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Mount Eerie

Mount Eerie

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 29th January, 2013 11:34AM

Phil Elverum writes lilting, atmosphere-evoking music under the moniker Mount Eerie and released two albums in 2012. He's heading to New Zealand in celebration of those and UTR caught up with Elverum to discuss the difference between the albums, how his environment affects his work and why he started his own record label.

Hey Phil how's it going?

It's going well! I just had some coffee and pie and now Iím dealing with my emails, just you know, living life.

Have you been on tour at all recently?

I have been on some tours for the fall here, so right now Iím in between travel. I like to be home in the winter.

I wanted to start by discussing the two albums you released last year. It seems like the writing and recording process was an interesting one - I hear you built your own studio to record them?

Yeah it was a new studio space, I didnít put it together specifically for these albums but thatís how it happened. I had a small studio set up in a room here but we moved to this bigger old church building which is huge and beautiful sounding. A friend and I put our recording gear together and made it happen.
The recording of Clear Moon and Ocean Roar happened at the same time as that. It was very much about exploring this new space and figuring out what kinds of things work in there.

So itís fair to say that the environment played a huge part in the outcome of these albums?

Yeah, definitely.

Both albums are quite different but they do fit together. Why did you decide to release two albums when you recorded them at the same time?

Well it could have been one really long album but I didnít want to do that. For artistic reasons itís easier as a listener to wrap your mind around thirty minutes of music, anything longer is just overwhelming. Especially now days when thereís so much to pay attention to in the world and on the computer - I think peopleís attentions are spread thin. It basically worked better in smaller bites and the idea of each group of songs was more powerful when it was concentrated. I also started to notice as I was recording and surveying what I had completed that there were two groups of songs.

Tell me about those two groups: how do you see the albums as different musically or thematically?

Well in general Clear Moon is clear sounding. You can hear the words and there are lots of words and itís about describing everyday moments. Ocean Roar is not clear, itís dense and instrumental and distorted and abstract. Itís an abstract world to enter.
Those distinctions arenít 100% because there are moments of distortion on Clear Moon and there are moments of clear thinking on Ocean Roar so thatís how theyíre intertwined.

You talked before about the constant influx of information. It almost seems like Mount Eerie is a reaction to how chaotic life can be at this point in time?

Yeah personally I try and slow down and not get distracted and lost too much. For everyone itís a constant battle to stay focused and simplify our minds and I guess that seems like a good way to live to me: just calm your mind down and have as few distractions as possible and focus on whatever it is youíre doing at that point in time. Yeah so I guess that translates into my music but itís not deliberate.
I do know that I make records that work best if youíre paying close attention to them rather than music that you can put on in the background. Itís more rewarding to deliberately listen to this music which is a lot to ask of people but maybe thatís where the feeling comes from.

There also seems to be a strong connection to place and nature: tell me about your relationship to these things.

Itís true and itís always kind of been like that for me, I canít change it. I keep trying to write songs about parking lots and websites and stuff but no matter what, the images that are beautiful and meaningful to me are natural. Also it has to do with where I live here, it is beautiful naturally. There are amazing mountains and islands and fog and all that stuff and itís the actual world that I live in. Itís not a postcard or something.

I was going to ask whether the place you live in affects your music: have you always produced music from where you live now?

For five years when I was making records under the band name The Microphones I was living in Olympia which isnít really a different place - itís only like three hours away but itís a different town.

How do you see the two albums you released last year as different from your earlier work?

Theyíre definitely different. I donít listen to my music that much so I donít have a very good perspective on it. To me because Iím so close to it itís all part of a long lineage that is all connected. Iím also a totally different person than I was twelve years ago when I made those albums. I feel like Iím better at making music Ė better at recording, better at saying my idea and making a sound that illustrates my idea. We all change and we all get older and our tastes change but I hope thereís a thread that goes through all of those albums.

You release your music on your own record label. Tell me about your decision to start your label.

In 2004 I was about to make the first real album under the Mount Eerie name and I wanted to try and put it out myself as an experiment to see if I could do 100% of it myself and I liked it, it was a successful experiment so I kept doing it. Itís not a real record label in the sense that I donít really put out stuff by other people and Iím not really interested in doing that Ė I mean I would love to but I donít have the time or energy to do that. Itís just a way of making my stuff be in the world.

It must be a nice feeling to have control of the entire process, yes?

Yeah totally, that was a big part of it. Working with K records before doing it myself, I was always pretty annoying to them because Iím so concerned with all the details. Iíd be in the office all the time making sure that the paper was the right feeling so I thought I might as well be the person making the phone calls to the printer.

Looking ahead to 2013 and beyond: what are you working on with the Mount Eerie project?

Iím actually working on a big re-issue series of all those early Microphone albums. Itís not really bonus material or anything just with nicer packaging and making them available again.

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related gigs
Wed 6th Feb
Wunderbar, Lyttelton
Thu 7th Feb
Chicks Hotel , Port Chalmers