November 21st, 2008 | Interviews

alice rutherford

Download: of Montreal “Id Engager”


(from Skeletal Lamping out now on Polyvinyl)

of Montreal are from the same city as Pylon and are currently touring a stage show to shame Cirque Du Soleil. They speak now from a glowing pyramid slowly rotating upside down atop a horse. This interview by Daiana Feuer.

There’s a lot of talk about the Of Montreal live spectacular—what are you traveling with?
Jamey Huggins (drums/bass/and more): This time we have 17 people, two busses, two giant trailers and our own stage. We’ve got dancers and actors and tons of stage props. The whole show has turned more into a theatre performance than a typical concert. And there’s all sorts of video projectors and movable risers and video screens and ridiculous stuff. We had all sorts of ridiculous ideas. Sometimes we had to scale them down but most of the stuff we’ve built ourselves. It’s not exactly professional but it’s our best attempt—it’s like a home-made version of a Broadway play or something. The whole thing was done with no experience. We sort of made it happen.
Where do the costumes come from?
Some of them we make and some of the more sophisticated ones we bought from costume companies. 50 percent of it is thrift-store and the other half is basically a hodge-podge of things that were either given to us, made for us, or that we buy. We have these things called nude suits that are flesh-colored lycra body suits that have genitals drawn onto them. We can’t get naked because obviously we’re playing a lot of all-ages venues. So we have these nude suits and the actors look like they’re completely naked from the stage but they’re really just these funny suits that have nipples and pubic hair on them. It’s kind of silly. But that’s the thing. We’re not trying to do high art. It is sexual and it is retarded and it is supposed to be funny and entertaining.
What’s one of your favorite creations?
That’s a difficult thing to answer. I guess one thing I’m proud of is the rotating stage piece because it was my design. I had originally designed it for my drum set so we could spin around. But then when it got too complicated with all the mics and stuff we decided to turn it into this rotating room.
But you’re not tied to the drums, right?
Not even remotely. I’m the one that plays seven different things in three different stations. I rarely play the same instrument even through one song. I’m jumping back and forth between drums and guitar and bass and keyboards and horns, all sorts of stuff. So I get the most exercise up there. Well, maybe next to Kevin—he’s dancing his ass off. When I joined I was part of a package deal with Dottie the keyboard player. We both joined on the same day saying that either one wouldn’t do it without the other one. At that time I was supposed to be the bass player. Me and the other bass player both knew how to play drums, so we started switching and playing half drums and half bass, and then he quit and I had to start being the drummer. For four albums I would record other stuff, but live, 90% of the time I would play drums. On this tour, we’ve hired a new drummer to take some of the weight of the parts I was missing so I can be free to play other stuff. So for me I guess it was kind of a big deal—because I was always considered to be the drummer of the band but now he plays more drums than I do. I sort of hand-picked him. There were all these people blogging that I was being replaced but I was the one who found him. It was my idea.
If each of your band mates were a condiment what would they be?
We would all be a bunch of fruits. Kevin would probably be a banana and a peach and a strawberry and then the rest of us are all a bunch of kiwis. We‘re like a family. This time we’ve got Kevin’s entire family. We’ve got his wife, his daughter, his brother—we’ve got 11 crew people, so this time it’s more like The Real World on wheels. 17 people co-habitating in this weird traveling circus kind of lifestyle. For now it’s very functional.
How’d it get from A to Z—the theatrics and the music?
I think it’s that we are all performers and we all collectively have this tendency towards theatrics. Very slowly it’s gone from us wearing our normal street clothes on stage and simply playing through our music to incorporating a few video elements, and then maybe dressing up a little bit, and then slowly it’s gotten to the point where it’s full-blown multiple costume changes, acting and video. The other thing is that most bands—and we used to do this—record the music together and then the point of the concert is to recreate the album for people. In our case, Kevin has taken this strange course where he decided to start making these private albums on his computer. So we don’t function like a normal band does where we just write songs and jam. He creates these songs on his laptop and hands them to us. Since we all have so much creative energy and we’re not putting it into the musical side, it’s very natural for us to want to be involved in creating something of our own, so we come in and make the whole stage show. It’s us trying to take his music and make it exciting for us. It’s kind of funny because we used to be musicians and now I feel a lot more like an actor.
Do you think you guys would go back to plain clothes?
Well, I don’t know about the plain clothes. We all have developed a pretty keen sense of fashion over the years. I know what you mean and I think, yes, we’re very close to that. The question becomes—how can you top it? Like last time we had this stage with light up catwalks that were pressure sensitive like Michael Jackson, and people thought that was pretty impressive. And then in New York we had a horse. Now every show we go to they’re like, ‘How come you don’t have a horse?’ And then last time we had three video screens and this time we have five. So every time you try to top it, it gets a little more out of control. At some point that has to hit a peak. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. But we all understand you can’t continue to top yourself in this grand way every time so I think we’re trying to get as much of this out of our system on this tour. We all agree that there will be a stripped-down tour with less production and more weight on the music. In England we had to strip everything down because we can’t carry all this shit internationally. And we discovered—or rather, rediscovered—that actually we’re all capable of playing acoustic and harmonizing. You start seeing all these electro-funk dance songs that are used to having drums and synthesizers and multiple backing tracks and beats and all this crap and we started playing them just with acoustic guitar and tambourine and our voices and singing the parts with our mouths—the synth parts and stuff. And it was this great realization that we could do this stripped-down thing. We started talking about incorporating that into the show and hopefully in the next tour we will do some of those moments, if for no other reason than to prove to any of the haters that we can be just a very stripped-down musical group. At the heart of it we are musicians and it’s fun to sing together and not have everything be overblown. But, yeah, anyway, for now, we’re taking it to fucking 11 as much as possible—shooting way over the top. But I do see in the very near future a totally different approach.
If you could play a show anywhere, where would you like to play?
On a ship. Not a cruise ship like some cheesy family Carnival line, but a really nice Scandinavian kind of Viking-type ship and it would go around—I’ve thought it out—it would be a Scandinavian tour following the path of the Vikings from when the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians were all fighting. We’d probably start in Northern Norway—like Bergen—and come around down southern Norway to Denmark and then around to Sweden and end up in Helsinki. And the whole thing would be that the ship has a built-in stage and we would go to ports at 6 or 8 cities and then drop the side of boat and the people in that town come on the boat and the boat is the venue, and I want to do a whole tour that way. We are living on our traveling stage, we go from town to town, and we put on a concert. We’ll do it in the summer, of course.