Lovers of the man behind his many masks may savor the vision of Bowie's cabinet de cahiers carried to the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth and all the world over afterward. One might as easily imagine Kevin Barnes toting trunks bursting with gaudy ensembles, vinyl inflatables and a bounty of books to buoy sybaritic strength. From French erotic fiction to the underground abject, the Of Montreal frontman has historically managed to mutate freely alongside his shifting influences – sounding through masks like the genderfluid Georgie Fruit persona to psychographically express his "plate glass of maturing cells." Never shying from the taboo, he espouses Dionysian impulses through art, decadence and, most recently, electronic dance music.
Orlando Weekly: What are you working on currently, post-Rune Husk?
Kevin Barnes: I kind of already finished a new album. It's continuing in the direction I followed with the last record, Innocence Reaches, with getting into electronica, drum programing, synthesizers and stuff like that, but incorporating a little bit more influence from vaporwave.
Like your record titles and lyrics, your new digital label Sybaritic Peer is a logophile's feast. I like that it's open to different interpretations. I like to think of it as this worldly experienced figure that you can have as a sort of mentor in your intellectual life and sexual life and spiritual life.
So, is the Sybaritic Peer a fellow to your Georgie Fruit persona or more of a songwriting tool? Oh, for sure. I mean, I think that a lot of artists, a lot of songwriters and performers, will have this persona that is maybe ambiguous; they don't give it a name always and they don't give it a backstory necessarily, but it's just part of the thing that enables you to get on stage and be a performer, because it's really difficult – or just kind of awkward – to just be yourself on stage. It's kind of, like, not really how it works, I don't think. I think you really have to get yourself into a different frame of mind and bring different things from your psyche to the surface that wouldn't be activated in your normal life.
A lot of the stuff I write I don't really necessarily understand or even intellectualize, it's just sort of something that pops into my head. I kind of always have this mental narrative going that's very abstract and sometimes I tune into it and write it down – almost like missives from some other place that are sort of bouncing off different brains all over the planet and into my brain sometimes.
Does your evolving subversion of gender norms via performance personas reflect a self-identification or an ideal? I think that it's exciting that we live in an age now when people are encouraged to explore the nuances of their self-concept, and it seems like we're sort of evolving on that level, where so many people now feel more comfortable being outside of these restrictive gender roles. I mean, I think any sort of labeling or compartmentalizing of people is unhealthy, and I think that we're moving in a healthier direction when people are allowed to not have a fixed identity from day to day or even minute to minute.
Of Montreal has been a band for 20 years, and you've husked a lot of nesting dolls since 1997. Do people still freak out over the Hissing Fauna songs? Well, it's funny because on this tour we're playing a festival show in Houston where we're playing Hissing Fauna in its entirety – it's the 10th anniversary this year – for the second or third time, and that's always a lot of fun. But, we play so many of the songs at shows already, it almost feels like we're playing the record in its entirety every night anyways. It's definitely our most popular record, so it seems like an important thing to put into the set every night, but we try to mix it up.