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Interview: The Mountain Goats

By ; November 14, 2012 at 2:02 PM 

BPM: I read a while back that you knew Aesop Rock. Has anything ever materialized from that?

JD: Yeah, we’re pals. We did two things: I sang a verse on his song “Coffee,” and then he remixed and did a verse at the end of “Lovecraft In Brooklyn.”

BPM: Really? Wow, I’ll have to check that out.

JD: Yeah, a song called “Coffee,” that we shot a video of – it’s hilarious [laughs] – and the “Lovecraft In Brooklyn” remix is around where he did a really amazing verse. Have you heard his new one?

BPM: Yeah, it’s amazing.

JD: It’s awesome.

BPM: He had gone to my high school, so my hometown actually regards him as a hometown hero. But he got out. How about John Vanderslice? Another comedian’s project sometime?

JD: I don’t see anything coming up anytime soon. We’re both pretty busily scheduled, but JV and I are tight so you never know.

BPM: Have you ever considered recording something of a completely different genre?

JD: The thing is, this is a question you’re asked a lot, but it takes a long time to learn to play something. On top of parenting, I think musicians get this idea that because they’ve gotten good at it, they can just hop into a genre they don’t really play. And people say that to me with heavy metal. They say “Oh, do you want to make a metal record?” That would be like me suddenly deciding I can play jazz. I know a little jazz; my dad was a jazz pianist, so I could actually fake west coast jazz for a song, maybe.

I have a lot of ambitions about doing other genre stuff, but I’m pretty exacting with myself, and I think it’s dilettantism to go “Oh, because I’m a good lyricist, I can play a guitar solo!”

But heavy metal is a lifelong discipline. You don’t just wake up one day and you can shred. Those people that play heavy metal started playing scales when they were 12 or earlier. In my heart, I would very much love to be able to do that. It is a goal in my career to one day actually play a solo on a record that’s not comped. Comping tracks is when you do multiple takes, and then the producer puts together a take from it. Everybody does it, like “See America Right” on Tallahassee is comped from three different vocal takes. In fact, the “I” and the “was” in the first line are from two different takes. It’s easy to do; you do three takes and you listen to them and go “Oh my god, the ‘I’ is so good on that one and ‘was’ is so good on the other one.”

But generally, on the new record, I think there’s only one comp. I don’t like comping takes. I like for what you hear to be the thing that actually happened, but for most guitar solos, you do 10 takes, you take three phrases from there, three from there, put it all together… One of my goals is to actually play a lead where what you hear is exactly what happened. So I have a lot of ambitions about doing other genre stuff, but I’m pretty exacting with myself because I’m a fan of a lot of genres and I think it’s dilettantism to go “Oh, because I’m a good lyricist, I can play a guitar solo!” My lyrical craft took me years and years and years to polish. Just because I got good at that doesn’t mean I’m good at other stuff.

BPM: Maybe one day you’ll just jump into metal.

JD: By 85 years old, I’ll be the shredding-est dude on Earth!

[everyone laughs]

BPM: I think that would be pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to that. Speaking of metal: favorite death metal album this year?

JD: I haven’t heard any death metal this year, to be honest. The metal I listen to right now is… there’s this band Jess and the Ancient Ones, out of Finland. There’s this mini-trend of non-blues sounding 70’s occult stuff – The Devil’s Blood is one of them and Jess and the Ancient Ones is another – the Jess and the Ancient Ones record is completely amazing. I haven’t heard a lot of metal that’s really done much for me this year. I’ve been listening to a lot of older stuff, like a lot of metal dudes have been doing lately – The whole U.S. black metal thing that’s popular among indie people right now is not really doing in it for me. It’s not terrible music or anything – I mean it’s good, but…. Oh, I like the Animals As Leaders record! Love them. That’s the sort of thing where I love it, but am I going to play that? Come on! Those guys are guys that could play scales with both hands. I love them; those guys are amazing. But yeah, death metal-wise, there’s stuff out that’s good, but I’ve been listening to classical music and jazz.

BPM: Are you playing a lot of that jazz and classical with your son?

JD: Yeah, we’ve got a baby grand in the living room. The University had a piano sale where they give up all their student pianos and buy new ones every year. I play guitar and piano, and the baby loves to sit and listen to the piano. Do you know what the real book is? A fake book is something you play to be able to fake songs, like with a chord chart, in jazz. The real book is jazz compositions that are a little less standard – there’s Coltrane in there, there’s a little Duke Ellington – and I sit and I’ve been learning “Solitude,” which is an Ellington tune. I’m really getting heavy into that, because actually learning to play a jazz tune is discipline – you take an hour or two a day to work on it and really learn how to move through the changes, and it’s very similar to dance. And the baby doesn’t mind if you play the same phrase over and over again, so I’ve been working on some of that stuff and also on this heavy metal covers set that I’m setting in piano and doing early next month. First I have to figure out how the songs go, then I have to figure out how to play them on piano. It’s really loose and open and really fun so I’ve been doing that. It’s really demanding and really scary for me, because I can play my own songs any day, but setting these songs in these unique settings is really fun.

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