How John Darnielle Ended Up on TV’s Poker Face

Written by on January 27, 2023

In the new show Poker Face, a woman named Charlie has the uncanny sixth sense to tell when people are lying. Played with nervy, instantly iconic energy by Natasha Lyonne, Charlie goes from having a lucrative gambling career to working as a casino waitress in Vegas, until she finds herself in a rat’s nest of criminals and hits the road. She takes on odd jobs and encounters various murders along the way that, as a human lie detector, she can’t help but suss out. Like a darkly comedic take on Columbo, the series is a refreshing spin on an old formula. It features a deep bench of guest stars as murderers and victims, including everyone from Adrien Brody and Judith Light to recent Oscar nominees Hong Chau and Stephanie Hsu to Mountain Goats leader John Darnielle. 

Darnielle pops up in Poker Face’s fourth episode, titled “Rest in Metal” and streaming now on Peacock. Charlie gets a gig working the merch table on tour with the one-hit-wonder metal band Doxxxology, led by the no-nonsense Ruby Ruin. Sporting bleached eyebrows and a sharp chip on her shoulder, Ruby, portrayed by a hilarious Chloë Sevigny, tries to revive the band’s glory days by cooking up a new hit in the bus between shows, eager to leave her day job behind. While Sevigny has plenty of experience in the music world, having appeared in videos by Sonic Youth and Smog, Darnielle brings a bumbling sincerity to Doxxxology. 

The prolific singer-songwriter typically makes homespun indie rock rich with complex stories about the overlooked, but Mountain Goats fans are likely aware of Darnielle’s love of metal based on his lyrical references alone. He brought that specific expertise to Poker Face, teaming up with Jamey Jasta of metalcore group Hatebreed to craft “Staple Head,” Doxxxology’s fictional chart-topper from the early 2000s. (He also wrote the band’s attempt at a comeback, the hokey, perfectly titled “Merch Girl,” named after Charlie.) Darnielle is a natural on-screen, lending easy comic timing to the band’s interpersonal quibbles that gives Doxxxology an air of authenticity, even as they careen off the rails in search of a desperate second wind.

We caught up with the musician, who is currently gearing up for a stripped-down Mountain Goats tour, to talk about performing opposite Lyonne and Sevigny for his first acting gig, meeting Rian Johnson via a Mountain Goats fanzine in the 2000s, and drawing inspiration from bands like Lacuna Coil for Doxxxology’s Hot Topic-core.

Pitchfork: As a musician, what did you think when you first heard about the plot of the episode?

John Darnielle: I had a bunch of reservations because I’m a metal fan. When people do heavy metal stuff, they often play it strictly for spoof. I know metal is funny, but so does everybody else involved in metal, right? There’s laughing with and there’s laughing at, and I’m not usually going to be into the latter. So I was a little concerned, but I love the way that it played out, because it seemed really believable: a small club band consisting of people for whom going on tour is a vacation. It’s also something they’re trying to do, but they have lousy jobs. [laughs] That’s how I used to tour. I used all my vacation time touring. Then the metal aspect, it’s really more of a rock band with some metal iconography, but that also is not very uncommon.

watch searching 2 missing full movie

Cinemasoon Dailyone

Tagged as

Current track