Darnielle at the Crossroads of America 

Trivia time.

click to enlarge The Mountain Goats - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The Mountain Goats
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Regular readers know this space's weekly concern is music coming to or out of Indiana. This week, I spoke with the Mountain Goats' central songwriter John Darnielle, a musician yes, coming to Indiana (this Saturday at The Vogue, to be specific) but also a musician from Indiana (he was born in beautiful Bloomington).

And if ever there was a songwriter from which to tease out tidbits of local trivia, it's Darnielle. His band is touring the professional wrestling-themed Beat the Champ, his 15th studio album – not counting the released and unreleased demos, cassettes and compilations.

RELATED: Our interview with Peter Hughes, the Mountain Goats' bassist, from 2012 

Darnielle was in Bloomington because his father was at IU:

"My dad was teaching or finishing his master's degree or something. He had also done some work in Cincinnati. It had to do with my dad studying, getting a master's in English."

Even though his time in the Hoosier state was brief, there are plenty of Hoosier musicians he digs:

"There was a metal band a few years ago called Year of Desolation from Indiana that I really liked. I don't know if they had more than one album, but I know they had one on Prosthetic Records, which I really enjoyed. Bix Beiderbecke is a Hoosier, isn't he? (NOTE: Iowan, actually, but Bix did spend plenty of time cutting records in Indiana.) [These were] legendary jazz players. Indiana was kind of this weird jazz hotbed in the '20s. Early hot jazz, which is super interesting. ... That whole history is being erased from a large swath of the Midwest. I have a Bill Evans recording that was live at a place in Iowa, but none of those clubs exist anymore. The Midwest has sort of pulled a California in terms of erasing their history. People have to have their Chipotles."

And of course he's great buds with YA author John Green – although if he was making Green levels of dough, he may relocate somewhere much, much sunnier than Indianapolis:

"John and I get along super famously, and I got a lot of love for Indiana. But then I think, he must be doing pretty good, his books are pretty popular. And I think, if I was doing that good, for sure where I live, there would never be any snow, ever. That's priority number one. I'd never have to see any snow ever again. Because you guys get murdered with snow! My mom used to reminisce about five-foot snow drifts without it even snowing – it's just being blown over from the next county. I can't deal. I need a certain quotient of blue sky on a daily basis or I lose it. Our European tour last month, or a month before last, as we crossed from England into the continent, all the blue went away. We didn't see sky for three days, and you could feel anger in the van. ... Theodore Dreiser, another legendary Indiana dude: pretty dark outlook on life! Theodore Dreiser family should have enabled a holiday in Florida."

Beyond a reference to Indiana on "Cutter" and a namecheck of Indiana sawgrass on "Pale Green Things," Darnielle's references to his birth state are pretty slim. Nothing like the fully-formed versions of Southern Cali that fill his records. But there's unreleased stuff that's Indiana-adjacent:

"It's funny that I remember this one that I don't think I ever played. I was writing Full Force Galesburg, this growth record where I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, but I knew I didn't want it to sound like the record before it. That and Coroner's Gambit both were really sort of both journeys for me. There was a song called "Hammond, Indiana" that I didn't finish but I remember. I've been to Bloomington a bit, but that's more or less all I know. Indiana is such a good word. It really sings really nice."


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Katherine Coplen

Katherine Coplen

Always looking for my new favorite band. Always listening to my old ones, too. Always baking cakes. Always collecting rock and roll dad quotes.

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