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.
—Peter HughesFebruary 2017Charlotte, NC
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Beat the Champ is about professional wrestling, which was an avenue of escape for me when I was a kid. Wrestling was low-budget working class entertainment back then, strictly UHF material. It was cheap theater. You had to bring your imagination to the proceedings and you got paid back double. I wrote these songs to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I'm grown.
The last of the "all-home-recordings albums" by the Mountain Goats and the only one about which that claim is true, ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS was originally released as a free-standing compact disc on the late, lamented Emperor Jones. That was about a decade ago. The songs were originally transferred from the cassettes onto which they were recorded to 1/2" reels at Tiny Telephone by Alex Newport, who also played in Fudge Tunnel. John got really excited when he realized his tapes were being EQ'd by the guy from Fudge Tunnel.
Remastered from those reels, along with 7 unearthed songs from the two surviving contemporaneous cassettes, All Hail West Texas stands as the peak of the Mountain Goats' home recording era, a time people like to refer to as "when John Darnielle had his four-track," except John did not actually use a four-track. He used the condenser mic of a Panasonic boombox and there was no overdubbing.
The LP is packaged in a deluxe gatefold jacket and includes a digital download of the full record plus the seven additional tracks. The CD, which includes the full album and extra tracks on one disc, comes in a premium digipak with a 12-page booklet.