Mountain Goats front man talks about new songs, the upcoming tour and his views of D.C.
"If it's a choice between a punch in the jaw or a kick in the (groin), I guess I'll take the punch in the jaw."
Hearing a cynically humorous construct like the one above, tossed off with seemingly no forethought, shows that John Darnielle has the brain juice to justify being called one of the best non-rap lyricists working today, as famed critic Sasha Frere-Jones labeled him in 2005. Darnielle — frontman and creative fusion reactor of folk act the Mountain Goats — offered the above devil's bargain in discussing his assessment of the state of politics in America and his frustration with pretty much everyone involved in both major political parties.
It was almost possible to hear Darnielle, a strident one-issue voter in support of women's right to abortion, throwing up his hands in frustration as he talked politics and a whole lot about music through a bad cellphone connection last week while navigating through a North Carolina mall, notes of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" from the shopping center's sound system occasionally piercing the conversation.
"It's funny that the people who argue vehemently against any health-care mandate being put on them would have no problem against a law that's even more invasive in people's lives," said. "Of course I have no illusions on the left-hand side of the aisle either because abortion rights are the first things Democrats will offer up as a bargaining chip when they want to get something. Basically there's no issue on which they're willing to stand their ground, unless it's the issue of them getting re-elected."
Capping the mini rant with the jaw/groin dilemma from above, talk then turns to Darnielle's creative output since the release nearly one year ago of the acclaimed "All Eternals Deck," with the singer and songwriter saying he's written and essentially completed the 12 songs that will make up the band's next record. Austin fans will get an early listen to those songs when Darnielle and his touring trio come to Antone's tonight.
Saying the new record features a recurring cast of characters and something of a unified story, he quickly stamps down any notion that he's creating a concept album and said the songs and characters pretty much bubbled up in his brain on their own.
"It has to happen for me organically and the only time it didn't was with ‘Tallahassee' where I sought out to do that, because it'd feel phony to seek out to do that," he said. "I've listened to a number of concept albums where around the sixth song the action has to move to a certain place and so the songwriter says, in essence, ‘OK everyone, get in a car together' so they can get to where he wants them to end up."
Set entirely in Washington state, the new songs started as piano compositions — "because I became a dad and I could hold an infant in one arm and stab at the keys with my free hand" — and deal with the idea of the devil and people getting kicked out of a sacred place and becoming outcasts.
Looking ahead to the tour that was about to begin, Darnielle said he was excited to debut the new tunes for what's become a very rabid fan base that loves to dissect his lyrics with the energy of an English professor, which to be fair, many of them probably are.
"I'm always most interested in my new stuff, and the stuff that's most exciting to me at that very moment because it's what I've been working on so intently and I want people to hear these things," he said. "I don't hate on my old stuff and I have my favorites and songs that I know people will want to hear, so we have two kind of master sets and switch things around within that. There's also the middle section where I go solo for a few songs, where I can take stock, see where the show's going for a little bit and do my own thing and then it's like ‘Oh, hey guys. Good to see you again.' "
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