"If I was a better father, I would probably quit music," says Of Montreal frontman and main songwriter Kevin Barnes. "I've sort of chosen music over fatherhood, at least for the moment." Since last April, Of Montreal has spent most of the year touring the globe to support its seventh studio album, The Sunlandic Twins. For Barnes, the rare stops home to Athens, Ga., have made the tour seem longer. His wife, Nina, gave birth to their first daughter, Alabee, in December 2004. His intensive tour schedule hasn't left much time for parenting, but to fulfill his role as a provider, the show must go on.
In the winter of 2004, Barnes and Nina retreated to Oslo in her home country of Norway to have the baby. For two young musicians with no health insurance, Norway's socialized medicine made that country a much more appealing location for childbirth than the United States.
The Nordic adventure left its mark on The Sunlandic Twins in more ways than one. "Oslo in the Summertime" chronicles a day in the life of a stranger in a strange land. And "So Begins Our Alabee" resonates with a wide-eyed embrace of paternity.
Of Montreal built its name on a foundation of whimsical lyrics, hallucinogenic bouts of rhythm, and storytelling in a hue of '60s pop and experimental songwriting. Made up of Barnes (guitar/vocals), and current members Jason Nesmith (guitar), Matt Dawson (bass), Bryan Poole (bass), Dottie Alexander (keyboards) and Jamey Huggins (drums), the group descended from Athens' Elephant 6 collective. The same sparkling twee-pop DNA that shaped Athens' indie-rock scene in the '90s via Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control is a dominant trait in Of Montreal.
Previous offerings, such as The Gay Parade and Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse are hands-down concept albums. But The Sunlandic Twins dismantles the tell-tale "concept album" signifiers. With "I Was Never Young" and "The Party's Crashing Us," Barnes' writing drifts toward a subtly grounded approach. A loss of innocence resonates under "October Is Eternal" and "Our Spring Is Sweet Not Fleeting." But in the journey to parenthood, the magic is not lost, just refined.
This newfound depth is countered by a much more danceable sound. Of Montreal's experimental nature was never the group's most inviting quality, especially to newcomers. "We've always experimented with song structures, tempos and key changes, all sorts of craziness," Barnes says as he explains the less-cluttered approach he took with The Sunlandic Twins. "These songs are just as complex as anything we've ever done, but because of the dance qualities they're more accessible."
A remix album featuring material from The Sunlandic Twins and the group's 2004 release, Satanic Panic in the Attic, is also in the works. But rather than further exploiting the dance-friendly character of the music, Barnes is steering back toward a more experimental route. "What's the point of hiring dance music artists to remix dance songs?" Barnes asks. Though he's approached several artists, including Danger Mouse, !!! and I Am the World Trade Center for the project, an official lineup is unconfirmed.
The current tour ends with a performance in Austin, Texas, at SXSW in March, but there's still no rest for the weary -- not yet. "I'm going to start making a new record right when this tour is over," he adds. "When that's done, I'll be able to spend a lot more time with my daughter."