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John Darnielle

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John Darnielle
Darnielle playing in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2010.
Darnielle playing in St. Augustine, Florida, in 2010.
Background information
Born (1967-03-16) March 16, 1967 (age 57)
Bloomington, Indiana
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, musician, novelist
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
Years active1991–present

John Darnielle (/dɑːrˈnl/ dar-NEEL;[1] born March 16, 1967)[2] is an American musician and novelist best known as the primary, and originally sole, member of the American band the Mountain Goats, for which he is the writer, composer, guitarist, pianist, and vocalist.[3] He has written three novels: Wolf in White Van (2014), Universal Harvester (2017), and Devil House (2022).

Early life[edit]

Born in Bloomington, Indiana, Darnielle grew up in San Luis Obispo and then Claremont, California with an abusive stepfather.[4][5] The Mountain Goats' 2005 album The Sunset Tree is dedicated to his stepfather and frequently references the dysfunction of his upbringing.[6]

Darnielle often attended professional wrestling matches with his stepfather at the Grand Olympic Auditorium.[7] There, he developed a passion for the sport and local wrestlers like Chavo Guerrero Sr. His childhood love of wrestling would go on to inspire the Mountain Goats' album Beat the Champ.[8]

Darnielle attended Claremont High School, located in the Pomona Valley region of Southern California. For a short time after high school, he lived in Portland, Oregon, where he developed an addiction to intravenous methamphetamine and other hard drugs (as referenced in We Shall All Be Healed).[9] Darnielle worked in the psychiatric ward at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California.[10] Darnielle attended Pitzer College from 1991 to 1995, graduating as a double major in Classics and English.[11][12]

Throughout his college education, he continued to record music. In 1992, Dennis Callaci, a friend of Darnielle's and owner of Shrimper Records, released a tape of Darnielle's songs called Taboo VI: The Homecoming. Around that time, the Mountain Goats were born and began touring with just Darnielle on guitar and a bassist, first Rachel Ware and then Peter Hughes.[13]

Musical career[edit]

Darnielle is best known for his role in the band the Mountain Goats. Since starting the band in 1991, he has gained a cult following. Despite being dubbed a low fidelity artist, Darnielle has always dubbed his work "bi-fi", pointing out that recordings such as his couldn't be made without modern technology.[14] He is known for his prolific output and literary lyrics. Sasha Frere-Jones, writing in The New Yorker, referred to him as "America's best non-hip-hop lyricist".[13] In its June 2006 issue, Paste magazine named Darnielle one of the "100 Best Living Songwriters".[15]

Darnielle has several series of songs with similar titles or storylines. A series entitled "Going To..." features small stories about various places and includes songs such as "Going to Cleveland", "Going to Maryland", "Going to Georgia", and "Going to Queens".[16] This series explores the futility of running away from one's problems in stark and cryptic detail. There is no reoccurring main character or strong thematic subject linking these similarly titled tracks, and in a 1997 interview with KJHK-Lawrence, Darnielle has described the series as "real loose, though. it's real loose".[17] His "Alpha" series predates his musical career and began as a collection of poems called 'Songs from Alpha Primitive'.[18] It is about a distressed couple's marriage and history, with such song titles as "Alpha Incipiens", "Alphabetizing", and "Alpha Rats Nest". The band's 2002 album Tallahassee was exclusively about the couple. "Their broader story", Darnielle writes, "involved an alcohol-soaked trek from California through Nevada and then bottom-crawling across the country until they wound up in northern Florida".[19] Unless otherwise specified in the lyrics, the songs are intended to be sung by either member of the couple.[20] There are a number of songs, not all containing the word 'alpha', that are generally considered to be part of the series, and are explored in more detail on Kyle Barbour's site 'The Annotated Mountain Goats.[21]

Darnielle has stated that all songs written up to and including those on Tallahassee are fictional, but that We Shall All Be Healed, The Sunset Tree, and other more recent works are partially autobiographical.


Darnielle is featured on Aesop Rock's song "Coffee" (from the hip-hop artist's 2007 album None Shall Pass) and appears in the corresponding music video.[22][23] Additionally, Aesop Rock remixed the Mountain Goats' "Lovecraft in Brooklyn".[24]

He collaborated with John Vanderslice on lyrics for the 2005 album Pixel Revolt,[25] and in 2009, Darnielle released a collaborative recording titled Moon Colony Bloodbath, after a shared tour with Vanderslice.[26] They toured under the collective name The Comedians,[27] though their recording is attributed to "the Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice".[28]

With Franklin Bruno, Darnielle formed The Extra Lens, originally named The Extra Glenns. They have released two albums: 2002's Martial Arts Weekend and 2010's Undercard.

In 2008, Darnielle collaborated with Kaki King on a six-track EP entitled Black Pear Tree. The project was jointly released under King's name, and the Mountain Goats moniker.[29] The Mountain Goats and Kaki King subsequently embarked on a co-headlining tour, billed as the Last Happy Night of Your Life Tour, with the EP being sold as a tour-exclusive release throughout.[30]

On September 20, 2010, Darnielle appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as a guest vocalist in a performance of the song "Digging for Something" with the band Superchunk (whose drummer, Jon Wurster, is also in the Mountain Goats).[31][32]

Darnielle appeared on Kimya Dawson's 2011 album Thunder Thighs, featured on the song "Walk Like Thunder."[33]


Darnielle giving a reading from Universal Harvester in 2018

Darnielle's first book, Black Sabbath: Master of Reality, was published in April 2008 as part of the 33⅓ series.[34] Unlike other entries in the series, which are non-fiction books that focus on an album's production or legacy, Darnielle's book on Master of Reality was instead a fictional narrative in the form of a novella, centering around a young man held in a psychiatric facility in the mid-1980s who is attempting to retrieve his confiscated Walkman and tape of the album.[35]

Darnielle's first novel, titled Wolf in White Van, was published on September 16, 2014,[36] and was nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction two days later.[37] His second novel, Universal Harvester, was published on February 7, 2017.[38] Darnielle's third novel, Devil House, was published on January 25, 2022.[39][40] One year later, it was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel.[41]

From 2004 to 2011 Darnielle created and wrote the webzine Last Plane To Jakarta,[42] citing other projects as the reason for its abandonment.[43] He writes the "South Pole Dispatch" feature in Decibel Magazine every month.[44] Darnielle also guest edited the poetry section of The Mays, an anthology of the best creative work coming out of Oxford and Cambridge.[citation needed]

Darnielle wrote the introduction to the June 2016 book The Empty Bottle Chicago: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing, about the eponymous nightclub.[45][46]


In 2012, Darnielle guest starred in John Hodgman's podcast Judge John Hodgman serving as an expert witness[47][48][49] and musical guest.[49]

Since 2017 he has co-hosted the podcast "I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats" with Joseph Fink. Each episode of the podcast explores one Mountain Goats song in great detail.[50]

In August 2022 Darnielle appeared as a guest on Margaret Killjoy's podcast "Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff". Darnielle appeared on the episodes "The Diggers, the Levelers, the Ranters and John Darnielle" part one and two.[51]

In March 2023 John appeared on Conan Neutron's Protonic Reversal for a career-spanning interview.[52]


In January 2023, Darnielle made his acting debut in "Rest in Metal", the fourth episode of Rian Johnson's television series Poker Face. He portrayed Al, a member of a one-hit-wonder metal band called Doxxxology.[53]

Personal life[edit]

Darnielle has lived in Grinnell, Iowa; Colo, Iowa; Ames, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; and Milpitas, California.[citation needed] He currently resides in Durham, North Carolina with his wife Lalitree Darnielle, a botanist and photographer (who was featured playing the banjo in the band's 1998 EP New Asian Cinema[54]), and sons Roman and Moses.

Darnielle prays regularly and identifies as a Christian.[55] His music often includes religious themes, including The Life of the World to Come, on which each song is named after a Bible verse; additionally, his work consistently analyzes meanings and interpretations of the text, often through the characters in his songs. He is a fan of Christian singers Amy Grant and Rich Mullins.[56]

Darnielle is a frequent player of the card game Magic: The Gathering. In August 2023, game publisher Wizards of the Coast announced an upcoming collaborative release in which all the cards were designed by Darnielle.[57]


Darnielle became a vegetarian in 1996 and by 2007 identified as a vegan.[58] In the same year, he performed at a benefit for the animal welfare organization Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. He performed again at Farm Sanctuary in 2009.

In 2011, Darnielle performed solo in support of Planned Parenthood, at the Stand Up for Women's Health Rally in New York City.[59] In an interview with BuzzFeed, Darnielle identified himself as a feminist, and was described as a "frequent Twitter commentator on women's issues, social justice, and heavy metal."[60]

Bands in which Darnielle has played[edit]

Darnielle is also a member or former member of the following bands:




  • Black Sabbath: Master of Reality (2008)


  1. ^ uhm, John Darnielle? the Mountain Goats Forums.
  2. ^ The Mountain Goats [@mountain_goats] (March 16, 2013). "@credfm thank you! '67 though!!!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  3. ^ Denney, Alex (January 15, 2008). "Playing for Pride: John Darnielle speaks out on the Mountain Goats' new record". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on January 17, 2008.
  4. ^ Rodrick, Stephen (February 27, 2009). "God & Worshipper: A Rock-and-Roll Love Story, of Sorts". NYMag.com. New York Magazine. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  5. ^ Gross, Joe (April 1, 2011). "The SPIN Interview: John Darnielle". Spin. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  6. ^ Wilson, Carl (May 7, 2005). "He's finally confessed, so hold on". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  7. ^ Breihan, Tom (April 2015). "We Took The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle To His First Pro Wrestling Show In 35 Years". Stereogum. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  8. ^ "John Darnielle: pro wrestling is real the way fiction is real". The Guardian. February 27, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  9. ^ "Episode 366 - John Darnielle". WTF with Marc Maron Podcast. March 4, 2013. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  10. ^ Hoard, Christian (April 7, 2015). "How John Darnielle Became Rock's Best Storyteller". Rolling Stone.
  11. ^ Rosner, Helen (April 24, 2022). "John Darnielle Wants to Tell You a Story". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  12. ^ "John Darnielle '95 Novel Wolf in White Van Nominated for National Book Award". Pitzer.edu. Claremont, California. September 26, 204. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  13. ^ a b Frere-Jones, Sasha (May 8, 2005). "The Declaimers". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  14. ^ Staff, SF Weekly (September 18, 1996). "It's a Bi-Fi World". SF Weekly. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  15. ^ "Paste's 100 Best Living Songwriters #81–90". Paste. June 14, 2006. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  16. ^ "annotatedtmg.org/series.html#goingto". annotatedtmg.org. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  17. ^ "Interview with john darnielle on KJHK-lawrence". www.themountaingoats.net. Archived from the original on October 19, 2001. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  18. ^ "William Caxton Fan Club • why did you write so many alpha songs? did you..." johndarnielle.tumblr.com. 117. Retrieved January 14, 2022.[self-published]
  19. ^ "William Caxton Fan Club • the sleeve that held the boarding pass from my..." johndarnielle.tumblr.com. 238. Retrieved January 14, 2022.[self-published]
  20. ^ "William Caxton Fan Club • Hi JD: So long as we're sharing Parents React to..." johndarnielle.tumblr.com. 136. Retrieved January 14, 2022.[self-published]
  21. ^ "annotatedtmg.org/series.html#alpha". annotatedtmg.org. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  22. ^ "Aesop Rock: None Shall Pass Album Review". Pitchfork. August 28, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  23. ^ "New Aesop Rock (Feat. John Darnielle) Video – "Coffee"". Pitchfork. October 30, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  24. ^ "Aesop Rock finally shows Duluth some love". Duluth News Tribune. August 13, 2008. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  25. ^ Raposa, David (August 25, 2005). "John Vanderslice: Pixel Revolt Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  26. ^ Breihan, Tom (April 17, 2009). "Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice Release Vinyl-Only EP". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  27. ^ "The Comedians (John Darnielle/Vanderslice) played NYC, JV playing BrooklynVegan Northside Fest show, other dates". BrooklynVegan. March 31, 2009. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  28. ^ Baron, Zach (April 17, 2009). "The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice, Together Again: Moon Colony Bloodbath". The Village Voice. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  29. ^ Powell, Mike (October 20, 2008). "The Mountain Goats / Kaki King: Satanic Messiah EP / Black Pear Tree EP Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  30. ^ "Kaki King Announces U.S. Tour With Mountain Goats". September 21, 2008. Retrieved December 21, 2023.
  31. ^ Dombal, Ryan (September 21, 2010). "Watch: Phoenix, Superchunk, the Walkmen, and Chromeo Perform on Late Night Television". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  32. ^ Vozick-Levinson, Simon (August 27, 2013). "The Funniest Drummer in Indie Rock". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  33. ^ "Walk Like Thunder from Thunder Thighs by Kimya Dawson". Bandcamp. Retrieved January 31, 2023.
  34. ^ Darnielle, John (November 19, 2008). Master of reality. Continuum. ISBN 9780826428998. OL 16897294M – via The Open Library.
  35. ^ "Book Review: 33 1/3: Black Sabbath's Master of Reality by John Darnielle". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  36. ^ Darnielle, John (September 16, 2014). Wolf in White Van: A Novel. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0374292089.
  37. ^ "2014 Longlists for the National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. September 18, 2014. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  38. ^ "Mountain Goats' John Darnielle details new novel, Universal Harvester". August 1, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  39. ^ "John Darnielle untangles the knotty ethics of true crime in the fictional Devil House". The A.V. Club. January 25, 2022. Retrieved January 25, 2022.
  40. ^ Darnielle, John (January 25, 2022). Devil House. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0374717674.
  41. ^ "2023 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominations". Mystery Writers of America. January 19, 2023. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  42. ^ "Last Plane to Jakarta | Archive". lastplanetojakarta.com. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  43. ^ "Did you abandon the Last Plane to Jakarta?". William Caxton Fan Club. Retrieved May 15, 2016.[self-published]
  44. ^ "South Pole Discharge: John Darnielle's Metal Covers Set Is Nigh". Decibel Magazine. September 6, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  45. ^ "Curbside Splendor Publishing: The Empty Bottle Chicago: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing". Curbside Splendor. 2018. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  46. ^ Dugan, John E. (June 2016). The Empty Bottle Chicago: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing. Curbside Splendor. ISBN 978-1940430546.
  47. ^ MaxFun Intern (August 30, 2012). "Judge John Hodgman Episode 73: Gavelbangers Ball". Maximum Fun. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  48. ^ MaxFun Intern (September 6, 2012). "Judge John Hodgman Episode 74: The Split Screen Decision". Maximum Fun. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  49. ^ a b MaxFun Intern (January 2, 2013). "Judge John Hodgman LIVE at SF Sketchfest". Maximum Fun. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  50. ^ Quah, Nicholas (June 22, 2017). "The Studio Behind Welcome to Night Vale Is Debuting Two New Nonfiction Podcasts". Vulture.
  51. ^ @magpiekilljoy (August 22, 2022). "on this week's Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff, I talk to @mountain_goats about the Levellers, the Diggers, and the Ranters, some of the 17th century radicals who wanted to get rid of kings, farm communally, and abolish the concept of sin, respectively" (Tweet). Retrieved August 24, 2022 – via Twitter.
  52. ^ "Ep326: John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats)". Conan Neutron's Protonic Reversal. March 20, 2023. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  53. ^ Torres, Eric (January 27, 2023). "How John Darnielle Ended Up on TV's Poker Face". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  54. ^ artist direct. "New Asian Cinema (album)". ARTISTdirect. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  55. ^ Joffe, Justin (May 18, 2017). "The Mountain Goats on Going 'Goth,' Christianity and the Age of Trump". Observer.com. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  56. ^ Shellnut, Kate (September 2016). "The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle Loves Amy Grant, Rich Mullins, and the Book of Jonah". Christianity Today. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  57. ^ "Featuring: The Mountain Goats | Secret Lair".
  58. ^ "John Darnielle". Vegan Radio. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  59. ^ Berihan, Tom (March 2, 2011). "Video: The Mountain Goats and Kathleen Hanna Support Planned Parenthood at New York Rally". Pitchfork Media. Pitchfork Media, Inc. Retrieved July 1, 2015.
  60. ^ Darnielle, John (September 13, 2012). "The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle On Pussy Riot, Feminism, And Joni Mitchell" (Interview). Interviewed by Anna North. Retrieved July 1, 2015.

External links[edit]