With their latest, swirling album Innocence Reaches, Of Montreal has a prolific 14-record catalog of psych pop-inspired ’60s paisley sound schemes and the music scene pegged on New York in the ’70s. The follow-up to 2015’s Aureate Gloom, which dealt with themes related to founder and frontman Kevin Barnes’ separation from his wife of 11 years, Innocence Reaches boasts a range of themes from the deeply personal to the refreshingly topical, experimenting for the first time with contemporary inspiration from EDM acts like JackU and Arca.
In case you were wondering, Of Montreal’s band name was not snatched from an obscure French novel or plucked from a random, substance-fueled conversation with a friend. It is not a metaphor for displacement, nor a reference of nostalgia for a place never visited. It is not “whatever you want it to be,” nor is it so specific and arbitrary that it goes beyond the comprehension of anyone but the band. It didn’t just “sound good” or come out of a bender-driven fever dream.
Of Montreal is a direct reference to Barnes’ failed relationship with a woman from Montreal, Quebec. Of Montreal is the use of a story’s end to make something new. It is an optimistic case of making something positive out of a negative situation, wasting nothing.
Having the opportunity to speak to Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes about Innocence Reaches and the current tour indicates that this sort of creative earnestness is the common thread in the band’s creative process. When you take your inspiration so directly from life, there’s always much, much more where that came from.
Where have I reached you today?
You were born in Rocky River, Ohio, yet Of Montreal is pegged to be from Athens, Georgia. If you would, please tell us a bit about your migration there and Elephant Six [the music collective].
Well, basically I moved to Athens to find other people that made music, that I would identify with…I fell into meeting this group of people that were doing similar stuff. You know, making bedroom recordings that were into The Beatles and the Beach Boys and The Kinks. So yeah, that’s basically it, in a nutshell.
The new album, Innocence Reaches, out August 12, is your 14th studio record. You said you got around to listening to a lot of electronic music writing this record, including the Grammy-winning Skrillex and Diplo duo JackU. How did that change of pace even happen?
Well, I’m always looking for a new spark, a new thing to inspire me and move me into a new direction and so…I was in a sort of backward-thinking mode for a while. Listening to mostly, like, Neil Young and Shock Machine and King Crimson and Leonard Cohen, you know, things from like the late ’60s, early ’70s.
But then I just sort of reached a point where I got bored with that and was just looking for something new. And just sort of paying more attention to what my contemporaries were doing and taking inspiration from that.
Do you have any ritualistic or habitual things, for your musical process or your lifestyle that you find you always return to when writing music?
Well, my life is basically just centered around that. Just being infatuated with the creative process and wanting to come up with something every day. And be productive and stay inspired, stay excited, stay positive.
Can you tell us a little bit about that process? Being turned on all the time and staying positive?
I guess it’s just in my nature, you know? I don’t really…it’s not really something I have to force myself [to do]. It’s not about being positive necessarily, it’s about being driven, and being ambitious and being unsatisfied with everything I’ve done in the past and wanting to make new things.
So I guess it’s a sort of obsession with newness, wanting to make something new and not wanting to carry baggage around with me and not wanting to think about things I’ve done in the past and I just want to feel like every day I’m born again. And I just feel like there are great opportunities every day to just be turned on to that possibility
Some of your songs are about a woman, and the first two singles off of Innocence Reaches are about women, generally and specifically. The first, a real banger, is “It’s Different For Girls,” and the second, “My Fair Lady.” How did those songs materialize? Any reason you chose those to be your first singles?
Well, “Its Different For Girls” is a very universal theme, it has a very universal reach. I think that now, people are beginning to feel a little bit more open to those kind of conversations and wanting to see a different perspective. And people who have been marginalized in the past maybe have a little bit more of a voice and so, as far as we will have to go, it is moving in the right direction. And I kind of wanted to, in the spirit of that, write a song that deal with issues that was a little bit more universal and that people would identify with on the…personal. And what was the first single.
And then the second single is more reflective of the album. There a lot of confessional, intimate, personal songs on the album, so with the second single we wanted to sort of showcase that aspect or that side of the album.
Of Montreal is two decades young, and credited with “reinventing your sound” every 18 months. What do you think about this sort of duel expectation people have for musical outfit to recall “their old stuff” or “reinvent” themselves?
I dunno, it’s not really our problem, what other people want us to do or expect us to do. From my perspective as an artist, I never really think about what a journalist might want or what someone who is a fan of something else wants because…then I just wouldn’t be living in the moment.
It’s important for artists to live in the moment and not even consider expectations, other people’s expectations, or other people’s desires or their work. You know, you just got to do it in a very organic way, a very pure way, or it’s just not going to happen.
Of all the places you’ve been, playing music, and traveling, what place would you most recommend to a fan of your music to visit?
Or to live.
I mean, in the United States or anywhere in the world?
Well, I always have a really great time in Rome and certain European cities just feel very exciting. Paris and Athens, Greece. Barcelona’s great. There’s just a lot of great…
I can imagine myself living in Europe at some point; I think I’m probably better suited for that. But I do like the chaos and the madness of the United States, as well.
Have your toured Europe recently? I know for this tour you tour Asia before the United States.
We did a couple shows earlier this year. We did some shows in Spain and in England. But we don’t have any plans to go to Europe until next year.
Any reason you decided to started out in Asia before this tour?
It just sort of worked out that way. It’s hard, because when you’re booking a tour you have to do it so far in advance. So basically we had a concept of, “Well, the album is probably going to come out in August.” And we thought that’s right when we wanted to go on tour. We wanted the album to be out for a little bit before we hit the road.
So we gave ourselves a little cushion. And our Japanese label was like, “You should come here.” It worked out for us to go to Asia first. We are actually going to some places that we have never been to before in China and Thailand and South Korea. So it should be a good experience, and also it should be a really good opportunity for us to get the new material really solid before we hit the road in the U.S.
What have your experiences been like in New Jersey, New York, and Philly?
Well, it’s really one of the better markets for us. We’ve always had really great shows in New York and Philly and so. There’s a highlight of the tour, you know. It’s something we all look forward to and we all feel excited about, those states especially, so. It’s always good to be in that area.
With the third album [The Gay Parade], your cover art got super trippy. What’s it like having your brother on as art director for of Montreal?
It’s great to have a project that we work on together and to be able to bond over that and have those experiences together. It’s funny, we’re very similar…we both just sort of immerse ourselves in our work when we’re not on tour and even when we are on tour. He’s basically always working on his sculptures and working on different objects and I’m working on music and things like that. So it’s nice for us to have something we can do together on some level and, you know, we’re very close.
We love each other and we respect each other and we push each other to try and do new things with each project, with each album, on each tour.
You’ve said that despite their mention in your lyrics, and their implication in album art, videos, and other imagery, you don’t use recreational drugs or psychedelics in your musical process. What about on weekends?
Nah, for me, I’m pretty sober, I guess. I think about how certain things can help me. I’m not really into numbing myself, you know. If there’s something I could take that would help me be more productive and produce good things, then I would take it. But I’m not really into recreational activities in general. I’m just very focused on being productive. I don’t want to sit in front of a television and numb my brain and have these lost hours, you know, that amounted to nothing.
I feel that life is pretty precious, it’s not something we should take for granted or that we can feel like we have an endless amount of time to accomplish things. I guess maybe I’m a little bit intense in that way.
Everybody is a little it different, but if you had one piece of advice to give someone to increase their productivity, what would it be?
Sleep in. (Laughs) Sleep a lot. The more sleep you can get, the better. And the more alone time you can get, the better. Spend as much time alone as possible. And don’t worry about feeling neurotic or anxious. All of those feelings are very helpful. I guess if you can turn your life into your art, everything is influencing your art. For me at least, that’s what I’ve tried to do is to become just so connected to the work that if something bad happens, then that inspires and potentially helps me produce something interesting.
So that nothing is wasted. No experience is wasted. And I don’t feel like a victim of life. In that sense it can be very empowering, that everything that happens can produce something positive.
Of Montreal will perform at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, PA Sept. 8 and at Webster Hall in New York City Sept. 9. Their new album, Innocence Reaches, is available now. For more information, please visit ofmontreal.net.