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Publication: The Stranger
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 59135
Journal code: STRR


For the 16-year life of Athens, Georgia- based of Montreal, singer-songwriter/ kingpin Kevin Barnes has kept the gears of his creativity well-lubricated. Since 1997, his output has been constant-with 11 fulllengths, the latest being Paralytic Stalks (February 2012). Now Barnes's only concern when making music is satisfying his muse. When he has an idea, he records it. If he likes it, he builds on it, rinsing it into more ideas. Paralytic Stalks is a challenging, sectionalized album. The corridors of some songs devolve into cacophony. But Barnes isn't trying to make pop hits with Stalks. He's fashioned a bleak conglomeration of pop disparateness that's meant to be heard as a whole. Psychedelic, electronic, glam, twee, and R&B antennae are raised. Much of the lyrical content is unhappy and forlorn. Barnes, who admits he suffers from depression, lets it show.

In "Wintered Debts," Barnes laments with lilac, opioid, Elliott Smith-tinged vocals, "Can't survive another comedown day, when my spirit houses so much pain/I can't deal with mourning at the carcass of my failures any longer." To his credit, though, Barnes channels his drabness and neurosis into song. The 13-minute "Authentic Pyrrhic Remission" begins with operatic electro glee, "I love how we're learning from each other/You're such a positive, you're so empowering." At the four-minute mark, it embarks into a horrifying deluge of dissonant Krzysztof Penderecki-inspired strings-the string sounds that were used for the snowy, ultimately disturbed climax of Stanley Kubrick's movie The Shining. It's unpleasant, and Barnes means it to be.

Paralytic Stalks is more art than listenable. Like it or not, it's pure, with the valve from Barnes's creative cortex being wide open. Barnes spoke from Athens. I imagined him to be underground in his studio den, a place away from sun and windows.

Is there something you consciously do to maintain creativity?

No. I'm just wired that way in my head, to always try to keep my ears open for new things and to stay open-minded. I definitely don't have limitations that way, I don't want to ever be shut offto anything. If I feel inspired by something, even if it could be career suicide, I don't really care.

When you're writing songs, do you feel pressure to come up with catchy elements?

No, because it's always something I've naturally gravitated toward. I actually wish I didn't write such poppy songs [laughs]. But it seems like everything I write is sort of catchy-sounding, or has an infectious aspect to it. Whatever that means. It's a weird thing for me. Often, I'll make music to try to liftmy spirits. If I'm in a bad state of mind, I won't make really depressing music, because that won't help me, it would just make me more miserable. I'll be in a shitty state of mind, and will try to make something colorful and positive-sounding in hopes that it will lift my spirits. It's like spiritual music. Paralytic Stalks is esoteric.

You have a song called "We Will Commit Wolf Murder." What is "wolf murder"?

A lot of my lyrics come from my unconscious state of mind. I don't really question them. That one just sort of popped into my head, "We will commit wolf murder." I thought, Okay [laughs]. It's almost like automatic writing, like the surrealists used to use. I write and put stuffout there with no real intended meaning. Sure, there can be interpretations.

So it's not about you being in the grocery store standing in the meat section and all of a sudden needing to kill someone? That's my interpretation- you're next to the prime rib, and you start foaming with murderous want. Right?

It's not about being in the meat section and needing to kill someone, no [laughs]. You can say that, though, if you want. That's the beautiful thing about interpretation. I don't foam often.

Much of the lyrical content on Stalks seems dark and dreary. Seems like you're saying not to trust people, or the government.

Yeah. I was definitely in a disenchanted, frustrated, angry, negative state of mind while I was making a lot of it. And struggling with neurosis and depression, and madness. I was just trying to keep my head together and work through it. To me, that's a beautiful aspect of art. You're able to take something that's disgusting and negative and unhealthy, and try to turn it into something that's positive or useful. Or create something that people can connect with and feel less insane. Maybe someone out there can identify with it who is going through the same thing, someone else on the edge. And maybe when they listen, they don't feel so alone or freaked-out or whatever.

What brings on your neurosis?

I don't know. I think it's hereditary. I guess life brings it on? [Laughs] Some people are naturally happy all the time. And some people are naturally brooding and frustrated. I think it's depression. I'm up and down. I'll go through periods where I'm really happy and think the world is a great bright place. And then sometimes I'll go through periods of darkness. I think it's fairly common. People go through emotional phases. I don't think I'm unique in that way...

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