INTERVIEW: Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum

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In the past with albums like Wind’s Poem you’ve experimented with genres like black metal, others have been more withdrawn like Lost Wisdom and Dawn, now you’ve experimented with ambient and post-punk; where does Mount Eerie go from here?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?

Hello. [laughs]

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.


INTERVIEW: The Haxan Cloak

This feature was first published in Weightless in November 2013.

Eerily dense and hauntingly foreboding, The Haxan Cloak’s uniquely cinematic blend of dark ambient and noise has been crushing venues and unearthing the supernatural across the UK at the head of his 2013 tour of Europe. The Cloak was gracious enough to take time to speak with us before his Bristol show about his new LP ‘Excavation’, his recording process, and what music means to him.

You’ve just been playing at here at The Exchange with Eraas and Necro Deathmort, what else have you got planned for your tour?

Pretty much more of the same, but this is only the third gig into the new tour, so right now I’m just tweaking it and making it more physical. Just making it louder… better. [laughs]

Louder is always better! You’re also playing with Mount Eerie in Brussels later on in the tour.

Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to that! That’s on Thursday the 16th.

So, Excavation’s been getting some fantastic reviews, how have you been responding to that?

Pretty much in very quite awe. I was shocked at the response that my first album had, I never expected my second to even match up to that, and this one’s done maybe fifty times better. So the fact that I can come and play a gig where more than ten people will come is pretty cool for me.

I’m sure you have Pitchfork to thank for that.

[laughs] Yep. Thanks, Brandon.

On Excavation your music has been much more cinematic than on your previous release, do you owe that to any particular influences, perhaps Atrium Carceri or Lustmord?

No, not really. The artists I was listening to while making Excavation was pretty similar to the ones I was on the first record. But when I make music it’s more about restraint, it can be very hard to restrain your ideas, at least in my experience. With the first record I had a very distinct thing I wanted to accomplish, so I was stripping away all the layers back to get that, and with this one it’s more like, not necessarily ideas I couldn’t include on the first album, but showcasing a different side of my music, and also there’s a pretty distinct concept running through the record. Though I do like all the people you just mentioned.

How do you feel about the way ambient artists are often perceived as very mysterious or enigmatic by the music press? Do you feel you need to adhere to a certain type of image that reflects your music?

I don’t feel like I do because that’s not the way I was brought up to think about music. I mean when I first started making music when I was a teenager, I was in the DIY punk scene in my town, so that was very un-pretentious. Not that keeping your identity a secret is pretentious, but how so many people do it these days it’s become more of a gimmick, and there’s not many gimmicks about what I do, because, like, I don’t want to do anything else apart from this; I’ve always said that this kind of music is about honesty, really,  and a clear channel of perception between what’s going in in your life and what’s going on in your brain and what comes out. There’s no point masking that in the stream of bullshit that can come with it.

There’s already a few myths surrounding the recording of Excavation, namely how you supposedly sealed yourself away without sleep or food for days during the making of it. Was it really that extreme? How was Excavation recorded?

[laughs] I mean- it’s extreme, I’m a workaholic when it comes to my music. Many things suffered, my relationship suffered, my sanity suffered, but it wasn’t as extreme as locking myself away like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. If I’ve got something I want to say, that I want to do, I’ll stop at nothing to get it done. Music means everything to me and there’s nothing more important in my life, so why shouldn’t I just go balls deep?

Lots of your other ambient contemporaries have been drawn to more lavish recording processes, Tim Hecker’s last album was recorded at a church in Reykjavík, which is a big contrast to your home setup. How do you feel about home recording, it’s advantages and disadvantages as an artist?

I don’t think there’s any real advantages apart from recording in a place where you feel comfortable. You want to record in a place where you feel comfortable, it’s easier to record in a place where you don’t feel, say, the monetary stresses of working in a studio. But as for advantages, if you’ve made a record like I’ve just made you don’t want to go to sleep and wake up in the same room where all that energy’s been pumped out. So it would be nice to have a studio at some point. There’s more disadvantages than there are advantages, that’s for sure.

You said before the show you had use of a full studio during the recording process, tell us about that.

Yeah, I was given a recording studio for a week by the Britain Peer’s Foundation in Suffolk, in a little village called Snape. It was through the estate of Benjamin Britten, and they gave me a studio for a week to just record whatever the hell I wanted. They had a multitude of pretty much every orchestral instrument you could ever imagine, so I spent a week being a kid in a sweetshop basically. I had some timpani, big orchestral bass drums, ’The Mirror Reflecting (Part 1)’ is in fact just some huge eight-foot gong I had recorded in a room for a day and just pitch-shifted and processed and did various things with.

Are you ever going to release your Sunn O))) remix?

Oh, on the Resident Advisor mix? Err, probably not. Maybe. If I could coerce Stephen into saying yes. But I doubt that. [laughs]

Sunn O))) could do a split with The Haxan Cloak, you never know.

I’d have to convince Stephen with some nice wine.

Thank you for speaking with us! Do you have any words you’d like to extend to our readers?

Well, thanks for giving a shit, basically. Cheers!

The Haxan Cloak’s ‘Excavation’ is available now from Tri Angle Records. Make sure to catch him on tour if you get the chance!

INTERVIEW: Planning For Burial

This feature was first published in Weightless in December 2012. 


Within the walls of Enemies List Home Recordings house some of the most enigmatic artists of today, producing equally strange, provocative and honest music. Among the ranks of projects such as Have A Nice Life, Afterlives and Giles Corey stands the wistful drones of Planning For Burial.

Mixing elements of shoegaze, drone, slowcore and post-metal, gliding synths evoke feelings of woeful nostalgia, while thick guitars construct impenetrable walls of regret and desolation. Thom Wasluck, the mastermind behind the one-man project, graciously took the time to talk to us about his music, the past, present and future.

Tell us about Planning For Burial. How did it come about? Did you have any previous musical endeavours that led up to it? 

At this point Planning For Burial has been going for almost 7 years as a recording entity though I never really let it out into the world until 4 years ago, and over the past two years I have focused more on playing live. I don’t believe it ever really started with a purpose besides it’s something I have been doing since I was a teenager recording late at night with my first 4 track cassette recorder.

The name of the project is rather poignant, and a pretty good representation of the music itself, what made you choose the name “Planning For Burial”?

The name was inspired by watching my grandfather become suddenly ill after my grandmothers death, watching a man I thought my whole life was emotionless just disintegrate without his love and how brutal it must be to know full well you are dying, making the arrangements, telling your son and grandson family secrets or just stories he hadn’t told in years, spending time with loved one, trying to get it all in before you go.

What kind of bands and musicians influence your music? Is it mostly drawn from shoegaze and drone artists, or something a little different?

I have always had a thing for melodies or music that feels warm and sad at the same time.  I know it’s cliché to say but I really believe my influences span almost three decades worth of constant music consumption, the music my parents played around me as a child, the music I found as pre-teen and in my teenage years through my twenties, my musical taste is become pretty vast.

Any particular artists, old and new, you’re enjoying at the moment?

Lately all I seem to listen to is Unwound’s “Leaves Turn Inside Of You”, anything Chelsea Wolfe, and “Treasure” & “Heaven or Las Vegas” by Cocteau Twins

Since the release of ‘Leaving’, you’ve put out a fair few EPs moving the Planning For Burial sound in a quieter, more meditative direction. What influenced this decision, and what will the sound evolve to in the future?

I think as far the EPs go they have taken that direction because some of them have been recorded spontaneously utilizing no overdubbing just throw a few mics up and hit record, I felt like in the last year I needed to get immediate feelings out rather than let them build. I’m not sure of the way it will evolve, because I also see two sides of what I am doing their is the quieter stuff but the live shows are have taken a much louder heavier tone.

You play a lot of shows each year, and have just finished your first few shows in Europe and the UK. What are your thoughts on touring?
 What’s it like to perform your music in a live setting? 

A lot of what I do is based on my feelings at any given time, and I seem to be getting more out of playing live than I have from recording lately.

What are your thoughts on home recording in music? 

Music should be about feeling, doing things and recording exactly when you feel them, not about setting up in some lavish studio for a set time frame, though that also has its advantages as well.

You have a new release coming out soon, a reissue of ‘Quietly’ on the prolific Enemies List Home Recordings label. Tell us about that.

It now contains all the songs that were written at the time that for sequencing purposes wouldn’t work correctly on the cassette format, it also contains songs from a limited cassette release called “Reminder” and some other unreleased tracks. Everything has been remastered, and the artwork has been reformatted by Niels Geybels for a bigger layout.

What have you got planned for 2013?

I have 4 different split releases across 4 different labels, I will finally record the written 2nd full length (though I can’t promise that one), there are some small weekend dates planned for early in the year and the possibility of relocating across the ocean.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Thom! Any closing words for our readers?

I’m just thankful for anyone that has given this project any time at all, I have been able to do some pretty incredible things with my life because of it and have met some amazing people as well.

Planning For Burial’s ‘Quietly’ will be reissued in early 2013 by Enemies List Home Recordings. In the meantime, listen and support via bandcamp, or catch him on tour!