Of Montreal Explores 'Groove Bass' On 'False Priest' The band fits the mold of an era where music is becoming increasingly difficult to peg to one genre. Their flamboyant pop has been compared to Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles and Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. On their latest album, False Priest, though, they sound more like a 1999-era Prince.
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Of Montreal Explores 'Groove Bass' On 'False Priest'

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Of Montreal Explores 'Groove Bass' On 'False Priest'

Of Montreal Explores 'Groove Bass' On 'False Priest'

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(Soundbite of song, "Like a Tourist")

OF MONTREAL (Music Group): (Singing) I saw your movie tonight.

GUY RAZ, host:

The band Of Montreal isn't from Montreal. They're from Athens, Georgia. The name comes from an ex-girlfriend of lead singer Kevin Barnes. She was of Montreal.

The band's been around since the mid-1990s, making what's been described as flamboyant pop music. Critics have compared Barnes' style to everyone from The Beatles to Bowie, but on the new record, Of Montreal sounds a little closer to 1999-era Prince.

(Soundbite of song, "Like a Tourist")

OF MONTREAL: (Singing) Don't treat me like a tourist. Let's stay high on a negative wave.

RAZ: This is a track called "Like a Tourist" from the new album "False Priest."

Of Montreal got its start as part of an artists collective known as Elephant 6. Barnes describes the members as a group of like-minded musicians influenced by psychedelia and pop art.

Mr. KEVIN BARNES (Musician): And the indie scene hadn't really developed very much, you know. So there's a pretty massive divide between mainstream music and indie music or underground music.

So we sort of relied on each other in a way, you know, because we weren't getting really any support or recognition from the outside world, you know? So we sort of created our own little scene, you know, our own little bubble so we could just encourage each other and collaborate with each other. And it was great. It was really, really great to be a part of that.

RAZ: How did that collaboration kind of helped to form, you know, the sound that you're best known for now?

Mr. BARNES: Well, I mean, I changed so much since then. You know, things that I'm trying to do now would have been a bit weird back then, you know, because everybody was so analog crazy, you know. It's like everybody just wanted to use cassette four-tracks or reel-to-reel tape machines, you know, and using the computer or using MIDI or programming drums and things like that, sort of frowned upon.

So, yeah, I probably would have been a pariah back then if I was doing what I'm doing now.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: When you were writing the music for this album, and it's called "False Priest," I read that you asked yourself a question while you were in the middle of writing it, and the question you asked yourself was: If William S. Burroughs were a black soul singer in the 1970s, what kind of songs would he write?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BARNES: I think about William Burroughs as being someone that's very creative. You know, he would have made a great lead singer. And so, yeah, I was trying to make something that was very funky and groove-based but also, you know, sort of dense and complex lyrically.

(Soundbite of song, "Godly Intersex")

OF MONTREAL: (Singing) Too high, too fast, gonna break our necks. Everything about you screamed of godly intersex. Nothing offered per dash, no human tracks. The new forms were germinating, I saw your REO wax.

RAZ: Kevin Barnes, I guess if William S. Burroughs were a black soul singer from the '70s, he might sound a little bit like David Bowie. You're getting a lot of David Bowie comparisons. Are you okay with that? I mean, do you hear it, too? I mean, I do, and I mean, I'm wondering if there's no way not to hear it.

Mr. BARNES: Yeah. I mean, you know, David Bowie's one of my heroes without question. And I never really claimed to be an original. You know, I'm just trying to combine these different influences: Parliament, Sly & The Family Stone, Prince, David Bowie, T. Rex, you know, The Beatles, Talking Heads, whatever it is.

I mean, we are just like a hodgepodge of all these influences. And, you know, from a live performance perspective, we're definitely pulling from the more theatrical side of rock.

RAZ: It's interesting that you mention the performance side of Of Montreal, because you may have heard a series that we're running on NPR called NPR's 50 Great Voices, and we had a story on Freddie Mercury of Queen - the late Freddie Mercury - and we asked our listeners, you know, is there anybody out there who's kind of taken on his mantle? And quite a few people mentioned you.

I mean, you're obviously a flamboyant performer. Can you sort of paint a picture of, you know, for people who haven't seen a live show, what they would experience at an Of Montreal show?

Mr. BARNES: Well, what we try to do is sort of defeat the static image. You know, we don't want it ever to be a situation where, you know, people are just staring at the same visual image for too long.

So we have a lot of different visual events that happen throughout the show. And just picking from the past, you know, like, Susan Sarandon came out on stage, and I got on all fours, and she sat on me, and she spanked one of our performance artists dressed as a pig.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARNES: And, yeah, we've done all sorts of crazy things. Like on this upcoming tour, we've designed all these multi-person, like live puppet costumes. We have this one that we call the God character, and it requires four performance artists to get inside of it.

So, you know, we're just trying to create something that's just visually, you know, sort of captivating and interesting and fun.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: You know, I've been noticing a lot of kind of cross-pollination on indie records and even on hip-hop records lately. You know, Jay-Z and Beyonce have talked about how much they love the band The Dirty Projectors. Kanye West, the rapper Kanye West, samples the indie darling Bon Iver.

And on this record, you've worked with Beyonce's sister, Solange Knowles, and I want to play some of that track on which she appears.

(Soundbite of song, "Sex Karma")

OF MONTREAL and Ms. SOLANGE KNOWLES: (Singing) I know that you wanna play run and touch my everything 'cause I look like a playground to you, player. Close your eyes and count to three I'll kiss you where I shouldn't be 'cause you look like a playground to me, player.

RAZ: You look like a playground to me, player. It takes a very confident man to sing that to Solange Knowles. I mean, I read that one of the directions that you sort of want to move into or are headed towards is influenced by people like Jay-Z, by people like Dr. Dre. Is that the kind of music that you're listening to now or were listening to when you were recording this record?

Mr. BARNES: I guess what we were trying to do is create something that has the same low end in a really powerful way, really trying to make the recordings connect to the body, you know, so not only is it connecting intellectually, but it's also connecting physically, which I think is definitely the goal of groove-based music.

(Soundbite of song, "Sex Karma")

RAZ: I mean, are the sort of the so-called new soul, hip-hop crowds and the traditional indie crowds, of which I guess you'd be considered part of, are you finding that they're finding more common ground lately?

Mr. BARNES: Yeah. I think that's been something that's been in motion for many years now. You know, it's not really as, you know, homogenous as maybe it was 10 years ago.

You know, I think that people are sort of opening up and looking to all sources for inspiration. And it's not - definitely not like a post-race society yet, but we're definitely moving in that direction. It's really, really great.

RAZ: Kevin Barnes, thank you so much.

Mr. BARNES: Yeah, man. My pleasure.

RAZ: Kevin Barnes fronts the band Of Montreal. Their latest album is called "False Priest." They're touring Europe right now, but they'll be stateside in a couple of weeks with stops in St. Louis, Omaha and Lawrence, Kansas.

(Soundbite of "Sex Karma")

OF MONTREAL and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Yeah. You look like a playground to me. You look like a playground to me. You look like a playground to me. You look like a playground to me.

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our new podcast, weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Subscribe or listen at npr.org/weekendatc. We'll be back next weekend on the radio. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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