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The Mountain Goats Biography

Home > Music > M > Mountain Goats, The > Biography

Birth Place: North Carolina
Years Active: 1991-present
Genres: Folk Rock, Urban Folk, Indie Rock, Lo-fi

The Mountain Goats are an American indie rock band formed in Claremont, California by singer-songwriter John Darnielle. The Mountain Goats are currently based in Durham, North Carolina. For many years, the sole member of The Mountain Goats was Darnielle himself, despite the plural moniker. Darnielle remains the sole core member of the band, but has worked with a variety of collaborators over the years, including bassist Peter Hughes, drummer Jon Wurster of Superchunk, singer-songwriter Franklin Bruno, bassist and vocalist Rachel Ware, singer-songwriter/producer John Vanderslice, guitarist Kaki King and Annie Clark of St. Vincent. Throughout the '90s, The Mountain Goats were known for producing "militantly lo-fi" home recordings (most famously, on a boom box) and releasing recordings in cassette or vinyl 7" formats. Since 2002, the Mountains Goats have transitioned to a more polished approach, recording studio albums with a full band.

In 1991, Darnielle began performing under the name The Mountain Goats in Claremont, California, where he attended Pitzer College and worked as a psychiatric nurse. The band's name is a reference to the Screamin' Jay Hawkins song "Yellow Coat."

Darnielle released his first album, “Taboo VI: The Homecoming,” on Shrimper Records. Many of his first recordings and performances featured Darnielle accompanied by members of the all-girl reggae band The Casual Girls, who became known as The Bright Mountain Choir. One of this group's members, Rachel Ware, continued to accompany Darnielle on bass, both live and in studio, until 1995.

The first five years of the Mountain Goats' career saw a prolific output of songs on cassette, vinyl and CD. These releases spanned multiple labels and countries of origin and many were unavailable to the majority of fans until recent reissues.

Darnielle graduated from Pitzer College in 1995. Most of what could be considered classic Mountain Goats conventions, boom-box recording, song series, Latin quotes, and mythological themes, were abandoned in favor of a more thematically focused and experimental sound. This period was marked by Darnielle's collaborations with other artists including Alastair Galbraith and Simon Joyner.

2002 saw the release of two Mountain Goats albums, “All Hail West Texas” and “Tallahassee.” These albums mark a distinct change in focus for the Mountain Goats project, being the first in a series of concept albums that explore aspects of The Mountain Goats' canon in depth. “All Hail West Texas” featured the resurrection of Darnielle's early boom box recording for a complete album. “Tallahassee,” recorded with a band and in a studio, explores the relationship of a couple whose lives were the subject of the song cycle known as the Alpha Series.

“Martial Arts Weekend,” also released in 2002 under the band name The Extra Glenns, is a collaboration with Franklin Bruno on several previously unreleased Mountain Goats songs. Since that recording, Bruno has joined Darnielle in the studio along with bassist Peter Hughes, who is the second official member of the band and accompanies Darnielle on tour. These three musicians form what may be considered the Mountain Goats studio band.

In 2004, the Mountain Goats released “We Shall All Be Healed.” The album marked a number of changes for the Mountain Goats. It was the first time Darnielle worked with producer John Vanderslice and the first album of directly autobiographical material. “We Shall All Be Healed” chronicles Darnielle's life with a group of friends and acquaintances addicted to methamphetamine in Portland, Oregon, though the album is set in Pomona, California.

In 2005, the Mountain Goats released their second Vanderslice-produced album, “The Sunset Tree.” Again autobiographical, Darnielle tackles the subject of his early childhood spent with an abusive stepfather. Darnielle had previously dealt with this subject in what he often refers to as the only autobiographical song he had written before 2004, the unreleased song "You're in Maya."

In 2006, the Mountain Goats relocated to Durham, North Carolina and issued “Get Lonely,” which was produced by Scott Solter, who had worked with Vanderslice on engineering for prior Mountain Goats records. The album peaked at #19 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart and entered the Billboard 200 Albums chart. In 2007, Jon Wurster played drums on the last leg of the “Get Lonely” tour.

Darnielle was featured on Aesop Rock's song "Coffee" from the 2007 album “None Shall Pass.” Aesop Rock also released a remix of the track "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" from the album “Heretic Pride.”

“Heretic Pride” was released in February 2008 and peaked at #28 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart and also placed on the Billboard 200. It was produced by John Vanderslice and Scott Solter. Franklin Bruno and Erik Friedlander returned to the studio with Darnielle and Hughes, and they were also joined by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and vocalist Annie Clark of St. Vincent. Also in February 2008, The Mountain Goats released a song called "Down to the Ark" that was commissioned by “Weekend America.”

In 2009, Darnielle and Vanderslice released “Moon Colony Bloodbath,” a concept record about organ harvesting colonies on the moon. The EP was produced in a limited vinyl run of 1000 and sold during their "Gone Primitive" tour.

“The Life of the World to Come” was officially released in October 2009. That month, The Mountain Goats performed "Psalms 40:2" on “The Colbert Report. “It was their first television appearance. Darnielle also had a short interview with Colbert in which Colbert professed himself a fan.

In August 2010, the band announced that they had signed to Merge Records, home to drummer Jon Wurster's other band, Superchunk. The band released their first album on Merge, “All Eternals Deck,” in March 2011. The album peaked debuted at #72 on the Billboard 200 while also reaching #14 on the Alternative Albums and #15 on the Independent Albums charts.