Friday, December 12, 2008

Interview with Of Montreal's James Huggins - Part 2 of 3

SoR: Can you walk me through the recording process? I know Kevin Barnes records most of the parts and then you guys learn it and perform it live. Is that generally how it all works?

JH: The last couple of records, that's exactly how it works. So if we're talking current events, yeah. But it's a weird thing because we've had lineup changes with people coming in and out of the band.
Dottie and I have almost exclusively been working with the band for almost 11 years, and there was a lot more time where we were living in a house with Kevin, writing all of our parts, singing all of our own parts on the record, and actually writing entire songs for the record. So that was like a whole other era.
To me, it feels like two different bands, and they just kept the name.

SoR: Does it feel odd to make that change?

JH: Obviously, that's a tough transition, but after a couple of albums and seeing how dramatically it's shifted the whole audience and seeing what that's done for him to to get these records out of his brain uninterrupted by compromise, it's good for him and fun for us to see what he comes up with.
Now, we feel much more like musicians. We're all still songwriters and do our own thing, but in this band it's much more about the performance now. I always say that we feel much more like actors, like we're given a juicy script but it's our job to interpret it. And we do that kind of in our own style with each thing and it's never as strictly regimented as a lot of people assume. We usually take what he's done and create a part that represents some kind of essence of what it was and then play them live.
Because a lot of the songs are really impossible to play verbatim. Most of them have four or five or as many as eight bass lines. No one person can play that, so we'll listen to it and find the major points of what pops out the most and then try and construct one single part from that. And it's the same with all the vocals. Most of the songs have at least 10 vocal harmonies and there's only four of us that are singing.
It's like interpreting it, and that's another reason why the performances have gotten so outrageous because the rest of us in the band need to do something creative if we're not writing the material. All that shit we do. Very, very little of the stage design has anything at all to do with Kevin, or people also seem to think that it has some literal translation of the lyrics. That's not always true.
It's like the band and his brother, and we just get together and come up with these ridiculous ideas and go shopping and we build all the stuff ourselves. All the video content we shoot ourselves. So it's very much a group effort that a hundred ideas are sort-of in a pot and we'll come out with 10 good ones.

SoR: You've recorded under the James Husband name.

JH: That's been an ongoing recording project for me for years that I haven't really ever made much of an effort. I've done shows, I've even done whole opening tours for Of Montreal. But it's mostly just a bedroom recording project that I make mostly for just my friends and to distribute to a few. It's a real small-time project for now.

SoR: Are you still working on coming out with another album?

JH: I'm desperately trying to get into a situation where I feel like I can release something with a label that's going to do it the way that I want to. I've been really reticent to put out like a small release of a single album because I've seen it happen so many times where you put all your eggs in one basket and then it doesn't get any kind of attention. Then the songs are dead and you gotta start over again. ... I want to make a multiple disc release that is not just like 10 songs, 12 songs. At this point, I've amassed so much material that I'm trying to find someone whose willing to put out like a four-disc thing, almost like a posthumous-type thing, like a collection of an entire decade. I think that I will eventually be able to do it and I'm talking with Polyvinyl about trying to convince them to do it.

SoR: Are they giving you an impression that they'd be willing to do it?

JH: We haven't even gotten that far in the discussion. It's more about them agreeing to do something and then we'll have to figure it out at a meeting. But yeah, I would absolutely love to do that, and if I have to make them myself, which is what I've been doing, and sell them at shows, then I'll do that. That's a whole other ball of wax. But to be honest, I'm not sure what's going to happen.

SoR: I figured you had to be working on your own material as well, if Kevin is putting all the albums together.

JH: Yeah, it's actually pretty interesting. We did go into a real studio and we attempted to do this album "Skeletal Lamping" live, as like a live feed. And we did, we went in for like a week. We did about six or seven songs. We thought it sounded great, we were really enjoying being in the studio.
And we were working with this producer who I think Kevin felt uncomfortable with. And then I think he just kind of napped on like the sixth or seventh day and just decided that he didn't feel comfortable and explained to us that it wasn't about our playing or his recording, but that he was really dying for the privacy, the personal experience of staying up all night and recording whatever he wanted in his pajamas.
That's how he works, he usually recorded way late in the night, starting around 9 or 10 until like 7 or 8 in the morning. So he ended up using a lot of that stuff on the album. There's a couple of tracks where it is all of us playing and he's gone back and sprinkled all his crazy electronics and falsetto vocals over it and taken that as a blueprint and gone with it.
So it's frustrating to us because, of course, we think we could do a great live album, and that we're considered, I hope, to be really musical beyond theatrics. It's frustrating to never get a real chance to show that in a recording. But at the same time, we have to allow him that because when he did get full control he came back with something that really surprised us and was actually fun for us to listen to as fans.
It's like a weird kind of give and take sort of thing, but I think we're all at a point where it's not about egos or feeling like we're not getting some sort of opportunity to do this or that. It's more like just releasing all that crap and allowing him to have his voice and we just help him.

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