The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle reminisces ahead of his return to Iowa

When the Mountain Goats play at the Englert Theatre on Mon., Sept. 26 (tickets $22-25) and at Codfish Hollow Barnstormers on Mon., Oct. 3 ($25-30), it may feel familiar to singer songwriter John Darnielle. It’s been almost twenty-five years since Darnielle left Iowa to start a career in music. In that time, he has released an extensive catalog of music, grown his band into a quartet and is in the process of releasing his second novel Universal Harvester, due out in February.

Photo by Phoebe West
Photo by Phoebe West

Darnielle spent time living and writing here; Iowa was a place of growth for him. “When I moved to Iowa I wasn’t married, when I left there I was,” he said. “When I moved to Iowa I didn’t really know what I was going to do for a living, and when I left Iowa was when I decided to go ahead and try to make a go of making music my full time job.”

Now Darnielle works on his music and prose from a converted textile factory in North Carolina, which once produced drawstrings for Bull Durham tobacco bags. While he’s married with two young sons, Darnielle shows no signs of slowing down.

The Mountain Goats (originally the name for Darnielle’s solo act) most recently released 2015’s Beat the Champ, an album devoted to the world of professional wrestling. The album features odes to the heels and heroes of the sport, and touches on some of its darker sides, including the story of Bruiser Brody, a wrestler murdered in the locker room before a match. Wrestling is an unusual topic for indie-folk music, but Darnielle said he has received plenty of support from fans.

“I think I expected a lot more blowback than we actually got … people totally got it, people who weren’t into wrestling didn’t seem to be put off by the fact that it’s a fictional frame.”

It’s exactly the sort of thematic range that has helped the Mountain Goats grow from cult favorite to widespread critical acclaim.

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