Oh man, do I really have to go to that place again?: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 4

Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3

Okay, in a non-religion-related question, I wanted to bring up a comparison between what you’re doing with Jon Brion and the Talking Heads-Eno thing, where it started out as just a four-piece and eventually they got into a more studio-oriented David Byrne and Brian Eno thing. Do you think that has any parallels to the way you’re working now?

I don’t think so. I don’t think he’ll work with me again.

He won’t?!

I don’t think so. (laughs)

No?

Not because he didn’t have a good time or whatever, but we were supposed to just be together for a month, and it turned out to be like a three month process. It was always fun for me, and maybe it was fun for him too, but just from a budgetary standpoint, we went so far over-budget, and he invested so much of his own money just to make it happen. I mean, everything’s so different nowadays. In the 80s, labels had so much money that they wouldn’t really sweat it. People could spend six months in the studio or whatever. But I’ve never spent more than $200,000 to make a record, and this record surpassed that by so much more.

Cos I always record at home. It just makes sense. It’s the most economical way to do it, plus I feel really secure. I feel in a good place creatively. So I can just work without feeling, oh man, there’s deadlines and budgets and things like that that would be distracting. So going out to LA and working like that was my foray into that conventional record-making process. It was good, because I got to see how other people work. And I got to work with this amazing person. Jon Brion, I wouldn’t say he necessarily produced the record, because I’d basically written and recorded 85% of it before I went out there. And then when I went out there, it was mainly just replacing things. Like, I’d have this bassline and he’d say, “well, why don’t you re-record it through this bass amp through this vintage mic, using this other bass”. So then we thought, oh, let’s do that for every song. So I’d go through every single song and re-learn the bass part, and record it. And then we were like, “oh, we’ve got all these programmed drums, all these drum loops, let’s get a real drummer in and have him just play on top of it.” So we did that for every single song. And then we thought, “let’s add some low synthesisers, and some really high synthesiser stuff.” So we did that for a couple of weeks.

And then the whole mixing process took over a month as well. And there were all these technical issues, because he was using ProTools and I was using Logic. There was all this crazy shit that happened that extended the process much longer than it would have done. If I had’ve just gone into the studio and started from scratch, I don’t know what we would have come up with. I’m sure it would have been interesting. I’ve never worked with someone in that way. I’ve always just worked by myself, compiling songs and eventually at some point thinking, okay, I’ve got twenty-two songs. Do I want to make it a double album or a triple album, or do I want to make a single album? What songs do I cut? Normally I would work like that. But this time, I went out to California and I had maybe 18 songs that were totally done by of Montreal standards. And he would say “that song, you should put that on the record” or, “I don’t know, maybe you shouldn’t put that one on the record.” Just talking, and having a dialogue open with the label and with Jon, and my brother or whoever.

It’s totally different. It’s not completely different from the way I’ve worked in the past, but it’s definitely another element that has never existed before. And I learned a lot from him actually, especially about mixing and arranging songs. He’s an incredible musician, and his heart’s totally in the right place as far as making music. You know what I’m saying, like the difference between people who are listening to the radio and saying ‘we need something competitive with the Black Eyed Peas’ or whatever’s hot right now, and he’s not like that. He’s not coming from that place at all. He’s more like “oh, that Stevie Wonder song is so beautiful, how do they do that? God, if I could make something that beautiful, I’d be so happy.” And that’s where I’m coming from too. Just listening to other artists and being like ‘God, that’s what I want to do, I want to do something like that, that’s so beautiful, that’s so great.’ I don’t expect the records to sell, I don’t expect the songs to get played on the radio. It’s never happened, and it probably never will happen. It’s not really a factor I think about. It’s more about just making something beautiful and important and timeless.

Are you interested in working as a producer? You wrote the song on the Janelle Monae album.

Yeah.

Are you interested in doing that with other artists?

Yeah, definitely, but it would have to be a situation where I loved them, I thought they were fantastic human beings and amazing artists and it was just a privilege to be working with them. I don’t think I could do it with someone who just happened to be successful and had a lot of money, where they were like “some of my people said that you were pretty good, so let’s get together”.

What about being one of the people on an album with an elder statesman who does an album with younger people to freshen it up? If Stevie Wonder called, would you do a Stevie Wonder track?

Oh, if I were with Stevie? Yeah, in a second. But the thing is, I dunno… I wonder about this myself. Like, why do I love Stevie Wonder’s records from the Seventies so much more than his records from the present day? There’s so many artists like that. Like, I love her early or mid work, but the stuff they’re doing right now, I can’t really identify with. So I wouldn’t necessarily be working with Talking Book Stevie Wonder, I’d be working with whatever is his latest release. A lot of those artists, too, the stuff that they were making in the Seventies, and in the Sixties, it was a part of that time period. And because that time period doesn’t exist now, it’s like a dinosaur, it’s like a relic of some other time, it’s so much easier to romanticise it and think about it in this poetic way. Because it has nothing to do with your present day reality, it’s like a view into this past reality. And it’s easy to think about that time period as being more magical. Because our present time period, unless you’re just extremely optimistic, it can’t really compete.

Yeah.

It’s like, you’re thinking ‘oh, right now it’s just so mundane to be in this room’, but twenty-five years from now, if someone’s listening to this interview, they’ll be like, ‘oh my god, that’s his voice.’ You know what I mean? Or your kid hears this in twenty-five years and thinks ‘that’s my dad’s voice as a young man, it’s so magical’.

Yeah, like the period itself as well as the music just takes on its own magic.

Mmhmm.

I’ve got one or two more. Sorry to keep you here so long. Are you playing The Past Is A Grotesque Animal? And if you are, that song specifically is… on Drowned in Sound a couple of weeks ago you called it “a ten minute journey into hell”?

Yeah. (laughs)

And it still sounds that intense on the record as well, and I’m wondering, when you play it, is it like a performance or do you still…

Yeah it’s hard for me. I mean, definitely that was the lowest point for me in my life. So it’s hard to revisit it over and over and over again. It’s just like anything, the more you do it, the less powerful it can become. It’s not really like, I wanna just cut myself with broken bottles afterwards, you know? But it is… it’s kind of like ‘oh man, do I really have to go to that place again?’ Like, I’ll do it just because I have a lot of respect for the song, and I feel very privileged to have a song that people feel connect with and that people like. I’ve written so many other songs that people don’t have that connection with, so of course I’ll be like ‘oh great, this is one people like, they want to hear it, okay, cool. I gotta go there, I gotta put myself out.’ I think it’s great when artists go there, when artists put themselves out, make themselves a little vulnerable, that’s better than always having this front where you can’t penetrate their true selves. You should be more transparent in a way, like, what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. I like people who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Yeah. Do you know Xiu Xiu?

Yeah.

I asked basically that same question to Jamie Stewart, of his songs, and he said it is digging it up, every time. He almost hates playing live. I just think that’s interesting, because other people have said, to similar things, that it’s just rote at this point.

Well, The Past is really the only song that has… well there’s a few songs I’d never play, for that reason. Like, I just don’t want to go there. Whereas The Past has more of a therapeutic quality to it, you know? Because it is so long, and it is such a journey. By the end of it, there is a great relief. It is really cathartic.

My final question was to ask what the beta fish was called.

The beta fish? That’s a good question actually. I can’t remember. I think its name was Hindlopp Stat

Himlopstadt?

H-i-n-d-l-o-p-p, one word. And then S-t-a-t.

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