Of Montreal doc director on the long, winding road to The Past Is a Grotesque Animal
Kevin Barnes seems to be a pretty inscrutable figure. Was it particularly hard to get him to open up?
Kevin Barnes is not an easy man to know.
It's really hard. I think that he's definitely aware of the camera and there was a switch that flipped when we were filming. But I was surprised at how honest he was willing to be, because of his personality type. He suggested making the film, and I think he's kind of regretted it the last few years. He realized, or something sort of clicked with him, where he was like, "Oh, shit." He's said to me that documentaries shouldn't be made about people who are still living, that he wishes it wasn't made until he was dead or the band was over. He feels like it sort of signifies that the band has peaked and the story has been told and he doesn't feel that way at all. he feels like he's still only at the beginning of the story.
That being said, there was always a little bit of hesitation from him. Knowing what a private person he is in some regards, I was really surprised at how honest and open he was. I was hoping he would be, because he's so honest in his interviews for the most part. In terms of getting to know him, I think he's an incredibly honest person when the camera is off.
You were a fan of the band when you started this, right? How did working with them for so long affect your fandom?
I went through like five or six iterations of feelings toward the band, or levels of fandom or whatever. When I first met them, I honestly didn't know that much about them. I think I just knew a little of Hissing Fauna. Honestly, I was approaching it more from the fact of wanting to be a filmmaker, that was what I wanted to do with my life. In the small town of Athens, what was the outlet? Who could I collaborate with to make something interesting? It's a great music scene, but most of the bands are pretty straightforward rock or indie rock bands with maybe one album under the belt. I think the empire that Of Montreal had already created, with the back catalog and the crazy live shows -- I hadn't even seen one before I went on tour with them! -- I just thought they were really interesting. I thought they were my best potential subject.
When I met them and went on tour with them Skeletal Lamping had just come out. I remember thinking it was so different than Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. I don't think I immediately fell in love with it, but then we went on tour and by the end of it, I was like, "Holy shit, this is amazing! These people are incredible!" I fell in love with that record, just seeing it performed and all the crazy theatrics. It's still one of my favorite records of theirs.
Then, for several years, it was just trying to figure out who was this band? Who are these people? I saw Kevin as this super-intimidating, mysterious person. I would never try to ask him anything super-personal at that point. I was just trying to become friends with everybody. Then there was a point after so many years where Kevin sort of showed that he respected me. Maybe it was when I came to L.A. to film him recording with Jon Brion. That was the first time I ever spent any time alone with him, so that was when I started to get to know him. I loved the band even more, but it became a much more personal thing, because I was like, "Oh, I actually understand this guy." I was starting to figure out who he is.
And then I think there were some times beyond that where I started to feel some negative feelings about the whole thing. Like many fans, I didn't want to see the band break up or fall apart. I definitely rooted for the old band members and I didn't want to see them gone. I started thinking, "God, why is Kevin doing this?" But I think that was what I really wanted to find out, and that's why I wanted to continue the film. By the end of it, I really saw his side of it, too, and why he would do that. I tried to put myself in his shoes -- you work with the same people for so long, how can anyone blame you for wanting to try something different?
Was there anything you wanted to get for the movie that you weren't able to?
I don't know if this really came off in the film, but being on tour with them is such a...I've been on tour with a handful of other bands and I think this band was really doing it right for a while. One funny thing is, when I went on the road with them I expected drugs and debauchery, and there was none of that really. Of course, they're all drinking a lot. There was just so many fun, weird...it was like being on tour with a drama club or something. They all come off the stage from doing this theatrical thing every night and I think that energy sort of carries over into their personal lives on tour. So many nights they'd be doing the weirdest, craziest shit on the bus. For some reason, it just never worked out that I was never able to capture enough of that aspect. If I would come to my show one night without my camera, that would be the one night that everyone was having the best night of their lives. I kind of feel bad that I wasn't able to show just how much fun they have on tour together. Hopefully that did come across at some point in there. I think if you've ever been to one of their shows, you can tell that they have a good energy together and really do have a lot of fun.
See The Past is a Grotesque Animal at 8 p.m. tonight, June 20 at the Boulder Theater; doors open at 7 p.m. For more info on the movie, read our previous coverage or visit the Boulder Theater website. If you miss it tonight, the film releases to VOD on Tuesday, June 24; find details on the Of Montreal movie website.