John Darnielle hadn't written a song in a while.
Weeks of tour preparations and a string of St. Patrick's Day interviews were getting in the way. But Darnielle wasn't worried. Inspiration usually hits him out on the road, usually late at night in hotel rooms.
He might even pick up his pen in York, a stop he said he's looking forward to since he would have visited otherwise.
Saturday, Darnielle and bandmates Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster will perform at York's Capitol Theatre - three days before their new record "All Eternals Deck" drops.
Whether the lyrics are flowing or running dry, Darnielle is happy to discuss the creative process.
After tossing around a few nonstarter title ideas for the new album, Darnielle was left with "eternal." He jotted other words down and created combinations.
He came up with a title that reflected the process, which he equated to arranging tarot cards. Meaning came from randomness.
It also had to be three words, to continue the theme of the 13 track titles. The titles preceded the songs.
Darnielle keeps a notebook full of song titles, which act as messages for the future. He will select one and let his imagination run wild to create a story. It's a habit he picked up in high school.
"When I used to write short stories, I debated whether to write the title first or the story first," he said.
From there, he became an aspiring poet. In the mid-'90s, he began to set his obscure references and witty rhymes to music, and The Mountain Goats were born.
Now, more than a dozen years and a dozen albums later, Darnielle has honed his habits, but avoids rules and over-thinking the process.
It has to happen naturally, he said, like the vaguely Biblical title for "Birth of Serpents," which came to him after a long walk in Portland.
While getting a haircut in the city he used to call home, Darnielle asked the barber about an old friend. The barber pointed him in the right direction, but Darnielle learned that his friend died only months earlier.
"It was very intense," he said. "It was a missed opportunity."
He returned to his hotel at about 3 a.m., scribbled some words in his notebook and fell asleep. Months later, the song came to him when he saw the words.
"Liza Forever Minnelli" came to Darnielle on another long walk. He was wandering the streets of Los Angeles after taking a sick day from a recent tour when he came across Minnelli's star on Hollywood Boulevard.
"(Minnelli) had a lot of expectations," he said. "She had this amazing positivity."
Darnielle admits to having a fascination with celebrities who have died or who have survived hard circumstances. Maybe, he said, that's because he listened to a lot of Sonic Youth as a kid.
Another song on the album is an ode to actor Charles Bronson.
The idea came from another writing habit Darnielle picked up. If a movie inspires him, he will mute it, write some notes. That happened when he recently watched a Bronson movie. After some digging, he discovered the actor had an interesting back story.
He was born into poverty in 1921 in Ehrenfeld, Cambria County, went on to star in movies including "The Great Escape," "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Magnificent Seven" and died in 2003.
Darnielle's notebook is filled with dozens of prospective song titles.
But March 17, they would have to wait. Darnielle had more interviews to do. - Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff
If you go
WHAT: The Mountain Goats with special guest Megafaun
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26
WHERE: Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York