released their 11th studio album Paralytic Stalks> earlier this year, and yesterday marked the start of the second leg of their North American tour. The new album exemplifies the band’s well-established knack for creating psychedelic pop music with a unique twist.
Frontman Kevin Barnes took some time to chat before heading back out on the road. From his personal taste in music to thoughts on the potentially pending apocalypse, Barnes shares his perspective and makes it clear that music is his passion in life, plain and simple.
What has the response been like to the new album so far on tour?
Kevin Barnes: It’s been great. It took a while for people to kind of get into the new spirit of the project, but even our first couple of shows were still really good, even though people at first weren’t familiar with the songs. But they work well with the other songs, so people can just pay attention and listen to those moments.
Do you feel like this new album is a continuation of the music you’ve made in the past, or did it feel like a whole new project, conceptually?
Barnes: It wasn’t that much of a departure. It was just another chapter, in a sense. Now I feel like I’m moving forward into something else, but I still appreciate the older songs. That’s always the case though. There will always be some remnants or artifacts of those other time periods. I always feel like I’m passing through these moments, creating something, and then leaving it behind.
With musicians like David Bowie or Prince in mind, do you think you reference your influences just naturally or is it intentional?
Barnes: Musically, it’s hard to say. I think there’s always going to be these reference points for me with my writing. I could say that section of that song is a reference to something that I really love that already exists. And sometimes I’ll write something that is more original. It’s a pretty eclectic record, goes all over the place. A lot of the songs are pretty interesting, arrangement wise. I can’t really say specifically what it would be directly inspired by. It’s almost an automatic thing for me when I’m working. I’m not intellectualizing things. I’m not saying I want something to sound like Stevie Wonder meets Prince, but I listen to Stevie Wonder and Prince, so it just kind of happens organically.
How do you think you’ve evolved after 11 records? Is this kind of where you imagined you’d be?
Barnes: I don’t know. I don’t really feel like I’m necessarily becoming a better musician. But I think on a certain level I have an understanding how to use my voice as an instrument more, and how to emote in ways that I didn’t know how to before. So I guess in that way, I’m becoming slightly more soulful. I have more confidence and more experience.
What new music are you listening to now?
Barnes: I really like THEESatisfaction. I think they just released a record on Subpop. It’s really cool. It’s these two girls, and it’s pretty funky, soulful stuff. They rap a bit. I think they have a way with words that’s interesting. As far as contemporary stuff, I don’t get the same sort of charge from contemporary stuff as I do from other things that I’ve sort of fallen in love with. There are so many bands these days. You could discover a new band everyday basically. On a certain level that’s great, but at the same time, for me, if I see a certain band that everyone seems to be talking about, I’ll listen to it and I’ll think it’s pretty cool, but it’s not going to change my life. You know? I think to discover a band that changes your life, it has to be kind of rare anyways. Sometimes I’m like, “what’s wrong with me?” I must be so cynical that all these bands that are coming out, if I dislike them, something is wrong with me. But I just have to realize that besides the bands that I love, there are so many bands in between them too. We’re moving more into a singles culture, kind of like in the early ‘60s. At a certain level it’s kind of cool. A band will release one single, and then they just put all of their singles together. I think it’s just a cyclical thing. Eventually it will come back to the point where people want something more substantial, rather than just a taste of something.
If you had to tell a stranger something about yourself that had nothing to do with your music, what would it be?
Barnes: I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and I always read a lot. I’m just basically looking for inspiration, for that spark to motivate me to create something new. I do a lot of writing and thinking about what I want to do next. As a human being, I’m probably very boring. I wouldn’t make a very good reality show.
What was the last book you read?
Barnes: Well right now I’m reading a book called The Revisionist. It’s sort of sci-fi, just interesting ideas. On a certain level, it could be considered topical, just because it has to do with the whole Mayan prediction coming up. This new society rises from the ashes of that, but it’s not really that much better than what was left behind. I guess it’s something that could possibly happen.
So you think the apocalypse might happen?
Barnes: Well, it’s hard to say. We’ve had so many examples of things like that. People have been worried about it for so long, and the whole Y2K thing. With 9/11, there’s all of those Nostradamus predictions. But it could happen at any second, a giant asteroid could come and destroy us.
If that happens, would you be proud of this being your last album?
Barnes: [Laughs] I wouldn’t really care. I just want to keep producing art. Sometimes it’s going to be good. Sometimes it’s going to be mediocre. I won’t know that until it’s done and I have time removed from it. The reason I make music is because it fulfills me. It’s the thing I take the most pride in and am the most excited about. Whether I’m making things that future generations will look back on and say it was good, or bad or irrelevant, that makes no difference to me. You have to get to a point where that doesn’t matter. I’m not doing it for superficial reasons or commercial reasons. It’s my legacy. It’s something that I’m leaving behind. There are so many records that in their time, the best example is the first Velvet Underground record, at the time it didn’t sell any records. But then, over the decades, people have fallen in love with it and been inspired by it. And there are other records, like Neil Diamond or Barry Manilow, nothing against them, they were extremely successful commercially, but I can’t imagine there being some crazy revival where 60 years from now, some 18-year-old falls in love with “Sweet Caroline.” It seems unlikely.
So do feel like you kind of have to force yourself to remain involved with your music and try not to think a lot about an outside perspective?
Barnes: Yeah, I think there are people who do that, people especially who are more motivated commercially. Nothing against that pursuit, if that’s what you want to do, but they probably are making creative decisions based on what they think their fans would like or what would play on the radio. I definitely think it’s better for artists, if you are a real artist, to block that world out, take it out of the equation and just do what you feel compelled to do. Even if critics hate it or fans, the most important thing is that you’re doing what you’re excited about. You might stumble upon something that you’re excited about that also really connects with people.