Mount Eerie, the stage name of Washington-based songwriter Phil Elverum—formerly known as The Microphones—has been quietly putting out some of the most fascinating music around in the two-plus decades he’s been working. Fluttering between the experimental, tranquil, and dissonant, he creates music entirely out of categorization, and it shows; works like The Glow Pt. 2 and Clear Moon have songs that range from lo-fi folk to post-rock.
Elverum, currently touring in support of his upcoming record Sauna, will be stopping by the Memorial Chapel this Sunday, Sept. 21. The Argus talked with Elverum to chat about his new record and about the ever-changing music industry.
The Argus: So you’re on tour supporting your upcoming album, Sauna. How has that tour been going?
Phil Elverum: The tour is good! We’re seven days in, and it’s a short tour, but yeah. Hasn’t been going on for that long.
A: On the tour, you’ve been debuting songs from Sauna, which comes out next year. Have you been going for different sound or using different influences for this record than you have in the past?
PE: Yeah. I know that the album will come out on the Internet and stuff, and in some ways I regret announcing it so early because it’s so far away from coming out. And also, I don’t know how to talk about it yet; I’ve been working on it for a couple of years but I don’t have enough distance to really be able to answer questions specifically. But I’ll try.
So yeah, it’s still pretty fresh in my mind. I’m very happy with how it turned out. And it’s definitely different than everything else that I’ve done. I guess I struggle to describe how it’s different.
A: Has the recording process been different?
PE: Yeah, it was very experimental and free-form, more so than usual. I gave myself lots of time, I took some breaks between recording days. I just thought about things more than usual.
A: Have you been playing with new imagery here? A lot of your stuff in the past has dealt with natural
P: Yeah, probably, although I always try not to. I always try to push myself to use different vocabulary. That stuff inevitably makes it in. I’m aiming for something new, something beyond the picturesque.
A: In the years you’ve been making music, has the way you’ve made music changed? How has music changed for you?
P: Well, maybe I haven’t changed that much. I know that the world has changed in a crazy way, but in a lot of ways I feel like at least from the economic side of it, I’m still doing it the way I was in the 90s, when I was a teenager making tapes. Basically I had a thing I wanted to make and distributed it directly. I’m not that adept at maximizing my Spotify royalties or whatever; I don’t know how to work modern systems that well. So I’m still sort of stubbornly trying to pretend that DIY, pre-Internet style can work. And actually it is working, at least on my scale. But that’s just the economics of it. In terms of actually writing music and recording, I’m always trying to try new things and experiment.
A: Have you utilized any new recording technology since you started?
PE: No, not really technology, really, since I use computers, I record on tape. I still use basic instruments. I don’t use MIDI that much. I use a keyboard some, but I mean more in terms of compositional techniques, I’m always trying to experiment more than that.
A: What do you think makes tape an invaluable resource for songwriters? Or is that just your preference?
PE: It’s just what I like. I don’t think it’s better or worse, it’s just what I grew up using. When I have dabbled in recording on a computer, the limitless of it is not appealing to me. It’s a problem. And also the physical act of looking at the screen is bad for me, at least. So I don’t like to spend more time in front of a screen than necessary.
A: Now that social media is so prevalent, do you interact with your audience differently than you did when you first started out?
PE: Not really; you mean when I’m performing?
A: Yeah. Well, both onstage and off.
PE: Well, that feels pretty much the same. I think like, yesterday or maybe the day before, I was looking at my Twitter, and realized that probably a really high percentage of the people that were at the show that I just played follow my Twitter account. And that was just so weird, because that is a thing that is this weird joke project, kind of, and it exists in a bubble where normally I’m just in my house thinking of a dumb joke and sending it out. But realizing that I’m standing in a room full of people who are actually consuming that joke and nobody’s talking about it in real life. I guess that’s what the Internet is; I guess that’s what social media is. It’s just super weird. But I don’t think it’s changed the actual experience of being in a room with people. Fortunately. I like being able to be in a room with people and be a regular human in the world, and secretly have this other reality that happens when we’re in our dark computer rooms.