Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes' top 3 rock alter egos
Kevin Barnes talks rock’s rich tradition of onstage personas
If you were going to come up with an alter ego for yourself, you’d probably choose to don a cowl and strike back at the underworld or to be a glamorous debutante. Not Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes: His Georgie Fruit alter ego, who dominated the act’s Skeletal Lamping tours, is a cross-dressing African-American who’s undergone multiple sex change operations. Barnes obviously has a significantly richer vision for his secondary personality than you do. He also has a rich appreciation for rock musicians’ tradition of crafting onstage personas. Prior to Of Montreal’s recent appearance at the Bluebird Theater, Barnes reflected on a trio of his favorite rock ’n’ roll alter egos.
Kevin Barnes: As a kid, I discovered [Prince], and it opened up a lot of doors for me, intellectually and emotionally and sexually. I didn’t really know about Camille until later in life. I just knew that there was this wild man out there who was taking all these crazy chances, doing things that no one’s ever done before, or doing it in a way that no one’s ever done before. The thing I most love about Camille, for Prince, it kind of gave him the opportunity to say things he wouldn’t feel comfortable saying just as Prince. That’s something, as a songwriter, I can identify with having.
The A.V. Club: Isn’t that one of the primary reasons why people adopt alter egos?
KB: I think so. It’s just a little trick of the mind. Somehow, you can pretend it’s not as connected to your psyche. In reality, you can’t really defy yourself in that way; everything’s from inside you. It’s just a nice trick you can utilize to get a little bit deeper and pull things out of you that maybe you’d be too self-conscious to do as yourself.
David Bowie’s Thin White Duke
KB: I’m more frightened by the Thin White Duke than I am by Aladdin Sane or Ziggy [Stardust]. He’s a little bit frightening because he has a little bit of a Third Reich influence, which is clearly extremely fucked up. The music that he did in that time period, whatever you call them, The Berlin Trilogy of records, are so amazing. They’re not really commercial successes, but they’re incredible artistic successes. You have someone like Bowie, who had complete commercial success and was a rock star, one of the most famous faces on the planet. For him to go in a completely other direction on those albums is really inspiring for me, as an artist, to know that someone like that can take chances and it’s not going to kill his career to do it. I think it adds a lot of credibility to his oeuvre.
KB: I think there’s probably some disconnect between his actual personality and his stage persona. It doesn’t feel like acting at all. At some level, the alter egos of Bowie and Prince maybe have trace elements of that sort of character acting. It’s not extremely genuine in the way like somebody like Neil Young or John Lennon are.
AVC: Don’t many performers have disconnects between their real-life identities and their stage presences?
KB: For us, it helps a lot. I noticed that depending upon what I was wearing, it kind of brings out a different part of my personality onstage. If I were to take the stage just in jeans and a T-shirt, I think I would be a bit more self-conscious. It’s kind of funny. Dressing up makes me less self-conscious. I just get into the spirit of it, and I get swept away by it. I get transported outside of myself, or transported to some good part of myself that’s not totally neurotic and pessimistic.
I did create a stage persona, Georgie Fruit. I was sort of Georgie Fruit in my head when I would take the stage a couple years ago. As of late, I integrated that into my self-concept. I don’t make a distinction between who I am, Kevin Barnes, or Georgie Fruit, or whatever persona I might have created. It’s all just naturally flowing through me.