Kevin Barnes is the frontman and songwriter of the seminal indie-pop band of Montreal, who thrill fans with compelling live performances, delight critics with their constant innovations, and continually showcase their musical evolution by drawing from a different set of influences for each album. You can follow of Montreal on Twitter here and on Facebook here.
Christina Schneider is the brain behind the pop project Locate S,1; Kevin Barnes is the frontman of the legendary indie pop band Of Montreal. The two are romantic partners and creative collaborators — Barnes co-produced Locate S,1’s recent release Personalia, and Schneider contributed to Of Montreal’s UR FUN from earlier this year. Here, they discuss navigating the two identities.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor
Christina Schneider: [Work and romance] overlap so much that it’s kind of hard to separate them sometimes. I think we interact when we’re recording in a way that we probably wouldn’t with other people. I tend to get really emotional and self-doubting when we’re recording, in a way that I don’t think I ever would with someone who’s just a producer who’s working with me — I wouldn’t be reduced to tears of self-doubt, like “I don’t know if this is even good enough!” But with you, I can do that, so it kind of adds some obstacles but also makes it a more passionate project, maybe.
Kevin Barnes: Yeah, you probably feel more comfortable with me than a regular old schmo, so you probably are able to become more vulnerable and open in the process. It was definitely more intimate and emotional to have you singing on my song, rather than someone I didn’t have an emotional connection with.
Christina: I didn’t do that much on your UR FUN record though, I just sang some songs.
Kevin: But even the whole process of having you in the house while I’m working on the songs, and having you offer feedback…
Christina: I guess that’s true. We give each other a lot of feedback. That’s really helpful, to have someone whose opinion you trust, and who you can bear to hear criticism from. I remember with my song “After the Final Rose,” I had played some lyrics for you, and you were like, “I feel like you can write better lyrics for this.” If someone else said that to me, [Laughs]. I would probably feel more spiky about it. But I trust your opinion, and I do the same for you if I think those thoughts.
Kevin: Yeah, there were a couple songs on UR FUN that you said a similar thing, that I could be a little more creative with the lyrics because I was being a bit too straightforward. You encouraged me to be a bit more abstract and poetic with it. I think it benefited from that.
With you it’s funny, but I think in the back of your mind, you always know when something is wrong with one of your songs, but you need someone else to tell you it’s wrong sometimes. There were a couple times where you had a song you played for me, and I was trying to be too nice and not tell you my actual opinion, and you could tell I had an opinion I wasn’t telling you.
Christina: That’s definitely an example of our relationship becoming an obstacle — you don’t want to hurt my feelings so you won’t say something is wrong with it. But I’m like, “I know something is wrong with this, tell me what it is.”
Kevin: I’m like, “No, it’s great, you’re awesome, I don’t want you to be unhappy, good job!”
Christina: You don’t want criticism from someone you don’t respect creatively.
Kevin: I can’t imagine how you could have a producer you didn’t respect.
There’s a lot of songs on our records that are about each other. I think we definitely get a lot of inspiration from our personal lives and our personal relationship.
Christina: Yeah, I think we both tend to draw on what’s going on in the relationship for musical content.
Kevin: It does get tricky — you’ve got a couple songs you wrote when we were going through troubled times. So for me, to produce a track that’s addressing something that personal can be a little sticky. Music is a form of therapy, a way for us to work our feelings out and kind of unpack these emotions.
Christina: But you’re really good at not problematizing those things. If there is a weird lyric that’s about us, that’s a weird sticky point, you won’t really bring it up while we’re recording. You’re pretty down to business. Then we can talk about it later. [Laughs.]
Kevin: I mean, I do that a lot myself, write about my personal life. So I feel like you have to be able to do that in your relationship, because you don’t want to create a false narrative where everything is sunny and rosy all the time. You want to be able to write real songs about what you’re actually experiencing.
Christina: I don’t want to feel like I’m stifling you, like you can’t say anything negative or nuanced.
Kevin: There’s probably things that I would maybe feel a bit hesitant to write about, because I know you’re gonna hear it and we’re going to work on it together. [Laughs.] I need to be a little generous in the way I’m depicting it…
Christina: I’m totally a glutton for punishment, on the internet seeking out bullshit to hurt myself.
Kevin: I’m trying to get you to stop doing it.
Christina: I have to give all of my passwords and stuff to you so you can get rid of the trolls for me. A lot of Of Montreal fans are really awesome, and I think they make up probably most of the people right now who are into my music, and that’s awesome. But there’s a smaller contingency of people that have kind of a parasocial relationship with you, and with me coming in, I’m almost like this weird evil stepmom to them. [It’s like] the Yoko effect. If somebody forms this bond with John Lennon, and it’s this one-on-one relationship in their brain, and then this other person comes in — even if it’s not necessarily because they’re a woman, they’re entering your imagined throuple now. It’s like a threat to them.
I can’t remember how it started, but this guy [on Reddit] was basically like, “I don’t like Locate S,1,” and I can’t remember if it was the same person or someone else commenting on it, but they were like, “Yeah, I feel like she ruined Kevin’s new album.” Which I had nothing really to do with.
Kevin: They were saying my music got worse.
Christina: Yeah, because of me.
Kevin: Well, I’d agree with that.
Christina: [Laughs.] So it’s always like, I ruined your album, but if my album is good, it’s because you influenced me. No matter what, if I have any power, it’s in a very negative way, and if it’s anything positive, it’s all credited to you. It’s all infantile.
Kevin: Yeah, but is it, like, two people? Ten people? It has to be an extreme minority. But that’s the craziest thing about the internet: One person has so much power, potentially. If one person says something that pushes that button in your psyche, it’s like, Oh, my god. Someone just saying that “Christina ruined Kevin’s music…”
Christina: See, these things don’t bother you at all, and that’s one of the most confusing aspects to me. [Laughs.] I know that for some reason this is a controversial opinion, but I’m fundamentally insulted by the concept of rating music at all. I think it’s totally cool that people like to review music and talk about what they liked or didn’t like, but this thing of assigning numeric value to a piece of art is really gross to me.
Christina: I get kind of consumed with rage. I knew it was bullshit when people never compared me to Blondie before, and then I bleached my hair and everyone was comparing me to Blondie. It’s like, you’re literally just looking at a hair color and a gender. The reality is, I think most people don’t really have a deep vocabulary in music. And I don’t either — I’m not a music theory expert at all. But I think most people’s cross section of music they listen to is pretty small. They compare something they like to another thing they like, even though there’s probably way less in common between those two things than with some things they’ve never heard of. Is that rude of me to say? I feel like I’m calling people philistines or something. But it’s coming from a better place than it seems, maybe. But I would love to see a study of ratings across gender and race lines across the popular music blogs, because I have a feeling it’s way harder to be taken seriously as a music artist as a woman, and that the kind of girl power thing that’s happening now is a bit of a smoke screen.
Kevin: There’s so much misogyny, obviously. Any woman who’s ever gone on tour will tell you that it’s not a very woke culture that we’re a part of. Just in general, some of the things people focus on with your music are things they would never focus on with my music, I don’t feel like. There’s a lot of gender-based assumptions and toxic attitudes.
Christina: I have a theory — I don’t know if I’m right, but — I feel like reviewers or even just the armchair critics, when they’re reviewing a woman’s music, they feel like they’re kind of discovering this new land and they’re putting the flag down, like “I’m finding what this person did by accident, and saying that it’s good.” Whereas, I feel like men get a little more credit — it’s approached as if they know what they’re doing, whether it’s good or bad.
Kevin: I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing to be classified [by your gender], because so much of music is that — the sort of mythology that’s created, the movements that people romanticize like the riot grrrl movement.
Christina: But it’s like the book store I went to as a kid — like, “Here’s all of the great philosophers, and here’s the women’s section.” Why can’t the great women philosophers just be in that section? It’s kind of the same thing. They make you feel like you’re being put on a pedestal, but really they’re edging you out of the canon.
Kevin: It’s a funky thing, because the whole girl band phenomenon — why is that even a thing? Why does it have to be all girls for it to feel like you’re doing something empowering? If there’s a girl that you vibe with, she should be in your band; if there’s a guy that you vibe with, he should be in your band. I don’t get why it should be politicized in that way, like, “We’re an all-girl band and that’s important to us.”
Christina: I feel the exact same way. Just listen to the music.
Kevin: It’s hard enough to find people that you identify with and can hang with you musically.
Christina: I don’t know if this is relevant at all to what we’re talking about, but I had somebody who’s kind of an acquaintance, who’s a woman, tell me it was bad that I had all men in my band and I should fire my drummer and hire her. [Laughs.] He’s, like, a way better drummer than her, one of the best musicians I’ve ever met. It has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman and he’s a man. I don’t know, these are just the people who play my music with me and care about it. And they do a good job. I feel like I get it from all sides. I’m forced to represent women, so everyone won’t like me.
Kevin: That just comes with the territory, I think. We had a pretty big — not argument, necessarily, but a heated conversation about whether there are things cisgender men have to deal with that would be in any way comparable with what women have to deal with in music. What we finally came around to agreeing on was, to be a woman in music, you are exposed to a lot of potential hate that you aren’t exposed to as a man. You are exposed to some, but it’s not the same level. Like you’re saying, “You’re not femme enough,” or “You’re too femme.” “You probably don’t write your own songs because you’re a woman;” “You probably don’t play your own instruments because you’re a woman.”
Christina: No one ever goes to an Of Montreal show and comes up to you like, “So who writes the songs?” It’s like, “The person singing them and playing them on the guitar?” [Laughs.] Why wouldn’t you just assume that?