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
What is the state of your personal identity insofar as you want to talk about it? You are Phil Elverum, but you used to perform as The Microphones, and more recently you began using the name Mt. Eerie.
I just play under the name Mt. Eerie. I started doing that in 2003 and I've pretty much been doing that since then. I put out a single last year under the Microphones name but I did that just to confuse people and be weird. But Mt. Eerie is the portal for my work, whatever form it takes.
That raises a question. Recently you’ve released a book of art photography, and your site is currently advertising “Water Activated Alpine-Themed Packing Tape.” How did the multiple product lines evolve?
I think I'm trying to one-up my megalomania [pauses] — or however you pronounce that. [laughs]. But yeah, the next project I do will probably be a bit more straightforward. That coffee table book had been something I'd wanted to do for a long time because I had these pictures and I just had enough money saved up that I could publish it. Also it has a lot to do with…
These days CDs are so undesirable. They're not special anymore. They're basically like producing trash, so I think a lot of people are trying to find new ways to releasing music — be it only putting out mp3s or only putting out limited edition vinyl. It's a weird time for music. My friend who is visiting here is talking about putting his new record out as a series of six picture disc 7″s. Who knows what's coming next? But I can't bring myself to mass-produce CDs in a jewel case. It’s just like garbage.
After the jump, a link to a free Mt. Eerie EP, and other ways Phil Elverum will appeal to audiences young and old.
But do you have any positive feelings about how music has, in a sense, been freed from physical products? You initially released an EP called Seven New Songs of Mount Eerie as a limited edition CD-R during a tour of Australian. Now you’ve made it available for free on the internet. The website where people can grab it says:
Somehow people in North America found out about [the EP] and thought they really wanted it because of the low quantity. Now it is available forever for free. No more romance!
The site indicates it’s been downloaded over 36,000 times. There’s something cool about that, huh?
I hate the idea of being exclusive. I’m not drawn to putting out vinyl or strange formats because it is limited or exclusive or because it’s coveted more. I want to manufacture as many copies as I think I'll be able to sell. I think I'm obsessed with accessibility which is why, when I'm touring, I want to play all ages shows. I'm really nervous about coming off as exclusive or elitist. At the same time, I recognize that when I put out vinyl or an expensive coffee table book not everyone can afford it or listen to it.
I’ve never been to one of your shows, but your comments about accessibility resonates with what someone told me about your audiences. They said you have very young fans who seem to stay young. Can you explain that?
It is something I've noticed – that my audiences are young. My only thought has been because I play all-ages shows. Even so, they're pretty young, and sometimes I'm nervous the content of my songs — these weird, ambiguous, philosophical ideas I'm trying to articulate. Are the kids getting it? Is it going over their heads?
Is the youth of your audiences something that maintains across the board – even when you’re playing Iceland or Northern Japan?
Well, I guess it's different everywhere, so no it’s not the same across the board. I'm thinking of places like the country in Europe — where the people coming to the show aren't necessarily coming because they like my music, but because it's something to do in their town where nothing happens. [Elverum is talking about “the country” in the sense of rural, out-of-the-way communities.-ed.] But when it is people that are going out of their way to se me they tend to be younger.
I am trying to get old people interested in my music.
That's a joke but actually I've been thinking and worrying – oh, I'm putting out these obscure things in weird formats, and my audience is getting more niche. It's getting more specialized, and playing to this attitude of completist collectors. That’s becoming my audience, and it's maybe alienating the less intense, normal people — including my friends. So, I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I want to do whatever I can to be more accessible. I don't want to come off seeming… If you like my stuff you're going to have to go very deep.
Part III of this interview will appear on Monday.