The Mountain Goats
Tue, November 7, 2017
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm
The Mountain Goats
John called me about playing with the Mountain Goats in 2001.
Not for the first time, mind you. I’d signed on for a couple European tours in 1996, playing bass; the first had gone swimmingly and led to a second, which didn’t. Still, a foundation had been laid: John and I, already close friends, had developed over the course of those tours a musical chemistry strong enough that, even five years later, we were still bummed that the only people who got to see it were a handful of indifferent Bavarian villagers. “Do you want to do some recording?” John asked. Yeah, I said. We should totally do some recording.
It turned out to be a fateful conversation. Not more than a week or two later, the venerable London indie 4AD got in touch, and we found ourselves suddenly charged with making an album. In a studio. With a producer.
We spent an intense week at Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road, with Glasgow’s Tony Doogan at the board. There was some give and take. I loved the Mountain Goats, but I’d heard ten years’ worth of boombox Mountain Goats albums and wanted to swing for the fences. John was game while insisting that certain defining orthodoxies be preserved. We met in the middle and were both pretty ecstatic with the result: we felt like we’d gone out on a limb, but in a way that stayed true to the spirit of the project. And then Tallahassee came out and we got to read a bunch of articles about our new lo-fi album.
Indefatigable in our efforts to escape the legacy of the Mountain Goats’ home-recorded past, over the course of the eight albums that followed we would exploit the production and engineering skills of meticulous sonic architects like John Vanderslice and Scott Solter, become even more of a band with the addition of Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums in 2007, and flesh out our songs with string and horn arrangements bordering on the Bacharachian.
With Matt Douglas fully on board as woodwinds-and-kitchen-sink guy, we’re now a four-piece, and to record this album, our fourth for Merge and the one to which you’re presumably about to listen, we went to Blackbird Studio in Nashville, as top-shelf a facility as any on the planet. They have the board Aja was recorded on. When Jon asked about snares, he was told, “We have 200 of them.” We had sixteen people from the Nashville Symphony Chorus skip out on a Mahler rehearsal to come in and sing on a song. Sixteen!
The theme this time around is goth, a subject closer to my heart perhaps than that of any Mountain Goats album previous. And while John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he’s speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise, for these are songs that approach an identity most often associated with youth from a perspective that is inescapably adult. Anyone old enough to have had the experience of finding oneself at sea in a cultural landscape that’s suddenly indecipherable will empathize with Pat Travers showing up to a Bauhaus show looking to jam, for example.
But underneath the outward humor, there is evident throughout a real tenderness toward, and solidarity with, our former fellow travelers—the friends whose bands never made it out of Fender’s Ballroom, the Gene Loves Jezebels of the world—the ones whose gothic paths were overtaken by the realities of life, or of its opposite. It’s something we talk about a lot, how fortunate and grateful we are to share this work, a career that’s become something more rewarding and fulfilling than I think any of us could have imagined. We all know how easily it could’ve gone the other way, and indeed for a long time did.
Maybe that’s why John entrusted me with writing the coda to his song about a guy fed up with his major label bosses and contemplating packing it in. You know, the one I sang at the fancy recording studio, into a microphone worth more than I made in a year for most of my life.
Okay, I’m wasting my time, I know. And it’s fine—as far as inevitable fates go, I can think of far worse. Please, enjoy Goths, the new album by those preeminent legends of lo-fi, the Mountain Goats!
When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, out 2/26/16
via Grand Jury Music (US)/Wichita Recordings (UK)
“Mothers’ music reminds us that gentleness isn’t weakness, and that despite the world’s best efforts, honesty is not an entirely lost art.” – Flagpole
Mothers began in 2013 as the solo project of Athens, Georgia-based visual artist Kristine Leschper while she studied printmaking at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. The discipline instilled in her a strong work ethic and an intense focus to detail, while simultaneously inspiring her to pursue other creative aspects of her personality. A self-taught songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Leschper’s earliest musical influences span a great swath of early aughts rock and folk, such as Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, The Microphones, and Athens legends Neutral Milk Hotel; she later developed a love for experimental music, math rock, and noise artists, including Lighting Bolt, Hella, Don Caballero, and Tera Melos. As a result, her earliest demos exhibit a sense of striking catharsis under non-traditional song structures, which flirt between strength and vulnerability, and are often quite linear in form.
Leschper wrote the majority of the songs that would evolve into When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired while finishing art school in early 2014. Fittingly, as while her attention to visual art and music come from very different creative spaces for her, each cannot help but bleed into one another. The delicately resolute opener “Too Small For Eyes,” which she says is about “being incredibly uncomfortable in your own body and learning how to relate to yourself,” even shares its title with that of her senior thesis project.
Over the course of the year, she played solo shows that earned her local acclaim, including from Flagpole, which praised her “visceral, deeply personal” songs. But she knew that in order to reach her true musical vision, she would need to expand the line-up, so she recruited multi-instrumentalist Matthew Anderegg to help flesh out the arrangements and guide the songs to their final state. They expanded the line-up with guitarist Drew Kirby and, after playing together for only one month’s time, quickly recorded their debut full-length album with producer Drew Vandenberg – who has worked on albums by Of Montreal, Deerhunter and Porcelain Raft – at Chase Park Transduction in Athens in December 2014 (the album also features collaborations with Josh McKay of Deerhunter on vibraphone as well as McKendrick Bearden of Grand Vapids, who played bass and provided string arrangements throughout). Bassist Patrick Morales would later join the band as a permanent fixture.
When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is an introduction to the foundations of the young band, a snapshot of a particular period of their genesis that maps both where they began and where they are heading. It’s the sound of a band being born, in the truest sense: songs that were conceived in Leschper’s solitude and nurtured with added direction from Anderegg. “The name Mothers relates to the idea of creation and being the mother of something. The act of being a Mother is tragic, you have to eventually let go of the things you created,” says Leschper of their name’s origin.
The album’s bookends perhaps most explicitly display this musical chronology. The gorgeous “Too Small For Eyes” was the only one of a few solo songs Leschper had written on the mandolin that made it onto the album, its use of space, piano, strings, and her voice entwining and undulating to elegantly set the stage for what unfolds afterward; closer “Hold Your Own Hand” blooms from its plaintive opening bars to an ascendant, spirally waltz to an uproarious math-y breakdown, hinting at the louder, more post-rock and math rock-influenced sound for which their live show is fast becoming known (the blog Heartbreaking Bravery described one of the band’s CMJ sets as “…intricate, knotty indie pop songs that are equally unpredictable and enticing”). “Copper Mines,” the first song they wrote together as a band, captures the new mix of everyone’s voices and energy on tape, and also informs their other new material, such as “No Crying in Baseball,” a home recorded B-side they wrote together in the months following the completion of When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired. “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t,” which looks at the dichotomy of an artist’s ego and sense of self-doubt, falls somewhere in between – the first song she wrote that she saw in the context of something bigger than her performing solo, it takes many twists and turns before arriving, like so many of their songs, at a different sonic place than where it began.
Across the album, Leschper meditates on the human condition: what anyone’s place is in the universe; what is our value; mortality; and what it means to have relationships in consideration of all these things. And while the songs are filtered through her frequently difficult, personal microcosmic experiences, she relates them in a manner that is at once highly intimate and readily universal. At heart, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is about being alive, and just how surprisingly unmooring – and exhausting – this fundamental thing can be. The album is a window into the long path Leschper traveled while creating it: breathtakingly honest and rooted in the subconscious of one’s journey.
Upon the album’s completion in January 2015, the new quartet line-up steadily played local shows throughout the spring and summer, including at festivals like ATHfest and Slingshot. Before heading out on their first tour supporting Of Montreal, they debuted “No Crying in Baseball,” earning national press attention from Stereogum, NME, Brooklyn Vegan, Ghettoblaster, and others. A headlining east coast tour followed in September, and things began to fall into place. Stereogum named them a ‘Band To Watch’ alongside a premiere of “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” ahead of their 10-shows-over-five-days jaunt at the 2015 CMJ Music Marathon, which included sets at the Aquarium Drunkard, Brooklyn Vegan and Culture Collide showcases. Both the song and the band earned even more praise throughout the week, including from Vulture, NME, BBC Radio 1, and The Wild Honey Pie, among many others. The following week they were named one of Stereogum’s ’50 Best New Bands of 2015,’ and signed to Grand Jury in the US and Wichita Recordings in the UK.
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