Rockstars are always meant to be seen as enigmas. The dark entities that float around onstage, cloaked in entitlement, fervour and mystery are glamourised and idolised by the vulnerable, the unrepresented and the obsessed. Yet, Kevin Barnes – the front man leading Of Montreal – will meet you in the middle; bringing you back down to earth, whilst leaving your senses and everything you thought about what a successful musician should be up in the stratosphere.
Upon meeting him a few hours ahead of the London show in April, I was led through a series of dark, dingy corridors that resembled something more like an abandoned mental asylum, only to greet Kevin and the rest of the band in a gleaming, fluorescent white room. On the white table was a few bottles of vodka, accompanied by various food wrappers, some cut up peppers and a large knife.
Although the sounds produced by of Montreal have undergone drastic transitions album-to-album, the glamorous flamboyance of Kevin Barnes has remained largely unaltered. There he was, in the corner of the room, seemingly separate from the rest of the band as he applied his blue glitter makeup and lipstick pretty precisely. You could tell that he wasn’t going for any proto-Robert Smith/clown hybrid. Kevin’s blue blouse matched his eye shadow down to the shade, and it became immediately obvious that he takes unrelenting pride in his appearance. But something didn’t quite match the captivating glitz that emitted from him like an aura – he seemed nervous and quiet. His eyes, accentuated through the makeup looked almost despairing (although we had been informed that he hadn’t slept very well on the tour bus the night before). Nonetheless, his fragile sensibilities offered such a contradiction to his character that it became questionable whether anyone really knew who he was.
We spoke briefly, as we had very little time to perform our photo shoot before the band was due onstage. Although friendly, he appeared distant. It seemed fairly obvious that this was a man who had followed this procedure a thousand times over and was growing tired. He posed, I continued to shoot, and it was time for him to leave for the show (but not before he had the opportunity to flick through the photos I had taken).
Onstage, his alter ego came to life – the anxious and almost silent Kevin Barnes was left outside in the cold. As I saw before in the dressing room, the aura of his glamour underneath the bright stage lights flowed effortlessly into the crowd – 800 people stood mesmerised before the music enchanted them into dance. It is well known amongst the fans – via past interviews – that Kevin Barnes creates these personas as a means of escaping deep into the music. Yet past performances given by the band, in all their theatricality and colour, seemed to have been marginalised and compressed into a single frontman; standing alone as an enigma, but existing as something desiring to be extraordinarily normal.
Words and Photography by George Dunne