This feature was first published in Weightless in May 2013.
Phil W. Elverum is the mastermind behind lo-fi folk projects Mount Eerie and The Microphones. Known for his uniquely stripped-down songwriting and instrumentation and tapestry-turning lyrical imagery, Elverum’s works bridge the gap between the natural and the modern world with dense drone passages and somber acoustic guitars, revealing a path covered in autumn leaves and bathed in spectral moonlight. Elverum graciously took the time to speak with us about his music, his writing, lo-fi recording, unknown music and his plans for the future.
You’re here playing tonight at the Buffalo Bar in Cardiff, how’s the tour going so far?
The tour’s great. It’s been very fun. We’ve been in Europe for 13 shows in the north mostly- Scandinavia, Norway, which I love. We had a lot of Norway shows, as well as Finland, Denmark, it’s very nice. Yeah, the shows are really fun. I have this band that’s new and special for this tour only and it’s very fun to play the music like this.
You released two albums last year, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar. What inspired their creation, since they’re probably the two most diverse Mount Eerie albums so far.
I’m not sure what inspired them. I was just kind of freestyling and experimenting a lot and making myself as open as possible to ideas and giving myself a lot of time. It was about two years of recording, two years of that kind of experimentation that generated all that stuff.
Do you feel they should be appreciated more as a double album or two separate pieces, or is it just a coincidence that they happened to be released in the same year?
No, no, it’s not a coincidence. They’re meant to be together, but they’re also meant to not be a double album, they’re meant to be two things that are related.
Like two sides of the same coin?
Kind of. But maybe not even that closely related. Like, not even the same coin. Like two coins next to each other. I just thought it was more interesting that way, it opened up a whole lot more aesthetic things that I could do, playing with the relations of things and contrasts and stuff.
In the past with albums like Wind’s Poem you’ve experimented with genres like black metal, others have been more withdrawn like Lost Wisdom and Dawn, now you’ve experimented with ambient and post-punk; where does Mount Eerie go from here?
I don’t know. I’m not trying to do a little of everything, that’s not my goal. I know it’s happening, but I’m trying to make a cohesive body of work, like when I die I want to be able to look back and see a thread through all my work, and I can see that, I’m happy with what I’ve done. It’s not a goal of mine to ‘keep them guessing’, I’m not going to do a jazz album or a hip-hop album next, but at the same time I’m open to inspiration from whatever form it takes.
Does that cohesion stretch all the way back to The Microphones?
Yeah, I think so! It’s all part of the same lineage, the same stream. I mean, it’s me, I made all this stuff so it’s linked. But in terms of intentionality in that linkage, I don’t know. I mean, who has the same intentions from when they’re eighteen to when they’re thirty-five?
Lots of your works have very strong imagery, in both the artwork and the lyrics; do you feel music should always have a visual accompaniment?
I do think that, but I think it’s more because of my generation or my age. My introduction to music was in a time when music existed as physical objects that you buy, that have by necessity a visual component, so to me that’s necessary. I don’t think that’s a fact anymore in the world we live in, music can be a minute long and have no visuals, or it could be a video or it could be a videogame. We live in weird times. For me in a lot of ways I’m a traditionalist, I want to make an album, I want to make a collection of sounds that’s forty minutes long and has a picture or a couple of pictures that go with them that help paint a picture of the music and create a more permeable world.
And that carries over to the physical releases as well.
Exactly. My way of thinking about making art and music is still very linked to the physical object. I want to make music that sounds good as music that can be a downloadable, ephemeral digital file, but I feel that having the music as a record with the pictures and the booklet and some stuff, it’s almost an invitation to go deeper into the music, if you want to.
What do you think is the appeal behind lo-fi and home recording?
I don’t know. I record myself, I don’t record in quote unquote “real studios” but I’ve always done it that way. I never however had any intention to make it sound lo-fi, I’ve always done the best job I can to make it sound as good as possible, but at the same time I’m not interested in making things sound perfect, or how they’re supposed to. There’s a lot of possibilities with recording; when recording a drum set you can make it sound crazy! So I guess that comes off at sounding lo-fi or immaturistic, but there’s a lot of thought and planning going into it, and intention.
Tell us about Fancy People Adventures.
I started drawing cartoons with my little brother and my friends forever ago, everyone does that- well maybe not everyone, but we started drawing cartoons to house jokes just to document them, and we just kept doing it, then I made a zine, then I made a website, and there you go.
Fair enough. Do you have anything else planned for 2013 after the tour?
I’m putting on a festival in my hometown of Anacortes, it’s called the Anacortes Unknown Music Series, we do it every year, sometimes more than once a year, and this will be the twelfth year in a row. It’s in July, so I’ll have to work on that.
Will that just features P. W. Elverum & Sun artists or…?
No, no. I mean, I will play, Mount Eerie will play but it’s friends, and also people we don’t known yet. Unknown Music Series is the name, so it’s not cool stuff [laughs], hopefully things that will become cool later.
The more unknown the better!
Yeah! But it’s a small town, so there’s not like there’s a hub of cool people hanging around doing cool things, so we’re just a bunch of nerds entertaining each other. [laughs]
Thank you for speaking with us, Phil! Do you have anything you’d like to extend to our readers?
And finally, do you believe in ghosts?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t believe in anything except the physical world and even then probably not.