John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) Talks with Maggie Smith on the Talkhouse Podcast

The two talented wordsmiths talk about their unusual kinda-sorta collaboration and more.

This week’s episode of the Talkhouse Podcast began somewhere not particularly known for good or fruitful ideas: Twitter. That’s where the poet Maggie Smith dropped a funny notion, which songwriter John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats picked up and ran with.

Smith, whose was in the process of splitting up with her husband, suggested a photo essay in which she’d take her old wedding dress on a tour of the country, Weekend at Bernie’s style, only the dead thing isn’t a guy—it’s her marriage. Never one to shy away from life’s darkest moments, Darnielle jokingly suggested—or at least it seemed like a joke—that there was a song in Smith’s idea, and he suggested calling it “Picture of My Dress.” And then, wouldn’t you know it, he went and wrote the song, releasing it on last year’s excellent album Getting Into Knives.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Darnielle came up with the song: He’s so prolific that it makes the average person—meaning me—really jealous. The Mountain Goats released two studio albums and a live album in 2020, and another new album this year, called Dark In Here. He’s also an accomplished novelist and served as a judge for the 2020 National Book Awards.

Speaking of writers, Maggie Smith had the unusual distinction of being a poet who broke through to the wider world with a poem called “Good Bones” back in 2016. Last year, she released the well received essay collection Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change, and just last month released a poetry collection called Goldenrod. All are well worth your time, and Smith is on a sort of virtual book tour at the moment: You can check out the details on that at her site,

In this conversation, Darnielle and Smith talk about the unusual nature of their kinda-sorta collaboration, a delightful thing she calls “the cake sound,” John’s failed attempt at writing a song about NASCAR, and much more. Enjoy.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Maggie Smith and John Darnielle for chatting. If you liked what you heard, please follow us wherever you get your podcasts and/or your social media. This week’s episode was produced by Melissa Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!

(Photo Credit: left, Lalitree Darnielle; Edited by: Keenan Kush.)

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