Clarity and confusion
So much western philosophy and literature has been influenced by eastern religions, both Buddhist and Hindu. Elverum agrees, ‘They’re potent ideas. I’m inspired by the form of a lot of the poetry. A few simple lines, creating a specific moment and then a weird twist, and there’s like …the last line pulls you out of it like an awakening.
Which is how the Zen Comments on the Mumonkan (an important 13th century Zen Buddhist text) work, they create a moment. There’s a form of Japanese poetry called Haibun, which is kind of obscure, but it’s like a haiku crossed with prose, there are a few lines of prose and a haiku. I love it.'
The prose paragraph would be something like "walking down the path from my neighbours house at midnight. We had some wine. The moon is in the sky." You’re in this moment, and then the last three lines would be like what…what…whoa and be the craziest unrelated thing that somehow informs the prose paragraph and it’s the combination of those two things that I try and do in song sometimes even using the sound that the word evokes and having the words be the focus. It creates an epiphany. There power is in the contrast. Juxtaposition is an important tool.’
Elverum admits that his lyrics have become less about feelings and more about object and observations, ‘I used to have a lot more songs about personal things, feelings. He laughs and gives me a rendition, ”I’m feeling sad, and now I’m going to do this. We’re hanging out and now we’re not hanging out any more, what’s up with that”. He laughs again. 'That’s cool too but it hasn’t been what’s interested me in the last few years.’
I ask if he ever finds it hard to feel inspired, does he get stale just hanging around at home for so long?
‘No, not really, because some songs recently have been about hanging out at the parking lot at Kentucky Fried Chicken and looking at the dumpster. That’s part of the world too. I think it’s really easy for human nature to focus on the picturesque or superficial extreme, like beautiful fog over a mountain. I think over the years I’ve been putting out records that have those images. When I'm asked about them and see what people take from it I think "oh you’ve missed my point again". I’m not just talking about the picturesque, I’m talking about these as elements. So, maybe that’s why I’ve been making an effort to sing about parking lots and whatever.’
Elverum’s search for meaning and connection with the object world unwittingly link him with his transcendental brothers. Like them, he sings about simple living and the beauty in the everyday tasks and moments. He respects the natural world and the inevitability of decay and change; he takes pride in his home and his self-reliance. But, before I get all misty-eyed and reverent, heralding Elverum as some kind of modern day transcendentalist, he does that thing again where he won't let me get too comfortable with my stereotyping.
‘I get the feeling people think I’m some kind of hermit, and sometimes I am I guess, but then sometimes I’m watching the Bourne Ultimatum on DVD for the 12th time.’