Interview: Phil Elverum (The Microphones/Mount Eerie)

Due to unforeseeable issues, we had to delay and put off publishing the interview. But we are happy to finally present it. Check back soon for the latest on Wind’s Poem.

130BPM: First off, I wanted to talk about the re-issue for The Glow Pt. 2. You re-issued it this year, what was your inspiration to re-release this now?

Phil Elverum: We had to re-press it anyway, because it was going out of print on CD and vinyl. So everything needed to be re-manufactured anyway. So I thought, might as well make a fancy version.

130BPM: Some fans were asking about the meanings of a few of the songs off that album, the title track in particular, some interpreted it to be a song about suicide. Was it?

Elverum: No. I’m not into suicide.

130BPM: Well others have thought the same thing about “I Want to Be Cold”.

Elverum: Yeah … what is a suicide song?

130BPM: You have a point.

Elverum: *laughs* I guess there are songs that are themed around killing yourself. Metal bands, where that is there whole thing – someone should kill themselves because existence is torture. But you know, that really isn’t me.

130BPM: Yeah, you never seemed the type, but this is how some people thought of the songs.

Elverum: I mean, it’s understandable I guess. The words “I want to be cold”, that seems dark, but, I think they are the opposite of that. They are about being alive, and in spite of all the dark feelings you have. Having this vitality is over powering.

130BPM: I noticed there are recurring themes on each of the Microphones’ albums. Like on It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water, there is obviously water, on The Glow Pt. 2 there is fire, and then on Mount Eerie there was…

Elverum: It was rock. Loosely in the elements theme, it was talking about rock, like the mountains.

130BPM: The Glow Pt. 2 and Mount Eerie are kind of bridged together by “My Warm Blood” and “The Sun” – is that the way they are supposed to be?

Elverum: Yeah. I like to have all my stuff tied together.

130BPM: I’ve always been curious about the story of Mount Eerie. In the story you die because vultures eat you. What happens after that?

Elverum: On the album there is this last song called “Universe”. And in the song its like “I disappeared”, I forget. It’s pretty ambiguous *laughs*

130BPM: A lot of fans view The Glow Pt. 2 as your greatest piece of work. However, hardcore fans will say that Mount Eerie is your masterpiece. How do you feel about that?

Elverum: I don’t know, these are just records I made, I have no big perspective on them. I may be too close to have any career-scale perspective. I just wanted to try this record Mount Eerie, where it was something beyond just a bunch songs put together, and was one cohesive thing.

130BPM: And you continued that story with the release of Mount Eerie pts. 6 & 7 which came with a hardcover book. The photos in that book were amazing.

Elverum: Thank you!

130BPM: Now you took all those photos, correct?

Elverum: Yeah. But there were some of them where I was in the picture, so I set it up, and had my brother or sister take them. I can’t fully remember, but I had help.

130BPM: Let’s talk about the recording of Dawn, which you did back in 2002. I’m curious about your inspiration for that. Going out to remote Norway, and how you wrote this book, had a new album and you came back as this new band, it’s fascinating.

Elverum: The songs on the album Dawn were from that time, I wrote them from that time, but I actually recorded them a year ago at my house. I didn’t get a chance to record them in Norway, because there was no electricity. And I never really got around to recording them until last year. I know that it confusing. They are old songs, but weren’t recorded all that long ago.

130BPM: There were a lot of live recordings of songs from Dawn from 2004 and 2005, so fans were familiar with them, but then you listen to Dawn and they sound different in a way.

Elverum: Yeah I know, I try to keep it changing.

130BPM: Which is good. Getting back to Dawn, what actually inspired you to go off to Norway?

Elverum: I think it was kind of a romantic idea I had since I was a teenager. I think a lot of people have that “wouldn’t it be cool to move to some place where no one knows me, and re-invent myself” idea at some point in their lives. And so, I don’t know, I just did it. In 2002 I went on this long tour, it was open ended, I didn’t have a return ticket. It just seemed that’s how it went. *laughs*. The idea kind of just happened accidentally, the idea of getting a cabin in the North. The more I kind of just asked around “Oh, where should I live, I want to go to Norway” it just seemed like a cool place, had I never been there before, so I didn’t know. But from the outside, it sounded like it was pretty amazing. So I just figured how to go there. I got a lot of contacts for people that set up shows. Set up as many shows as I could, traveled around.

130BPM: So you were talking around, and somehow you got this cabin, and you spent three months there?

Elverum: It was actually four months. But yeah, the book is pretty short. The period that the book covers isn’t very long. But I had the cabin for four months total.

130BPM: So there was no electricity at all in this cabin? You were roughing it in the wild…

Elverum: There was actually solar electricity, but the cabin was mostly in the shadow, no sun. Yeah I didn’t have anything to plug in anyway, so it didn’t matter.

130BPM: So you ended The Microphones with the album Mount Eerie, and then came back using the same name for releasing the new stuff?

Elverum. Yeah, well it’s because that album Mount Eerie, I never really felt satisfied with the ending. And I felt like it was an idea that was pretty potent and ambiguous. I also just liked the name better. So I took the name and kept on trying to explain this idea or like continuing this weird myth.

130BPM: So after this you had No Flashlight. Was that the only true Mount Eerie album?

Elverum: You know, it might be. The only *laughs* normal one. Because the rest of them are all kind of like – “well here’s this kind of semi-themed novelty project”. A lot of singles and EP and stuff, but yeah that’s true.

130BPM: Any info on the new album?

Elverum: I have nothing to say about the new album, because it doesn’t exist yet. I’m still working on it, and I haven’t been working on it because of this long tour. But we’ll see what happens.

130BPM: I’m curious about the old pressings of No Flashlight which has an amazing cover, will that ever get a re-pressing?

Elverum: Well, yeah definitely I want to keep the record in print. But I think I might do a second pressing of the artwork. Because I don’t know, if I have to re-print something anyways, I always kind of feel like I might as well re-design it and put more versions out there into the world. I’m into inconsistency and surrealism *laughs* and keeping people confused.

130BPM: You’ve been quoted to say Eric’s Trip is you favorite band ever, is that true?

Elverum: Well ever, that’s intense. But yeah, they’ve been very influential on me, for sure.

130BPM: You do a lot of original stuff obviously, but you’ve also been known to collaborate. You and Julie Dorion have before on Lost Wisdom. Your singing styles are very similar, and compliment each other well. Is it an EP, or an album? It’s only 21 minutes.

Elverum: Yeah, it’s pretty short. I decided not to call it an EP, and just to think of it as a short album. I don’t know why.

130BPM: People have said they wanted it longer. But I actually like it as a short album. It’s a nice quick listen.

Elverum: Yeah! We didn’t wear out our welcome.

130BPM: On Lost Wisdom you also collaborated with…

Elverum: Fred Squire. Yeah, he played electric guitar on the album, and sang a couple background vocals. But yeah, it was pretty simple, live. We just recorded it with one microphone.

130BPM: Now it was a quick recording from my understanding?

Elverum: Yeah totally, it was really casual. We didn’t even know we were recording an album. We were just kind of doing one song at a time, just for fun. We didn’t have plans to release it. We were kind of just like “hey here is one of my songs, would you like to run it and sing along, okay.” So after two days of just hanging out, doing that, we had two songs. But yeah, it was definitely unplanned – it wasn’t pre-mediated.

130BPM: Some of the songs you already had written before?

Elverum: Two of them were new and in fact one of them was written in the studio, on the floor while those guys were waiting for me to press record.

130BPM: Now, “Voice In Headphones”, that is about Björk correct?

Elverum: Yeah kind of. It’s about one of her songs, a song called “Undo”.

130BPM: Now that you have collaborated with Julie, whom would you like to collaborate with next?

Elverum: Oh I don’t know. I’m a weird person to collaborate with I think. In fact, Lost Wisdom wasn’t even really collaboration. It was just like “here’s my songs, sing on them, if you want”. They didn’t change the songs at all. So, I think I have a hard time actually truly collaborating, truly creating something with someone. Because Lost Wisdom was basically just decorating my songs, and making them more beautiful. I think when I’m creative, I’m usually am the type of person that has a hard time letting go of the control. I have kind of a complete vision and I just want to do it my way. I don’t know, I kind of don’t want to collaborate. I don’t really have a dream collaboration, because I want to learn how to do that first.

130BPM: Wind’s Poem, as you’ve said you haven’t really worked on this much yet, right?

Elverum: Correct.

130BPM: Wind’s Poem going to stay the title?

Elverum: Yeah, I think so *laughs*

130BPM: Now you excited a lot of people when you put “colossal new album” on your site.

Elverum: Yeah, I know. I kind of wish I hadn’t put that, because now there is all this expectation. Of course whatever I come out with is not going to be as colossal sounding as what everyone is expecting.

130BPM: When I hear “colossal”, I think of the latter stuff on The Glow Pt. 2, like “Samurai Sword”, and all the crazy noise ones. I’m not expecting some two hundred-piece band.

Elverum: Yeah, I know. It was kind of stupid for me to kind of brag about it like that.

130BPM: You did What the Heck Fest in your hometown, and you performed some new material there. Will those songs be on the new album?

Elverum: I don’t remember what songs I played at What the Heck Fest. The thing is, I don’t know what songs will be on the album until I put the master tapes together. I want to just record a bunch of stuff and then put together a great album from it. So, it’s too early to say.

130BPM: That’s fine. I think fans are happy with Lost Wisdom, and Dawn for now. Black Window Open Ceiling as well, which was really unexpected.

Elverum: Yeah, it’s been a busy year. That’s why I’m giving myself plenty of time with this new one. I feel like I put out three albums this year. I bought myself a little of time.

130BPM: And you’ve also done a lot of touring.

Elverum: Yeah, it’s been a crazy year.

130BPM: Speaking of touring, you don’t play typical clubs. You play churches, cafes…

Elverum: That’s true. I mean, I only play all ages shows, so that kind of narrows it down a lot.

130BPM: Now, how do you decide on these venues?

Elverum: Usually I don’t. It’s either I get invited by some person in the town that happens to arrange shows in that place, or I’ll know a person in the town, and we won’t know where to put the show on, and they will just figure it out. They will ask around. I have some resourceful friends in various places.

130BPM: Yeah, we’ll have to talk about that.

Elverum: You know, it’s hard to answer that. My relatives ask me that, because I will be staying for Thanksgiving. “How do you find these places?”. And it’s just different in every city.

130BPM: I hear you are very taper friendly at your shows, as long as they aren’t profitable.

Elverum: Yeah sure. Everything is free.

130BPM: Now I’m going to go through and ask some questions that your fans sent us. Some of them are stupid, like “will you cover my song” – obviously that is no.

Elverum: *laughs* That’s true, it’s probably unlikely. I have a hard enough time playing my own songs.

130BPM: Somebody asked if there will be a focus on an element theme on the new album.

Elverum: Wind. I think it’s going to be heavy on the winds theme. And throw in the poetry.

130BPM: So the album title is pretty much a given.

Elverum: *laughs* Yeah, it’s pretty literal.

130BPM: So just like the other albums, it had “Water” in the title, was about water, the glow was the fire, it’s literal.

Elverum: Well no, it’s so much, well maybe I don’t know. Wind, it’s actually wind as a metaphor for destruction and change.

130BPM: One of your fans asked what kind of equipment will you use when recording Wind’s Poem, and how will it effect the finished product.

Elverum: I’m going to use the same equipment as usual, I guess. *laughs* All kinds of stuff. Actually I have a friend who is a metal worker, and we’re talking about making a gong. Melting down metal and pouring it and making a mold. I’ve been researching how giant gongs are made. I want to make one. So hopefully we’ll do that.

130BPM: Another fan asked, what can we expect from Wind’s Poem, but obviously you don’t know yet.

Evlrum: Exclusively gong. You can tell them that *laughs*

130BPM: Do you think anything further will come from your collaboration with Julie and Fred?

Elverum: Yeah, perhaps. They live on the other side of the continent, so it’s hard to meet up. But it’s sure was fun playing with them. So maybe some day.

130BPM: Here is the final question. Apart from Wind’s Poem, what do you see on the radar for your label in 2009?

Elverum: Um, not much. Some little things. I’m putting out a 7’inch by Adrian Orange. Another little booklet thing. Putting out some more tape, like printing packing tape. So just little things like that, so no big releases.

Interview done by Ryan Nichols

Transcribed by Brent Koepp