“I’ve always considered what I do, if not unique, at
least different,” says John Darnielle, the man who has been
behind the Mountain Goats moniker for the past decade. On the
surface, Darnielle’s music is shockingly simple: Most songs
consist of only strummed acoustic guitar and Darnielle’s
shrill yet affecting vocals — only rarely do backing
instruments and percussion make an appearance. It’s in that
simple approach that Darnielle’s uniqueness lies. The excess
is trimmed away, and the focus rests squarely on Darnielle’s
elegant melodies and engaging, narrative-filled lyrics.

In many ways, Darnielle is the anti-rock star. Intelligent,
witty and completely unpretentious, he separates himself from the
ever-expanding mass of indie rockers with his refreshingly
down-to-earth attitude. For example, while most musicians only hold
down day jobs until their careers take off, Darnielle continued to
work as a psychiatric nurse well after his music career first
began. And when he finally left that job, he did so reluctantly:
“I held on to my day job as long as I possibly could, but
around August of last year touring commitments got too
intense,” he said. “I miss the work I was doing. I love
playing music, of course, but there’s nothing like
in-the-trenches work with people in need.”

With the four-piece band currently dominating the indie rock
genre, solo artists like Darnielle are a rare commodity.
“There are already so many regular lineup bands,” he
explained. “Who wants to be a face in the crowd? …
When I started this stuff, you couldn’t turn right on sixth
without hitting several four-piece bands. I still don’t
understand why people think of ‘The Band’ as this
platonic ideal of pop music.”

Nevertheless, Darnielle did do more collaborating for the latest
Mountain Goats record, We Shall All Be Healed. Peter Hughes, John
Vanderslice, Scott Solter and Franklin Bruno all joined Darnielle
in the studio. “I’m enjoying the collaborative aspect a
lot these days. It’s a welcome changeup after several years
of it’s-just-me,” Darnielle said.

The record was also a bit of a change lyrically. While
Darnielle’s lyrics have always involved a strong first-person
narrative in the past, never before were the characters Darnielle
inhabited so personal. “We Shall All Be Healed was the most
autobiographical album to date, actually. I used to just tell
stories, now I like to poke my own head out through the window and
wave a little,” he explained.

On his current tour, Darnielle is joined onstage by Hughes, with
whom Darnielle has toured in the past. “Live, we’re a
duo, and we’ve toured a lot in the past few years so we
really hear each other well,” Darnielle said.
“That’s the main thing about us live, I think, is how
electric we sound when we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
And just because there are only two of them, it doesn’t mean
that they can’t put on a strong show. For anyone who doubts
them, Darnielle issued this challenge: “Peter and I will
happily out-rock any four-piece who wanna scrap.”

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