Elverum and his axe
I get the feeling Phil Elverum doesn’t have an overly trusting relationship with the media. He doesn’t want his words swept into any kind of conclusive statement. He doesn't want a neat little parcel telling the reader what he is all about. That seems fair. After all, it's not an unreasonable stance because so far it seems Elverum has been misunderstood.
I can’t lay all the blame on the journalists though. In the past, Elverum may have wanted to create a mythology around himself. He certainly didn’t go out of his way to prevent this from happening. In fact, he admired the mysterious inner-life of one his favourite bands, Eric’s Trip. Catching snippets of stolen moments and private conversations embedded on their recordings would lead him to analyse the appeal of this and try to generate his own mystique.
But even back then, he was quick to divert the attention or shrug it off. From the start of our interview, which took place before his show at London’s Union Chapel, he threw me off. I was nervous and for some reason expected that he'd be a difficult interview subject. I started off by asked if he likes touring, expecting some sort of broody answer about how much he hates it.
‘I love it’ he replied with a big smile, ‘it balances out the solitude of my home life, which I love, but it’s nice to get out and see the world.’ He cheerfully explained in that inimitable hushed voice, that touring gives him a good excuse to travel the world and play music.
The tour in question was just Elverum and his axe, there was no band. I asked if he gets lonely touring by himself like that, but he said that he’s never really alone. He usually tours with friends or bands with similar interests. The line up for the 2012 All Tomorrow's Parties festival, featured Mt Eerie, Ô Paon and Earth. The tour must have felt like a vacation, because Geneviéve Castrée of Ô Paon is also Elverum’s wife of eight years.
Elverum and I sat in the back room of the venue, a large space filled with second hand sofas, a piano and a few trestle tables set up for the rider. At first we just talked about the tour, what he’s reading and listening to. He’s been reading a book that’s long been recommended, The Living by Annie Dillard. It’s an historical fiction based on the first European settlers of the North West coast of America. Elverum’s not keen to talk about music. He seems self-conscious about the whole topic because he doesn’t keep up with the latest stuff, confessing that his ‘consumption is random’. A friend sends him good music on occasion, but lately he’s gone back to listening to Kraut rock band, Popol Vuh, admitting their music has been a direct influence on his own music of late.
I asked about this year's albums Clear Moon and Ocean Roar andhis face lit up, ‘I’m super proud of them. I think it’s going to be really great. I’ve never given myself this much time to make something.’ He’s had months to write and re-visit the songs, which were recorded in an old church in his hometown of Anacortes, Washington. ‘Sail makers used to rent the site, and I know the landlord and I thought the resonance of the wooden room would make a great space for recording.’ Smiling, he tells me it would probably have been a producer’s worst nightmare to record in such a place, but he loved the effect that the room had on the sound.
Still trying to achieve an epic sound, big but not necessarily loud, the new records are ‘soft and fuzzy, with synthesiser and analogue sounds’. Elverum explains that ‘Clear Moon is about moments of clarity and Ocean Roar is more of an oppressive fog’. Clear Moon was the first to be released in May, with Ocean Roar scheduled for release in September. Elverum wanted them to be heard that way specifically; to be enjoyed separately, and yet for one to inform the other.
Just as we were starting to warm up, Elverum had to pop out to do a sound check. In the meantime, I waited in the make shift green room and chatted with Dylan Carlson and cellist Lori Goldston from Earth about the misgivings of eating poorly on the road. Goldston picked through pre-made sandwiches, and ended up biting into a red capsicum, like it was an apple. Karl Blau, also in Earth's current line up, wandered about the place and ended up at the piano next to me, playing odds and ends. I think he felt sorry for me. I must have looked awkward sitting there in my big black jacket, like the new kid at school. Other press people filtered in to interview Dylan and the Earth gang. It started to get a bit livelier in that big, high-ceiling room that felt like a school hall.