John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats Talks Denton, Taco Bell and Breaking Bad
Over the course of 14 albums and countless cassette-only releases, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has become one of the best (and busiest) singer/songwriters around. While his songs can be depressing and dark, Darnielle's sense of exploration is simply remarkable. Whether it's writing about meth addiction or child abuse, Darnielle is not afraid of unusual territory.
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From his home in North Carolina, in anticipation of tonight's show at the Granada Theater, Darnielle spoke about his prolific pace and how he maintains a vegetarian lifestyle while out on tour.
Have you ever lived in Denton?
No, that's not true. People say all kinds of things, but I have never lived in Texas. I have a song that takes place in Denton. People have also said that I've lived in Florida, which I also haven't. Denton is a wonderful town. The first time I played there was like 1996. I grew up watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show, so Denton was kind of a mythical destination for me. I couldn't believe it the first time I went there.
You have lived quite a few places.
I really don't think I have. It may feel that way to people. I was born in Indiana and then I lived in Southern California. I was there until my parents got divorced. Then, I was off to Portland after high school. Then, it was the Midwest before here [North Carolina]. If you name them all, it seems like a lot, but I actually haven't moved around more than anybody else.
What kind of music scene can you find around where you live now? Is it important to be around a vibrant music scene?
It feels that it might be important in a sense, but I don't go out. If it's important, it's in an alchemical kind of way, because I seriously stay in the house most of the time. I lived in Southern California back in '95. That's been almost 20 years now. I've been here since 2002. I've grown up longer in the south than in California.
Are you a vegan?
I am a vegetarian, but one day I will pull the trigger and be a vegan.
I recently talked with Steve Howe and he is also a vegetarian.
You got to talk to Steve Howe? You know what I got recently? It was an album by Jon Anderson and Vangelis. Have you heard this record?
They did three records together.
I didn't know that. I found this in a used bin. I didn't even know which Jon it was until I bought it and then I went, "Hey, it's Jon Anderson from Yes." I am really into '80s synthscape stuff. That was right up my alley.
Is it difficult finding vegetarian food out on the road?
It's so much less hard than it used to be. When I first quit eating meat in '96, it was a bear to be a vegetarian on the road. It was pretty rough times. And it can still be rough between major towns. You have to eat at Taco Bell a lot. In bigger towns, even towns in Texas like Dallas, Austin and Houston, you can find good vegetarian food. Even where I live now, it's easy to eat vegetarian. I think that shows you how it has been growing.
That sounds almost like a half-assed endorsement of Taco Bell.
Taco Bell vegetarians, that's what you got on the road. If you are between Lawrence, Kansas and Shreveport, Louisiana, out that way, it can be rough. I love Louisiana, but they will put shrimp in anything. Taco Bell is a life saver when you are on the road.
In 2006, Paste listed you as one of the top 100 living songwriters. Did you wonder how you would rank if they included the deceased?
[Laughs] I'll get there eventually.
Do you put any stock into those kinds of accolades?
Look, anyone who says that they don't take any notice at all, has to someone who has been called great so many times that they stop noticing. It's nice, but the first thing I notice is people who are not on the list who I consider better than me. You can't take it too seriously. I still have a lot of work to do.
You are a very prolific musician. Does that have its pros and cons?
I guess. The work is to be what I'm doing. It's important to me. I want to be successful, but that is of secondary importance. I want to grow as much as I can, and to grow, I have to be working. I have to be writing daily. Most record labels would want you to write 12 good songs every 18 months. I'm a lot less focused on that than I am the process of writing.
Your 2004 release, We Shall All Be Healed, seemed to be the effort that got you noticed.
Actually, it was the next one, The Sunset Tree that got more attention. We were actually bummed out by the reception to that record. We thought that was a huge breakthrough for us. We thought We Shall All Be Healed was where we came together as a studio entity. It's not like the record totally bombed, but we thought people would hear the record and realize that we had made a really big leap. I will tell you something that is very gratifying: When we make a record that people don't get into right away, more people tend to come around. I think we are like our own personal style of weed. It's creeper. It takes a little while to come along.
We Shall All Be Healed was about meth addiction. Maybe the producers of Breaking Bad would use one of your songs.
A friend of mine has directed a couple of episodes, but they don't use a lot of outside songs. But that would be completely awesome. Breaking Bad is the best thing to happen to American television in god knows how long. That would be amazing.
The Mountain Goats perform with Matthew E. White, tonight, December 4, at the Granada Theater.