Behind the Makeup

The Mountain Goats' latest record explores goth culture.

The Mountain Goats (Photo by Jeremy Lange)

As someone who grew up embracing blown-out rock courtesy of DIY bands like the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the Minutemen, Jon Wurster was leery of goths who claimed the same kind of outcast status as punks like him.

The Mountain Goats drummer never understood the heavy makeup or the dark clothes, but now he has a new appreciation for goth’s macabre aesthetics The indie-rock quartet is currently touring in support of Goths, the group’s 16th studio album — which, unsurprisingly, addresses the subculture that first took root in the late ’70s.

“I was a punk kid growing up when everyone loved classic rock, so I was an outsider — but the goths were a whole different level of outsider,” says Wurster, whose band will play two nights at the Fillmore, on Thursday, June 1 and Friday, June 2. “This has been a pretty interesting learning experience for me.”

To prepare for the recording of the new Mountain Goats album, Wurster embraced goth luminaries like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and even Samhain — Glenn Danzig’s post-Misfits vehicle.

“It was important for me to get into that headspace when we were making this record,” he says. “I began to realize the craftsmanship of those albums and got an understanding of why those bands meant so much to people.”

John Darnielle, the Mountain Goats lead singer and founding member, is a highly literate songwriter who has a habit of embracing strange, esoteric topics for his album themes. The band’s prior album, Beat the Champ, focused on the backwater circuits of professional wrestling, centering on Chavo Guerrero, an outsized personality who spent decades entertaining fans in small-town venues.

Goths, released on May 19, does not follow the same narrative arc as Beat the Champ, but it’s chock-full of arresting vignettes, one of Darnielle’s specialities. “Rain in Soho,” the most outwardly “goth” track on the album, is basically a primer on the feelings of isolation and loneliness that helped create the movement. In it, Darnielle perfectly channels the moroseness of Morrissey, singing, “There’s a club where you’d like to go / You could meet someone who’s lost like you.”

Other tracks, such as “Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds,” are character studies that do not specifically address goth culture, but instead evoke feelings of nostalgia and fondness for a bygone era, making them more appealing for a wider audience.

“The songs might outwardly focus on things like goths or wrestling, but there are issues of identity and belonging that everyone can appreciate,” Wurster says.

The band got a heads-up from Darnielle about the album’s focus a few months before they hit the recording studio, Wurster says, making for a pretty whirlwind experience for the 50-year-old drummer, who also plays with indie-rock mainstays Superchunk and punk legend Bob Mould (formerly of Hüsker Dü).

Those jobs are in addition to his gig as one-half of the comedy duo, Scharpling and Wurster. For the past 17 years, Wurster and comedian Tom Scharpling have engaged in a series of hilariously absurd phone calls, where they skewer pop-culture tropes on their radio program, Best Show.

It all makes for a busy life for Wurster, who says coordinating the various bands’ touring schedules is particularly difficult.

“It can be a little tough getting into the right mindset at times,” he says.“Going from Bob Mould — where everything is really fast-paced and loud — to the Mountain Goats — where it’s a lot more mellow — can be a little jarring. But I’ve managed to figure out how to deal with it pretty well over the years. I’ve really been fortunate to be part of such understanding bands.”

For now, Wurster is focused on the Mountain Goats, which are in the midst of an expansive tour that will take the group throughout America and Europe by the end of the year. During that time, he is expecting a significant tutorial on the goth subculture.

“I’m definitely learning some interesting new things,” Wurster says. “Can’t say I’ll ever understand it completely, but I’m getting closer.”

The Mountain Goats
play at 8 p.m., Thursday, June 1, and Friday, June 2, at the Fillmore. $29.50-$52; thefillmore.com

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