Kevin Barnes

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Kevin Barnes
Kevin Barnes from of Montreal in Sweden 2005-11-03.jpeg
Kevin Barnes in Gothenburg, Sweden, 2005
Background information
Born (1974-05-30) May 30, 1974 (age 44)
Origin Athens, Georgia, US
Genres Indie rock, indie pop, psychedelic pop, experimental, electronic, funk, R&B
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician
Instruments Vocals, synthesizer, guitar, bass guitar, piano, drums
Labels Polyvinyl, Kindercore, Bar/None
Associated acts of Montreal, Major Organ and the Adding Machine

Kevin L. Barnes[1] (born May 30, 1974) is the singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter for the indie rock group of Montreal, part of the Elephant 6 Collective.[2] Barnes started the band on his own and, although providing several stories as to the origin of the name, is said to have named it after a failed romance with a woman from Montreal, Quebec. The group has recorded thirteen full-length albums, and numerous EPs and 7" singles. His brother, David Barnes, is an artist and has designed most of the band's artwork for albums after the release of The Gay Parade.

In 2003, Barnes married Nina Aimee Grøttland, a graphic artist and former Ethnobabes member. They separated in December 2013.[3] They have one daughter, Alabee, born in Oslo on December 29, 2004.

of Montreal[edit]

Barnes and bandmates on stage in San Francisco, 2007.

of Montreal consists of various musicians, with Barnes being the only continuous member. The group has recorded fifteen studio albums, beginning with Cherry Peel, and, most recently, White is Relic/Irrealis Mood, which was released on March 9, 2018 on Polyvinyl. While melodic pop has always been Barnes' primary vehicle, his style has managed to transform significantly since the 1997 release of Cherry Peel. The acoustic tendencies of early albums gradually transformed into a more electronic, funk, and overall eclectic sound. One of the features which often appears in Barnes' songwriting is his penchant for composing upbeat melodies to gloomy lyrics and morose subject matter. At different periods in the band's career he has dealt with subjects both personal and fictional. He is a prolific lyricist with a tendency to employ unusual words and phrases and complicated wordplay.


Kevin sings for of Montreal in San Francisco, 2007.

Kevin Barnes' writing has encompassed many styles over the years. Of Montreal's first album Cherry Peel dealt mainly with personal issues of unrequited love, as in the songs "Baby" or "Montreal", or humorous mundane situations, as in "Tim I Wish You Were Born a Girl". His style then shifted to story-telling, often involving dialogues, as in "Good Morning Mr. Edminton" from the album Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse, or fictional characters, such as Rose Robert or Jacques Lamure, or even fictional mythological creature, like the Efeblum.[4]

The albums The Gay Parade, The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy and the referred Coquelicot are constructed as concept albums, reminiscent of the works of some progressive rock icons of the 70's, such as David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust or Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

By 2004, though, Barnes was starting to revert to more personal lyrics, even incorporating the names of the people close to him and using them as characters in his own songs, similar to what John Lennon or Ray Davies used to do:

Kevin Barnes has fluctuated between writing personal and fictional lyrics over the course of his career, in part because negative reviews his first album received deterred him from writing about himself for a period of time. He explained:

"I think if you only write about yourself and your personal life it feels maybe a bit narcissistic, but I think it’s inevitable that there will always be some aspect of your personal life or your personal emotions coming through, even if you write about something that would seem like fiction."[6]

His lyrics, though mostly concerned with dark themes, often portray a certain fondness for:

Despite common assumption, Barnes does not use recreational drugs or psychedelics to aid in his writing, composing, or recording.[7]

On stage[edit]

With of Montreal, Barnes has always tried to cross the bridge between his love of theater, comedy, and music, often resulting in interludes between songs – skits, slow-motion sword fights and surreal interaction between band members. However, since the release of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes has been performing as his on-stage glam rock alter ego, Georgie Fruit, first mentioned in "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal."[8] Kevin has said that the album shows his transformation to Georgie Fruit, as is evident in the variation in musical style from in album leading up to "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" and the two songs after. He has described Georgie Fruit as a black man in his forties who has undergone multiple sex changes. Georgie, Kevin told Pitchfork Media, was in a funk-rock band called Arousal back in the seventies.[9]

Barnes has performed in unusual circumstances such as on a white horse and while completely nude.[10]

Other projects[edit]

  • A Pollinaire Rave is a comedy tour by Kevin Barnes, his brother David Barnes and his ex-wife, Nina. A CD with the same name was sold, and five of the seven songs on the EP became songs on the Montreal album Satanic Panic in the Attic.
  • He also played keyboard on "The Difference in the Shades", and did the background vocals on "A Poetic Retelling of an Unfortunate Seduction" on Bright Eyes' album Letting Off the Happiness.