Original Pressings – The Mountain Goats (2006)

January 31, 2010

The Mountain Goats didn’t appear on the Australian radar until releasing “Tallahassee” in 2002, their first release on 4AD. However, John Darnielle and bassist Peter Hughes seem to have taken a shine to our wide brown land. Their upcoming tour will be their third in just over a year. Three albums in two years show Darnielle as a questing figure, always pushing his own boundaries. His latest, “Get Lonely”, is the most stunningly realistic take on break-ups heard on record. Rockus caught up with Darnielle, who desperately missing meat pies and just before vegemite was banned in the US.

This will be your third trip to Australia in just over a year. What
keeps bringing you back?

Is it really that many? To us it seems like the time between visits is
too long! We just really enjoy the shows – it’s hard to qualify in what ways the Aussie shows are different, but they are – they’ve got a very pleasant, exciting, inspiring vibe to ’em. Also, Jester’s Pies and vegemite. We don’t have Jester’s Pies in the US you know. We are a savory-pie-impaired country.

When I saw you play in Brisbane last October, you played “This Year”
Part way through your set and the crowd went crazy. Six months later back in Brisbane, you mentioned that the reaction to the song during the first gig had taken you by surprise; that you hadn’t realised how popular it was in Australia. Did the song have the same reaction elsewhere? Have any of your other songs become surprise hits?

That song sorta took off everywhere, but the Australian response has just been amazing for us. The other one recently that’s been nuts is one from a few albums back called “No Children,” which people always liked some, y’know, but over the past year it seems to have taken on a life of its own – people don’t just sing the chorus, they sing –the whole song-, which is completely amazing & great.

Your blog, Last Plane to Jakata, shows a great passion for the music of others. I was especially taken by you Half Year Mix, which gloriously sees Anouar Brahem’s oud mixing it with Ghostface, Tom Verlaine and Ralph Towner amongst others. Do you purposely seek out music by such artists, or is there an element of random, unexpected discovery going on?

I just go through a lot of different moods – I’m like that sticky ball in that video game Katamari Damacy: I roll around picking stuff up and just accumulate more and more things to love. Really, the depth of music, the whole of music as a separate world, just seems to get bigger and broader and better to me every year.

How much new music do you manage to take in as you tour the world?

Thank you iTunes! Also, I stop in record stores as often as I can, and I only quit buying stuff when my suitcase is too full. I tend to fall behind on new stuff when I’m on tour, since the stuff I’m listening to on tour is usually really vital and re-energizing to me, so I can’t be “keeping up” – I’m in survival mode, kinda.

The songs on Get Lonely seem to shove together the deep, introspective emotions with everyday banality. That everyday life goes on despite a break-up. Other breakup songs are full of simplistic expressions of anger, revenge, sadness or empowerment. What prompts you take this more realistic approach?

One hates to say “maturity,” because that sounds pretty dusty and withered, right, but I think that I’ve been writing long enough to find genuine human daily feeling at least as interesting as/probably more interesting than the great big dramatic moments. Or at least that’s where my mind was at writing “Get Lonely” – I wanted the voices of the characters to feel like they came from flesh-and-blood human beings, people you might work or go to school with while not knowing they were suffering quietly. Don’t know if I’ll be sticking with that approach or going bloody again – who can say?

A lot of your album follow a central story. Which comes first, individual songs or the concept behind a song cycle?

Songs first. Songs make stories, working the other way is problematic. Not impossible – Tallahassee was written with a battle plan – but I like working in the dark for a while, finding out where the songs are going.

I don’t normally submit Q&A interviews; I prefer writing articles. In this case it was unavoidable as the interview was undertaken by email, and whoever was doing the publicity for the Get Lonely album only allowed only one set of questions to be submitted . Without the benefit to ask follow-up questions to develop a narrative for the interview, I felt I could only represent Darnielle by presenting his replies verbatim.

Not that I could do a phoner at the time, having left the radio station a couple of years previously to move to the big city. When Rockus asked me to interview John Darnielle via email, it was much appreciated as it was unexpected.


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