Indie Folk Rock Musician John Darnielle

An Interview By Candice DeForest

John Darnielle is a prolific indie folk rock singer-songwriter who has gained a cult following since founding his band, The Mountain Goats, in 1991. He remains busy with his music career, benefit performances for organizations like Farm Sanctuary, and his family. Still, he took some time out from promoting The Mountain Goats' upcoming tour, with shows from Texas to London, to talk about his vegetarianism.

How long have you been a vegetarian, and why did you choose this lifestyle?
I stopped eating meat in January of 1996, during a big blizzard in New York. I happened to see a movie in which some farmers were taking a hog to market, and they loaded him into the back of their flatbed and shot him with a rifle. It's not like I hadn't known about animal slaughter, but the hog looked so visibly stoked to be getting in the flatbed; he looked like a dog excited to be going for a ride. Who'd shoot a dog in a car excited to go for a ride? And I knew that pigs were considerably smarter than dogs, and something just clicked for me, and that was the end of that.
Has your vegetarian lifestyle influenced your music?
Only in small ways you wouldn't notice. I don't use meat metaphors in my songs anymore. There are some that are fairly common poetic tropes, such as "meat on your bones" and so forth, but I try to keep the stories I tell universal. I write about emotions. Emotions don't eat!
When on tour, what do you like to eat?
Touring used to be difficult, but it gets easier as you get more experience at being vegetarian. Also, there are so many resources online to locate veg-friendly dining spots now. I usually go for Indian food when I can, because there's such a great vegetarian component to Indian food. Chinese food's a touring staple, and in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., I try to go Ethiopian, which has tons of my favorite veg foods.
You said you are transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. What is your reasoning for wanting to go vegan?
It's undeniable that, if we eat dairy, we're probably still contributing to animal suffering. To me, that contribution is less than if you actually eat animals. At the same time, if I want to bear minimal responsibility for the suffering of animals in the world, I'm eventually going to have to cut out eating anything that comes from animals. It hasn't actually been that hard. I guess the hardest hurdle is in baking; (Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World author) Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a godsend in this area.
How do you actively educate others about vegetarianism?
The 'other side' has been pretty good at demonizing vegetarians as 'preachy,' so we're already at a rhetorical disadvantage if we want to share our joy. That is what it is for me: the joy of so many foods and cooking styles I wouldn't ever have tried and gotten to know if meat was usually at the center of my plate!

In terms of education, I cook for people and take them to great vegetarian restaurants, but I don't go into the philosophy unless they want to know. At least, that's my role. I love people who go all-in and let people know about the footprint they're leaving on the world, too! We all have our own parts to play. Learn more about John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats at

Candice DeForest wrote this article during an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.