Of Montreal Interviewed: Cross Dressing and Skeletal Lamping
, October 14th, 2008 13:11
Of Montreal have just released another fabulous and engaging album in Skeletal Lamping. Alex Denney tracked down Georgie Fruit, the cross dressing alter-ego of frontman Kevin Barnes, to chew the fat.
Kevin Barnes - not Georgie Fruit
When Breton’s surrealists practiced their automatic drawing techniques in an attempt to plumb the untapped depths of the human psyche during the tumultuous early years of the twentieth century, chances are none of them encountered a fortysomething, black transsexual jailbird lurking ‘round the dingier recesses of their subconscious brains.
Sigmund Freud, say hello to Georgie Fruit, bizarre alias of Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal's frontman. After perfectly fictitious stints in seventies funk band Arousal and sex change ops in either direction this highly aroused figment made flesh turned up on the group’s acclaimed Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? album from last year, and now returns to stamp his authority on its psychosexual and moderately deranged follow-up, Skeletal Lamping.
If Hissing Fauna… was at times an uncomfortably autobiographical account of Barnes’ deteriorating mental health then Skeletal Lamping ups the ante to an absurd degree, presenting a warts-and-all portrait of one man and his id that is literally pornographic in detail, sometimes touching, but mostly just… touched. And in the middle of it all towers the enigmatic Georgie, apparently unperturbed at the madness unfolding all about him.
Confused? So were we, which is why we thought it best to go to the (wo)man him/herself for answers…
Hello Georgie, first of all I wonder if you could you explain a little more about your relationship with Kevin Barnes?
Georgie Fruit: "That sucker is a thief! He stole my ideas and made them all faggy and stuff. I don’t know why he needs to bother a man. He thinks I’m something to play with but I’ll show him how wrong he is. Nah, I’m just kiddin’ man. I don’t think I’ve ever met that kid. He seems like a Catholic though."
You’ve been a man and a woman and then a man again which is unusual in that many people undergoing sex change operations say they feel somehow ‘trapped’ in the wrong body – what precipitated the decision to change back as it were?
GF: "I just get bored you know. I wanna be everything but I gotta only be one thing at a time. I wanna eat breakfast as a woman but take the dog for a walk as a man and then watch TV as a woman again. I wish I had a dog."
On the other hand some feminists, informed by the belief that attributes habitually believed to be innately male or female are in fact socially conditioned, have argued against sex change surgery altogether. What are your thoughts on this?
GF: "I got in a car wreck with a feminist once. She bit my bottom lip and told me all kinds of stuff until the cops came. She was pretty hot. I don’t like ugly feminists."
Kevin Barnes, not Georgie Fruit
Do you believe in the notion of a coherent ‘self’ that you can attempt to know or understand? How much of our selves are determined by external factors and do you find this a troubling notion at all?
GF: "Huh? I never thought about that. You sound like a scientist or some shit."
You’ve also been in prison a couple of times and have led a generally colourful life so to speak – do you ever have difficulty living down the past? Kevin also seemed to be having trouble with the past on the last record, didn’t he?
GF: "The past is like a Buddha turd man. I heard that once, I think, maybe I just made it up, HA HA HA! The only bad thing about the past is that other people document it and shit and wanna throw it back in your face like 'Hey you said such and such' or 'You told me you loved me' and I’m like 'Damn bitch, why you got to be so suspicious all the time, I only cheated on you once, that you know of.'"
Kevin seemed fairly consumed by feelings of self-doubt and loathing on the last LP – would you describe yourself as more at peace with yourself are than he is?
GF: "I aint got no kind of clue what that boy thinks. He tries to play me his songs and I’m like 'What the hell IS this?' Most of the time I think he’s just playing himself, you know, like a baby doll that shits itself when no-one else is in the room? I’ve seen that shit happen before too. I was watching my nephew Tamilla and she had one of them dolls and I just kicked it out of my way!"
About the new album Kevin said it is an "attempt to bring all of my puzzling, contradicting, disturbing, humorous... fantasies, ruminations and observations to the surface, so that I can better dissect and understand their reason for being in my head". What, then, has been gleaned from the writing of the album? Do you find Kevin’s subconscious a scary place to be in?
GF: "Wow, more scientist shit. I don’t know man. When my band Arousal was around we were the top of the funky soldier man. We were hot too. We were never scared of anything except for TV. I still don’t truss that shit man. I know it records my heart beat and it’s trying to win the lottery with it and all that. I hate waffle house! I ain’t trying to ask Mrs Winte for no job back."
Did Kevin express surprise at some of the things that got dredged up in the process?
GF: "That boy is a horror film man. Let me just tell you a little story about him. One time he was running down stairs from his attic studio and he smashed his head on the door frame and then he just laid on the couch for like 20 minutes foaming at the mouth like a dead dog ‘cause he was so pissed off. He just laid there spitting like that, spitting on the floor and all over his clothes and he wanted to jump out the window and open up the door to his ugly little brick rental house and just give everything away, he wanted to do this as he lay there foaming and stuff and then when he calmed down he told me he wasn’t gonna give nothing away ‘cause he didn’t want to have to look at people’s hands, like he didn’t even want to look at stranger’s hands ’cause he said it reminded him of some porno or something about the Salvation Army and how they refused him ‘cause he had taken a piss in the back of Sam’s Geo."
You played in a funk band in the ‘70s and appeared on the band’s last record which had some pretty funky moments. Skeletal Lamping is apparently going to be even more badass: what exactly is it you bring to the table as a performer with the band?
GF: "Ha, well that’s it, I bring the badass. I ain’t afraid to say it like it is or at least how it should be. I can cut my finger on a newspaper and STILL eat citrus. You know what I’m saying? I can’t lose ‘cause I am a winning ticket and that boy knows this."
Kevin memorably described himself as a ‘fawn of a man’ on the last record. Do you think his associating with you represents a desire to address that fact on his part?
GF: "I have been teaching him how to box and how to walk right. He don’t even shake his hips when he walk. He can’t walk on high heels or even apply lipstick properly. He don’t even sleep with his hair in a hen’s tooth. I could teach him a lot of things but he’s too paranoid and don’t never leave his little wafer."
I read some place that Skeletal Lamping will also be a very sexual record – how much of that can we chalk up to your influence?
GF: "Chalk it all over me man. I’m the sexuality in that little alien’s head. He is just a brain in a jar. He is a virgin in more things than you wanna know, man."
Hissing Fauna… dwelt a lot on Kevin’s depression and many people believe traumatic events like these can be instrumental in bringing about multiple personality disorders – has it ever occurred to you that Kevin Barnes might not exist?
GF: "That boy hasn’t existed in years. He’s still suckin’ his thumb under a rock in god’s garden. He’s still lost on a Tops baseball card of Hank Arron that some fool stole from his desk in like fifth grade and then taught him a card trick but wouldn’t give it back and denied the whole thing even though Kevin was slapped on the hand by an old Catholic nun for stealing a god damned nickel that was on the floor by his desk when he was in first grade. He just wanted to buy a pretzel log with it but that fuckin’ nun dragged him by the ear and slapped his little hand and made damn sure he would never join the evangelicals."
OK thanks for your help with this, hope that wasn't too painful.
GF: "My pleasure, like a pall mall."
Kev, not Georgie
Skeletal Lamping is out now through Polyvinyl. They play their only UK date this week on October 16 at London’s Koko.