'Beat the Champ': The Mountain Goats offer a musical tribute to the squared circle

'Beat the Champ': The Mountain Goats offer a musical tribute to the squared circle
- 30th April 2015

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"Rowdy" Roddy Piper isn’t an obvious choice for a musician’s muse. For John Darnielle, the acclaimed lead singer of The Mountain Goats and a 2014 National Book Award nominee, wondering "Why not Piper?" is exactly the kind of question he asks when deciding what it will take to perform another great rock show.

"I mean, the one thing is, I fully inhabit the song, completely buying into it." Darnielle said. "To get this, Roddy Piper's the guy. So, you watch old Piper stuff and you learn how to be present for your work. [You have to be] 100 percent there; no point in showing up if you're not 100 percent there."

Darnielle, you see, is an avid supporter of sports-entertainment, and his band now preaches the gospel of grappling across 13 fight-infused tracks on their new LP, "Beat the Champ."

Before a recent performance at City Winery in New York City, Darnielle sat down with WWE.com to discuss The Mountain Goats’ new album, his memories of his favorite Superstars competing at Hollywood’s Olympic Auditorium and his unabashed love of wrestling.

The origin of "Beat the Champ"

There’s no shortage of writing prompts that can emerge from what happens in a wrestling ring. Darnielle keeps many of those ideas in a notebook, but it was one specific note involving WWE Hall of Famer Greg "The Hammer" Valentine that provided a prototype for the baker’s dozen of tracks appearing on "Beat the Champ."

Preparing to play a solo performance in San Francisco, Darnielle revisited a song title he had conjured up about "The Hammer" and promptly jotted down some lyrics. He elected to improvise the tune that night, hoping the crowd would remain sympathetic for an experimenting singer up on the stage. Needless to say, the audience ate the new number up, savoring a song that the Mountain Goats lead singer dedicated to Valentine’s ruthless reputation.

"It was about, because this was Greg Valentine's thing, 'I want to break people's legs. I don't care if I win,'" Darnielle said. "And I was like: Wow, that's ... that's pure evil, right? He just wants to break people's legs with that Figure Four Leglock.

"And so, I wrote that song and I really liked inhabiting a wrestling character, taking it at face value. With characters, it was really interesting and exciting for me to be able to sort of harness that. So then, I was ad-libbing a melody a couple of years ago, and I sang the opening lines to ‘Southwestern Territory’ and got the idea. I think I'd had that title, and I just kept writing the songs."

NEXT PAGE: Remembering the Olympic Auditorium and Andre the Giant

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