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 Nov. 30, 2016
Marcus Lemonis' recent visit to Milwaukee for "The Profit" may not have gone according to plan, but he still has his sights on the Cream City, as his Bentley's Pet Stuff chain will open six new shops in around the city this weekend.
Published Nov. 29, 2016
While scenic designer Todd Edward Ivins' knowledge of the Milwaukee Rep's "A Christmas Carol" was mostly a blank slate, he was more than aware of the daunting legacy before him when he began work helping to reimagine the holiday classic.
Published Nov. 29, 2016
For many, Election Day was a day of shellshocked hurt, disappointment and fear. But today is a new day, and it's time to go to work doing good and helping those in need. Here are just a few ways you can reach out and make a difference.
Published Nov. 28, 2016
Christmas came early for Milwaukee, as Vogue Magazine gifted the city a flattering place in its recent "5 Industrial Cities Making America's Rust Belt Shine Again" travel article. See what they had to say!
Published Nov. 27, 2016
Netflix's much-anticipated "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life" premiered this holiday weekend, and, while most of the show played like a sloppy but warmly satisfying Thanksgiving dinner, the ending left an uneasy aftertaste.
Published Nov. 22, 2016
Kenneth Lonergan's movie "Manchester By the Sea" has been a part of Oscar talk ever since January, but before it hits town, audiences can get a taste of his work with the Chamber's "Lobby Hero." We learned more about the show and why Lonergan's material works so well.
Published Nov. 22, 2016
Christmas has come early for Netflix subscribers, as the service announced its new arrivals for December - including "Captain America: Civil War," only the biggest movie of the year. And that's far from all. Here's everything coming and going next month.
Published Nov. 21, 2016
Some excitement quite literally hit Farwell Avenue early Monday afternoon, as a significant part of a building set for demolition fell onto the street.
Published Nov. 20, 2016
Despite being surrounded by the unfamiliar, I felt like I was cozily at home during my stay at The Astor Hotel - and that's a pretty impressive achievement for a hotel, especially when a guest's guts are actively staging a violent coup against him.
Published Nov. 16, 2016
Progress is moving fast on The Westin Milwaukee hotel - which will hold 220 rooms and a restaurant when it opens in June 2017 - and as evidence, this morning, The Westin hosted a special ceremony and a tour of the views and rooms in progress.