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Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes Says Their New Album Comes From a 'Darker Place'

'Paralytic Stalks' hits stores on February 7th

December 5, 2011 1:20 PM ET
of montreal
of Montreal
Patrick Heagney

Click to listen to Of Montreal's 'Wintered Debts'

Of Montreal will release Paralytic Stalks, their 11th studio album, on February 7th. Though the band have not abandoned their distinctive colorful funk, the disc finds frontman and songwriter Kevin Barnes spiking their tunes with abrasive noise, artful orchestration and some of the bleakest lyrics of his career. ("I spend my waking hours haunting my own life / I made the one I love start crying tonight and it felt good," he sings in "Spiteful Intervention" – and that's one of the album's most upbeat numbers.) Barnes recently opened up to Rolling Stone about grappling with depression while working on the new material, his plan to change the tone of the group's theatrical live show and his disappointment with the response to his band's previous album, False Priest. You can stream "Wintered Debts," the first track released from Paralytic Stalks, above, or download the song for free here.

The press release that was sent by your publicist along with your new album made a point of stressing that you're singing entirely from the first person in these songs, that you're not using any personas this time around. Why was it important to make sure people knew that?
It’s not really something I felt like I needed to disclose, but I guess on some levels, it's just the reality. It was sort of also a decision that I had made, though in some ways it was sort of made for me, because I was going through a difficult period. And a lot of times when I go through those kinds of periods, I use music as a sort of form of therapy. So, I guess I wasn't in good enough spirits to fool around with a persona.

So you work through more upbeat themes through fictional characters?
I think so. I think usually, that if I'm in a happy, balanced state of mind, my imagination tends to go in that direction, where I'm able to create a more positive atmosphere musically. I think I am a bit of an Eeyore. And when I'm feeling better, I really want to sort of want to magnify the effects of that, and that's why I'll create these really outlandish characters.

Did you know going into this album that it was going to be a particularly dark set of songs?
Yeah. I'm not going to just write when I'm happy. I also need to write when I'm in a darker place. I definitely didn't want to be there, but I just sort of found myself there. False Priest is very colorful and more upbeat for the most part. There are kind of darker songs, but for the most part, I was trying to make something that was more like Earth, Wind and Fire or Sly and the Family Stone. Something that was more funky and positive. But somehow that didn't last, and I sort of fell back into this darker place and was just writing songs from that perspective. But it wasn't really something that I set out to do as far as, "I want to make a dark record." It was "I need to make a record" or "I need to make music" because it's one thing I find extremely fulfilling and also distracts me, in a positive way, from my condition.

What brought on this dark phase you were in?
I think it's some sort of cyclical thing, you know? That you just have ups and downs. And I have a lot of depression issues. A lot of people in my family have had a lot of depression issues. In the past, I've tried to make things that are really upbeat, to sort of change my mood or try to alter my mood in a way. Somehow make myself happier. To some extent I'm still doing that with this record. It's still poppy, its not extremely morose and minor. It definitely has a hookiness to it.

When you perform the darker songs in concert, do you reconnect with that mood?
The first 20, 30, 40 times that we play it, it's definitely still connected to the source. You know, a song like "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" has an upbeat, dancey quality to it and the lyrics are much darker. But just by creating a sort of carnival-esque atmosphere, it sort of changed the song in my head. And now when I play it, I'm not really thinking about the original inspiration. I'm thinking about what it has become. And it's sort of become this anthem in a way.

How are you planning to present these new songs live? It seems like it may be tricky to get across some of these arrangements.
Yeah, it's going to be a serious challenge. Zac Cowell, the guy who played the woodwinds and the brass instruments on the record, is joining the band. He is going to be playing those parts, but they're all multi-layer parts, so I think we'll have to experiment with having some samples mixed in with the live playing. And, you know, maybe have people playing parts that were originally on a flute on a synthesizer, or things like that. So it will sound different from the record. It probably won't sound exactly like the record, but we'll try to get pretty close.

Are you going to change the way you present the show visually for these new songs?
Yeah, I'm really excited about that actually. Right now we're still developing ideas. I think, in the past, we've sort of had fun using comedic elements – we've had performance artists coming out in different kinds of costumes and definitely on the False Priest tour, it was way more comedic and sort of Dada, sort of absurd stuff happening. And we've been doing that for a while and it was really fun, but I think now we want to do something slightly more abstract that is relying more on projections. But not just projecting onto a screen behind the drum set, but actually using the whole stage to create a very dynamic visual experience.

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