The Mountain Goats' first recordings were covers of songs by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. These recordings were made in employee housing at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California - the same town which, perhaps not coincidentally, gave Metallica to the world. A tape of these early sessions, which used the roaring static sound of late-night TV test patterns as percussion/incidental noise but were otherwise a capella, still exists. The inscription on the spine of the tape reads THE MOUNTAIN GOATS/BLEATING WILDLY: A VERSION OF FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS. No one will ever hear this tape in any form.
Throughout the early 90s, the Mountain Goats developed their style. What this means is "John started learning how to write songs." There were two albums and a limited amount of touring done by the lineup that solidified during this time - John and Rachel played twice in San Francisco, twice in Chicago, twice in New York City, and once each in Columbus, Newpaltz, Cambridge, Providence, Northampton, Nijmegen, Koln, Utrecht, Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. There were about a dozen shows in southern California, too. Around the end of this period, they made an EP called Nine Black Poppies, and then John moved to Chicago.
After making a few albums which were mainly solo endeavors with occasional guests, John called Peter Hughes, who'd joined him on bass for two tours of continental Europe in '95 and '96. "I'm signing to 4AD," he said. "You busy?" Peter was in fact busy, but not that busy. They recorded Tallahassee, toured themselves sick, recorded We Shall All Be Healed, toured some more, made the Sunset Tree, toured like French bicyclists, made Get Lonely in 2006 and then kept right on touring. You know how some people can't stop collecting Precious Moments figurines? John and Peter are kind of like that, except with tours.
Most bios attempt to describe the music made by the band they're profiling, and to compare it favorably to the work of giants in the field. This isn't that kind of bio. The general musical framework within which the Mountain Goats have worked for ten-plus years has been acoustic guitar, bass, and voice. The lyrics are central to the whole enterprise. Many of the songs involve desperate characters who've found themselves in some trouble and want to moan about it a little before taking their lumps. The sexual tension between characters in your average Mountain Goats song could split the atom if the power could be harnessed, but it can't, so forget it. Now you know what we know. Go forth and sin no more.