The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats have been operating under the radar for the past 12 months with frontman, John Darnielle, being tied up with his debut novel, Wolf In White Van. That is all about to change with their new album, Beat The Champ. CHRIS HAVERCROFT speaks to John Darnielle about book tours and wrestling as well as the new record. 

John Darnielle couldn’t be happier with the response to his debut novel, Wolf In White Van, it landed in the New York Times bestseller list and garnered endless invitations for him to participate in readings and book tours. 

It’s a different style of touring for a man who is used to taking his guitar and cramming into touring vans for some late night driving between gigs.

“A book tour is having conversation on stage and stuff and it’s cool, but you never get a release from it,” says Darnielle of his new life. “If you play music in Margaret River and there is only five people there, even if some of them are there because they stopped in to have a beer, you on that night get a release from playing music. If people enjoy it that’s cool, and if not I still enjoyed playing the music.

“A book reading is different, as there is no real release as you don’t do that thing when you build up to a point of excitement and then fall over exhausted. A book reading is more formal and is more of a social exhaustion, because you are meeting people and saying hello and that is unnatural for me.”

The Mountain Goats new album, Beat The Champ, uses Darnielle’s love of the sport wrestling to explore the trials and tribulations of daily life. The band has a strong and loyal following in Australia who may not have been exposed to the history of the regional territories of wrestling but are well versed in the glitz and glamour that was created with Wrestlemania.

The ‘80s was a great time for wrestling. The performers then had been around long enough that they had been able to hone their craft, and wrestling was ready for its big pop. The athletes that came around at that time were ready for the big stage nationally and internationally like Hulk Hogan and Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage. The appeal of wrestling was that it scratched a few itches at once from sport, acting, fantasy and comic book culture.

“You get to watch sport even though it has a predetermined outcome, who cares? It is still an athletic struggle and guys really get hurt in there. It is also grand theatre not only in the interviews but also during the match. It has three or four of the arts rolled in the one thing.”

In-jokes litter the record with tunes such as Foreign Object leading the way. When somebody grabs something during a fight, the announcer wouldn’t say what it was as it sounded scarier that way. The terms that they would always use was ‘foreign object’. Foreign object only means that it is something that doesn’t belong in the ring. It is mysterious and threatening and it could be just a pencil.

“I don’t mind a little bit of blood. I try not to overdo it so as it is effective when it lands but I have always had a bit of time for the gore. Every inward characteristic has an outward manifestation. I give my life to music and I don’t regret it at all, but it is not the same as getting other people to throw you around. When people use the word staged and say that it is fake I would question that. Just because you have learnt how to roll with the punches, doesn’t mean that those guys don’t give up their bodies. Obviously it is a performance and there is that term of comparison, but the wrestler’s craft demands more of the body than I would give as being a musician.”