With a new album, Heretic Pride, out this week, the Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle takes a break from his role as indie rock's premier songwriter to discuss the albatross of "lo-fi," the Lord above, and his fondness for South American metal.
MERCURY: Do you still get pegged as "lo-fi" even though it's been years and albums since you recorded to cassette? If so, does that bother you?
Let me answer this question with a question: Have you ever dreamt of getting your dishes done and lawn mowed by a singer/songwriter dude? Because I will do it [rather than be pegged with that label ever again]. Because yes, people persist in calling our records "lo-fi." I spent all my home recording years pointing out that "lo-fi" was a really stupid term, and then we went into a studio and recorded Tallahassee and we thought, "Wow, this sounds quite different." But still, I could show you reviews that called that album "lower than lo-fi." It happens every album, and it's been eight years since I released anything recorded on a boombox.
There's a lot of religion around the edges of your work. Is that something that plays a role in your life?
I consider myself religious—I'm Catholic, both by blood and by tendency, and I mean "religious" in the sense of the word that occasionally makes Protestants uncomfortable: I like ritual and repetitive prayers, and I think a communal relationship with God is many orders of magnitude more important than "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
At the same time, though, I'm in the same boat that everybody else is in: In my heart, I doubt there's a God at all. Most of what most religions teach is utterly ridiculous, and besides, I'm a pro-choice feminist, so the church that I love... is also my enemy.
What music are you digging right now?
I've been listening to heavy metal all day, a Colombian black metal band called Utuk Xul. Then I listened to the new one by Epoch of Unlight, which I have mixed feelings about, because the whole thrash revival is kind of weird, but every album you hear from it has at least one or two really solid jams. I don't know, though, I think retro is always a bad move for any genre.