What’s in a name change?
As the Microphones, the Anacortes, Washington-based musician Phil Elverum released The Glow, Pt. 2 in 2001, through the tastemaking K Records. The record channeled analogue warmth and a personal style that turned the songwriter and studio whiz into one of indie rock’s most respected. In the decade since, he’s been tough to pin down, leaving K for his own label, P.W. Elverum & Sun, changing the band’s name from The Microphones to Mount Eerie, and his last name from Elvrum to Elverum—with an extra “e.”
Early on, these changes registered to his audience as a reluctance to build upon his best works, like The Glow, Pt. 2. But Mount Eerie’s most recent album, Wind’s Poem, from 2009, was a return to form: It found Elverum joining the quiet sounds he explored in the intervening years on Lost Wisdom, Live in Japan and Singers, with the abyssal darkness of Norwegian black metal—a fascination he picked up after spending a winter in that country.
Through changing names and styles, Elverum’s lyrics have focused on impermanence, and spare, mythic visions of the natural world.
Mount Eerie plays at the UVA Chapel on September 19.
What were you doing when I called?
I was just finishing breakfast and reading, drinking coffee. I had actually lost track of time.
Each of your tours happens with a wildly different iteration of Mount Eerie. In 2009 you came to town with two drummers, and played a very loud, “wall of sound” kind of set, which was perfect for songs off Wind’s Poem. What kind of setup can we look forward to this time?
There’s going to be three people in my band, but no drums this time. Nick Krgovich and Julia Chirka are playing synthesizers and I’m playing guitar. They’ve been in the last couple of versions of Mount Eerie; they played keyboard when we were touring for Wind’s Poem. In May of 2009 we did a short tour without the drummers, and instead of guitar I was playing a vibraphone.
So this is new territory, the first tour we’re playing with the current setup. It’s going to be kind of washy and dreamy. Before making Wind’s Poem I never would have allowed keyboards on my albums. I would always just simulate the feeling of them using other tools that were more in my world. After making that record I’ve been getting more into the feeling of a wall of strange synthetic strings. It’s one of my favorite tones now.
You’re widely known to be a “Twin Peaks” fan, and a few references to the show made their way onto Wind’s Poem. Comparing the start of the series to the end, it’s obvious that David Lynch shot the pilot without knowing anything about where it would lead. What do you make of his heedless improvisation?
I just recently re-watched the series over the last couple weeks for the…ninth time, or whatever. And I was thinking about that, because you can totally tell which episodes David Lynch directed, because they’re the ones where weird shit happens for no reason. I think that he’s an amazing artist, and other people on the show were also good, but just didn’t have the magic or daring to be like, “Fuck it, I’m going to put a 10-minute shot of a donut on prime time TV.”
Is there a Lynchian sense of spontaneity in the way you make records?
In a similar way to the “Twin Peaks” pilot, I never really come to recording with expectations. I don’t know how my music takes the shape it does. I didn’t have any goals going into the last one. Recording is always like feeling around in the dark, and I change things according to how they feel at the moment. I’m in the middle of recording the next record, but I’m taking my time and trying all kinds of different things, so I don’t really know what shape it’s going to take yet.
Your collaborative records and the ones you make on your own are of different lineages—the more traditional recording session versus the long, thematically-cohesive project. Do you keep them separate?
In my mind I do have different categories for them. There’s the ones that take me a year or more of recording to slowly create, and then the side things come together differently, much quicker. I feel like it’s important to have a wide variety of incarnations of work. From outside my perspective, as a music listener or as an art spectator, it’s exciting to see someone else’s work take many different forms and have a cohesive thread that goes through all of them. To be able to pick up on one idea and see it from many different angles.
How is it running your own label? Does being responsible for every step of production and distribution take time away from making music?
Yeah it does, but at the same time it’s my preferred method. It’s a challenge to balance those things, but it’s important to me. Now I have an employee, a friend that’s been taking some of that over. It’s not less work for me, more like expanding the things that we’re trying to do. It’s been exciting figuring out that world, becoming even more independent.
"Between Two Mysteries"