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WARMfest: of Montreal on film, poetry, tapes

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I had just started my position as music editor at NUVO when Joyful Noise put out that glorious, 10-album cassette box set of work by of Montreal. Literally. It came out the day I first opened up my work email account. I remember staring at the press release, thinking about how utterly cool it was to write about a record label like Joyful Noise in my hometown.

That was almost three years ago, and Joyful Noise's relationship with pop avant garde masters of Montreal continues and strengthen. JNR released 2012's Paralytic Stalks and this year's Lousy with Sylvianbriar, plus a rarities collection called Daughter of Cloud, a flexi disc and a few other interesting oddities. It's a perfect pairing between an esoteric, innovative label and a wildly creative band.

I spoke with of Montreal's mastermind Kevin Barnes before their set at WARMfest.

On his relationship with Joyful Noise:

"At first, I got in contact with Karl a couple years ago, and he offered to release one of our records on cassette. Joyful Noise was starting to do things like that. It's cool because we hadn't had our records released on cassette, so it was just fun to have that format covered. Then, from there, it sort of went a little further and Joyful Noise did a box set of all the albums up to that point on cassette. ... We've just been friends ever since."

On the of Montreal Documentary, The Past Is A Grotesque Animal (which screen Friday at WARMfest):

“It took a long time. Initially, we weren't really thinking of making a documentary. We just wanted to document this one concert. We had someone go out to LA, where we were playing two nights at this one place, and we had someone come out do it professionally. We had a crane and everything. We shot it very well. We didn't really know what to do with it. A year later, we had Jason Miller, who directed the documentary, [at one] of our shows in Atlanta. Then, with all that footage we didn't know what to do with it. Then he found all this b-roll stuff. At some point, we sort of realized, well, maybe we should go ahead and just make a proper documentary, other than just these live shows on their own. So, from there, we had him go to Bonnaroo and film a lot of stuff, then follow us around the country for many years. The band took all these different turns on a personal level while he was filming, and that all got into the documentary. It's basically sort of following us, keeping track of what was going on in the band for four years, or something.”

On his (perhaps) forthcoming poetry collection:

“I would like to eventually create a chapbook or something, do something along those lines. Not something for a major publisher, or anything. Just because, I've written so much that I haven't used, that I'll never use in songs. I actually get a lot of fulfillment out of writing poetry. But it's a totally different thing, because I don't really know if it's good or not. I have no concept of good poetry or bad poetry. It's more difficult for me to feel connected to a poet … I would never call myself a poet or anything like that, but I do enjoy writing that kind of verse.”

On writing Lousy with Sylvianbriar in San Francisco:

“It's just sort of a romantic place for me. I've always had this deep fascination with the counter-culture movement of the '60s, and San Francisco was the epicenter for so much. It really hasn't really changed that much. The United States is pretty much 95 percent really boring and 5 percent fantastic. And San Francisco is one of those few places that is a cool place, that's always been really cool and interesting, that's always had really intentional architecture and people. I went up there, having never really spent much time in San Francisco besides going through and having shows – and we'd always had really great shows there. I've always had a positive feeling about it. So that, combined with the cool things that had happened there over the years, it just felt like a semi-magical place to spend some time in and try and be creative in.”

On appreciative fans:

“I think over the last seven or eight years, we've established ourselves as this fun, visually interesting, musically exciting band. People will come check it out just to see what the freak show [is], what's going to happen this time. So, it's fun because we're at this point where it feels very communal. What I always sort of hoped would happen would be that we'd attract this cool, likeminded people who would want to dress up and make an evening of it. Not just go and check it out voyeuristically, but go and feel like you're a part of the experience. The band and the audience, there's not much distinction between the two. We're all sort of having the experience together. Some cities are wilder than others … sometimes we'll play a place that's economically depressed, but we'll have a great show because people need that, that release, because their day-to-day is a struggle. Sometimes you play a place where people are doing pretty well, so then they are more relaxed and usually aren't as vocal, aren't as loyal. I'd say that is common in the US, because we're all kind of struggling. But when we play places like in the Netherlands, or places where they have a really high quality of life, they're kind of just watching it, like, “Oh, that was very nice.” It's not the same kind of chaotic energy, explosive energy that you get at a lot of US shows.”

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