Interview: Eerie? Phil Elverum as transparent as the Wind
Anacortes, Washington-based musician Phil Elverum has a strong sense of identity– although at first glance, this indie-rocker may not seem to have any clue where his music will take him next.After stirring up the rock scene in the late '90s withhis lo-fi, analog-based band, The Microphones, (most notably with 2001's The Glow, Pt. 2), Elverum unexpectedly took a trip to Norway in 2002, claiming a need to "move away forever and live in someplace really remote." The result? Upon returning, he simultaneously changed the spelling of both his last name– adding an 'e' to Elvrum– and the name of his band. The Microphones became an indie-folk project called Mount Eerie, and Elverum found a new vehicle to express his musings on impermanence, isolation, and nature.
"In a way, all the songs I've written are not that different from each other," he explains. "There are consistent themes throughout them."
Yet the stability didn't last long; Elverum's sense of self took still another turn with the recent release of Wind's Poem, a heavy-metal infused album meditating on–- you guess it–- death. For fans astounded by this deliberate flouting of expectations, soft-voiced Elverum can only promise one thing: be prepared for anything big.
The Hook: Critics have raved over the unexpected turn of sound in Wind's Poem– but how do you feel about it?
Phil Elverum: I'm pretty sure that I like it. I haven't listened to it in awhile. It was surprising to people and that was the idea at least, I wanted it to be different than usual. I'm always trying to make records that sound huge in different ways.
The Hook: Your work with Mount Eerie is often concerned with nature– how does this fit in with the current obsession with being local and "green"?
PE: I am always really focused on being locally relevant. The name of the band is an actual mountain near my home. It also has something to do with regional folk music– people talk differently in different parts of the country, and the art and music is different too. With the internet, with being able to drive everywhere, distinctions are being blurred, everything is becoming homogenized. I'm trying to combat that.
The Hook: Another recent craze is electronica, mash-up dance music. Why are you still doing "lo-fi"?
PE: I heard the term "lo-fi" for the first time when it was applied to me–- it's not that I set out to make a lo-fi record, I just try and make the things I would want to listen to. I'd like to make another really loud album, much louder than Wind's Poem.
The Hook: And what are you listening to right now?
PE: A bunch of soundtrack music from the Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, the music for the Red, White, Blue film trilogy. I really like The-Dream. And the new Jay-Z album.
The Hook: Jay-Z, huh? Are we going to see a Phil Elverum empire anytime soon? Is that what owning your own record label is about?
PE: [laughs] I don't really have any ambitions turning it into a huge empire– so much more work goes into the label stuff, but I wanted to find that out. I'm into the idea [of a clothing line], but just on a small-scale, like absurd merchandising.
The Hook: You own a label, you are often the solo member of various ensembles– are you solitary? Or merely self-sufficient?
PE: I think it's both. I'm really into being self-sufficient, and I do enjoy solitude– I live in a small town for that reason, because I enjoy the lack of distractions here and being able to do my own thing.
The Hook: What was the inspiration behind playing the UVA Chapel, of all venues?
PE: Well, I only play all-ages shows, so I end up in a variety of weird places– churches, art galleries, libraries (which felt very wrong)...
The Hook: But do children often come to these all-ages shows?
PE: What age do you consider childhood to stop? I often think of myself as pretty much doing the same that I was doing as a teenager– doing a 'zine, making tapes of home recordings, still procrastinating on getting a real job. I pay taxes and drive around, but in the big picture, when I have to explain what I do to my neighbors, it seems like I'm not too different from a teenager.
The Hook: So was that epic trip to Norway really the turning point for you?
PE: That was the transition from one part of my life to another, like a coming-of-age ritual, even though I was already 25. Only in hindsight did I realize I wanted to become an adult and go through this difficult situation, where I didn't want to know anyone, and come out on the other side changed.
Mount Eerie plays at the UVA Chapel on 10/23. Tara Jane O'Neil, No Kids, and Stephen Steinbrink open. The show starts at 8:00pm, and tickets are $10.