Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
After nearly 20 years, one of the Classic City’s most beloved bands finally headlines AthFest. Psych-rockers of Montreal, hot off the release of the excellent, understated Aureate Gloom LP, close out the outdoor main stage Saturday. Flagpole caught up with Kevin Barnes, of Montreal's enigmatic mastermind, to chat about his favorite AthFest moments, the influences behind the group's latest album and easing back into the Athens music scene.
Flagpole: What's exciting to you about AthFest? Do you have any memories that stick out?
Kevin Barnes: It's always a fun time to check out Athens bands that I've heard of but not had the opportunity to see before. Also, to see it growing a little bit every year is exciting. The outdoor stage is great, and it's cool to see downtown Athens explode with people and energy. As far as a specific AthFest moment… I saw Modern Skirts play outdoors two years ago. It was one of their last shows, so that was really inspiring to watch.
FP: Aureate Gloom takes inspiration from the early New York City punk scene. What drew you to that time period?
KB: I think the early stages of punk rock were very poetic, as well as being slightly more nihilistic or aggressive. It's not really what punk became. It's more raw, but still sophisticated and intellectual. People like Patti Smith and David Byrne were writing such great lyrics. The combination of the passion and rawness of the music, and the confessional but also sophisticated lyrics inspired me to make the songs that I made.
My whole career has been centered around being inspired by lost periods of time.
FP: Was it difficult to tap into that mindset, considering how much NYC has changed since then?
KB: I wasn't really trying to make a period piece. A lot of it still exists in the stories people tell, and books like Richard Hell's autobiography. There's lots of books and movies you can watch to get into the spirit… My whole career has been centered around being inspired [by] lost periods of time, whether it's the British Invasion or Funkadelic or 20th Century avant-garde pop music. It's always been something that's past its time. I'm really just romanticizing these dead scenes.
FP: What were some of the non-musical influences that were in your head?
KB: I started getting really big into Hemingway for the first time, which is weird, because most people read it in college or high school, but I never really got around to it… The earthiness of his style attracted me to him. Specifically, where he's trying to stay as true to his reality or his vision and try to avoid too much ornamentation. That sort of direct approach to lyrical expression is what appealed to me. I don't know why, but the macho aspect of it [also] appealed to me, because I'm such a dandy. Just to see another perspective and another way of living is interesting. I could take some influences from it, because it's so different from who I am.
FP: Was it tough laying yourself bare without speaking from an alter ego?
KB: With this record, and a little bit of the last couple records, I've been trying to speak more directly to things that were happening in my personal life, and to write in a more confessional, autobiographical style. It's a great therapy, to get it out and be able to step back from it. It's an exorcism of some kind to make these records when you're going through something heavy in your life, and it's a gift to express it in a way that makes it less painful and damaging to your psyche.
FP: What are some Athens bands you've been digging?
KB: There's a pretty cool scene happening around Go Bar and Flicker. There are a lot of bands incorporating theatrics and creating something that's definitely not commercial but still entertaining. There's definitely a level of antagonism there, which I enjoy, with bands like Ginko or Jock Gang or Fantasy Sports. There's definitely some cool things happening in Athens. For a long time, I’ve been in a bubble doing my own thing, keeping to myself. Over the last year, I've been trying to connect with what's been happening in the scene, and with the younger bands that are starting out. It's cool to see the scene is still thriving, and that there's a great life force in Athens.
WHO: of Montreal
WHERE: Pulaski Street Stage
WHEN: Saturday, June 27, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: FREE!