Last year's Of Montreal show at the Pour House was an other-worldly visual playground complete with multiple costume changes and tropical jungle-themed projections onto every person and thing in the room — a wild retreat from the everyday and into a colorful world where anything goes. According to frontman Kevin Barnes, that was nothing compared to what's to come.
"This show is even more deliberate, even more scripted," he says. "It's gonna be almost like musical theater in that every moment will have a theatrical component that matches with the music. There'll be a lot of costume changes — more costume changes and more lighting. I feel like in the past, it was a little bit crude as far as what we were doing. It wasn't as refined. And this time, we've spent months and months and months in preproduction and getting everything just so, because we're wanting to create the most transportive and exciting experience for the audience."
Months and months and months — that's a lot longer than the artist had to spend on Of Montreal's recent release, Innocence Reaches, out since Fri. Aug. 12. Like with last year's Aureate Gloom, Barnes traveled away from his home in Athens, Ga. to write and record the album. With Aureate, he spent time in the Big Apple channeling 1970s New York, resulting in a disco-laced collection. For the next record, he's thinking Asia. But this time around, Of Montreal's very first tango with EDM was inspired by the mere two weeks Barnes spent recording in Paris a year-and-a-half ago. Before he left, what would become the contemporary electronic music-influenced Innocence Reaches was a totally blank slate.
"When I went out there, I didn't have any material yet that I was going to work on or anything," he explains. "I just wanted to go out there and create some stuff and focus on the creative process, isolate myself, and get out of my comfort zone and be in this sort of romantic, exotic environment. I don't speak French, so I kind of just wandered around and, you know, tried to avoid any sort of conversation and just looked at stuff and experienced stuff and went back to the studio and tried to create some music every day."
Perhaps even more so than the sights and sounds of Paris, Barnes found inspiration right inside the studio, which was chock-full of synthesizers and old drum machines. "I've never worked with hardware drum machines before," he says. "I'd only done drum programming on the computer, so it was fun to be able to work in a way people in the '70s and '80s used to work — people like Prince and New Order and Kraftwerk, any kind of band like that. Old school."
Echos of New Order and other synth-laden acts of the '80s are evident in songs like the record's lead single, "It's Different for Girls" — a song that's not just dance beats and drum machines. The track praises women with lines like, "It's different for girls/ From when they are children/ They're depersonalized, aggressively objectified" and "For every one psycho bitch, there's 10,000 aggro-pricks." Barnes says it started out as more of a series of observations and isn't exactly meant to be a feminist anthem. "It's just a man thinking about the way things are in contemporary culture and working out the way I feel about it," he explains. "Actually, when I wrote it, I was almost unconscious — it's not something I had been working on for months, getting the words just so or anything like that. It happened very quickly. And as time went by, I started reflecting on it even more and thinking about it even more — it just sort of evolved a lot. My perception of how life is or how things are different for women — I've definitely learned more and more, and I feel like a lot of men don't spend enough time thinking about it. And just sort of take things for granted, you know, like [men] take their own life experience as what it would be like for everybody. But it's not true. I mean, women face all sorts of discrimination and challenges that men will never experience, on every level. It's definitely something that men need to think about more and consider more."
While several songs from Innocence Reaches get the old-school EDM treatment, nothing about it sounds outdated or excessively borrowed. Many songs are extensions of Auerate Gloom, while, as a whole, the record has the ever-evolving signature of Of Montreal. And that is something that always sounds brand new — whether it's the more 1960s folk-tinged sounds of 2013's lousy with sylvianbriar, the glitz and '70s glam of Aureate Gloom, or the '80s-meets-the-millennium energy of Innocence Reaches. "For every record, I'm pushing myself to do something that feels fresh and not relying on any sort of tricks of the past, wanting to evolve artistically and incorporate new elements and just feel open to experimenting," says Barnes. "And it's hard, because all artists have a style that is really hard to completely escape from — it's something that will just be there on all the records. But I always try my best to defy that and become a new band with each record."
Of Montreal will perform with Nashvillian Ruby the Rabbitfoot, who just released her third LP, Divorce Party.