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.
– Read Pt I
– Read Pt II
– Read Pt III
You talk about grunge being a formative influence. I'm trying place you generationally.
I'm 29 and my first CD came out in 1997. I was usually the youngest person around when I started going at it. I moved to Olympia in ‘97 and I went on my first tour in ‘97 with and I realized, “Wow I can do this with my life holy shit why would I every do anything else.” Nirvana was happening when I was 14, kind of the perfect age. Growing up in Anacortes, Washington, it was close enough to Seattle that it seemed like a local thing. These people that worked with my dad doing landscaping were in a grunge band so the music on the cover of Rolling Stone was in a very real way connected to people practicing in the woods near my house while I was home doing my homework. From there it was just further and further specialization — tracking down weirder and weirder bands until I became aware of this local music scene. And then it became known to me: I can make tapes.
In Anacortes, the one record store was run by this guy Bret [Lunsford] who was in the early K Records band Beat Happening with Calvin Johnson, so he had the store stocked with a lot of weird music of bands from Olympia that no one ever bought. But when me and my friends discovered this place we saw these 7” records and weird compilation cassettes and were like “Oh wow, what is this? What's going on here?” And that was our entry point to alternative music. And we were able to get specialized through that route. And yeah…
Is that record store still open?
Yeah and it's still there and it's still the coolest place in Anacortes.
Where do you live now?
I live in Anacortes.
After the jump: Does what happen in Anacortes stay in Anacortes?
How far is it exactly from Seattle?
Halfway between Seattle and Vancouver — an hour and a half north of Seattle, two and a half or three hours from Olympia.
You did end up living in Olympia for awhile. What was that like?
That was my punk rock experience. The version of punk that happened in Olympia was very different then the version happening in England or in Washington, DC. The thing about K Records is you don't have to be a badass dude with a fat neck. It's whatever weird thing you want to do, that's punk. And that was my introduction to that stuff. So it never occurred to me that whatever I was doing was a certain thing or not.
Does that very specific thing you do work as well when you need to play and collaborate with other musicians?
part of the reason I don't have a steady band is that I live in Anacortes which is mostly elderly people and part of it is that I'm pretty specific. I have a hard time working with other people with my own songs because I have a pretty complete idea of how it should be. It's usually just me multi-tracking which is better than coercing someone into doing my idea. But I have been in bands. When it's not my songs I'm capable of playing other people’s music. And I'd like to find other way of performing live, but I don't live in a place where there are people that can help me with that.
Have you been tempted to live somewhere else?
I'm probably going to live somewhere else to move soon. It's challenging to live in Anacortes. I lived in Olympia for five years, went on tour for a year, ended up in Norway for a winter, and ended up back in Anacortes. But I have a long life ahead of me. I'll probably live in many different places, and then die in Anacortes.
Hmmm, that’s interesting to me because I was going to say that all your songs are about being alone, and the other half of them are about being with other people. Does that ring true?
That sounds about right. I'm kind of wishy-washy.