interviews [ page 5]
Late December 2002 / January 2003
Ted Barnes interview by Tony S
Ted Barnes has just produced his first solo album Short Scenes on Narwhal Records. Ted doesnt 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 wed 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 wouldnt 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! Theres 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: Youve done pretty well as youre the only member of Beths band that I can still recognise.
Ted: No, the band that is touring this album (Daybreaker) is the band from Trailer Park but theres 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. Its all bittersweet, its 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 dont mind. I love folk music. Folk music gets a hard time. Its 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 its a very polished record, which completely threw me!
SXP: Why so long to do a solo album?
Ted: Its just been really hard because Beths 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 didnt see her for a year but we got on well. Then we saw each other at a Redsnapper gig and she said that shed 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 theyd 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 didnt get it, as ever.
SXP: But the songs on that are very strong.
Ted: I dont know. I mean, its like my record, its 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 dont worry about it!
Ted: Im aware that what Im doing is always going to have a limited audience but it is what it is, and people dont 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 its always been?
Ted: No, its 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 couldnt handle that. Now she hands songs to us finished or there are songs that Ive 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; its 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 dont 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 didnt want to sing it myself. I havent 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 its a good thing to come to terms with what you can do and cant do. I struggle with lyric writing. If I could string along a lyric, Id give it a go. I havent got it in me and I love working with people who I respect.
SXP: On Daybreaker theres Ryan Adams and Johnny Marr. How did that work out?
Ted: I wasnt around for any of it. Ryan came in very late on the making of the album. I didnt 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 Johnnys house up north and started writing. Then it didnt happen for one reason or another. And she came back and used the original band.
SXP: Do you think theres 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. Its a struggle to get heard, I guess, the dance world has made it a bit more healthy.
SXP: Is Teds Waltz the same version?
Ted: No, its 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 albums been pulling at straws and seeing what happens. And now its come together we can put it out.
SXP: Beths been described as the comedown queen for years (I imagine shes sick of it by now). How do you think your album would be described? The clown king?
Ted: The clown king, melancholic bastard, I dont know.
SXP: Not the comedown king?
Ted: The comedown prince. I dont 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, everythings 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 shes been rushing the set too much, mainly in the vocals. I just feel that she isnt singing as much as shouting the words at times.
Ted: Its funny, weve 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 theres my Beth world. Me, Ally and Gavin continue to write and weve formed a band, so thats another departure.
SXP: Have you a name yet?
Ted: No, but we are toying with Coldstone and we are recording next week. Its much more rhythm-based and more full-on than my stuff. And Im looking forward to doing more of my stuff again, silly, quirky stuff. Id love to do a soundtrack. Thats part of the aim of this record, to get some soundtrack stuff.
SXP: Thanks very much!
interview by Tony S
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. Theres more info at www.sistervanilla.com
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  and he asked me if I wanted to do a B-side and he hadnt 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 lets 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 lets put it on Munki. So thats 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? Its going to be our songs but if you want to contribute to it, fine. I said: of course, Id love to do that. He said lets not be precious about it, lets record it in about two weeks, get it out, just make it an LP thats fun, something that youre 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 wasnt 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 its completely finished now?
SXP: Olga told me it was finished last week.
Linda: No, its always almost going to be finished! (laughs). Its still for fun. Like Ill finish work at 9 and its come over and do a song. Im doing a song with Jim and Ben tomorrow. The song I did with Stephen Pastel, hes 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, theyre 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 werent so good so Stephens coming to do them again.
SXP: Is that for Pastel Blue?
Linda: No, its 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 Jims songs and then, when we were recording, I thought: hey, I can do this and if it doesnt come out good I wont use it. I wrote lyrics for Pastel Blue and it turned out really, really good. I think Ive written about six songs and the rest are split between William and Jims. All the songs Ive written are with William and Jim because Im not very good at melodies but Im good with words.
SXP: As theyre 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: Ive got a song, do you want to use this? And Id just write some lyrics for it.
SXP: Is Pastel Blue a tribute to Stephen Pastel?
Linda: Its not a tribute to Stephen, its a tribute to the Pastels because theyre my favourite band.
SXP: Did you get on well with him?
Linda: Yeah but I was really shy because it was the first time Id been introduced to him. When youre first introduced its like: I dont want to talk to you, I prefer just to look at you. But hes 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 didnt 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 Jims 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 werent 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 didnt 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?
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 its happened, its still a fun thing. I dont want to be famous, I dont want money because I have a job, I have a life. I dont want to make a career out of it. I dont 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. Its really stupid; everything to do with this person kept having associations with the word monkey and I remember saying to William weve 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 didnt sell and I was to blame for that.
SXP: You mentioned that you didnt 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 havent got a band at all.
Nina: There are a few people interested at the mo but were just seeing how it works out. Theres been no rehearsals or anything like that.
Linda: But if I have to use Freeheat, brilliant, really good.
SXP: Ive been told you cant wait to get on stage, while Jim and William have to get absolutely pissed.
Linda: (laughs). Yeah, theyve always been really nervous going on stage. They have to get really drunk. I dont feel nervous at all. I usually dont drink at all, Im the black sheep of the family because I dont 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 Ive interviewed thats 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 didnt 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 dont think it was intentional. They didnt 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 wouldnt 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?
SXP: Whats you view of the American JAMC, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club?
Linda: I think theyre good at what they do and they are what they are. If they like the JAMC and admit it brilliant but if they dont 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 didnt 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 its like Oh, Linda, and I saw Alan McGee last year. Theyre still mates with Jim and William.
SXP: I know Poptones isnt cool anymore but if he offered you a deal would you take it?
Linda: Yes, definitely. I wouldnt 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: Dont be silly, dont be silly! Yes!
SXP: Anything else youd 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 is another Athens, Georgia band, but one of the most creative, musically and visually. Combining whimsy and perfect pop with a twist, youll 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 www.elephant6.com 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: Im 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 its just been an intellectual and artistic oasis in the middle of the South. The South isnt 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: Theyre 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 thats 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, RnB, soul music, the output is just incredible, Stax, Motown, the whole James Brown scene, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus. Im definitely not only into white pop music.
SXP: Youre a very literate musician, in terms of your lyrics. What are your literary influences?
Kevin: Im really into absurd, stream of consciousness writing styles. Im 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 theres 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! Im 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 its 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. Its kind of fun because nobody knows who you are anyway and youre not really deceiving them because it doesnt really make a difference if your name is Kevin Barnes or Claude Robert and youre from Ohio or New York. It doesnt matter because youll 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 dont sell out 600 capacity venues but we average 3-400 people a night. Thats actually the only way we can make money through music because record sales are not bringing a great amount of income! Its also fun because its a job, youre getting paid, youre travelling and youre always on the move and dont really have time to become complacent.
SXP: Do you still have day jobs?
Kevin: Its sort of non-committal. When were in town and we need the money we can go and work there but its nothing serious. Were going to do a tour of Europe in January and Im going to do a solo tour in February and Of Montreals going back out in March. February and March are in the States. So were very busy.
SXP: Where does the album title, Aldhils Arboretum, come from?
Kevin: Its a combination of two different things. Theres a place that my brother and I used to go when we were really young called the Holden Arboretum its a sort of nature preserve. We have fond memories. Then theres a strange story. My brother was studying abroad, in London, a couple of years ago and he wasnt 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 thats 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, its 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 its in, just to keep it fun, keep it unpredictable, because thats the kind of music I love, thats my favourite kind of music. When you listen to Os Mutantes, you never know whats going to happen next: wow! I cant believe it went there!
SXP: Are the songs on the album all from your imagination or are they autobiographical?
Kevin: Doing Nothing, thats just feeling really down, really bored with life. So thats 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 were all going to have to deal with if were lucky enough to get that old! It was intentional to make the music light so its not overwhelming with how sad it is. But if you just want to dance along to it, thats fine!
SXP: Jennifer Louise is another song thats light and poppy but with something darker, almost creepy!
Kevin: *laughs* Thats actually my cousin! Yeah, it might be kind of creepy. I was just thinking about girls in general because I didnt really know her so we didnt have that family bond. It was: Ive got a girl cousin somewhere and my mom told me she was into Louis Armstrong so I thought thats cool. Its not romantic in any way. I wasnt thinking of her in a sexual way. Its just my cool cousin who lives far away who Ive 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 dont play that much now, I dont practice very much but I love to do it. Thats the cool thing about the Great Lakes: we all jump around so much playing different instruments that it keeps it interesting. Im 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 doesnt contribute musically but hes a great inspiration.
SXP: [Shows Kevin the sleeve insert from Aldhils Arboretum with David Barnes drawings of the band members] Youre surrounded by women, including one with a lions head. Any meaning?
Kevin: [laughs out loud] He has a very strange style, sort of like me in that way. Hell 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 didnt but Id 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 Davids imagination. I dont even know myself whats going on!
SXP: Whats with Davids self-portrait?
Kevin: This is Orson Welles but he was supposedly posing as Darwin.
SXP: Are you artistic? Do you draw?
Kevin:Oh no, Im horrible!
SXP: Do your mind pictures of the characters ever conflict with the things he draws for them?
Kevin:Not really, surprisingly. Were 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 were pretty much always on the same wavelength. It hasnt been an issue. And also I want him to go wild with it, to take it in a direction that I wouldnt ever think of myself. And to be surprised by it, its 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 Im writing short stories or poems, its just a fun and entertaining activity for myself. I dont have ambition in that area. Its just fun. Better than watching television, I just sit down and write a stupid story!
SXP: Ever submitted your work?
SXP: More so than your music, your stories are very surreal and I now see the connection with the surrealist movement.
Kevin:Thats my favourite sort of story writing, its constantly moving, everything is building off each other so its not random but it all makes sense in context. But at the same time its totally unrealistic, totally surreal.
SXP: Are you saying something in your poems and stories that you cant express in a song?
Kevin:Well, yes, just because theres no meter to adhere to. Its more free in that way so you dont 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 Dotties father who died recently. It was a little respectful nod to them. My parents have helped out a lot.
SXP: Youre busy with Of Montreal and Great Lakes and there are lots of spin-off bands.
Kevin:Theyre not spin-offs of Of Montreal. Theyre totally separate entities that we just participate in.
SXP: Does Of Montreal take precedence?
Kevin:For me it does because thats my main project. For Jamey who plays in both bands I dont 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 shes recently quit. Now shes in Of Montreal and Great Lakes. Of Montreals 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 its quite crude and its really difficult for him: hes not able to realise his vision. Maybe well 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 hes the theatrical force in the band. Me and Jamey and Dottie are really into it and Derek and Andy arent. We outnumber them but at the same time were 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 its not what theyre expecting; theyre in a smoky rock club, theyre 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 weve done in the past that were thinking of doing over here because weve never done them for a European audience.
SXP: Hes not going to dress up as death and chase after you on stage?
Kevin:Maybe. If he comes, well definitely do that; thats 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 Ive 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 Im always thinking about them but I dont know if Ill ever sing another song about Coquelicot or Claude again!
SXP: Have you given up on concept albums then?
Kevin:No, I havent but I think just recently Ive 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  and Great Lakes is difficult to pin down because theyve been my friends for a really long time. Ive 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:Im not originally from there. I went to the university there and lived there for about ten years. My father was in the military. My familys from New England originally, thats 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 dont have anything else to do! Were all multi-instrumentalists and its fun to move around a bit but I wouldnt say that were exceptionally talented on everything that we do. Were 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 Im 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 its 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*
SXP: Youre there as Conans girlfriend with a pair of dinosaurs!
Dottie:Alright, thats what I wanted! Were 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 Id be wearing glasses in it! I think the funniest thing about all of this is that weve 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 Conans 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 youre 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 were best friends so its like a land of inside jokes. And to be able to somehow theatrically portray that is really amusing for us! Were a bit sketchy as to whether or not that would go over in the UK but well 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 its really pink! Not all of us, its just me, Kevin, Jamey and Derek, four of us, and then Kevins brother David. Andy, our other guitar player lives with his girlfriend. We have a big farmhouse and the studios there.
SXP: Is that a good way of working?
Dottie:Yeah, its a fantastic way of working. You mentioned our touring schedule and things; its 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. Its a myth that things need to be a certain straightforward, understandable way because weve managed to carve out a niche for ourselves by doing exactly what we want. For us, its fulfilling and people seem to respond to it. And its amusing to us that this is easily overlooked by people who see us as a whimsical thing but its really dark and sinister if you delve under the surface! You mentioned before being in the two bands and whats that like. At the same time its fun to ditch the surreal and be in Great Lakes and rock! Its a good balance I think. I do, definitely, like it.
SXP: Whats your contribution to song writing?
Dottie:Kevin will create a rough sketch - I think hes referred to it as a skeleton before - and well all come in and arrange and write our parts and contribute. Wed 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 theres guitar, drums, maybe a scratch vocal and then work from there, build keyboard parts around it. So thats collaborative. And then there are other songs that we work out live beforehand, well play on the road for a while and then go in with pre-rehearsed parts. But mostly its 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, whos 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 didnt 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 theres 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. Its very hard to separate ourselves at this point! We come from different backgrounds, different areas. Im 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 dont 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. Werent you worried about the reaction?
Dottie:We didnt 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 didnt have anyone else in mind when we made that record and for us its an important part of our history. Whether or not people understand it, its just a cross-section of the way we perceive things.
SXP: You say its your album but it springs from Kevins story and Davids pictures. How do you buy into whats almost a personal vision?
Dottie:Because it comes from the fact that we live together, we spend 24 hours of the day together so its not like somebody else coming in from some other place and presenting this to us. Its contextual and it makes sense to us. Its 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, well be touring the UK in January! Thats our first proper tour over the Atlantic. And then weve already written a new record. It possibly may be a double record but were not sure. Its written. Well 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 theres 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. Were not really sure but we know we want to record some time in the spring. And we dont have a record label in the States anymore.
SXP: What happened with Kindercore?
Dottie:Were just run our contract.
SXP: They didnt renew it?
Dottie:Well, they may. But were not positive thats what we want to do. Theres 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 its 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 well see. We dont know what we want to do yet! So theres a question of finding a label, recording the record, put the record out! Thats what the future holds. But we definitely have another record in us: and we will make it.