Paranoia on the dance floor

Of Montreal taps into the beat of national insecurity

Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes.

Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes.

Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Of Montreal performs Tuesday, Nov. 6. Mezzanine opens 7 p.m.; show 8 p.m. Reptaliens opens.
Tickets: $15
Sierra NevadaBig Room
1075 E. 20th St.

Kevin Barnes is the chameleonic singer, multi-instrumentalist and main creative force behind the long-running indie rock group Of Montreal. Since 1996, the Athens, Ga.-based band—which is part of the famed Elephant 6 Collective that also spawned the likes of Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel—has released 15 albums, and the ever-evolving Barnes has established himself as one of the most colorful and creative performance artists in indie rock.

Of Montreal is playing the Sierra Nevada Big Room on Nov. 6. Speaking with the CN&R ahead of the show, Barnes discusses his latest creation, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, a maximalist take on 1980s dance music with a decidedly dark undercurrent (listen to the jittery single “Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia”). He says his main inspiration for the album was months of Trump-related “simulated reality paranoia.”

When you were writing White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, you became paranoid about the concept of simulated reality, basically that the known universe and our everyday reality is a computer simulation—some real Black Mirror stuff. Are you still freaked out by that possibility?

It’s one of those things that’s impossible to prove one way or the other. It kind of seems like an absurd thing to say, but I feel like ißnternet technology, the ability to project yourself all over the world while staying in one place—I feel like the effects on the human brain haven’t been studied that much. We’d need another 80 years or something to figure out what kind of detrimental effects that has on our brains. The simulated reality concept is becoming more prevalent, people are becoming more and more conscious of it and there are so many movies made about it. The way the politicians are sort of attacking reality on a level that’s never been attempted, there’s so much going on for people to navigate through, so it makes sense that we would feel imbalanced and confused.

Is your paranoia related to the 2016 election? Is that when it started?

I think so. I think it was a dissociative experience because you just can’t believe what’s happening. People who have the complete opposite view on basically everything are running the country, and they’re taking over the planet. There are so many Trump-like people running countries. It creates a deep insecurity and terror. You start getting sucked into the whirlpool of that mentality, and it’s hard to step outside of it. Actually, it’s not that hard—you just have to throw your phone and laptop away, and then you’ll be free. But it’s hard to imagine a life where you’re engaging with your fellow man without having those devices.

How did ruminating on these subjects influence the creation of the album itself?

Definitely lyrically. I mention simulated reality a lot, this paranoia of being listened to and monitored, or the possibility of those things happening. But, at the same time, it has a lot more positive subject matter. I was falling in love when I wrote the record, so there’s a lot of hopefulness as well. It’s not just a negative terror trip.

You used the same drum sample packs throughout the album. Why did you limit yourself like that?

It was mainly inspired by recordings done in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s, where people would have a drum machine, and you couldn’t upload new samples. You had to be creative with the samples that came with the drum machine. All of those Prince and Janet Jackson records, they were done with drum machines, not live drummers. There’s just something about having one palette throughout [the creation process] that I find inspiring. It’s a fun challenge to create new things out of the same material.