Q&A With David Barnes: Of Montreal Concert This Evening Will Involve a Dragon

Of Montreal frontman, Kevin Barnes, and his brother, David, the band's artistic director, grew up in West Palm Beach and are returning to their South Florida roots tonight for a show (or, more aptly, an energetic, colorful, costume-laden spectacle) at Revolution in Fort Lauderdale.

The tour promotes their latest album, False Priest, which NPR calls "bonkers," but in a good way. False Priest is as energetic as a candy-addicted toddler and listening to it instantly transports you to a party -- a party full of dancing and dark secret rooms. The music, with its synthetic sound-glitter along with the band's penchant for theatrics promises a Friday night that is border-line otherworldly. County Grind caught up with David, the artistic brain behind both the album art and the performances, known to involve human hair clippings, pig costumes, and a Susan Sarandon cameo...don't worry, we'll get to that.

Your performances are known for crazy costumes and lots of energy, so what do you have planned for Fort Lauderdale?
Our whole thing is really just creating a scenario for escapism, and that's why we do have all the theatrics. Me and the bass player, Davey Pierce, made a bunch of -- we made our own masks and stuff like that out of fiberglass and so we have these weird little school children characters. We have these characters that we call 'the builders,' and they're kind of modeled after Catholic priests a little bit. They kind of are bumbling idiots though. That's a little jab at organized religion I suppose. [And] we have a giant dragon that Kevin rides on.

I heard he rode on a white stallion before so I guess a dragon is the logical next step, right?
Yeah, we have a lot of theatrics going on. We have four performers with us on the trip, and just because we know so many people we tend to grab our friends every now and then. 

Earlier, I was watching the clip of Susan Sarandon slapping a pig while on stage during an Of Montreal performance (video below). Was that your idea?
Yeah, it was just kind of a joke because a friend of ours was friends with her son. She could be this harsh school teacher that disciplined the pig characters for biting, and it was one of those surreal moments where what could have been just a funny idea somehow becomes reality. 

Were you on stage at that point?

I was a pig, yeah. I didn't get spanked. Sometimes you give the lead character role to someone else so that you can enjoy it more. You can actually see it. 

Where do you draw your inspiration for these stage performances and for the album covers you design?

I draw a lot, I'm just always drawing, and so if you're always drawing and you're also reading and watching things, somehow it just all blends together naturally. There's definitely a comic book superhero influence for sure. I would definitely prefer it if everyone wore costumes all the time. 

False Priest, the album cover is kind of based on the idea of a false priest, which dosen't have to be religious. It can just be anyone that pretends to be something that they're not. If you meet a fish that's wearing a gas mask, then he's lying about something because fish would never need a gas mask. Maybe he's not a fish (laughs), or... 

Have you ever had any ideas for performances that were just too crazy to carry out?
I have a friend that is a hairstylist, and so I had him save the hair for like two weeks. So, I had  three garbage bags filled with hair, and I wanted to drop it onto the audience. The joke was kind of like, "Do you like flowers?" and every one's like, "Yea," like super excited that flowers are about to fall down, and then it's like, "Too bad, you get hair." And then hair drops down. We asked our lawyer about it, and he sent us a letter that I actually still have that's really funny..."Under no circumstances do you drop human hair on the audience." It was just a liability. It wasn't until after it was like no, it's not happening, and I kind of felt some of the hair and realized, "Oh, this is pretty disgusting." I got these weird little boxes and just put a little bit of hair in each box, and threw the boxes up so that it didn't get on them. It was not symbolic or intelligent in any way. It wasn't even really a prank. Sometimes ideas like that are just funny.

How would you describe the general vibe of False Priest compared to other Of Montreal albums?
Definitely more influence by '70s funk bands I would think. Kevin was just listening to a lot of that at the time. And there are some pretty heavy -- like the last song is the darkest ending to any of the records, which is basically God kind of apologizing for the Old Testament, basically -- for the idea that humans should worship God, so God's basically saying, "I was guys should start worshiping each other as human beings and take care of each other, and if you're going to put your ideology above your brothers and sisters, you're going to hurt them for your ideology, then that's not right." 

Do you think that message is more poignant now with the Tucson shootings?

I don't know if it's any more relevant now. I mean, people die all the time, and every now and then the nation cares about someone dying, but you know, people are being cruel to each other every single second of the day...I went to a Catholic school, so I tend to poke fun at not religion but organized religion in the sense that it's so stuffy, and there are so many rules and the rules are very arbitrary... 

Did you and your brother go to the same Catholic school?
I went for all four years; he went for, he couldn't even make it through a year so then he went to public school. 

Was that an influence behind False Priest?
Probably not Catholic high school, but definitely we grew up in a Catholic household, and so, it definitely effects you. I'm kind of obsessed with the concept of God and religion, I suppose. 

What do your parents think?
They're pretty religious, but they're also super supportive. There are certain things we've done on stage that my mom will be -- my mom especially will be like, "Ohh no, why did you do that?" But they're super super supportive and always have been. And my dad's like a business man, so he has this really funny outlook on it where it's like, "I don't understand half of what you guys do, but it appears to be working."

Video, as promised: Susan Sarandon Spanks a Pig

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Leslie Minora