of Montreal's Kevin Barnes Discusses New Country Music Influenced Album, "Lousy with Sylvianbriar" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes Discusses New Country Music Influenced Album, “Lousy with Sylvianbriar”

Twisting Tradition

Oct 03, 2013 of Montreal
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It has been nearly 10 years since he pulled off one of the most unexpected mid-career reinventions in recent rock history, stripping of Montreal down to its psychedelic twee foundation and rebuilding it as an electronic pop band, but Kevin Barnes has never stopped reimagining his sound. A notorious musical omnivore, he has released seven full-length albums in that period, jumping from the electronic experimentation of a trio of releases (2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, 2005’s Sunlandic Twins, 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?) to psychedelic funk (2008’s Skeletal Lamping) to twisted R&B (2010’s False Priest) and finally, microtonal avant-garde classical music (2012’s Paralytic Stalks), each more experimental than the last. In fact, given his decade of chasing his muses down stranger and stranger stylistic side roads, perhaps the most unexpected move Barnes could make would be to explore the comparably conventional strains of traditional American music. With Lousy with Sylvianbriar, Barnes has once again hit the reset button on of Montreal, this time rebuilding it out of the echoes of a most unlikely source: country music.

“I’ve always loved country music from the ‘50s and the ‘60s,” Barnes says. “Country music is always a little bit hokey, but there’s a spooky quality to some tracks by Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. And I love the sound of pedal steel guitar. That’s kind of a tricky thing for me. When I’m describing the record, sometimes as I’m describing it I think ‘God, I’m making it sound so terrible,’ because everyone has such a hang-up about country music, because it’s so patriotic and terrible most of the time. But there are elements of country music that I find really interesting and powerful and beautiful, so I was trying to take the little bits that I like and put them into something more interesting.”

That’s not to say that Barnes has made anything that has a prayer of making a dent on the contemporary country music charts. If anything, Barnes is finding inspiration in country music in the same way that Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and The Rolling Stones used it as stylistic seasoning in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Having temporarily relocated to San Francisco to pick up the cosmic cowboy vibe that inspired much of the music from which he was drawing, Barnes soon wrote a new batch of songs and returned home to his studio in Athens, Georgia, completing the of Montreal makeover by replacing nearly every member in favor of a new handpicked backing band. After two weeks of 12-hour days, they had made a genuine Americana album, an eclectic set of tracks veering from Stonesy slide guitar anthems to burned-out pedal steel-draped ballads and paeans to Dylan’s early electric period. For a man who resuscitated his band through taking hard left turns that unexpectedly paid off, this one might be the most daring of all.

“I just hope they take it for what it is,” he says of his listeners. “It’s not Hissing Fauna, it’s not False Priest, it’s not Skeletal Lamping—it’s its own thing. I don’t see it increasing our profile or anything like that. I have a feeling it’s going to be a sleeper that the people who follow us will like but that probably won’t bring on too many more fans,” he says with a laugh. “But you never know.”

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s August/September 2013 print issue.]


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