Search this site

home albums singles gigs interviews soundsxp

interviews                        [ page 5] 

Late December 2002 /  January 2003

Previous interviews

Of Montreal
Sister Vanilla

on page 4

Donald Ross Skinner
Great Lakes
Mendoza Line
The Pleased

on page 3

Butterflies of Love
Ian McNabb

on page 2

Dressy Bessy
Neil Halstead
Stephen Hero
Slumber Party
The Workhouse
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

on page 1

Earl Brutus
British Sea Power
Camera Obscura
Mark Eitzel
David Gedge
Jack Hayter
Kristin Hersh
Tom Hingley
Robyn Hytchcock
Lupine Howl

Ted Barnes interview by Tony S

ted barnes lp.jpg (24483 bytes)Ted Barnes has just produced his first solo album ‘Short Scenes’ on Narwhal Records.  Ted doesn’t sing on it as guest vocals are by Sunhouse vocalist Gavin Clark and his regular employer Beth Orton, whom he has worked with for most of her career.  We caught up with Ted at The Bush Hall in early December 2002. 

SXP: I first became aware of you when I saw Beth Orton around the time of the first single (the one-sided Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine). I saw your support slots to Mark Eitzel at the Bloomsbury Theatre; had you been long with Beth at this time?

Ted: No, those were about the first live shows that we did.   Before that we had just recorded the album and those [shows] were before the album had come out.  We worked together: me, Al and her had written our first album together.  

SXP: Which was ‘Trailer Park’?

Ted: Yeah.  And we’d just made our first steps towards playing live with those huge Tindersticks shows, which were a bit daunting.

SXP: ‘Trailer Park’ had a different title but I believe it got changed.

Ted: Was it ‘Winnebago’?  She wanted to call it ‘Winnebago’ but she had a copyright problem and they wouldn’t let her do it so she changed it to ‘Trailer Park’.

SXP: Up to that point, Beth had done a few guest slots and recorded with William Orbit.  Had you been involved in music before that?

Ted: I was a bouzouki player for years and I started playing guitar when I was a kid but nothing serious at all.  Then I found Irish music when I was 17 and dived into that.  I had my own band up and running called ‘Junction’ which did Irish crossover stuff.  It had limited success but was great.  We had four albums out, off our own back, but I never chose it as a career.  When I came to London 12 or 13 years ago I came as an instrument maker so I learned how to build guitars for four years.  I started playing on the Irish circuit and met Al from Redsnapper and we became friends.  One thing led to another and I sort of met Beth through Ally really and we started to play together.    She said “I have an album deal; do you want to play on it and write on it?” I was like: yeah!   There’s a famous story where I was drunk in a bar once and she was trying to get Bert Jansch to play guitar and I was like: “why do you want him?   I can play guitar.” Which was a bit egotistical of me but I just bluffed it.

SXP: You’ve done pretty well as you’re the only member of  Beth’s band that I can still recognise.

Ted: No, the band that is touring this album (‘Daybreaker’) is the band from ‘Trailer Park’ but there’s never been a time when we could tour together because Al always has Redsnapper commitments.

SXP: How would you describe your album ‘Short Scenes’?

Ted: I just call it stupid sad clown music; I have a bit of an obsession with clowns.  It’s all bittersweet, it’s very filmatic.  A friend of mine said recently that it bridged the world between chill-out dance music and classical music, which he felt was a joy because at last he had this record to put on last thing at night that is in that middle ground.

SXP: The album is very lo-fi and folk.  Is that the bag you want it stuck in?

Ted: Yeah, I don’t mind.  I love folk music.   Folk music gets a hard time.  It’s definitely lo-fi.  I recorded it on an eight track in a room.  It was one of the reasons I stalled putting it out because I thought it sounded too rough.  The hilarious thing was that Rough Trade Records said it’s a very polished record, which completely threw me!

SXP: Why so long to do a solo album?

Ted: It’s just been really hard because Beth’s been a full-time commitment for me so making this album has been squeezed in. I started to think about this album at the end of ‘Central Reservation’.  I met Oisin Lunny who is the son of my hero [Donal Lunny] and we sat down and wrote this piece of music and it was the first time I could say: this is me.   And I was happy about it and felt that maybe I could do this.   And the guy, Nigel, who put the record out, heard three songs and said “if you want to do an album, do it”.  So I started writing but then it started taking on a different life because of my musical tastes. I know where I wanted it to go so I started to rework things.

SXP: Were you friends with Beth for a long time before the record deal?

Ted: Not really.  I was more friends with Ally.  She was doing a demo and Redsnapper were playing on that.  Ally asked her if she liked mandolin.  She said she loved mandolin and he said that he was mates with a mandolin player.  He got me down and I played on it.  I didn’t see her for a year but we got on well.  Then we saw each other at a Redsnapper gig and she said that she’d just got signed: did I want to come and write?  So the friendship came from the job. 

SXP:  It was a bit strange seeing the two of you to start with and then in a short time there was the band and the album.   The songs had been stripped down and then with the band it was like they’d became cinemascope.

Ted: It was always our aim to mix a lot of different worlds.  Ally comes from the dance and pop world and we come from the folk world and we all sort of meet.

SXP: Did ‘Daybreaker’ get good reviews?

Ted: I think it got mixed reviews.  Three-quarters of them were really good and one-quarter didn’t get it, as ever.

SXP: But the songs on that are very strong.

Ted: I don’t know.  I mean, it’s like my record, it’s not going to get a good review in the NME is it?

SXP: I and most people I know gave up on the NME years ago so don’t worry about it!

Ted: I’m aware that what I’m doing is always going to have a limited audience but it is what it is, and people don’t listen to quirky instrumental music.  

SXP: I got ‘Daybreaker’ and ‘Trailer Park’ instantly but it took a few plays with ‘Central Reservation’.

Ted: I can understand that. ‘Central Reservation’ felt musically safer but the songwriting was almost stronger.  Beth feels that these three albums are like a trilogy so, if it is, ‘Daybreaker’ feels like the coming together of both of the other worlds.

SXP: When you sit down to write with Beth, is it the same as it’s always been? 

Ted: No, it’s actually evolved.  With the first album, she came to us with the songs and they were based on acoustic guitar.  She plays guitar in a very simple way, three chord songs, and we just added the music to it, added more chords and shifted it.  She described it as adding more colours, more internal colours, and she couldn’t handle that.   Now she hands songs to us finished or there are songs that I’ve written chords to where she comes in and adds the top line, and there are ones where we sit in a room together and bash out ideas. So it varies; it’s very healthy at the moment.  We were on tour and we had the day off in Birmingham and we sat in our hotel room and wrote three songs on the spot.  

SXP: How did Lincoln, Redsnapper and Sunhouse get involved on the record?  Are they friends?

Ted: Ally has been a friend for ages.  With Lincoln, the guitarist, Dave, has been a long time friend of mine as well.  I just wanted a brass section on it and Lincoln are one of my favourite bands so I asked them and they came down and played. The Sunhouse thing, I just love his voice, I love the Sunhouse album.

SXP: I don’t know Sunhouse.

Ted: They came out at the same time as ‘Trailer Park’ but they came and went very quickly and the band split so I tried to track him down, for years actually.   I wrote Glass Harmonica for this album and I could hear a vocal line but I didn’t want to sing it myself.  I haven’t sung on any tracks on the album.  Two are Gavin and one is Beth.  I managed to track him down and sent him a tape.  He loved it and he came down and sang it. 

SXP: Would you like to sing?

Ted: Yeah.  Not hugely; I think it’s a good thing to come to terms with what you can do and can’t do. I struggle with lyric writing.  If I could string along a lyric, I’d give it a go.  I haven’t got it in me and I love working with people who I respect. 

SXP: On ‘Daybreaker’ there’s Ryan Adams and Johnny Marr.  How did that work out?

Ted: I wasn’t around for any of it.  Ryan came in very late on the making of the album.  I didn’t even meet him.  And Johnny was the opposite, he happened very early on, at the end of ‘Central Reservation’. We met in L.A. at a gig we were doing and when Beth came back to England she went to Johnny’s house up north and started writing.  Then it didn’t happen for one reason or another.  And she came back and used the original band.

SXP: Do you think there’s now a bigger audience for non-pop music, that tastes are changing?

Ted: I guess so.  I think the problem is getting something to hang it on.  The great thing is having that Amelie soundtrack and suddenly Yann Tiersen can play to bigger audiences because of the success of that film.  It’s a struggle to get heard, I guess, the dance world has made it a bit more healthy.

SXP: Is Ted’s Waltz the same version?

Ted: No, it’s completely different.  The cover of So Far Away I just wanted to do.  I went to see ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and it was in the background in one of the scenes and I thought it was an amazing song.  The whole album’s been pulling at straws and seeing what happens. And now it’s come together we can put it out.

SXP: Beth’s been described as the comedown queen for years (I imagine she’s sick of it by now).  How do you think your album would be described?  The clown king?

Ted: The clown king, melancholic bastard, I don’t know.

SXP: Not the comedown king?

Ted: The comedown prince.  I don’t know.

SXP: As ‘Trailer Park’, ‘Central Reservation’ and ‘Daybreaker’ are a trilogy, are there any more areas you want to explore or move to?

Ted: No, everything’s moving nicely in directions anyway and the songwriting with Beth is carrying on, as is the playing.

SXP: And the venues are getting bigger: three nights at Shepherds Bush Empire. 

Ted: Yeah, exactly.

SXP: My only criticism of Beth recently is that she’s been rushing the set too much, mainly in the vocals.  I just feel that she isn’t singing as much as shouting the words at times.

Ted: It’s funny, we’ve just done a tour of the States for two weeks as a four piece and she really enjoyed that because of the amount of space.  It was just cello and guitar and she was raving because she could really sing and go for it again.  So there’s my Beth world.  Me, Ally and Gavin continue to write and we’ve formed a band, so that’s another departure.

SXP: Have you a name yet?

Ted: No, but we are toying with Coldstone and we are recording next week.   It’s much more rhythm-based and more full-on than my stuff.  And I’m looking forward to doing more of my stuff again, silly, quirky stuff.  I’d love to do a soundtrack.  That’s part of the aim of this record, to get some soundtrack stuff.  

SXP: Thanks very much!


Sister Vanilla (Linda Reid)

interview by Tony S 

sister vanilla.jpg (12976 bytes)Sister Vanilla is the project of Linda Reid, sister of the brothers Reid (the Jesus and Mary Chain, Freeheat, Lazycame).  Linda was born in 1971, the year that the Reid household bought their first record player.  Linda is chatty and bubbly and not a bit moody like her brothers.  Her music is like a female-fronted Mary Chain and both her brothers play on the album (possibly called ‘New Pop Art’), which is due soon.  There’s more info at

SXP: I first became aware of the Sister Vanilla project about three years ago when I interviewed William.   When did the Sister Vanilla project come about?

Linda: Jim was back in Scotland to see my parents and he said to me one night “do you want to sing on a B-side?”.  At that time they were recording ‘Stoned and Dethroned’ [1994] and he asked me if I wanted to do a B-side and he hadn’t even heard me sing yet!  I was really excited and said I would love to do that then ages and ages afterwards they were doing ‘Munki’ and he said “let’s do this song then”.  It was still going to be a B-side so I recorded Mo Tucker and after that they said “this song is ready for ‘Munki’ so let’s put it on ‘Munki’”.  So that’s what happened and afterwards William went down to London and he phoned me up - I was still in Glasgow – and he asked me down, so I went down to London.  He said “do you want to do an LP with me and Jim? It’s going to be our songs but if you want to contribute to it, fine.”  I said: of course, I’d love to do that.  He said “let’s not be precious about it, let’s record it in about two weeks, get it out, just make it an LP that’s fun, something that you’re going to look back on in years to come”.  I recorded one song, Kiss Around, which I did with William and then I just stopped.  Then the Mary Chain broke up and it was awkward between Jim and William for a long time and I thought it wasn’t going to happen anymore.  Then William and Jim got friendly again, which was really, really good, and we decided to start up again and really get going with it.

SXP: I believe it’s completely finished now?

Linda: No.

SXP: Olga told me it was finished last week.

Linda: No, it’s always almost going to be finished! (laughs).  It’s still for fun.  Like I’ll finish work at 9 and it’s “come over and do a song”.  I’m doing a song with Jim and Ben tomorrow.  The song I did with Stephen Pastel, he’s coming down in December to redo the vocals.  When we did it last time, over a year ago, he came down to London and Jim and Ben had been on tour with Freeheat and had just got home the day he came to London.  I love the Pastels, they’re my favourite band in the whole wide world, so I got up really early that day, making myself really nice because Stephen Pastel was coming.  I phoned Jim about 3pm but Jim and Ben were pissed out of their head.  Stephen was due to arrive at 4pm and I though this was going to be a complete disaster.  Me and Jim had a massive row and I stormed out of the house and he had to run after me.  When Stephen did the vocals, Jim and Ben were really drunk, they were passing a bottle of brandy around in front of Stephen.  I was so embarrassed and the vocals weren’t so good so Stephen’s coming to do them again.    

SXP: Is that for Pastel Blue?

Linda: No, it’s for The Two of Us, which is a Freeheat song that Jim had agreed to give to me but Freeheat did it as well.

SXP: With the album, do you have songs written beforehand?

Linda: Beforehand, it was just going to be William and Jim’s songs and then, when we were recording, I thought: hey, I can do this and if it doesn’t come out good I won’t use it.  I wrote lyrics for Pastel Blue and it turned out really, really good.  I think I’ve written about six songs and the rest are split between William and Jim’s.  All the songs I’ve written are with William and Jim because I’m not very good at melodies but I’m good with words.

SXP: As they’re not working together, did you write with each in turn?

Linda: No.  It was never, ever together.  They always have songs kicking about; it was like: “I’ve got a song, do you want to use this?” And I’d just write some lyrics for it. 

SXP: Is Pastel Blue a tribute to Stephen Pastel?

Linda: It’s not a tribute to Stephen, it’s a tribute to the Pastels because they’re my favourite band.

SXP: Did you get on well with him?

Linda: Yeah but I was really shy because it was the first time I’d been introduced to him.  When you’re first introduced it’s like: I don’t want to talk to you, I prefer just to look at you.  But he’s a really nice person and is passionate about what he does.

SXP: Were you influenced by what your brothers were writing when they were still living at home?

Linda: They were always writing music.  We had a kind of portastudio thing.  My dad got made redundant and he bought them a portastudio, it cost about £200, and they just started making demos on that.  I was only a kid at the time so it didn’t mean much to me but the music they were making was always good.  When they started the band I could tell there was something special about them even though I was only 13/14, not just because they were my brothers but I knew they were special: things started to happen for them.  It started off as Jim’s band, Jim and Douglas.

SXP: William is a bit older?

Linda: Yeah, William is three years older than Jim.  William was always a good guitar player and they asked William and it happened from there.

SXP: What year was this?

Linda: 1984, I think.

SXP: Was it hard to record with your brothers and even harder when they weren’t getting on?

Linda: No, I record separately because, to be honest, I had been in the studio with them when they were in the band and I didn’t like it.  I prefer it separately anyway.  Things are really good between them but a while back it was horrible.

SXP: Is it just the three of you and mum and dad?

Linda: Yeah.

SXP: Did the name The Jesus and Mary Chain cause a problem in the family with the religious overtones?

Linda: No, people just laughed at it!

SXP: Why was it so long before you started to sing?

Linda: Because I had no intention of singing. It was just a fun thing.  Now it’s happened, it’s still a fun thing.  I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want money because I have a job, I have a life.  I don’t want to make a career out of it.  I don’t want that at all but to work with Jim and William is good.

SXP: I believe you named ‘Munki’.  What was it named after?

Linda: I was seeing someone.  It’s really stupid; everything to do with this person kept having associations with the word “monkey” and I remember saying to William “we’ve got to call the album “Monkey”. He said “oh no, that means nothing” but then I convinced him: “monkey”, “monkey”, every day something to do with monkeys.   And he was like: “maybe this means something” and then they called the album “Munki”.

SXP: I thought it was the best album.

Linda: It was the best album but it didn’t sell and I was to blame for that.

SXP: You mentioned that you didn’t want to rely on Jim and Freeheat to back you.  I know Jamie from Tompaulin is interested.

Linda: (introducing someone). This is Nina.  I would love her to be in the band but Nina is really shy and prefers to be in the background.  I haven’t got a band at all. 


Nina: There are a few people interested at the mo but we’re just seeing how it works out.  There’s been no rehearsals or anything like that.

Linda: But if I have to use Freeheat, brilliant, really good.

SXP: I’ve been told you can’t wait to get on stage, while Jim and William have to get absolutely pissed. 

Linda: (laughs).  Yeah, they’ve always been really nervous going on stage.  They have to get really drunk.  I don’t feel nervous at all.  I usually don’t drink at all, I’m the black sheep of the family because I don’t drink. 

SXP: When you were still at school and the Mary Chain started to take off, did you have street cred because your brothers were in that band?

Linda: Yes I did.

SXP: Was there a backlash because of that?

Linda: No, because the friends I had at school were friends that I had since I was tiny.

SXP: Did Scotland embrace the Mary Chain?  Every band I’ve interviewed that’s been from Scotland has never liked them. 

Linda: No, Scotland was never proud of them at all.  They were an embarrassment.  I think it was because they were really shy and they didn’t know how to handle what they did and they made a lot of mistakes,.  They admit that now. 

SXP: Do you think they deserved all the backlash and the riots?   Do you think the band caused that?

Linda: Yeah, I think a part of it was to do with them but I don’t think it was intentional.  They didn’t know how to handle being in a band, people liking them.  I think it was a surprise that other people liked them because basically they are really shy people. You wouldn’t know that but I think they caused a lot of that without meaning to. 

SXP: When the album comes out, will it have your real names on it?

Linda: Yes. 

SXP: What’s you view of “the American JAMC”, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club?

Linda: I think they’re good at what they do and they are what they are.  If they like the JAMC and admit it brilliant but if they don’t admit it then down on you.  But I think they are good and I know William and Jim like them. 

SXP: It was Jim who nicknamed them “the American JAMC”.

Linda: I didn’t know that.

SXP: Were you friends with the extended Creation family?

Linda: I know them but I was too young to really know them.  I saw Bobby a few months ago and it’s like “Oh, Linda”, and I saw Alan McGee last year.  They’re still mates with Jim and William. 

SXP: I know Poptones isn’t cool anymore but if he offered you a deal would you take it?


Linda: Yes, definitely.  I wouldn’t turn anyone down.  Like I said, this is for fun.


SXP: Bobby did a duet on ‘Evil Heat’.  Would you like to duet with him?


Linda: Don’t be silly, don’t be silly!  Yes!

SXP: Anything else you’d like to add?

Linda.  No.  Yes.  I love you!

SXP: I love you too.  Thanks for your time.

After the interview we continue drinking and talking.  Linda, I have to confess, has a small but perfectly formed and cool record collection.  Tompaulin are currently auditioning to be her backing band.


Of Montreal: Kevin Barnes and Dottie Alexander interview by Ged M 

of montreal (29737 bytes)Of Montreal is another Athens, Georgia band, but one of the most creative, musically and visually. Combining whimsy and perfect pop with a twist, you’ll either fail to get it or be sucked into their off-kilter world forever.  Kevin Barnes (guitars, vocals) was recording music as Of Montreal before he moved to Athens.  He linked up with Bryan Poole (bass) and Derek Almstead (drums) for Of Montreal mark one.  When Bryan left and Derek moved onto bass, the band recruited Jamey Huggins (drums) and Dottie Alexander (keyboards) and they later found Andy Gonzales (guitars).   The band has been prolific (go to for full details and a discography) but their most recent albums have been the concept album ‘Coquelicot Asleep In the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse’ which creates a perfect synergy of music and artwork (created by non-playing member David Barnes) and the new album ‘Aldhils Arboretum‘ (Kindercore in the US, Track and Field in the UK), a fantastic blast of intelligent 60s influenced pop-rock which is one of the most startlingly good records of 2002.  Of Montreal tour the UK and Europe in January 2003 (check the newspage for details).  Kevin, Dottie and Jamey (and Bryan Poole) also tour with Great Lakes and we interviewed (separately) Kevin Barnes and Dottie Alexander on the last night of the Great Lakes tour in November 2002.  

Interview with Kevin Barnes

SXP: Have you always lived in Athens?

Kevin: No, I lived there in ‘97 but my family moved around a lot.  I lived in Ohio, Michigan and Florida.

SXP: Why is Athens so rich musically?  

Kevin: I’m not sure how it started but it spiralled from the early days, REM and the B52s – the beginnings of the Athens music scene in the 1980s.  From that point for some reason it’s just been an intellectual and artistic oasis in the middle of the South. The South isn’t known for that sort of thing, that liberal mindedness.  Everyone congregated there and created our own little world, our own little scene in the middle of all the right-wing conservativeness.   

SXP: What are your musical influences?

Kevin: They’re probably pretty apparent. The whole 60s British invasion influence is very strong, the Kinks, the Beatles, The Who.  Then I progressed into psychedelic, conceptual areas like SF Sorrow by the Pretty Things, Beach Boys ‘Smile’ – that’s a huge record for us, Os Mutantes – a huge influence.

SXP: In another interview you mentioned that the albums ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ [Kinks] and ‘Joy of a Toy’ [Kevin Ayers] were indispensable.   So are you a musical Anglophile?

Kevin: Not necessarily. I was having a conversation with Bryan [Poole] the other day about how the greatest contribution to music in America is from black artists: jazz, R’n’B, soul music, the output is just incredible, Stax, Motown, the whole James Brown scene, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus.  I’m definitely not only into white pop music.  

SXP: You’re a very literate musician, in terms of your lyrics.  What are your literary influences?

Kevin: I’m really into absurd, stream of consciousness writing styles.  I’m a big fan of Appollinaire, Salvador Dali, the films of Bunuel; that whole movement is really inspiring to me.  But also Roald Dahl.  He has a bunch of short stories that are more adult-themed.  He also has stories like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Matilda, which are really great too but I prefer the other ones.  I have collections of his short stories that are definitely prize possessions.   

SXP: Your lyrics are sometime naïve and childlike but there’s a lot more to them too. 

Kevin: Yeah, for a while I went through a phase when I was trying to be as simple as possible, just to convey things on a level everyone can understand rather than trying to be obscure.  And then eventually I stopped feeling a need to write emotional, confessional type songs!  Rather than drying up and not writing anything I went into my imagination and started creating different situations and fictitious characters.

SXP: In another interview you said “I think music should allow people the opportunity to escape into different worlds”.  Are you a real daydreamer?

Kevin: Oh yeah, definitely!  I’m always role-playing in my head, putting my friends in ridiculous scenarios and seeing how they react.  Reality can be pretty harsh sometimes, pretty bleak, so rather than feeling cynical it’s better to lift yourself out of it.

SXP: Have you always had a powerful imagination?

Kevin: I think so, both my brother and me. 

SXP: On an early album you assume a different name [Claude Robert].  Ever done that in real life? 

Kevin: Oh sure.  Especially when travelling.  It’s kind of fun because nobody knows who you are anyway and you’re not really deceiving them because it doesn’t really make a difference if your name is Kevin Barnes or Claude Robert and you’re from Ohio or New York.  It doesn’t matter because you’ll not see them again!

SXP: Of Montreal are an active touring band.  Do you go down better in some places than others?

Kevin: We do pretty well everywhere.  We don’t sell out 600 capacity venues but we average 3-400 people a night.  That’s actually the only way we can make money through music because record sales are not bringing a great amount of income!  It’s also fun because it’s a job, you’re getting paid, you’re travelling and you’re always on the move and don’t really have time to become complacent.  

SXP: Do you still have day jobs?

Kevin: It’s sort of non-committal.  When we’re in town and we need the money we can go and work there but it’s nothing serious.  We’re going to do a tour of Europe in January and I’m going to do a solo tour in February and Of Montreal’s going back out in March.  February and March are in the States.  So we’re very busy. 

SXP: Where does the album title, ‘Aldhils Arboretum’, come from?

Kevin: It’s a combination of two different things.  There’s a place that my brother and I used to go when we were really young called the Holden Arboretum – it’s a sort of nature preserve.  We have fond memories.  Then there’s a strange story.  My brother was studying abroad, in London, a couple of years ago and he wasn’t sleeping very well, having the effects of sleep deprivation.  He was hanging out in this park and he was taking a long nap.  He heard a voice in his head that said “come ye naked people and dance under my dead blanket”!  And somehow he knew that this was spoken by some character named Aldhil Merrygold Foyle.  So that’s where we got the name from, we put those two together.

SXP: Your songs go off down a pop road and then twist and turn sharply within the song.  Is this deliberate?

Kevin: Yes, it’s definitely deliberate, to avoid clichés.  If I feel that this is the natural progression of the song, this is the natural direction it will go in, I try and fight that and take it in different directions or change the time signature or what key it’s in, just to keep it fun, keep it unpredictable, because that’s the kind of music I love, that’s my favourite kind of music.  When you listen to Os Mutantes, you never know what’s going to happen next: “wow!  I can’t believe it went there!”   

SXP: Are the songs on the album all from your imagination or are they autobiographical?

Kevin: Doing Nothing, that’s just feeling really down, really bored with life.  So that’s what inspired that one!  And Old People In The Cemetery is inspired by driving by the cemetery and seeing this old couple that was just wandering around.  It just struck me how sad it was, when you get to be that age and everyone around you is dying.  It was very moving and sad, and something we’re all going to have to deal with if we’re lucky enough to get that old!  It was intentional to make the music light so it’s not overwhelming with how sad it is.  But if you just want to dance along to it, that’s fine! 

SXP: Jennifer Louise is another song that’s light and poppy but with something darker, almost creepy!

Kevin: *laughs*  That’s actually my cousin!  Yeah, it might be kind of creepy.  I was just thinking about girls in general because I didn’t really know her so we didn’t have that family bond.  It was: “I’ve got a girl cousin somewhere” and my mom told me she was into Louis Armstrong so I thought “that’s cool”.   It’s not romantic in any way.  I wasn’t thinking of her in a sexual way.  It’s just my cool cousin who lives far away who I’ve never really met and never spent time with. 

SXP: I saw you at the Water Rats with Great Lakes and thought you were versatile, the way you moved from playing guitar to playing the drums in a powerful, muscular style.   Do you play a lot of instruments?

Kevin: I do.  Drums were my first instrument. I don’t play that much now, I don’t practice very much but I love to do it.  That’s the cool thing about the Great Lakes: we all jump around so much playing different instruments that it keeps it interesting.  I’m not very good at the piano but I can kind of fake it!

SXP: Playing all these instruments, I wondered if you were some sort of prodigy?

Kevin: No.  Stevie Wonder?  I wish! 

SXP: Your brother David: is he a member of Of Montreal?

Kevin: Definitely.  He doesn’t contribute musically but he’s a great inspiration.

SXP: [Shows Kevin the sleeve insert from ‘Aldhils Arboretum’ with David Barnes’ drawings of the band members] You’re surrounded by women, including one with a lion’s head.  Any meaning?

Kevin: [laughs out loud] He has a very strange style, sort of like me in that way.  He’ll start working on something and then let his imagination take control and if he feels like adding a monkey head to some woman, he will, and if he wants to put bird heads on the dancing horses he will. 

SXP: Do you recognise yourself in this?

Kevin: We were joking around when the idea came up to portray us in this way.  “What do you want to be portrayed as?”  And everyone else had a really strong idea.  I didn’t but I’d been reading Greek mythology recently so I thought it would be kind of cool to be that character.  This whole thing [points to retinue of women and laughs] comes straight out of David’s imagination.  I don’t even know myself what’s going on!  

SXP: What’s with David’s self-portrait?

Kevin: This is Orson Welles but he was supposedly posing as Darwin.   

SXP: Are you artistic?  Do you draw?

Kevin: Oh no, I’m horrible! 

SXP: Do your mind pictures of the characters ever conflict with the things he draws for them?  

Kevin: Not really, surprisingly.  We’re pretty much connected that way.  Especially with ‘Coquelicot…’  He was illustrating almost all the songs so we worked on all the character sketches together: like, “I think Coquelicot should be fairy-like, like a nymph”.  In that way I think we’re pretty much always on the same wavelength.  It hasn’t been an issue.  And also I want him to go wild with it, to take it in a direction that I wouldn’t ever think of myself.  And to be surprised by it, it’s really cool.

SXP: You write short stories and poems.  Are they more or less important than your songs?

Kevin: Definitely less than the songs.  When I’m writing short stories or poems, it’s just a fun and entertaining activity for myself.  I don’t have ambition in that area.  It’s just fun.  Better than watching television, I just sit down and write a stupid story!

SXP: Ever submitted your work?  

Kevin: No. 

SXP: More so than your music, your stories are very surreal and I now see the connection with the surrealist movement.

Kevin: That’s my favourite sort of story writing, it’s constantly moving, everything is building off each other so it’s not random but it all makes sense in context.  But at the same time it’s totally unrealistic, totally surreal.  

SXP: Are you saying something in your poems and stories that you can’t express in a song?

Kevin: Well, yes, just because there’s no meter to adhere to.  It’s more free in that way so you don’t have to squeeze everything into 8 bars or whatever.

SXP: The album is dedicated to John, Maryanne and Alex.  Who are they? 

Kevin: John and Maryanne are my parents and Alex is Dottie’s father who died recently.  It was a little respectful nod to them.  My parents have helped out a lot.

SXP: You’re busy with Of Montreal and Great Lakes and there are lots of spin-off bands.  

Kevin: They’re not spin-offs of Of Montreal.  They’re totally separate entities that we just participate in.   

SXP: Does Of Montreal take precedence?

Kevin:  For me it does because that’s my main project.  For Jamey who plays in both bands I don’t think he feels connected to either one more than the other.  His loyalty is split down the middle.  Dottie used to be in a band called Summer Hymns but she’s recently quit.  Now she’s in Of Montreal and Great Lakes.  Of Montreal’s a little more active, just because we live in the same town whereas Great Lakes is a little more split up in different cities.

SXP: I read that you wanted to do an animated movie.  What would that look like? 

Kevin: Hopeful like the world that my brother David creates, like the ‘Coquelicot…’ illustrations and these [Aldhils] illustrations. Ideally it would be straight out of his imagination because I would just love to see that.  He recently got a computer and got some animation software but it’s quite crude and it’s really difficult for him: he’s not able to realise his vision.  Maybe we’ll be able to enlist some other people who have better software and be able to point us in the right direction, be able to collaborate.

SXP: I hear that your live show includes plays acted out by band members.  Will you include those when you tour over here? 

Kevin: Hopefully, it all depends whether or not my brother comes because he’s the theatrical force in the band.  Me and Jamey and Dottie are really into it and Derek and Andy aren’t.  We outnumber them but at the same time we’re also really focused and try to make the show move fluidly, not to alienate anybody.  Some people can be put off by some absurd 5-minute skit, just because it’s not what they’re expecting; they’re in a smoky rock club, they’re expecting dirty rock music or something.  We try to mix it up.  If my brother comes then we will definitely be more theatrical.  We have a bunch of different skits that we’ve done in the past that we’re thinking of doing over here because we’ve never done them for a European audience.

SXP: He’s not going to dress up as death and chase after you on stage?

Kevin: Maybe.  If he comes, we’ll definitely do that; that’s a song called Scenes From My Funeral where he comes out as death and he shoots me!        

SXP: I know that one of the plays contains a character I’ve seen in ‘Coquelicot…’.  Do your characters take on a life of their own or carry on from album to album? 

Kevin: Some of them do.  In my head they do because I’m always thinking about them but I don’t know if I’ll ever sing another song about Coquelicot or Claude again!   

SXP: Have you given up on concept albums then? 

Kevin: No, I haven’t but I think just recently I’ve been in a phase of writing pop-rock songs.  The new record is a little bit darker; none of the songs are really that dark but the themes are a lot darker.  For some reason I thought it would be cool to write songs in which some of the characters are doing really insidious things to each other but having it poppy.  Just to contrast those two styles is really interesting for me, to write songs like the Beatles but have lyrics like Nick Cave! 

Interview with Dottie Alexander

SXP: How long have you played with Great Lakes and Of Montreal?

Dottie Alexander: Of Montreal will be five years in February [2003] and Great Lakes is difficult to pin down because they’ve been my friends for a really long time.  I’ve been a support member for maybe six years and an official touring member of the band for three. 

SXP: Are you from Athens as well?

Dottie: I’m not originally from there. I went to the university there and lived there for about ten years.  My father was in the military.  My family’s from New England originally, that’s where our home is, but I lived in Germany for five years, North Carolina, Texas.

SXP: You all swap instruments at your gigs.  Are you all talented multi-instrumentalists?  

Dottie: I think we all live in a really rural, isolated place where we don’t have anything else to do!  We’re all multi-instrumentalists and it’s fun to move around a bit but I wouldn’t say that we’re exceptionally talented on everything that we do.  We’re just…bored!

SXP: What happened to your other project, Summer Hymns? 

Dottie: I was in Summer Hymns and I got exceptionally busy with Of Montreal.  Whereas Great Lakes is very flexible with working around that, Summer Hymns needed to grow and expand. Basically it was just a question of time and the feeling is that I was holding them back.  So I’m just letting them move on without me because I was never available.

SXP: Of Montreal always seem to be touring.  Do you enjoy that? 

Dottie: We do.  It all comes back to living in the middle of nowhere!   It makes going home to this small, rural place do-able and it’s also a forum from which we can make a living.  And we like it!

SXP: I wanted to ask you about this... *shows Dottie the inner sleeve of the CD*  

Dottie: My portrait!

SXP: You’re there as Conan’s girlfriend with a pair of dinosaurs!

Dottie: Alright, that’s what I wanted!   We’re all portrayed in the style of our choosing.  I was really down to the wire as to what I was going to choose.  I saw this picture by an artist called Boris [Vallejo].   I sometimes work at this printshop and it was up on the wall.  I looked at it and it was this moment of inspiration.  And the idea that I’d be wearing glasses in it!  I think the funniest thing about all of this is that we’ve all chosen to be these glorified icons, independent of each other.  It was the most ludicrous thing I could think of!   And fortunately we have an amazing artist and I can say “I want to be Conan’s girlfriend with dinosaurs” and there you go!   

SXP: On Of Montreal tours you do these one-act plays as part of the set.  Is that something you enjoy?

Dottie: Oh yeah, very much.  The thing about doing a tour is that if you’re a straight up rock band every night it can get really boring.  We all have this intimacy as a band where we live together and we’re best friends so it’s like a land of inside jokes.  And to be able to somehow theatrically portray that is really amusing for us!  We’re a bit sketchy as to whether or not that would go over in the UK but we’ll see.  

SXP: I once read you talking about moving in together in a “Big Pink” way. Do you all live in the same house?

Dottie: Yeah, and it’s really pink!  Not all of us, it’s just me, Kevin, Jamey and Derek, four of us, and then Kevin’s brother David.  Andy, our other guitar player lives with his girlfriend.  We have a big farmhouse and the studio’s there.

SXP: Is that a good way of working?

Dottie: Yeah, it’s a fantastic way of working. You mentioned our touring schedule and things; it’s kind of our way of creating this alternate stability in this weird, dysfunctional family!   But it works for us.

SXP: Of Montreal has a strong visual side and is lyrically quite complex.  Do you like all of that? 

Dottie: I do very much.  It’s a myth that things need to be a certain straightforward, understandable way because we’ve managed to carve out a niche for ourselves by doing exactly what we want.  For us, it’s fulfilling and people seem to respond to it.  And it’s amusing to us that this is easily overlooked by people who see us as a whimsical thing – but it’s really dark and sinister if you delve under the surface!  You mentioned before being in the two bands and what’s that like.  At the same time it’s fun to ditch the surreal and be in Great Lakes and rock!  It’s a good balance I think.  I do, definitely, like it. 

SXP: What’s your contribution to song writing?

Dottie: Kevin will create a rough sketch - I think he’s referred to it as a ‘skeleton’ before - and we’ll all come in and arrange and write our parts and contribute.  We’d like to do a lot more live recording but the way our studio is, we do pretty much all overdubs.  So we usually all come in at a point where there’s guitar, drums, maybe a scratch vocal and then work from there, build keyboard parts around it.  So that’s collaborative.  And then there are other songs that we work out live beforehand, we’ll play on the road for a while and then go in with pre-rehearsed parts.  But mostly it’s just sort of on the spot. 

SXP: How did you meet the rest of the band?

Dottie:  The first member of the band that I met was Jamie, the drummer; we actually played together in a project called Lightning Bug vs. Firefly which was Jamie on guitar and Casio on casiobeats.  We had loads of fun.  Of Montreal was together then as a three piece.  I met Brian, who’s also in Great Lakes, from school and I met Kevin and Derek through him.  Then he decided to leave and go and be in Elf Power.  Derek was a phenomenal bass player; he was playing drums and he was encouraged to play bass.  They wanted to expand their sound and they needed a drummer and a keyboard player and there we were already, like this little package deal, so they asked us to join.  I didn’t really know either of them - Derek and Kevin – that well at that point.  And we just forged friendships through that.  We worked really hard and met Andy who was playing with The Music Tapes at the time.  We went to play this festival in Florida which was amazing.  We heard his songs and played along with him on one of his songs at this festival and stole him from them!   Because there’s this great symbiosis.  I think as far as an indie band goes we tend to be pretty technically advanced and to find somebody who fit into that was cool.   We were a band really before we were all really close.  But it worked!

SXP: So do you share the same influences and like the same things? 

Dottie: Yeah.  It’s very hard to separate ourselves at this point!   We come from different backgrounds, different areas.  I’m a bit older than the other guys in the band.  I had a cool older brother who gave me good records when I was young.  Kevin was into heavy metal!  Jamey was a total Pavement kid.  So early influences are different but I think we all have a similar aesthetic now.  We have one massive record collection now.  We don’t even know who bought what! 

SXP: The album before ‘Aldhils Arboretum’ [‘Coquelicot Asleep In the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse’] was a bold concept and listening to it takes some concentration.  Weren’t you worried about the reaction?   

Dottie: We didn’t give a fuck, we just did whatever we wanted and that was a great feeling.  We had a big budget and we made it the way we wanted with an excess of artwork.  We didn’t have anyone else in mind when we made that record and for us it’s an important part of our history.  Whether or not people understand it, it’s just a cross-section of the way we perceive things.

SXP: You say it’s your album but it springs from Kevin’s story and David’s pictures.  How do you buy into what’s almost a personal vision?

Dottie: Because it comes from the fact that we live together, we spend 24 hours of the day together so it’s not like somebody else coming in from some other place and presenting this to us.  It’s contextual and it makes sense to us.  It’s a collective understanding and it goes back to this idea of this inside world that we find amusing. 

SXP: What does the future hold?

Dottie: Well, we’ll be touring the UK in January!  That’s our first proper tour over the Atlantic.  And then we’ve already written a new record.  It possibly may be a double record but we’re not sure.  It’s written.  We’ll go on tour in the US in March. 

SXP: Is that a song-based album or another concept?

Dottie: Song-based.  The difficulty with it is there’s a more aggressive side and a more mellow side and we were wondering whether to incorporate that into one dynamic record or to make it into two.  We’re not really sure but we know we want to record some time in the spring.  And we don’t have a record label in the States anymore.

SXP: What happened with Kindercore?

Dottie: We’re just run our contract. 

SXP: They didn’t renew it?

Dottie: Well, they may.  But we’re not positive that’s what we want to do.  There’s also the challenge of figuring out what we want to do. 

SXP: Do you have to have a label to get anywhere in the US - can you do it yourself?

Dottie: You can but then you have to become a business manager because it’s a question of press, and distribution can be a little lacking and I think we would be more comfortable with somebody else handling that aspect.  But we’ll see.  We don’t know what we want to do yet!  So there’s a question of finding a label, recording the record, put the record out!  That’s what the future holds.  But we definitely have another record in us: and we will make it.