Thursday March 6th to Saturday March 8th, cult singer-songwriter Phil Elverum is playing a handful of California shows. We've used this as an opportunity to talk to him about hardcore punk, nature worship, and where he wants to die. Here is the unexpurgated Q&A.
Where are you?.
I'm in a town called Marfa, Texas, a weird art town in deep west Texas.
There’s a compound dedicated to the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd there, right?
Yes. I have some friends who have been living here for the last two months. I came down to drive back with a few of them. It seemed like a cool road trip. I thought about setting up a show decided against it. I wanted to just come here for fun.
Are you pretty nomadic? I went to Iceland a few summers ago and remember seeing a photocopied flyer advertising a show of yours in some odd, out-of-the way place. And I know you have some complicated relationship with Norway. Do you make a point of not touring in traditional venues?
There are normal tours. But I guess I tend to go to places I want to go to, rather than going where the money is.
Is there an ethic behind that?
I am drawn to cold, desolate places rather than Hawaii. I actually love Hawaii too, but I tend to go to Iceland or Norway or Northern Japan — northern places for whatever reason. Which aren’t necessarily the best places to tour.
Is there something special about playing places like that — the more remote the better?
The more remote the place the more special it is because the audience is glad you came, they're glad for the attention.
Do you have a special connection to these places – a personal history?
It could just be called a fixation. I mean, yeah, my last name is Norwegian, and I've kind of been interested in my idea of that culture. But it's more like…it kind of felt like these were the cool kids who were exotic and far away, and I felt like the unpopular kid going to sit with the popular kids. But now we're friends.
Is there a direct family connection?
I think it was 100 years ago – so far enough back that I never knew anyone that came from there. [Elverum pauses, and returns with a digression-ed.]
After the jump, it starts snowing in the Texas sun.
It's so weird here right now. It's snowing but the sky is blue and it's not really that cold. I don't know where the flakes are coming from. I'm sitting here by the firepit and there's sun shining on me and snow falling on me. Yeah, Marfa, Texas.
I didn't know it snowed anywhere in Texas.
I'm wearing a t-shirt and it's snowing.
Your songs seem to linger in weird climates like that. There are lots of images of mountains and empty places. I’m curious about what came first for you – your obsession these sorts of landscapes, or your visit to Norway? Was your obsession an outgrowth of your visit there? Or was your visit to those kinds of places what created the obsession?
My fixation preceeded my visit to Norway. The fjords are their national identity. It’s in their paintings and the way they talk about themselves. They're like, “We're tough nature lovers and our landscape is so violent and intense and we're just out there catching fish in the fjord.” It's not true, of course. Like any national romantic identity it's not accurate, but I was drawn to that. Because it was my same kind of self-mythology. I used those same exaggerations.
Part II of this interview will appear on Friday.