We chat with The Mountain Goats
In a musical world of sheep desperately grabbing for their fifteen minutes of fame and/or the almighty dollar, there are acts that stand apart from the flock. The Mountain Goats are one of those bands
Formed in California in 1991 as the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist John Darnielle, the band has grown to a four piece over its twenty-year career. The Mountain Goats have written many affecting and powerful tracks – such as ‘Dance Music’ and the exceptional ‘This Year’ – which manage to hit the listener right at the core of their being.
“For me,” says bassist Peter Hughes, “I think it was simply being a fan of music that inspired me to make it my calling. In my adolescence, it became the thing I really connected with. I didn’t come from a musical or artistic background and therefore had no role models for how to pursue music as a career. I looked at Sonic Youth as these relatively normal people who made utterly wild and extreme music, and found that incredibly inspirational. A band like Sonic Youth are a truly incredible template in regards to making music on your own terms and rules and not being an industry puppet. In regards to making music professionally, and I still can’t quite believe at times it pays the bills.”
What impresses most about The Mountain Goats on a lyrical level is the stingingly honest and unsparing lyrical style. “The music we make does very much serve as a cathartic experience, both for us as individuals and our audiences. The shows can be highly felt and emotional experiences for our fans, especially those who have forged a strong connection with our music,” explains Hughes. “John writes the music, and a lot of it is drawn from both his own observations of the world around him and his personal experiences. The direct and unpretentious way we try to get that across very much manages to strike a chord with people.”
Over the course of twenty years, The Mountain Goats have maintained an admirably lo fi approach to their sonic world. “We’ve always tried to take a natural approach to the music we create. Hence avoiding gadgets and fads like Auto Tune and the like. What matters to us is whether or not the music feels real,” says Hughes.
That sense of ‘real’, on both a lyrical and sonic level, is never more evident than on the stunning 2004 release We Shall Be Healed, in which Darnielle detailed unsparingly the lives of friends whose lives were destroyed by methamphetamine. A very powerful release that, at times, was right up there with the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly, especially the final line about Dick’s friends: “Let them play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.” The positivity that comes through in the music of The Mountain Goats, while dealing with highly charged and weighty issues is inspiring.
“We always try to be conscious of never being maudlin or depressed people, in both our personal lives and especially in relation to music. Maudlin, to me, means wallowing in one’s own misery. I, for one, have never been that type of person and neither has John. That’s not what the songs are about,” explains Hughes.
“Music, to us, is about taking that misery, struggling with it and overcoming that struggle. We maintain that balance by not being miserable people and making a conscious effort to not be a sad sack and making a decision to be positive. Everybody makes that decision as people which determines whether or not you want to be around them due to their either positive or negative point of view.”
Having released fourteen albums in their lifespan, their latest record, Transcendental Youth, is set to drop later this year. “Both John and I have become dads for the first time. We both have six month old babies. John promised me that he wasn’t going to be one of those dads who write songs about moonbeams and rainbows and how happy the world is,” laughs Hughes. “Instead, he promised that, particularly on a lyrical level, this will be one of the darkest albums yet from The Mountain Goats.”
With a searing honesty that taps into a vein that is quite universal, The Mountain Goats are a highly individual and important addition to the musical world as we know it.