Mountain Goats’ Peter Hughes tours the world but calls Rochester home | Musical features

In 2001, bassist Peter Hughes got a call from his friend and collaborator John Darnielle. It had been five years since they toured together in Europe as The Mountain Goats, the lo-fi folk-rock project then known for singing and strumming Darnielle in a boombox tape recorder. Hughes had since moved to Rochester for the work of his then partner; Darnielle lived in Iowa. But he had two questions: Did Hughes want to join him in the studio to burn a more polished album? And did he know somewhere?

The resulting LP, the beloved 2002 failed marriage opus, “Tallahassee”, premiered at Tarbox Road Studios in Cassadaga, New York, at Hughes’ suggestion. Over the next 20 years, The Mountain Goats grew into a quartet, toured the world, and released 13 more albums – the most recent of which, “Dark In Here,” was released in late June. Hughes, now in his early 50s, made Rochester home for most of it.



“Rochester, more than most places in this country, has a very strong sense of belonging about it, and it’s very appealing to me,” said Hughes. “Good or bad, you always know where you are. “

When he joins the band to kick off their final tour on August 6 in Asheville, North Carolina, he does so after 16 months at home, thanks to the pandemic – an unusual respite for a touring musician. But he says time spent here in his adopted hometown, 2,600 miles from where he grew up in Chino, Calif., Is always time well spent.



“You know that ‘Keep Austin Weird’ bullshit?” At this point, Austin is the least strange city, ”he says. “But Rochester is really weird, and I don’t think people celebrate it enough or even recognize it enough. I think people who have lived here their entire lives don’t appreciate how unique it is.

Hughes appreciates it. He manages an Instagram account devoted only to classic and eccentric cars that he spots in the city. He broadcasts a weekly radio show on volunteer community station WAYO-FM, featuring emerging Czech bands alongside The Cars and local favorites like Ben Morey and the Eyes. And although his band has only performed once in Rochester, the touring musician who can make any city his home has chosen this one twice.

He first moved here in 2000 and has settled in the South Wedge for years. Trudy Feickert, a friend who ran a vintage clothing store called Godiva’s on South Avenue, became Hughes’ de facto stylist; she is now working with The Mountain Goats on the band’s merch. Among fans, Hughes’ onstage menswear has long been second after his bass playing, with a YouTuber dubbing him “the most beautifully dressed rock and roller gentleman.”

Opposite Godiva’s house, Hughes performed one of his first concerts as an official member of The Mountain Goats in the fall of 2002. He and Darnielle strummed four songs in the back room of Analog Shock, a record store now defunct in the building where Hedonist Artisan Chocolates currently operates.

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Hughes brought both a new sound and a new perspective to The Mountain Goats – previously Darnielle’s solo project – inspired by the punk and electronic music he grew up listening to. “I loved the boombox stuff and the privacy of it, but I really felt like if it was just a little open and made more accessible, I think there is a lot of people who would react to this music as strongly as I do. done, ”says Hughes.

He was right. “Tallahassee” kicked off a six-album tour on UK label 4AD before the band moved to their current Durham home, Merge Records, North Carolina. Along with the band’s label and three other members, all currently based in Tar Heel State, Hughes was tempted to get closer. He left Rochester in 2014 with his wife and daughter for stays in both Carolinas when his wife accepted a new teaching post. In the end, they found the change of scenery lacking. They returned in 2018.

“It was like plugging in right away,” he says. “I think moving, living in a few other places for a few years really cemented how home this has become for us as a family.”

His return allowed him to join WAYO as a DJ after being one of the first booster. His show, “Northern Gothic,” airs Thursday mornings at 10 am, and he is always impressed with the depth of knowledge the station has. He could turn, as he puts it, “a record that I bought in 1990 from a record store in Prague that I have never seen anywhere else in my life,” and the studio computer will let him know. that he is not the first to have played on WAYO.



Hughes’ in-depth knowledge also extends to vintage cars, which he posts on Instagram. While his criteria for which vehicles parked on the street are worthy of a snapshot is “idiosyncratic,” he knows when a ride speaks to him. This is often not the expected choice. “I’m going to drive past a really fancy exotic car and go take a picture of a crappy ’80s Econobox that I haven’t seen a clean example of in 30 years,” he says.

Being away from his bandmates – Darnielle, Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas – means long journeys to meet up for the recording, occasions when Hughes revel in. When The Mountain Goats scheduled back-to-back March 2020 sessions in both Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Hughes saw the opportunity for a road trip. “Fifteen hours in a car seems like a good time to me,” he says.

The completion of two albums, “Dark in Here” and “Getting Into Knives” from last year, coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. His wife called to say Rochester store shelves were bare thanks to waves of panic buying. By the time he returned home the day before the statewide lockdown, Hughes had loaded his car not only with his instruments and equipment, but also with emergency supplies that were still plentiful in Alabama.

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Peter Hughes at Cobbs Hill Reservoir.  - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH

  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Peter Hughes at Cobbs Hill Reservoir.

Hughes spent most of the pandemic at home with his family, “being a stay-at-home husband and walking around and taking pictures of cars,” he laughs. He also traveled to North Carolina for mountain goat encounters every few months.

Their latest series of shows, called the Cave Angel Ascendency Tour, will take him to the United States until the end of October, or until safety concerns over the Delta variant put an end to the momentum. For now, Hughes is cautious, although excited about the way forward for live music.

And if epidemics force additional closings and cancellations, that’s just another reason to come home. “I really like Rochester,” he says. “I could kind of live anywhere and I choose to live here. “

Patrick Hosken is a freelance writer for CITY. Comments on this article can be directed to [email protected].

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