John Darnielle

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John Darnielle
John Darnielle The Mountain Goats HOH Fest 2010.JPG
Darnielle playing a solo show under the name of the Mountain Goats at the Harvest of Hope Fest in St. Augustine, FL in 2010.
Background information
Born (1967-03-16) March 16, 1967 (age 48)
Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.
Genres Folk rock, lo-fi, indie rock, folk
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician, novelist
Instruments Vocals, guitar, Piano
Years active 1991–present
Associated acts the Mountain Goats, The Extra Lens, The Extra Glenns, The Seneca Twins, The Bloody Hawaiians, The Congress, The Crunch Sisters, Chicken Damage, The Salvation Brothers, The Comedians, Aesop Rock

John Darnielle (/dɑrˈnl/,[1] born March 16, 1967[2] ) is an American musician and novelist best known as the primary (and often solitary) member of the American band the Mountain Goats, for which he is the writer, composer, guitarist, pianist and vocalist.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born in Bloomington, Indiana, Darnielle grew up in Central California with an abusive stepfather (as referenced frequently in The Sunset Tree) and after high school, he went to work as a psychiatric nurse at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. For a couple of years, he lived on the Metropolitan State grounds, writing songs and playing his guitar when he wasn't working. During this time he began recording some of his songs onto cassette tapes using a Panasonic boombox. Shortly after working at the hospital, Darnielle attended Pitzer College from 1991 to 1995, earning a degree in English.

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.

Darnielle has lived in Grinnell, Iowa; Colo, Iowa; Ames, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; and Milpitas, CA. 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) and sons Roman and Moses.[4]

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. 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".[5] In its June 2006 issue, Paste magazine named Darnielle one of the "100 Best Living Songwriters".[6]

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". This series explores the futility of running away from one's problems in stark and cryptic detail. His "Alpha" series 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; there have subsequently been no more "Alpha" songs.

Darnielle has stated that all songs written up to and including those on Tallahassee are fictional, but that The Sunset Tree is autobiographical.


Darnielle went vegetarian in 1996 and stated in a 2007 interview with Vegan Radio that he was vegan.[7] 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.


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. Additionally, Aesop Rock remixed the Mountain Goats' "Lovecraft in Brooklyn".

In 2008, Darnielle announced the release of a tour-exclusive EP entitled Black Pear Tree, the result of a collaboration with tourmate Kaki King. He collaborated with John Vanderslice on lyrics for the 2005 album Pixel Revolt, and in 2009, Darnielle released a collaborative recording after a shared tour with Vanderslice.

On September 20, 2010, Darnielle appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with the band Superchunk (whose drummer, Jon Wurster, is also in the Mountain Goats). They performed the song "Digging for Something" with a big reception.

Darnielle has guest starred in John Hodgman's podcast Judge John Hodgman serving as an expert witness[8][9][10] and musical guest.[10]


Darnielle's first book, Black Sabbath: Master of Reality, was published in April 2008 as part of the 33⅓ series. He writes the "South Pole Dispatch" feature in Decibel Magazine every month. Darnielle also guest edited the poetry section of The Mays, an anthology of the best creative work coming out of Oxford and Cambridge. His first novel, entitled Wolf in White Van was released on September 16, 2014. [11] On September 18, 2014, it was among ten books nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction.[12]

Bands in which Darnielle has played[edit]

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

  • The Extra Lens formerly known as The Extra Glenns (along with Franklin Bruno). They have released two full-lengths titled "Martial Arts Weekend", "Undercard", as well as "Infidelity" a double sided 7" EP.
  • The Comedians (along with John Vanderslice). The band's only studio recording was credited to "the Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice".
  • The Seneca Twins (along with Lalitree Darnielle and Christopher Butler), whose 9-song demo, recorded in 1995, is still unreleased.
  • The Bloody Hawaiians (along with Joel Huschle (Furniture Huschle), Mark Givens (Wckr Spgt), Caroline)
    • Releases: The Magnificent Bloody Hawaiians, Bastard Son, The Threegos, "Lemon" on Cool Beans #4)
  • The Congress (along with Mark Givens and other anonymous members) (Darnielle was singer / songwriter)
    • Releases: Election Year, Sleeping Under Angels' Wings, We All Fall Down, She Lies in Roses, The Farm Out Back, No Milk Since 1979, Full Term.
  • The Crunch Sisters (performed one show, all recordings were lost[citation needed])
  • Chicken Damage (Darnielle played live drums)
  • The Salvation Brothers (Darnielle played live drums)
  • The Orange Trees (Played one show in Evanston which was attended by about five people.)


  1. ^ uhm, John Darnielle? the Mountain Goats Forums.
  2. ^ "Twitter: John Darnielle". 
  3. ^ Denney, Alex (January 15, 2008). "Playing for Pride: John Darnielle speaks out on the Mountain Goats' new record". Drowned in Sound. 
  4. ^ New Asian Cinema (album)
  5. ^ Frere-Jones, Sasha (May 16, 2005). "The Declaimers". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Paste's 100 Best Living Songwriters #81-90". Paste. June 14, 2006. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  7. ^ "John Darnielle". Vegan Radio. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  8. ^ MaxFun Intern (30 August 2012). "Judge John Hodgman Episode 73: Gavelbangers Ball". Maximum Fun. Retrieved 2013-01-14. 
  9. ^ MaxFun Intern (6 September 2012). "Judge John Hodgman Episode 74: The Split Screen Decision". Maximum Fun. Retrieved 2013-01-14. 
  10. ^ a b MaxFun Intern (2 January 2013). "Judge John Hodgman LIVE at SF Sketchfest". Maximum Fun. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "2014 Longlists for the National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. September 18, 2014. Retrieved September 19, 2014. 

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