:: The Mountain Goats :: Hi-Dive :: November 6 ::
By Lisa Oshlo
Born of the mind of Pitzer College student and psychiatric nurse John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats (which often include only Darnielle and a myriad of revolving musicians) have been steadily producing music since 1991. In fact, at the rate of just about an album a year (and with over ten full-length albums since 1995), he is certainly one of the most prolific songwriters in the indie rock scene.
Over the years, Darnielle has earned a devout underground following and has managed to crank out work after work without sacrificing the literary quality of his material, and he said that much of it can be attributed to a practice that he feverishly maintains. “Well, I keep a notebook, like people used to always tell me to do when I said I wanted to be a writer,” he said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “For years I totally resisted the notebook, but it was futile, because it just meant I’d be scribbling down stray phrases or overheard stuff or out of context stuff on cigarette packs or flyers or something.”
Besides having a lot to say, Darnielle is clearly intelligent and imaginative. His songs are lyrically centered, rich with metaphor, and often contain religious or mythological themes. He plays with song cycles that span several albums, most notably the “Going to…” series, the “Alpha Couple,” and the “Songs For…” series. Each invariably shows him as both an earnest and evocative songwriter.
In the early years, Darnielle’s earnestness was accentuated by his bare bones musical accompaniment and lo-fi recording style. In fact, when he first started to play, he would release his music only on cassette. It wasn’t until 2002 that The Mountain Goats began to experiment with a bigger sound, and with equally beautiful results. In the past five years, the band has continued to evolve within its basic framework.
“We kept saying how old-school Mountain Goats felt when we were recording [the new, yet to be released album]. The songs are pretty up-tempo for the most part, the energy has that dude’s-gonna-come-unglued feel,” he said. “The Bright Mountain Choir sing on it, and I haven’t had them on a record since God knows when. But I’m a much better songwriter now than I used to be, if I can say that, and my rhythm section is seriously locked in, so there’s a much more swinging feel to it.”
Despite occasionally playing with a larger band in the studio, The Mountain Goats have always embraced the simple structure of acoustic guitar, bass, and voice. A large number of performances feature only Darnielle on guitar and vocals and Peter Hughes on bass.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the basic pleasure of playing music with one other person,” said Darnielle. “The duo has its own set of limitations and possibilities and unwritten rules that you break. I’ve got Catholic blood, I love self-imposed limitations,” he said.
These days, the band is playing as a trio with John Wurster on drums. “The big excitement there is that’s new territory for me,” said Darnielle, “and when you’re breaking new territory, that’s almost always when all the exciting stuff happens.”
:: The Mountain Goats ::
:: Hi-Dive :: November 6 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Neutral Milk Hotel
• Iron and Wine
• Sufjan Stevens