From boom box to recording studio

The Mountain Goats will play Oct. 5 at The Blue Note

By Susan Daniels | Oct. 1, 2010

Tags: Music

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Nearly 20 years ago, John Darnielle did the world a favor. He began recording lo-fi, indie rock songs on a department-store boom box under the moniker The Mountain Goats.

It was not until 2001 that The Mountain Goats recorded a studio album, Tallahassee. Darnielle teamed up with friend and bassist Peter Hughes for this project, a collaboration that changed the face of the band permanently.

"It was a coincidence," Hughes said. "We were already planning to do some recording when 4AD (the record company) called. After we finished touring on (Tallahassee) we thought, 'Wow, this is awesome. Let's make another record together.'"

The addition of Hughes to the line-up brought about some stylistic changes.

"I feel like there was some tension at the beginning," Hughes said. "I wanted to expand the sonic palate and make a record that would appeal to more people, but there was a little push-pull as to what (Darnielle) was comfortable with."

Another Mountain Goat, drummer Jon Wurster, joined the band in 2007. Prior to adding an actual rhythm section, Darnielle was known for his emphatic guitar playing. His method of performing accomplished what a backing band would normally achieve. Expanding the group allowed Darnielle to shift his focus elsewhere within the music.

"The funniest thing about adding (Wurster) was how natural it was," Hughes said. "He's such a versatile and great drummer that he adds a lot even when he's not doing a lot in terms of color and texture. He adds a dimension that wasn't there before."

Hughes concedes that even with the two additional members, The Mountain Goats remains the child of Darnielle's brain. He writes songs with a self-conscious feel but oddly poignant lyrics that shock and awe interchangeably.

Just two years after the release of the stylistically different Tallahassee, The Mountain Goats once again underwent a transformation. During the years prior to the album We Shall All Be Healed, Darnielle would insist his songs were entirely based in fiction. But the 2004 album chronicled Darnielle's experiences in Portland, Ore., with a group of friends addicted to methamphetamines.

In 2005, The Mountain Goats produced another autobiographical album, The Sunset Tree, in which Darnielle focuses on the topic of an abusive stepfather. Two albums later, Wurster joined the crew to create the poppy and accessible rock album, Heretic Pride.

The Mountain Goats' most recent album, The Life of the World to Come, is a compilation of songs based around verses of the Bible. These songs are less religious than they are an examination of Biblical poetry and images.

"I don't think it alienated anybody," Hughes said. "It was genius on John's part. The audience really got it. It also brought us a bit of exposure from places we wouldn't have gotten it otherwise."

The Mountain Goats create brooding songs that ultimately illuminate the strength of survival that can be found within everyone, even in the darkest of times. In this manner, the band has attained a level of fame they are very comfortable with.

"We love what we are doing, but at the end of the day we still get to be normal people," Hughes said.

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