John Darnielle on The Mountain Goats’ 20th Album, Hollywood Aspirations, and Why He’s Always “Looking Forward”

On Friday (August 19th), The Mountain Goats will return with Bleed Out, their bloodthirsty 20th album. It’s an impressive milestone, as The Mountain Goats have managed to remain a shibboleth for the indie scene for around three decades, distinguishing those who are “in the know” for longer than some of their fans have been alive. It’s a feat not accomplished by many acts, especially one with a fairly steady lineup. Ask John Darnielle, though, and he’ll casually shrug it off.

“I didn’t even know that was the case until an interviewer asked me about it this morning,” Darnielle tells Consequence. “It may be in the press kit, but I don’t count them.”

The thing is, his attitude makes sense. Talking to Darnielle, it’s obvious that telling stories is just what he does. It’s where his interests lie, where his passion takes him, and, simply, what he enjoys doing. So, of course he’s written 20 albums (and several more tapes, EPs, and unreleased tracks). What else is he supposed to do?

Such an intrinsic urge for storytelling is the throughline of Darnielle’s career. From Zopilote Machine to Bleed Out, Darnielle’s songwriting instincts and artistic vision are unwavering. While his techniques may change as he gains experience, a Mountain Goats song is always unmistakably a Mountain Goats song. It’s the reason why his tunes have remained relevant and acclaimed for so long, why his work has amassed a lasting, highly dedicated cult following.

Metatextually, that is exactly what Bleed Out has to offer. Beyond the action movie influences, the conceptual vengeance, and the touch of the fabulous Alicia Bognanno (of Bully), the record’s form seems to make a statement on the progression of Darnielle’s artistic journey: what’s changed and what remains constant.

“I think people struggle to hear the commonalities between the stuff I did when it was just me and a boombox and stuff I do now,” Darnielle explains. “So when I do ‘Training Montage’ and open with just the acoustic and Jon [Wurster] keeping a little time on the hi-hat, it’s to point out that you’re in that world for these songs. These ones are very much adjacent to a lot of very early Mountain Goats.”

So, while the songs on Bleed Out — well-produced and certainly more structurally complex — are sonically distinct from those on All Hail West Texas, the heart of a song like “Make You Suffer” is not at all dissimilar to that of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton.” Darnielle can discover his love for seventh chords or stretch out his songs to seven minutes, but what he can’t do is write anything other than a John Darnielle song. And us fans are very, very thankful for that.

Below, John Darnielle discusses the new batch of songs, his distaste for fade-outs, and movies to pair with Bleed Out. The Mountain Goats are also touring off of the back of Bleed Out; pick up tickets via Ticketmaster.