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of Montreal art director David Barnes on design for bands and working til 5am

By: Emily Gosling

“I like working at night when the world is quiet and all the residual energy is loose and flowing around in the atmosphere because most people are asleep and not gobbling it all up,” says David Barnes. “I’m not sure if that’s a real thing or not but thinking that way motivates me to stay up til 5am working distraction-free, feeding off the dreams of others.”

If that’s the case, then our collective dreams are very, very strange; and uniformly, surreally brilliant. David Barnes (who works under the name “the Bee with Wheels”) is an artist, illustrator and art director for of Montreal, a band as renowned for the ludicrous, mesmerising pomp and glitter of their stage shows as their experimental, verbose and sexually charged paranoia pop. The shows frequently use circus-like levels of fantastical scenery and props, performance artists, nudity and costumes with levels of gauche and frippery that would make RuPaul look positively normcore. These visual aspects are mostly orchestrated by David, working with his brother Kevin (of Montreal’s frontman) to try and realise the band’s odd blend of heavy-lidded, imaginative nihilism and pop power. We spoke to him about designing the band’s sleeves, looking to a “completely nonsecular creative being” for inspiration and designing a beer bottle label that recalls “a more dangerous version of Jean Claude van Damme.”

Talk me through your process.

I feel the most satisfied when I’m not over-thinking what I’m doing. I live for the meditative nature of creation. When you’ve shut yourself off from the outside world and it’s just you and your brain. Sometimes it can feel that way. Like there is your brain, and it’s full of all the things you’ve learned and absorbed your whole life, and then there is a separate part of you that’s sifting through all that information and you can almost end up arguing with yourself or debating with yourself. But then there are other times when it all comes together naturally and fluidly. That’s the best to me. That’s when you’re thinking super-fast and making quick choices and executing instantly. And if in the end you don’t like it, then you just try again. I’m never going to be done making things anyways.

What’s a typical day like in the studio?

I like working at night when the world is quiet and all the residual energy is loose and flowing around in the atmosphere because most people are asleep and not gobbling it all up. I’m not sure if that’s a real thing or not but thinking that way motivates me to stay up til 5am working distraction free, feeding off the dreams of others. My mind really wakes up around 10pm and I’m happiest when I have like 20 things to work on so that while one thing is drying I can add a layer to another one. I can create a one-person assembly line and get lost in the process and then all of a sudden it’s morning and 20 things that didn’t exist before are here on earth now.

Tell me more about your image for the bottle label.

My brother and I watched a bunch of bad 80s and early 90s action movies growing up –Commando and Blood Sport and the like. Basically I designed a more dangerous version of Jean Claude van Damme by adding a poisonous spider and a feral cat with a deadly snake fist.

  • David-barnes-of-montreal-int

    David Barnes: of Montreal artwork

  • David-barnes-int-2

    David Barnes: Artwork

  • David-barnes-int-1

    David Barnes: Artworks

  • David-barnes-beer-bottle-int

    David Barnes: Beer bottle design for Collective Arts Brewing

Further reading:

www.tumblr.com/bee-with-wheels
www.ofmontreal.net
ww.collectiveartsbrewing.com
Collective Arts Brewing is a grassroots Canadian craft beer company that aims to fuse the creativity of brewing with the talents of artists and musicians through their beer labels

See the article in its entirety here.

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