The Mountain Goats: Going to Maximum Ames
The Mountain Goats’ singer John Darnielle has strong ties to Ames and the Maximum Ames Music Festival. Darnielle lived in Iowa from 1996-2003, spending time in Ames, Colo and Grinnell.
The one-man band Atom and His Package even recorded a tribute to The Mountain Goats entitled “Going to Ames.” In 2011 Darnielle headlined the first Maximum Ames Music Festival and Saturday night he’ll return to headline the fifth one.
Darnielle has lived all over the country, including Chicago, Portland and Milpitas, CA. Currently he calls Durham, NC home.
So what does he miss about Ames?
“The quiet,” Darnielle said in an email interview. “Ames is quiet, and Iowans are great drivers, which may come as news to Iowa, but move absolutely anyplace else and you’ll see -- elsewhere, people pretty much drive as fast as they want in any zone and yellow lights mean ‘floor it.’
“So it feels like I heard fewer sirens in Ames, less noise generally. Which is funny, because, in Colo, we lived at a train crossing, and those trains came through night and day, it’s the loudest place I’ve ever lived. But I remember Ames as pretty peaceful. I did not live in Campustown or near enough to it for that to be a factor, so there are some peculiarities to my experience that may not be reproducible.”
The Mountain Goats’ new album, “Beat The Champ,” has a wrestling theme. The end result is you may have discovered that your Facebook friends who are Mountain Goats fans are also wrestling fans, or vice versa.
Darnielle met his Mountain Goats bandmate Peter Hughes at a Mexican wrestling convention (Saturday night is a solo show by Darnielle) and was drawn to wrestling at a young age.
“When I was a kid I was very, very into wrestling -- local wrestling, L.A. wrestling -- for several years. It was kind of a lonely pursuit, nobody else cared about it except my friend Joaquin, who didn’t have a TV: he just thought the wrestling mags I’d bring into school were interesting,” Darnielle said. “ So these characters and themes, they’re deeply embedded for me -- they’re available metaphors, old legends for me. You can’t beat old legends, they always have something new to show you.”
Darnielle has been a prolific musician. He has lo-fi origins, recording his music on tapes, just him, a boom box and a guitar. There are portions of his catalog that are hard to find; some were only ever released on tape. If you wander into the right music store, you might find a Mountain Goats release that isn’t on Spotify or iTunes.
He likes it that way.
“I kind of have a Borgesian crush on the idea of unavailability. (It’s actually a Blanchotian crush but nobody reads Blanchot),” said, surely prompting fans to rush to Wikipedia. “Like, when something gets recorded and released and some people have an experience of it and then it’s gone forever: I like that. The idea of ‘everything is available all the time’ is pretty unappealing to me -- I feel like this somehow ties into Catholic sensibilities -- to everything a season, right, not ‘everything whenever I feel like it.’ So, when something feels like its run its course, I’ve always been happy to say goodbye to it, to clear space for new things to consider. I think it’s healthy and good for things to come and go, to ebb and flow.”
Saturday’s solo Mountain Goats show frees things up a bit for Darnielle. Full band shows require setlists so that all the members are on the same page. In his 2011 Maximum Ames show (also solo), Darnielle took requests from the crowd as they were shouted out.
“A solo show is more unpredictable - I can really play absolutely anything I remember how to play, which isn’t the case in a band show -- the more musicians you add, the more you need to tighten up the presentation,” Darnielle said. “Sometimes I miss the heavy physicality of the band set -- I jump around less without a drummer behind me -- but there’s also a lot more room to roam, to venture off into hidden corners.”
The Mountain Goats at the Maximum Ames Music Festival
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: First United Methodist Church, 516 Kellogg Ave., Ames
Cost: $22 in advance, $25 at the door.