Q&A: Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum Loves Black Metal But Dislikes the Internet


Wheat Wurtzburger
Mount Eerie plays the Vera Project at 8 p.m. Wednesday with WHY? and No Kids.
The music that Phil Elverum's been performing lately


Q&A: Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum Loves Black Metal But Dislikes the Internet

  • Q&A: Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum Loves Black Metal But Dislikes the Internet

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    Wheat Wurtzburger
    Mount Eerie plays the Vera Project at 8 p.m. Wednesday with WHY? and No Kids.
    The music that Phil Elverum's been performing lately bears little resemblance to the kind he's been playing for the last decade. The Anacortes-based musician is best known for the fragile, intricate compositions on The Glow Pt. 2--recorded in 2001 under his old moniker, The Microphones--and for his membership with Karl Blau and Bret Lunsford in the minimalist pop band D+. He's now recording as Mount Eerie, and his latest album, Wind's Poem, is as dark as Elverum gets. Influenced by his self-pronounced love of black metal, the album fluctuates between rattling guitar breakdowns and quieter, ponderous instrumentals. He's also performing with a full band--a change for Elverum, who's usually seen solo. But any longtime Microphones or Mount Eerie fan knows to expect the unexpected from a musician who eschews social networking, traditional record labels, and big city life for a DIY ethic.

    Earlier this summer, Elverum talked about recording his latest album, how he discovers new bands he likes, and the realization that music might be a young man's game.

    So, you've been playing with a backing band lately?

    Yes. I made this record, I finished this record, and it sounds different than usual. I tried to make it sound it bigger than usual. And also, I'm kind of sick of playing alone. I've been playing alone for pretty much my whole career, um, out of necessity or convenience, I guess. It's easier to do everything alone. But it's limiting, so I've been feeling like I want to do something new.

    What's it like to play with a new group of musicians? Do you feel like you need train them to play your songs?

    That's such a small issue compared to how complicated it is to schedule different people's lives. That's the thing that's kept me up at night for months, trying to solve this puzzle: How do I work out needing to go on tour and where, working around other people's lives? And it blows my mind that people are able to do it, all the time.

    You've also produced for acts like Beat Happening, Little Wings, and Mirah. How do you reconcile Phil the Producer with Phil the Songwriter?

    It's kind of like I have two lives. I do a lot of record label work; I put out my own records and run a small record label. And so I spend so much time on the computer. And doing stuff like that--I guess I like doing it, but it's so much more work than actually writing and recording an album. So much work goes into making it as a physical thing and selling it, it's unbelievable.

    You say you're on the computer a lot, but you don't have an official MySpace or Facebook page.

    Just maintaining my own Web site is enough work for me. It's enough computer time. Also, it's never been explained to me, why those are useful or how they are useful as tools. And I hate the way they look. I haven't seen Facebook much, but MySpace looks like a turd. It's just another way for me to control things, aesthetically.

    If you're not online much, how do you discover new bands you like?

    For the past couple of years, I've been pretty focused on black metal. And that limits where I can look. If I go to a record store and they have a black metal section, I buy records based on the cover art. [Laughs]. There are some good blogs I read about black metal, but other than that, I'm not that curious about music. It's unfortunate--I'm not as curious as I was when I was a curious teenager, just desperate for any subculture.

    What is about black metal that appeals to you?

    I've always, I think, been really into music and art that focused on darkness. Before black metal, I hadn't encountered anything that leads so extremely into darkness, and the aesthetic of obscuring what's there. I guess a band like My Bloody Valentine, which was a favorite band of mine as a teenager--it's a very similar thing in my mind. There's this wall of distortion, and there's weird things going on inside the distortion. Not all black metal is like that, but the stuff that I like is. And when you do read the lyrics, it's basically about nature appreciation, which is one of my favorite themes. The awkwardness of young people in 2009 grappling with traditions and nature--black metal is often times about some of those things. Of course, there's plenty of corny shit in black metal that you have to wade through.

    Do you have a favorite black metal band at the moment?

    This band from Olympia, Wolves in the Throne Room, they're really good. And they're really popular in the black metal world right now.

    How does listening to all this black metal influence your own music?

    I tried to make a black metal record, this record, but it's not at all. I failed. But it's so hard to make that music I realized. Just like I realized it's hard to have a band! These things that everyone does--it's so hard.

    Wind's Poem isn't a black metal album, then?

    I set out, at least, to replicate the sound I heard on these black metal albums. It's like,"What is that? It's screaming I think, but is that the wind? Are there drums in here? I think there's drums." I did a couple of songs that sounded like that, and then I did some quiet songs. So I ended up with this record that's all over the map. That realization that the screaming in black metal kind of songs like wind, but that it also sounds like wind, and just going on that metaphor, it's why the album is called Wind's Poem.

    Do you feel like you're a black metal musician now?

    No. I would be so embarrassed [to be called that], because authentic black metal dudes would literally murder me and eat my brains! [Laughs]. Those musicians have so much skill and proficiency. Because I'm incapable of practicing, my style is more, "Go with the feeling, see what happens." I don't now what kind of musician I would call myself, or even if I would call myself one.

    Do you think you relate better to black metal than say, Seattle indie rock?

    I guess so, or at least I feel more interested in relating to it. I feel like it has more to say to me. I should be careful, though--it's not across-the-board black metal. Probably like 90 percent of black metal out there is embarrassing and repulsive. The good stuff for me is really powerful and touching.

    That's the thing about music in general, right? There's a lot to weed through until you find what you like.

    I think that's the difference with kids these days. When I was a teenager, it was 1994. Nirvana was happening. The Internet wasn't a factor. I lived in a town that was relatively isolated. So, there was this desperation to find--and curiosity and mystery about--music. You'd find some 7-inch somewhere and be so excited. Today, everything is so available that there's no mystery.

    And it's not like that anymore.

    It's weird to start feeling old. But I am. I'm 31. But to notice, more incrementally, more of a alienation from the young people around me. Like the current wave of young people living in Anacortes --they're all like 10 years younger than me. That's a big gap. It feels like a gap that's big enough to alienate me on certain levels. I thought it would never happen to me, but it does. It happens to everyone.

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