Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes must be in the running for the “Hardest-Working Man in Rock” title. His band has put out 11 records since forming in 1997, and is on a streak of releasing four increasingly successful concept albums beginning with 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, plus another four EPs in that same time. But that’s not everything that the band has done in the past five years, and the upcoming release Daughter of Cloud carries another seventeen tracks into the world, gathered from recording sessions dating back to 2007. Hive caught up with Barnes to talk about where these songs come from, how the meticulous conceptual songwriter structures a rarities collection, and how his approach to this stuff differs from Lil Wayne’s.
Coming from someone who’s known for concept albums, it’s interesting to hear so many unreleased songs. Are they songs that didn’t fit the concept of a given record, or shorter ideas?
All of them were left off of records for different reasons. Maybe there were too many songs, and I didn’t want to release a double album, so I had to cut some songs. That’s the case with all of them, except maybe “Feminine Effects,” which is a song I wanted to have a girl sing, but it took a long time to find the right person. But most of the other ones are either songs that I started working toward the end of an album production, and didn’t have enough steam to push them through at the time, so I just worked on them later.
When you structure a compilation record, do you give much thought to how it’ll play as an album?
That was definitely a thought. I wanted it to have a flow, but because it’s pulling from songs from all of these different time periods and sessions, it’s kind of inevitable that it would have some awkwardness to it. But when I was putting it together, I was thinking I’d start with the oldest song, and then the next few were going to be on this EP that was going to be separate from all of it. The other songs, I was like, “I dunno, you could go here, you could go here…” I didn’t really labor over it all that much. I just put it together in a way that I thought had some sort of fluidity.
What made you decide to cover “Expecting To Fly”?
From the first time I heard it, it was one of the most beautiful and most haunting songs I’d ever heard. It’s so emotive and beautiful and tragic-feeling. I’ve always loved Neil Young, especially that time period of his songwriting. I guess I wanted to try my hand at it because it really touched me.
Seventeen rarities from a time period in which your band put out four full-length albums and a couple of EPs is pretty impressive. How do you keep up with that level of output?
Basically, I just am always working and trying to create something new and exciting, and push myself. To not just have this formulaic approach to music. I want to try new things, and be inspired by new things, and keep an open mind to all that. There are a lot of songs that I didn’t include on this release, because I didn’t think they were very good. On a certain level, I’m trying to be conscious of that. I don’t want to just empty the vaults and just release things that I’m not proud of. There has to be some quality there.
These don’t sound like those Lil Wayne freebie songs that you can tell he tossed off on the tour bus one night – you get the feeling that they mean something to you.
Well, all the songs on the compilation were at one point in the running to be on a record, so I spent a lot of time and energy working on them, and trying to get them to be as good as they could be. I spent weeks and weeks and months on all of the songs. None of them are things that I just threw together one night when I was wasted and never went back to.
Having a bunch of songs all placed together like this is a reminder of how much the band’s sound has changed since the early days. Is that something you think about much?
Yeah, I’m definitely happy that it doesn’t feel like it’s just the same song again and again and again. Each song feels like it has its own identity and personality. That’s something I strive for anyway. When I was piecing it together, I’d forget about the nuances of each song, and it was fun to revisit it. I’m really happy to release it, because it feels liberating in a way – all that stuff I’ve been working on is out there, so I can get it out of my mind and start thinking about the future and what I want to do next. I’m definitely happy the songs, and definitely happy that they’re out there.
Daughter of Cloud is out 10/23 via Polyvinyl. Stream it below: