for everything I do, you know? In a lot of ways I just sort of feel like I just write things… it’s so integrated into my daily life that it’s like breathing. I don’t question every breath I take or think ‘what was the meaning of that sneeze?’ Writing is kind of the same way, I just write whatever feels natural, and I just do what I naturally feel inclined to do, so False Priest was just something that naturally occurred. Like a lightning strike, or something. Or like somebody walking into the room.

(Dottie walks into the room)

So there’s no logic to the three album titles?

There might be… maybe I’ll understand it when I’m sixty-five or something.

What inspired you to do that then?

Nothing better to do, I guess? No other dominating force. That was the thing that seemed like it wanted to happen, so let it happen.

It’s interesting that you say that you don’t try to build up a mythology or have logic to it, because there is one.

Yeah well, it happens organically, that sort of thing. I’m so… I think about it. I look at other bands or their videos or posters or whatever, and it seems like they put more thought into it before going into the project. Whenever I make something, it just has to happen in the moment, spontaneously. I can’t really… even for photographs or videos or stuff like that, you have to just start rolling. Eventually something will happen. I can’t really do things in a premeditated fashion. But once they start rolling, things take on a life-force of their own and then you get ‘oh, that’s what that is!’ or ‘oh, that makes sense because it connects with this and this and this’. That’s when the mythology sort of evolves, of its own force in a way.

Is there any narrative to the stuff that goes on in the live show, or is it just stuff happening?

Sometimes it is just a bunch of theatrical events that are pieced together, and sometimes there is a story. I don’t take that much of a role in that. My brother is the one who does most of the live theatrics as far as getting it together.

What do you think about Lady Gaga then? Obviously she’s just one huge human theatrical experience, but some people take her as being a postmodern statement in herself, and others thing she’s just sort of doing stuff.

I can’t imagine there’s any real deep message behind what she’s doing. It’s just… she’s a performance artist so…

Do you think she thinks there is?

There might be for certain costumes or certain characters she gets into. I don’t know her personally or follow her that much, but she’s one of those ubiquitous pop culture figures. Everybody knows who she is and everybody’s heard a couple of songs, but as far as what she’s about, I’m the last person you should ask.

So obviously now there’s a lot more funk and soul influences in your music, R’n’B stuff. How do you feel about the fact that you’ll probably be always thought of as part of an indie rock canon no matter what you sound like?

I think it’s great. I mean, indie rock has a different defintion in the US than it does over here. In the US there are a lot more actual indie labels. Over here I’ve heard people describe Blur as an independent band, it’s like ‘huh?’ It’s not a sound necessarily. It’s not a genre, it’s people on the outside of the mainstream. That’s what it means to me. So people who aren’t getting played on the radio or whatever. I think of independent music as really the only true musical artform. Music as art and not as a product. You might be commercially successful as an indie artist. Certain bands are, like Arcade Fire topping the Billboard charts or Fleet Foxes, certain bands who’ve been able to do something great on indie labels. Or not necessarily great, but commercially successful in addition to it being very creative.

And then there’s people on the other side, people like Ke$ha, what’s her face, the California Girls… Katy Perry. They’re still doing something fun and entertaining. I’m not a snob about music in that way. I like some Katy Perry stuff and some Lady Gaga stuff, but as far as people who are making music just for the sake of making music, because they love it or they’re driven to do it, it feels like it’s coming from a more pure place, you know? Art that’s coming from a place where you’re not really trying to just get your album sold at Walmart. In a way you’re just trying to make something that’s provocative and unconventional and unpredictable. And that’s what we’re about.

Is that why you stayed on Polyvinyl?

Yeah. Well I mean, you can still have… there’s bands like MGMT who put out one of the weirder records of this year, and they’re on a major label. So you can still do it on a major label, but usually a major label meddles too much. They’ve made this investment. They’re more like investors, they’ve invested a couple of hundred thousand dollars into your record, so it’s gotta sell. Don’t fuck around, don’t do anything that’s going to confuse people. Make something that people can identify with, something that will connect with the lowest common denominator of human beings.

But indie music is not about that. It’s not about connecting with the lowest common denominator. It’s about giving your audience credit for being intelligent, for being open-minded. And for being able to go there with you. That’s the thing too. You can’t expect everyone to like everything you do, and you can’t expect the masses to appreciate everything you do. Some artists can manage to get by being really creative, and others will always be underground because they are so creative. It’s kind of a weird thing. I can’t really figure out the formula. I think about it a lot, what makes certain bands so much more successful than other bands.

Part 2 // Part 3 // Part 4


11 responses to “Don’t Do Anything That’s Going To Confuse People: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 1

  1. He’s like…really kinda….incredibly lucid and sharp…once you cut through…thoughts, man.

  2. Yeah, I wanted to leave it in as close to bare transcript format as I could. There were about 80% more instances of the word ‘like’ in the actual conversation, but you get the gist.

  3. Interesting that KB sees Lady Gaga for what she is, a ‘performance’ artist going through the motions, while her fans see her as a bona fide performance ‘artist’. Like there’s no way what she does would work on any level except the hugely commercial, major-label platform. In turn, what of Montreal do is really so authentically artistic cos it’s so big in scheme despite taking place in small venues. And we see him as a genius, eccentric and for all the lyrical exhibitionism still quite aloof and introverted. It’s like indie cubed to infinity.

  4. He talks about that more in the second chunk. Don’t change the dial, etc.

  5. “False Priest was just something that naturally occurred. Like a lightning strike, or something.”

    That’s a nice summation…

  6. did you ask him anything about his lad? Great interview, Imma keepin’ tuned. But seriously, his lad…

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