John Darnielle, the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, has a famously devoted following, and the band’s new album, The Life of the World to Come, is teeming with religious references: Every song is named after a Bible verse. The Mountain Goats play at Webster Hall tonight and at Bell House in Brooklyn tomorrow. Darnielle e-mailed with Vulture about fans naming children after people in his songs and why he wants an Amy Grant tattoo.
I heard you don’t do phone interviews while on tour because of the strain on your voice.
“Phone work,” as they call it, is really, really bad for your voice, like the worst thing, especially from a moving bus where you’re likely to talk louder anyway.
Have you ever damaged it?
Damage is a tricky word. The way the vocal folds work is that they can get inflamed and in pain, but actual tears in the folds are somewhat rare. I’ve never torn anything. Been too strained plenty of times.
The Mountain Goats don’t do many TV interviews. Recently, though, you were on The Colbert Report.
Nice to have our first big TV appearance be on one of the coolest shows ever, right? Usually we are busy touring and I don’t like to do anything but play actual shows when I’m on tour. It seems unfair to the people who bought a ticket to leave some of the energy in some building across town on the same day, you know? Still, my strongest hope is for a cameo as a band playing in a club visited by the detectives on Law & Order: SVU during the course of an investigation, maybe during sound check, or something, so they can force us to stop playing while they question the sound guy. What can I say, I aim high.
Where did you get the name for your new album, The Life of the World to Come?
It’s from the Apostles’ Creed’s concluding lines: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” People seem to be enjoying the new record — they respond really strongly to “Matthew 25:21,” which gives me a lot of satisfaction, since it was a hard song to write. Last night in Austin there were a whole lot of people, more than I would have thought, singing along with “Hebrews 11:40” and “Psalms 40:2” — it’s really wonderful. I was a little nervous about how people would take it. I mean, it’s not a complete 180, but it does climb out onto a limb a little bit.
You’ve been very candid about your views on religion and the Bible.
I mean, I think I am a religious person, just by nature. I think I sort of view everything through the lens of some inner undying thing in people that drives them to act as they do, or to feel ashamed of not acting in some other way.
Two of my friends have gotten Mountain Goats tattoos. How do you feel about the level of devotion fans show you?
Well, tattoos are kind of the ultimate, right? When people put something that refers to my work on their bodies forever it’s an honor, obviously. I hope it’s the hopeful element in what I do that they reach out for there. One or two people have named their children after characters in my songs. That’s pretty intense. But I don’t know that I’m really special about this; music’s a very emotional connection, and when it’s there for you during hard times, it’s really, really special. If it wouldn’t enrage my wife, I’d get Amy Grant’s face tattooed on my bicep, because last year her music saved me from the depths of hopelessness. You know?
In the midst of a new album and a tour, any new things you’re working on?
I meant to be working on new stuff this tour but it’s been so busy! I’m always working on new songs, and have been talking about what shape the next album might take — getting really happy with this one song. Slowly writing my second book and watching that come together. No hurry though on either of these. First things first, gotta play Dallas in four or five hours!