Of Montreal's traveling circus is rolling into Denver this Sunday, and I was lucky enough to interview guitarist Bryan Poole ahead of their arrival. Bryan talks about this crazy tour, future acoustic shows, Kevin Barnes' recording process, and how seated venues are terrible.
So how’s the tour going so far?
Great. We’ve been having really excited crowds and everybody seems to dig what we’re doing. So far so good.
Great. I recently read that Kevin [Barnes, Of Montreal ringleader of sorts] said the band views this round of touring as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Yeah, we’ve kind of done this prog rock, excess tour, you know? I used to get Mojo magazine and for those who don’t know what Mojo is, its just like this British magazine that’s kind of like the rock historian mag. They were talking about all these prog rock bands that had these lavish tours in the early 70s and were spending millions of dollars on these tours only to find out that they didn’t have the money to back it up and lost their shirts trying to do these tours. For this tour, Kevin, and the band, we’ve always wanted it to be bigger, better, and more extravagant and, you know, as big as we could get it, as big a spectacle as it could possibly be, but on kind of a budget. I mean, definitely, you look at a band like the Flaming Lips or something like that and you really admire what they do because they definitely are setting up all the stuff themselves and they are making the props. They’re not just paying some company, like “Let’s get the fancy laser light thing!” for the tour where some set designer designs your tour set. We’re trying to do the same thing but at the same time to have extra people with us, like we have two vehicles and we have all these extra performers and set pieces and all these things that we have to load into the club. We have to start getting stuff in at around 11am or at Noon. That’s when the day begins and, you know, working right up until the show starts basically getting things ready to go and then our show is like a two hour show. You have all that stuff happening, then you have to break it all down, put it back in, and drive to the next town. So, it’s a bit expensive to do that and we’re not really, or this tour’s not about making money. It’s more about having this celebration or this weird spectacle that we and Kevin have always wanted to do. By hook or by crook it was going to happen. Kevin was not going to be denied, you know? (laughing) “But Kevin we’re going to loose money!” He’s like “Ah, we’re going to do it!” So we saved up a bunch of money. We played some festivals earlier this year that paid pretty well and instead of putting that money up we put it back in to do this tour.
Great. Yeah, the photos and reports I’ve seen have been pretty ridiculous. How was having a white horse on stage in New York?
It was good! Luckily it didn’t do its business on stage. It did right before it went on supposedly. That was the funniest comment of the whole show. After the show we played and were behind the stage and stuff like that, and there’s this security woman back there who is probably like 55 or something. She’s just sitting in her chair, that’s all she did the whole night was sit in her chair. She was like, and I’ll edit it for radio, but she said, “Yeah I didn’t see any of the show, but I saw that horse take a crap on stage!” (laughter) So that was pretty funny. But the horse thing was a great thing, but it was just for that one show. It was just a big blowout because it was available. That was pricey, I won’t even tell you how much it cost to get that horse. So it was a little bit cost prohibitive. Plus, PETA, they weren’t too happy with us using the horse either, which is understandable. I have no ill will towards PETA, but they wrote us a letter about it. And I was like, “Yeah, probably a horse shouldn’t be on stage.”
Well, do you guys have anything special planned for Sunday’s show in Denver?
Well, we bring our show the same, I mean the only thing that’s missing from the show in Denver versus the one in New York is there won’t be a horse and probably Andrew Van Wyngarden is not going to be on stage. But, you know, who knows what other luminaries might appear? So if people want to see what our show is like there’s lots of stuff up on YouTube and pictures around, stuff like that. It’s a lot of time, and it really is kind of a once in a lifetime Of Montreal show, at least for now. I know for our next tour we’re scaling it back because we actually have to pay bills. (laughter)
You can’t do something like this every time I guess.
Yeah, we’ll go back to something more intimate I think, we’re hoping. We did some things in Europe where we played, basically acoustically, and we all had a great time doing it. So we might do a scaled-back, more intimate tour next time.
Yeah, I saw some videos of you guys playing acoustic in some parks in London…
Yeah! That was a little bit odd but it worked out. It was a bit cold and kindof strange and the wind was blowing. It was like one o’clock which is dreadfully early for us.
So, I guess the Elephant 6 collective has some roots in Denver and Boulder. Do you or any Of Montreal members have any connections to the area?
Not per se. Of course, Apples in Stereo, Dressy Bessy and the Minders, even Andy Gonzalez, who played in Of Montreal for a while, of Marshmallow Coat. He’s from Denver and he made friends with Julian and played in music tapes initially and came out to Athens. So that’s the closest thing, we have Andy, Andy from Denver as he’s now called. You should check out his stuff. Yeah, its unfortunate, you know, the Minders and the Apples [in Stereo] have left town, but we always love to hang out with them and go get Indian food. There’s an Indian restaurant I can’t remember where it is, but we always go there. So yeah, we like Denver a lot. I like Colorado, it’s beautiful.
It’s a good place to be. So I’m wondering if, since Kevin did pretty much the whole album by himself, did you guys have any problems turning his studio productions into stuff that can be performed live? How’s that process work?
As far as getting the songs that are recorded, to be able to perform them?
Yeah, well we put a lot of time into that because a lot of times with Kevin’s recording methods, like let’s say the thing with bass… it’s not one bass line. Its not like he sat down and recorded the bass line in one go. He’ll start with a simplistic bass line, it might be just one little riff. And then he’ll overdub on top of that bass line another bass line and then, maybe, a third bass line on top of that. So when you actually hear the record it sounds like a crazy bass line but its basically impossible to play for one person. A lot of times that’s kindof the main thing. There’s times where three… I have a new double neck guitar slash bass, so in the middle of one part of the song I play a bass line, and then in another part of the song I play a guitar line. So there’s things like that, yeah, there’s a lot of technical things that we have to get through. But we practice really hard everyday, I mean, really, probably like 6-7 hours a day for about a month from the middle of August until the middle of September. And then after that we had to have stage rehearsals where it was like, ok, all the stuff. We had rented out this place in Athens that was basically a mini-arena and we set up everything in there just to see what’s going to work and what’s not. [So we’re] not going to the first gig with everything being raw. So, yeah, it was a lot of time and professional rock band stuff. Our friend Heather McIntosh is played with Lelain these days and she said they have 13 hour practice days with a short lunch break.
That’s a full-time job.
It could be. (laughter) Its an experience.
Does Kevin ever seek advice or feedback while he’s in the recording process from the rest of the band or is it pretty much a solo effort?
No, not really. He’ll send me sketches that he’s working on and I might comment, “Oh, I really like this thing” or whatever. I’ve kindof learned not to say negative things because then he’ll stop sending them to me. That’s about the only insight I have is that I can comment on it and occasionally get to play on a song if it just happens to be that day that I’m over there. It’s like, “You want to play guitar on this?” “Yeah, I would like to play guitar on this.” But generally he works by himself and he can play everything and I don’t begrudge him that. It is a bit frustrating, I’m not going to lie about that, but I don’t begrudge him for the way he goes about it. He’s like Prince. He can do it and he knows what he wants to play. He knows what he wants so it’s a bit frustrating for him to have other people parts that are not quite what he wants. And he has to wait for them to do it, instead of “Oh, I recorded this track. I’m gonna pick up the guitar.” And then’s he’s recorded something within twenty minutes instead of [saying] “Hey Bryan, can you learn this thing and come up with a part?” Waiting around. So it stops his creative process and he likes being in that world with the headphones on. I think anybody that does a lot of four-tracking, or starts there, can identify with that creative process. Staying up until four or five in the morning and just kind of being in awe like, “What in the world have I just created?” You know, you’re refining it and you’re sculpting it and you just become a really good sculptor of songs. You feel you should be in the guild of songwriters I think.
Do you have any advice for people, like myself, who will be seeing you for the first time on Sunday?
Come to have fun. Don’t just stare. Get involved, you know? We really want to it be a band party. I can’t remember the place we are playing in Denver if it has seats or not…
It’s a standing venue. It’s the Ogden Theater.
Good, because the seated venues are terrible. Everybody’s just kindof static, watching you. You know, I watched Neil Young on some BBC thing from ’71 that I downloaded. I’ve actually seen it about 500 hundred times, but this is a cleaner copy and I brought it on the bus and watched it. Its kindof like MTV Unplugged before MTV Unplugged and everybody’s sitting down. And that’s great for him to be playing acoustic or whatever, but that’s not what we’re doing. We’re a big spectacle rock show. Its like a dance party, so come to dance.
Well I look forward to the spectacle. I know you have a busy day Bryan so I’ll let you get back to what you are doing. Have a good show tonight in Houston.
Thanks! Have fun up there in Crested Butte. I hope you don’t have to put the chains on to make it down to the show.
Thanks to Bryan Poole for the interview and for Chad Reich at KBUT for setting the whole thing up for me. Go see Of Montreal at the Ogden Theater this Sunday in Denver (or whenever they roll through your town). I know I'm ridiculously excited. Buy their new album Skeletal Lamping while you're at it. Its good.
Of Montreal official website
Skeletal Lamping @ Polyvinyl Record Co.