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Article: Of Montreal: Peeling Back the Layers

Reprinted from Flagpole Magazine
August 1997
by Mark Pilvinsky

Seemingly out of nowhere, a local trio with the outikely name of Of Montreal ("File Under '0'," the warning sticker says) has written what might be the best record of the year. Cherry Peel, Of Montreal's debut CD, Is a beautiful foray into the world of positive, loving, joyfully honest two-minute pop songs that aren't afraid to tell it like it is (or at least how it should be). Vocalist/guitarist Kevin Barnes has shared his first major vision with the world, and we're better for having listened.

Barnes' was signed to Bar/None Records when he lived in Florida more than a year ago. He then moved twice, trying to find suitable bandmates in Cleveland and Minneapolis before settling on Athens and his current band: drummer Derek Almstead and bassist Bryan Poole (who splits time in another great local band, Elf Power). Though Of Montreal is a "band," It's also an entity that speaks solely with the voice of Kevin Barnes -- he writes the songs, he records them fully formed, and he even plays the majority of instruments on both Cherry Peel and Of Montreal's next record. But Barnes will be the first to tell you that he doesn't necessarily want to be a one-man band, and his bandmates -- though they realize this is first and foremost Kevin's pro ject -- are equally ready for the change.

"When it started out," says bassist Poole, "we knew that Kevin had this record contract and that there was going to be a record recorded - all within a very short time frame from when we started. So that really put the perspective on it: these are Kevin's songs. But I think we're moving towards more of an equal band-oriented form now. I mean, we're already discussing the third record. It's going to be more of a fully-integrated 'band' idea. It will still be Kevin's songs, but the third record will probably be fully-realized wlth three heads instead of one."

"The second record [A Petite Tragedy] is done," Barnes says. "And it's basically just me. It's more of a solo record than the first one. I just had all these songs and I had the 8-track at my house, so while these guys were at work I'd be recording all day."

Barnes' lyrics explore a world of innocence and love -- not exactly the norm for our increasingly paranoid culture. He sings: "I'm so glad I have you with me, girl / To channel all my loving energy into." Cherry Peel is chock- full of those kinds of straightforward statements and Barnes isn't the least bit apologetic about his method of writing.

"Usually I try to write songs that will make feel good, or get something off my chest," Barnes says. "Even though people might think the lyrics are cheesy, I always loved the '60s music the best. That was a time when people were writing really innocent songs. That's my favorite style of writing -- the innocent stuff. Brian Wilson is the man -- I love him the most of all musicians. There aren't too many people around who are as completely honest as he was --honesty goes in and out of style."

It may be "out of style" right now, in fact, and perhaps that's why Of Montreal strikes such a chord. For short pop songs that do their best to sound simple, Barnes' many compositions are surprisingly complex. Fusing the shameless fun of Jonathan Richman with the the mega-melodies of The Beach Boys by way of Weezer and The Beatles, Barnes has created his own signature style by building on the strong foundations of the geniuses who have come before him. That's some serious company for a guy in his early 20s with only one record under his belt, but I doubt Barnes sees his record in such terms:

"I'm really happy with the record," he says. "I feel like it's really happy and short and poppy. I don't think I will ever be embarrassed by it, even though it is kind of amateurish because we were just learning how to use the 8-track machine. I think it has a definite charm -- that's the best thing about home recording. Hopefully all the major labels will go out of business, so everyone can start their own labels and everybody will be able to express themselves and do their own thing without someone going 'The drums don't sound perfect! The drums don't sound like whatever record is happening at the time.' I'm hoping there will be a whole new movement where everybody records at home and everythiug gets done in a really personal way and there's no more cheesy band bios to be passed around. And no cheesy band photos. And everybody can do it on their own exactly how they want to do it."

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