The Mountain Goats climb the ranks of folk rock

After lengthy solo stints and occasional band members, songwriter John Darnielle and bassist Peter Hughes have been touring since 1995 as The Mountain Goats. The folk-rock duo has released several albums, including “The Sunset Tree” and “Get Lonely.” Their new album, “Heretic Pride,” a culmination of Darnielle’s imaginative lyrics about pulp fiction, mythical creatures and slasher films, will be released the day of their show at UAA. The Northern Light interviewed The Mountain Goats bassist Peter Hughes on Feb. 5.

Q: Your new album, “Heretic Pride,” is being released the same day you will be performing at UAA. Why did you and the band members decide to kick off the U.S. tour in Anchorage?

A: These things are never decided. It was more just happenstance, but which is not in any way slight. We played in Alaska last year in Fairbanks and we had such an amazing time, and so we really hoped we could get back to Alaska. As it turned out, there was interest in Anchorage.

Q: You’ve had such an extensive tour history nationally and internationally. Who has been your favorite band or musician to tour with, and why?

A: My favorite thing about touring is bringing out people who we love and just getting to hang out with them. We did a tour a year and a half ago and we brought out a woman named Christine Fellows, a Canadian songwriter from Winnipeg. When we got to New York, Leanne (Zacharias), who played cello with Christine – she had a friend who lived on a houseboat across the river in New Jersey. We ended up spending this glorious fall morning in New York on this guy’s sailboat, sailing around the Statue of Liberty.

Q: You’ve had several musicians collaborate with you on your albums and on tour. How did your producer John Vanderslice and Scott Solter contribute to the band’s sound on your new album?

A: Those guys had have had an enormous impact on the way they sound and the way they put together. Just in terms of steering things and having a vision, it’s been invaluable. Without sounding too self-aggrandizing, I love these records. I think they’ve turned out really well and they are a huge part of how good they are.

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Q: From conflicting relationships to talking animals, your Web site says that your lyrics are central to the whole enterprise. Can you describe the lyrical content of “Heretic Pride”?

A: It’s a little bit different from the last several records that have all been pretty cohesive thematically. The monsters in those songs are metaphors for alienation and estrangement from the world. And that’s something that comes from our lives on tour. It’s hard to spend as much time as we do away from home in strange places and not feel that estrangement sometimes.

Q: The track “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” stands out with the electric guitars versus the more familiar acoustic sounds. Can you describe the process of this track?

A: In the case of “Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” it was like, yeah, this song is gonna be a stomper. There was a moment in that take which you can hear in the final mix, where after it comes out of the bridge and it goes to the staccato bursts, and there’s these hanging silences. Right before it goes back into the pummeling beat, John just hits this off strum where it kind of goes “binggg.” It’s one of my favorite moments on the record.

Q: The album seems to be more upbeat than your previous albums. What kind of direction were you looking for in this album that’s different from what you’ve released in the past?

A: The kind of natural inclination is to listen to what the band is doing and impose some narrative onto that and say, “They’ve obviously decided to do this as a reaction to that.” But the reality is that it’s almost always a lot more complicated. I think there was a definite feeling after the last record ,”Get Lonely,” which was a very quiet and restrained record, that we wanted to do something a little bit more rockin’, a little bit more up and a little bit more fun.

Q: You’ve teamed up with Ace Norton for your “Sax Rohmer #1” music video (Norton directed Aesop Rock’s “Coffee” video, which features Darnielle). Who was responsible for the concept of the video?

A: The hand-painted set was all Ace’s doing. It was kind of a big soundstage painted black, and I’d say probably two-thirds of the stuff had already been painted. With every shot, people were furiously painting on the floors, painting on the walls, writing on us. And that’s the thing that always impresses the hell out of me when we go to make videos. The director has had this idea, and in this case with Ace and Rian Johnson, who made the “Woke Up New” video, it’s amazing that this finished thing exists in their brain.

Q: Since the songs from “Heretic Pride” are new to perform, is there a lot of improvising?

A: Most people will have a new song and then they’ll play it live and the song takes on its character and then they go to record it. With this band, part of this is John’s aversion to playing new songs live before they’re recorded. He wants it to be like that kind of special experience that you have when you listen to an album for the first time. It’s like breaking the seal on a bottle of whiskey.

Q: I read in your official forum that some fans might request the song “Green Olives,” although it seems to be an obscure song to get ahold of with at least two recordings. Is there any chance of performing this request?

A: I wouldn’t rule it out; I can’t either confirm or deny. I’m sure at some point John and I played that song on a whim, but it’s not something we’ve rehearsed. But maybe we’ll try to give it a run-through, and I would say it’s a definite possibility.