Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle has taken on plenty of heady topics—death, drug abuse, loneliness. Not necessarily happy themes, but very real ones nonetheless. Well, some of them. Darnielle spins yarns that—especially in recent years—blur the line between fact and fiction. And he has an uncanny ability to make you care about a character, no matter their background, over the course of a three-minute pop song.
On the Mountain Goats' latest, The Life of the World to Come, Darnielle tackles the most epic and verbose story of all time: the Bible. No, Darnielle hasn't found God (he considers himself an atheist), but he did find the aesthetic of naming all 12 songs on the record after bible verses appealing.
"I've occasionally written songs like that over the years," he explains. "And I wrote one about a year ago, and I was like 'Hey, I kinda like that song.' The next time I wrote a song I did the same thing, and once I had two then I started picturing a whole list of them and how bitchin' that would look."
Straightforward enough. But the biblical connection doesn't just come from a purely artistic standpoint. As with "I Corinthians 13: 8-10" from 1996's Nothing For Juice album, the title implies that there's something much bigger happening within the song. The characters on the new record are still dealing with life—and death—and some of the stories are ripped directly from the pages of Darnielle's own life. In "Matthew 25:21" he deals with the tragedy of watching his mother-in-law succumb to cancer. He also revisits an old apartment building in Portland (where he lived in the '80s) in "Genesis 3:23." It's a place Darnielle says he nearly died "doing the things that train wrecks do—crashing into things."
It's a time in his life Darnielle doesn't care to dwell on, although perhaps—as the Bible does for many—the song is a way of grappling with his own questions.
"Where's that person who stood in that hallway years ago? Where is he now? You can't find him. He doesn't exist. I had a big moment with that," Darnielle recalls of standing outside his old room. "The first couple of times I went to Portland I had to methodically revisit every spot that I used to go. I don't have to do that anymore."