Of Montreal's second release for Bar None, The Gay Parade is a place where one can go to be in the company of funny creatures, eccentric characters and bizarre architecture. It's a strange land where people can escape to, to be happy.Of Montreal is the brainchild of Kevin Barnes. He resides in Athens, Georgia, and his band has long been part of the Elephant Six collective of young, prolific musicians that includes Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and Music Tapes. But Kevin spends most of his time in his exceptionally fertile imagination. His much acclaimed Bar None debut Cherry Peel and its companion piece, the very solo A Petite Tragedy (released on Kindercore), were hailed for their whimsy and cheerfulness but, for Kevin, they remain melancholy works, the aftermath of a romantic breakup. In fact, the unusual band name he chose was a reaction to heartache: he fell in love with a girl from Montreal, they parted badly, and henceforth his band would commemorate the ill-fated relationship because "I would be affected by the experience forever." Kevin is a guy who knows how to savor his sadness. The Gay Parade, on the other hand, is an escape from the everyday, from disappointment and disillusion and the dangerous unpredictability of love.
Happy, in some hands, can be dull and not half as musically exciting as misery. But Kevin is uniquely equipped to create a psychedelic sort of sincerity that can be far more moving than moping. As Raygun has put it, Of Montreal dare "to sing gentle songs filled with sweet acceptance while all around them grumble and moan." Kevin shares with his Elephant Six buddies, many of whom appear on this album, a love for a homegrown style of recording that is the aural equivalent of outsider art: the techniques may be primitive but the results are vivid soundscapes where no instrument or idea is unwelcome.
All of these Athens acts operate happily on the fringes of modern rock, which makes them as unclassifiable as they are cool, and Of Montreal are perhaps the most radically unfashionable. Kevin has more in common with artists from an older generation like Ray Davies, Jonathan Richman, and even Jimmy Webb, than with his contemporaries. And it's no surprise that he adores Brian Wilson, especially from Wilson's flaky but farsighted period when he tried to construct his monumental Smile.
"Even though people might think the lyrics are cheesy, I always loved the '60s music the best," Kevin revealed to a reporter after he released Cherry Peel. "That was a time when people were writing really innocent songs. That's my favorite style of writing -- the innocent stuff. Brian Wilson is the man -- I love him the most of all musicians. There aren't too many people around who are as completely honest as he was -- honesty goes in and out of style."
Kevin also cites Marshmallow Coast, Kevin Ayers, and the Brazilian cult combo Os Mutantes. Of Montreal has its own notable fans, too; cool Japanese mixmaster Cornelius cites A Petite Tragedy as one of his favorite albums of '98. The Gay Parade is, in its way, a concept album (that, unlike Smile, made it out of Kevin's bedroom in one piece). The story begins with the remarkable cover art that serves as a day-glo visual companion to the tunes. It was created by an artist calling himself Lecithin Emulsifier, but who happens to be Barnes' brother David. (In the album credits David's contributions are listed as "inspiring everything and shouting from the bathroom.") Within forty-four fast-paced and musically dazzling minutes, Kevin assumes an alter-ego named Claude Robert --- this obviously runs in the family -- and introduces a cast of characters that he promises to develop further on future records. Kevin likes to think of each song as a float in a parade, an image that came to him while watching passing traffic, and all of the tunes blend together into a seamless and colorful whole.
Kevin plans to take Of Montreal back on the road this spring. Although his work is very personal, he hasn't shied away from touring and has found receptive audiences everywhere. This time Kevin wants to put on a more theatrical show and promises to "go overboard" with it, a sentiment much in keeping with The Gay Parade.
In a period of dour corporate culture and assembly-line acts, Kevin is blissfully out of step with his times, but he does invite everyone to follow the beat of his own unique drummer: "We're all marchers in the parade and you can march too."
He intends to inspire. As he once told a journalist, "I'm hoping there will be a whole new movement where everybody records at home and everything gets done in a really personal way and there's no more cheesy band bios that need to be passed around. And everybody can do it on their own exactly how they want to do it."
So enough biographying. Let Kevin speak for himself. You can probably already hear the sound of the parade approaching....
And Now A Word From Kevin Barnes...
Of Montreal is the name the efeblum gave Kevin Barnes' musical endeavors a derby hat to sit in. What does that sentence mean? What is an efeblum? An efeblum is similar in many ways to a fairy, like Tinkerbell. They are employed by loving spirits to place bells inside of people's hearts. When a person's heart is in possession of a bell they are able to receive and reciprocate love, create works of art, and feel genuinely happy all around. Kevin has a very precious efeblum named Coquelicot who cares for him personally. He'll tell you more about her in the future.
Here is the story of how the Gay Parade came to exist:
One day Kevin was sitting on his hands watching the traffic and feeling blue because Julie the Mouse didn't love him. Coquelicot fluttered up close to his ear and whispered that he should use his imagination to escape from his melancholy. She convinced him that his day would be more agreeable if instead of watching traffic and pining for a lost mouse he was participating in a parade. Kevin agreed with her. In his mind he slowed down the cars so that they were driving at a speed appropriate for a parade. He proceeded to imagine each car as a float in the parade. Next he created stories that would be acted out on each float. The floats were so beautiful and the stories so entertaining that Kevin became overwhelmed with joy. He forgot all about the mouse and only digressed into sadness once during the parade and that was because he wished he had a special friend to share the experience with. After the last float passed and the final story was told Kevin received a wonderful gift. A very silly gentleman named Lecithin Emulsifier endowed him with the ability to relive this incredible day as often as he wished. Kevin wished to do so quite often and in fact spent so much time watching the parade he decided he should just join the parade and stay there permanently. This was a good idea. Kevin invented a new identity for himself. He changed his name to Claude Robert. As Claude he rediscovered the all encompassing gaiety he felt before being born. He named the parade the Gay Parade to symbolize this.
With the assistance of Coquelicot, Claude Robert was able to bring the Gay Parade into other people's imaginations and fill their hearts with bells of gaiety. The parade has become larger and larger over time as many people like Kevin prefer the freedom and magic of the Gay Parade over the slow monotony of their previous lives. It is Claude's dream that one day each living creature will join the parade and be happy there. I hope his dream is realized.