Many times, when people bring a child into the world, they view the world in a different way. They see their lives with a whole new sense of wonder and purpose. For musicians and filmmakers, these new paternal or maternal sensations can be felt in their art.
For the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle and Peter Hughes – both of whom became fathers within a month of each other – getting soft and mushy wasn't really an option.
"I remember after we talked about us both being pregnant, John said to me, 'Don't worry; I'm not going to do that thing when people become parents and suddenly start writing songs about rainbows and butterflies,'" Hughes recalled. "I've already decided our next album is going to have the darkest songs I've ever written."
It may seem strange to be so intent on avoiding "the dad album." However, since their 1991 cassette debut, "Taboo VI: The Homecoming," the Mountain Goats have gained a strong indie following largely thanks to their often honest and heavy lyrical material, which they'll be bringing to The Pabst Theater Tuesday night.
Throughout its over 20-year existence, the band's content has touched upon topics ranging from domestic abuse, drug addiction, loners and tragically truncated careers. The latest album, "Transcendental Youth," is no different. Its opening track was inspired by Amy Winehouse. A later song, "Harlem Roulette," is the story of Frankie Lymon, the '50s R&B singer who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25.
"I think that's a part of what attracts people to the material," Hughes noted. "There's a darkness and a realness to it."
At the same time, however, Hughes – who performed with Darnielle for several years before officially joining and recording with the group in 2002 – noted there's more to the band's allure than just tragic tales.
"When you come to a show, it's not a bunch of people moping and wallowing in sad songs," Hughes said. "It's really more of a celebration and a communal experience of what people have gone through in their lives. You can have a cathartic event as one person listening to a song, but when you're in a group of 500 other people having that same experience, it becomes really powerful."
The lack of "moping" extends from the crowd into the music. One might expect the Mountain Goats' music to be slow and docile in order to match the serious content often addressed. Instead, many of the numbers are poppy, especially on their latest album.
"('Transcendental Youth') is a funny album because it's probably our most musically varied and upbeat and hooky," Hughes said. "But it's also our darkest with some pretty intense stuff on there."
A small part of the reason for this combination is conscious in order to take the edge off of some of the sad tales told through the lyrics. According to Hughes, however, their unique blend of stories and sound is focused more on just creating interesting music for the listener.
"Any kind of art where there's tension – when it's not just uniformly this or that – it's always more compelling," Hughes said. "There are things pulling you in different directions with light and shade, and other contrasts."
The latest addition to the Mountain Goats' contrasting musical style is a horn section for several numbers on "Transcendental Youth." The idea came to Darnielle while they were trading pre-production ideas for the new album via email.
He was also influenced by touring with Megafaun, who often feature a large horn section on a number of their songs. As a result, the Mountain Goats called up Matthew E. White to arrange horn segments for the album. White, as well as his nine-piece band, is also performing with the Mountain Goats Tuesday night.
"It really kind of brings a lot of extra colors to the music just within the songs themselves," Hughes noted. "It really brings out a lot of the nuances."
The Mountain Goats' addition of horns is just another step toward a more polished and complicated sound, as well as a step away from the band's lo-fi origins, their original calling card in the '90s. And while there are hardcore fans who would love a return to their roots, Hughes doesn't see that happening soon.
"There were ten years of albums, singles and EPs recorded that way," Hughes said. "By the time I came aboard for 'Tallahassee,' just as a fan I was really wanting to hear something bigger and a move to a bigger stage. And I like what we've accomplished just in the last ten years. John's songwriting has only gotten stronger."
That being said, Hughes isn't counting anything out.
"If you do anything long enough, you get bored of it," Hughes said. "We've always talked about if there's ever a last Mountain Goats record, we should go back and record it with a boom box, but hopefully that won't be for a while."
Just don't expect anything about butterflies and rainbows any time soon.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published May 14, 2015
The new Sundance-approved Jack Black high school reunion comedy "The D Train" is a darkly oddball mix of laughs and drama simultaneously amusing and cringe-inducingly awkward. So ... pretty much just like my high school days all over again.
Published May 14, 2015
Located in Hales Corners, the W. Ben Hunt Cabin is much more than simply an old rustic locale. It's a lived-in museum to an era long gone, as well as a tribute to an incredible man who predicted the future, turned his hobby into history and did his best to keep some of our nation's earliest traditions from disappearing and merely collecting dust in the past.
Published May 11, 2015
Monday evening, Ald. Tony Zielinski held a community meeting in order to address the recent rumors and speculation concerning the potential sale of At Random - in addition to five other buildings held by the same owner - and to take community input concerning the neighborhood bar.
Published May 10, 2015
"Hot Pursuit" isn't a particularly strong film, and admittedly there's not much of a rousing defense to be made for it (get that pull quote ready for the ad campaign!). But there is one element - and a fairly significant one at that - in the movie's corner: Reese Witherspoon. I will go to bat for her delightfully bright eyed performance here, one that serves as just enough of a sparkplug to almost single-handedly get this tired comedic vehicle where it's going.
Published May 6, 2015
2003's "Big Fish" is a sweet and delightful - and not just because it's one of the few times this side of the millennium you could honestly say, "I enjoyed a Tim Burton movie." Now First Stage will attempt to bring Burton's signature oddball visuals and "Big Fish" author Daniel Wallace's imagination-rich book to live, musical life on stage. In charge is director Jeff Whiting, who chatted with us about bringing tall tales - and taller giants - to life.
Published May 5, 2015
With new headliner and schedule announcements popping up seemingly everyday, the sunny sonic spectacle that is the Big Gig is finally beginning to take shape. But while most of the work takes place in closed-door meetings and over negotiation-heavy phone calls, a part of the Summerfest process has also been taking place on a stage right out in the open, featuring local bands hoping to win in front of a crowd of fans hoping to be won over.
Published May 1, 2015
It's easy to forget that, before it became the franchise model for everything, "The Avengers" didn't sound like a great idea.Yet Marvel and Joss Whedon took a pile of potential excess and smoothly honed it into a burst of pop entertainment. And amazingly, they've managed to make it all work yet again with "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," assembling a ton of moving parts into another thoroughly fun - if not quite as effortlessly harmonious - blockbuster.
Published April 30, 2015
Tonight, people across the country will feast their eyes on the first big blockbuster of the summer season, "The Avengers: Age of Ultron." But that's just the gigantic, explosion-filled appetizer for the upcoming summer banquet of movies to come. But which ones are looking bright, and which ones are looking a little cloudy? Allow me to put on my movie weather man cap and provide you with a seven-day forecast (more like four-month, but whatever).
Published April 29, 2015
Back when he was in high school, Midnight Reruns singer and guitarist Graham Hunt was obsessed with The Replacements. For the Milwaukee-based rock band, those high school dreams are becoming a reality. The local rockers take the stage with the beloved '80s alternative music icons when they make their return to Milwaukee on Saturday, May 2 at The Rave.
Published April 29, 2015
Dr. Solomon David, a fish ecologist at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, is a huge movie buff, looking forward to "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Star Wars" and all of the other big blockbusters coming out this year. As it turns out, however, he's made quite a small blockbuster of his own recently: "Leech-nado," a one minute and 50 second clip featuring a squirm-inducing school of leeches swimming and wiggling through a Green Bay waterway.