Phil Elverum has had quite a year. While we’ve already pitched our support of his tranquil Clear Moon, this week saw the release of it’s twisted companion Ocean Roar, which we’ll speak at length on in the next couple of days. Elverum was kind enough to return a few emails in regard to both of these records and his upcoming tour.
Beats Per Minute (Colin Joyce): Hi Phil, I’ll spare you the usual questions, but I’ll ask you this one. How often are you still asked about the distinction between the Microphones and Mount Eerie?
Phil Elverum: Pretty much in every single interview, and every time I accidentally ask “does anyone have any questions?” at a show.
BPM: It has to be frustrating if it still comes up but it has to be the nature of shutting down such a widely recognized and even in latter years revered moniker. If you were doing it again in 2012 would you still make the change?
PE: It’s true, it does get annoying, especially when I realize that it’s been over 8 years since I changed it. The Microphones was only even in use as a name for less than 5 years. I did not anticipate the fixation on this detail to last this long. I knew it would be a little blip of confusion but did not anticipate talking about it in 2012. Still though, I probably would not change anything. “The Microphones” was no longer relevant, and “Mount Eerie” is still a relevant and potent name for me. I can handle the annoyance of repetition. It’s worth it to feel like I am making something at least slightly meaningful.
BPM: What do you mean that the Mount Eerie name is still “relevant and potent”?
PE: Oh, well, I just mean that it is a good emblem/title for what I’m trying to say with this music and other art projects. It sums up what I’m going for, which is mostly just a raw feeling, but kind of the idea of a looming dark invisible dreamed thing. An eerie mountain. It’s potent because I still don’t quite understand it and there is room to explore.
BPM: That being said, some of your recent material has been amongst your strongest to date. Clear Moon was, like much of your work, clearly rooted in a sense of place, which in your case happens to be Anacortes, Can you talk a bit more about how Anacortes manifests itself in that album?
PE: I’m not sure what specifically says “Anacortes” about those songs. I mean, there are direct words about “the Place I Live” and stuff like that, but not about the specific features of this place necessarily. I talk about the hills behind the high school and other minor moments, but nothing too specific. Maybe people picture Anacortes because I make an effort to say where I’m from in the packaging and other presentation aspects of the label and stuff. It’s important to me to have things this way. Like when you look at an old coat, on the label it’ll say “Centralia Knitting Mills, Centralia, Wash.” or whatever. Now it just says “Bugle Boy” and maybe a URL.
BPM: Ocean Roar is a direct counterpart to Clear Moon. A darker side of the same coin. Is it in the same way thematically based in ruminations on place or were you drawing on different things lyrically for this record?
PE: No, it happens somewhere too, but on Ocean Roar the idea is that the listener is swept west from Anacortes over the hills in the dark out to the vast abstract ocean at night. Of course, all this is not literal. These are not story-albums. That’s just the visual component I was imagining as I put the records together, the semi-abstract image-poem of the sequence. It’s a movement from domestic small town mind living, swept out into total void and vast ocean.
BPM: With two records so tied together, was it tempting at all to release them as one package? Is there any real reason you didn’t, other than the sheer indigestion than the proggy connotations of a thematically arranged double album?
PE: I knew I didn’t want to do another double vinyl. The last 2 records I put out were double albums. Just long. Also I’ve been getting a bunch of double vinyls from people more these days and I felt like there is a forgotten power in being concise. I wanted to challenge myself to get my point across in 35 – 40 minutes instead of 1hr +.
BPM: Even the artwork of each album suggests a connection between the two albums, as well as the relative content of each. Is there anything you want to say about the artwork?
PE: Yes, they are meant to be looked at next to each other. You can also put Wind’s Poem in there as part of the group.
BPM: Speaking of artwork do you have any further plans for photography projects or is that mostly something that happens alongside your music works?
PE: Yes, I have another photo-book I want to make, but I haven’t started putting it together yet. I have some other things that must come first.
BPM: You didn’t tour at all simply on the back of Clear Moon did you? Will the upcoming tour draw a lot of material from both records?
PE: Yes, we’re playing songs from both new records, plus some other stuff. It’s been a busy summer and I couldn’t really do a tour. Still, we did like 8 shows in the NW in June playing those songs. Also, I did a bigger Europe tour in March/April playing the songs, but the records weren’t out so they were just songs.
BPM: How is the tour going to look band-wise? You have a different lineup on every tour it seems. Last time I saw you play, it was just you with Nicolas Krgovich and one other person on keyboards.
PE: Yes, I like to keep things changing. I don’t want to become a band. This time it will be 5 people. Perhaps the most normal band I’ve ever had. 2 guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, 3 singers. My favorite part is the vocal harmonies.
BPM: With these two records and the big tour, by the end of this year you’ll have accomplished quite a lot. Is there anything else on the horizon for you or will you just be trying to catch your breath for a while?
PE: No way, no breath catching. I tried that a couple of years ago. I made myself clear the schedule and have no plans and I got really into reading by the fire, mid winter, cooking complicated meals and baking bread. It was awesome, but it was really difficult to get the momentum back up, to feel productive again. It’s a tough balance. These days I have not been cooking enough. But it continues. After this tour there is another tour, and then another, and then more ideas, and in between all these things I’m reissuing all my old Microphones albums from K.
BPM: One final and much lighter question. How much do you love twitter? Your tweets always brighten my day, as surreal and absurd as they may be.
PE: Thanks! I love/hate twitter. It’s pretty stupid. I mean, I started that account for the sole purpose of making a one time conceptual joke about how dumb twitter was (tweeting every banal thought every 5 seconds for days), but then just forgot to close the account. I guess I like it as a place for people to experiment with jokes. Other than that I think it’s a good example of how fucked up our modern time is, with extreme distraction and super shallow thinking and encouraged superficiality. But thanks!