Oct 22, 2007
Kevin Barnes seems to be suffering a bit of survivor syndrome. His group, Of Montreal, are progenitors of relentlessly sunny and progressive psychedelia, but they’ve taken a darker turn on their latest outing. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is the compelling result of living through a period of seclusion in Norway during what he called “the most serious depression” of his life. Of Montreal has succeeded in evolving beyond the imprint of former Elephant Six stablemates The Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control groups known for esoteric instrumentation and fluency in the pop idioms of the late ‘60s while constantly referencing the collective’s heritage of addictive pop confections. Their latest release finds Barnes exploring tropes of manic depression, isolation and unhealthy obsession that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever recoiled from the horrors of adulthood. Strangely, Hissing Fauna… still swings with a pneumatic determination as it mines the least glamorous facets of the human condition. Of Montreal has emerged, triumphantly bearing a shimmering and cathartic sonic treasure, and sounding no worse for the wear. Barnes, a nasally Georgian with Prince’s mojo in his thrift store jeans, spoke openly from Athens, GA, about his feelings on death, drugs and the dual nature that drives Hissing Fauna….
People like to have a clear sense of who a lyricist is as a person, which lends confusion to upbeat songs with painful lyrics. Would you say you’re a well-adjusted or neurotic person?
I am definitely not well-adjusted [laughs]. For the first time in my life, last year I entered a really depressed period and I was experiencing anxiety and paranoia like I never had before. I had weird paranoia that people were trying to drug me, that I was constantly under attack. I just couldn’t turn my mind off, and it was as if someone was destroying my mind. And people who have never had such problems will say, “You need to exercise and do yoga – anything but take antidepressants.”
There’s still this weird stigma attached to antidepressants and therapy in our society. It was a humbling experience to have no control. That shakes you up. It was eventually the right combination of medication and therapy that got me back onto my feet. You can actually hear the turning point that I had on the record, where it becomes funkier and less morose. That’s why you get songs like “Faberge Falls for Shuggie,” which sound like Prince and Sly & The Family Stone, while on the first half [of the record] you can really sense an inner turmoil.
Were the problems chemical or situational?
It was a completely situational thing. Having a newborn daughter really messes with your mind. I love Alabee, but I’m obviously not used to being a family man. I was having this inner tension of what my parents, my wife and the whole world expected of me. I felt like there was no solution, and that’s why there are so many references to killing myself. There are actually two versions of Hissing Fauna…, one of which addresses all the sadness, depression, breakups, psychosis and insanity. I was balancing the group’s first real moments of recognition with having a family and raising a kid. [My wife] Nina and I worked things out together, and that’s where it became much happier. Our EP coming out with the record is darker, with more references to suicide. In the process I cycled through a few medications: one for anxiety called Ativan, then Effexor for depression that made me feel 10-times worse. I was afraid the medication would wipe out my highs and lows and affect my songwriting, or turn me into a vegetable. I’m still just as creative; I have a Tourettic inner dialogue that’s like a strange film reel. I knew my medication wasn’t too destructive, because the Tourettic reel never left.