Bookish and breezy, inward and outward, folksy and metal, a singer-songwriter and a band John Darnielle is the lonely and beloved voice, guitar and words behind the Mountain Goats. He (they, whoever) went from recording Panasonic boom-box ephemera in sub-listenable spaces to releasing warmly acoustic, diaphanous communiqués from places where the earth cracks from loneliness, where ghosts are the only company and hearts against all odds stand a chance of healing. Roy Kasten
Roy Kasten: More so than on any other album, the narrators of these songs are almost always alone, even when holding someone in "Moon Over Goldsboro." Is this album about how beautiful or how horrible it is to be alone or both?
John Darnielle: "Both" is exactly right. I lean more toward the "horrible" part, just because that's the aspect of things that's always appealed to me poetically, but I think a small minority of these narrators take a sort of masochistic pleasure in their solitude. I think everybody who's wrestled with loneliness (which is to say, everybody) knows there's that side of it.
Do you find the voice-and-acoustic-guitar foundation a necessity for your art or even your identity?
Oh, the guitar's really only a conduit. I have a lot of love for my guitars, but I don't think of them as extensions of my body or anything like that. I taught myself to play guitar in order to be able to put words to music. I don't know that I'm really a minimalist. Maybe a little Spartan in my tastes, you know, suspicious of over-decoration.
Christian Schaeffer: With the success of your most autobiographical album, The Sunset Tree, did you feel the need to distance your personal life from your music on Get Lonely?
Darnielle: The main thing for me was wanting to keep Sunset Tree somehow special. People responded to it kinda viscerally, and I didn't want to cheapen that by continuing immediately in the same vein. At the same time, though, the new one's got a very personal feel to it for me; the themes aren't as physical or immediate, but I think the stories are rather sadder than my own. But it may be a deficiency in myself that I tend to feel really bad about the fate of the people I write about. I get wrapped up in the details of their lives, and I worry about them, even as I'm condemning them to death or something.
You are known as a lover of all types of music, but your own music remains pretty bare-bones. Do you think that more instrumentation would take focus away from the lyrics?
To my mind, things are fairly well-arranged of late; most of the songs on the new one feature four or five parts, just sparely drawn. I do treasure some space, you know, the sound of a room or of the air in the room where the musicians are playing. I don't see a need to cover every corner of a canvas with paint.
Brooke Foster: Your songs have an amazing literary quality, in the way they're often the aural equivalent of a really great short story. Which writers do you admire the most? What books are you reading right now?
Darnielle: I'm reading Iris Murdoch right now, a book called The Philosopher's Pupil. The opening scene is just shocking, very hard to read. My favorite writer alive is Joan Didion, who I think is one of the best this country's ever had. Her sentences are like geodes.
What's your favorite metal album of the year thus far? Ever tempted to go onstage, plug in and lay down some brutal riffs? (If so, will you invite us to that show? Please?)
It depends on whether Om's Conference of the Birds counts as metal; that's my favorite album of the year, period. But it's bass and drum and voice, no guitars. After that, I'm quite fond of the new Regurgitate album that thing is unstoppable. I myself will not be laying down any death metal riffs any time soon. You will surely hear about it if I do.
8 p.m. Monday, October 23. The Gargoyle, on the campus of Washington University, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards. $12. 314-935-5917.
Boys Don't Cry
The Pet Shop Boys (or maybe Pet Shop Men would be more accurate keyboardist Chris Lowe just celebrated his 47th birthday) began their North American tour earlier this month. Lowe and Neil Tennant are out supporting their new CD, Fundamental. B-Sides checked in with the famously shy Lowe right before his birthday.
B-Sides: I was looking on your Web site, and noticed you just opened up the new music department at your old school. How was that?
Patrick Lowe: Oh, Neil put that on the Web site. It's something I would never dream of doing, because, you know, public speaking. You know, I made a speech. And I did it really for my mum because she really wanted to walk around the school and see how it had changed, because she was on the ladies' committee when I was there. So I agreed to do it. I had a very, very nice time being shown around the school and sort of reminiscing, because I left there in 1978. But that was one of the most nerve-wracking things I've had to do.
So as far as fashions go, you all started in the '80s, and all of the '80s styles are back. Has that been weird, or is that not happening in Europe right now?
Well, the fashion in London at the moment is very tight jeans, everything is very slim-fit and very rock & roll, whereas the '80s, although we were never part of this really, but the '80s was all about big shoulders, wasn't it? And there isn't a big comeback in those fashion terms at the moment.
You all have been around for a very long time. What do you think has stayed the same about Pet Shop Boys and about you and about songwriting?
Well, Pet Shop Boys are about writing songs, so we don't really see ourselves as about any particular time in music or any musical style. We see ourselves as songwriters, and I think that's one of the reasons why we're still doing what we do. [We] try to do things differently from the norm and to avoid cliché at all cost, and that's really our manifesto.
What is your favorite song on your new album?
I really like "I Made My Excuses and Left." It was written in an unusual way, and I think it's a very sad and tragic song and I tend to like the emotional ones.
It's a pretty big stage show that you do, right?
The whole show is being conceived by this woman called Es Devlin who mainly works designing operas. We know her because she designed the set for our musical, Closer to Heaven. [The concert is] a very clever show, which relies on projections and clever use of light. And there's this structure which sort of folds out like a box of tricks it's a very visual show. Alison Sieloff
8 p.m. Tuesday, October 24. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $30. 314-726-6161.