If there was an archetype for an indie rock star, Kevin Barnes would almost certainly need to be on the shortlist. He's got the look -- fine, jet black hair often covered with a knitted beret, guyliner, pastel scarves, androgynous attire. And that's just the superficial, non-music stuff.
As frontman for the Athens, Ga., troupe Of Montreal, Barnes has been the architect of the band's idiosyncratic, sweetly uplifting canon that's been updated with a new album (and often band members, too) nearly every year since it began some 18 years ago. His songs are sometimes so oblique and esoteric ("Obsidian Currents," "Hegira Emigre," "Belle Glad Missionaries" -- and that's just one album) -- that there's a blog devoted to explaining some of Barnes' biggest head scratchers (for the record, Barnes says he's never seen it).
Ahead of Of Montreal's headlining appearance April 17 at the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, we talked to Barnes about the gestating Of Montreal documentary, Dustin Hoffman and, of course, Pharrell Williams' giant fedora.
Question. A couple years ago you started a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the Of Montreal documentary "Song Dynasties." What's its status?
Kevin Barnes. Well, it's done. It's basically in the can.
Q. What can you tell us about it?
Barnes. It's very sensationalized. It's not really that much about the music. It's more about the experience of being in an indie band and how everybody relates to each other and the soap opera aspect of things.
Q. Is any of it hard for you to watch?
Barnes. Yeah, definitely. For me it's kind of like my life flashing before my eyes. It's hard for me to be objective about it. It's a well-made film, and it'll be entertaining and engaging. I think the subject of a documentary is going to be the one that'll enjoy it the most unless you're a total narcissist. It's kind of like one side of my story or one perception of my story.
Q. So when do you expect it to come out?
Barnes. Definitely this year unless there's a lawsuit. I think it'll happen sooner than later.
Q. Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys recently said he has a hard time playing his old songs live because "sometimes it's tough to get through one of the old ones live. You know, you don't feel like that anymore." Can you relate?
Barnes. Well, in a way we're lucky in that our early stuff was totally unpopular. There's only a handful of people who have any interest in hearing the very early stuff, so I haven't really been under too much pressure to play those songs. I can pick whatever songs I want to play because the songs the people want to hear are from the last (few) albums anyway.
Q. Speaking of older songs, in 2001 you released a concept album that featured Dustin Hoffman's name on all 16 song titles. Did you ever hear from him?
Barnes. No, again, luckily that record is pretty obscure and made no money whatsoever that it wasn't a threat. I did hear that he was on "Inside the Actor's Studio" and there was a Q&A moment where he was asked if he was aware that there was an indie rock band that made a concept album about him. For one brief moment in time maybe he knew that it existed.
Q. As a hat aficionado, have you ever thought about rocking Pharrell Williams' hat?
Barnes. No. It's funny because when I heard about the hat I was expecting something different. When I finally saw it I was like, "Oh, it's not that great of a hat." I thought it was going it be like a 10-gallon hat or some totally weird fashion statement. So, no, I haven't ever imagined myself in that sort of hat but now that you mention it, I just started imagining myself in that sort of hat, and I'm not sure if I like it.
OTHER INTERVIEWS BY BLAIR R. FISCHER