Calm before the storm
Mount Eerie returns from the mist with two new albums
It’s not surprising to hear Phil Elverum put so much thought into discussing his work given the laborious attention to detail that actually goes into it. The man behind Mount Eerie is soft-spoken and polite. His songs can be brittle. They can also rage with an apocalyptic fury. The former Microphones frontman has released two albums this year under the Mount Eerie moniker—Clear Moon and Ocean Roar—both of which look at the multi-instrumentalist’s relationship with his hometown of Anacortes, Wash., a small town on Fidalgo Island located about 80 miles north of Seattle.
“I was writing a lot of songs about Anacortes—not specifically about it, but my life as an individual there,” Elverum explained. “From things like walking down the street and seeing a car drive by to the more abstract.”
The lyrics, and the vocals for that matter, become almost secondary. It’s the sounds that carry much of the weight, and both albums—while recorded at the same time—are quite different from one another. What they do have in common is the uncanny ability to convey environment and climate. Clear Moon, released in February, comes off like a chilly fall morning, with the sort of tranquility that allows Elverum to be alone with his thoughts. Opener “Through the Trees pt. 2” features dry acoustic guitar that at times fights to break through the thick fog of synthesizers that steadily build. Ocean Roar, on the other hand, sounds exactly like its title, which was the point according to Elverum. The album also shows the songwriter’s fascination with black metal. “Waves” delivers a rancorous barrage of guitar noise that threatens to swallow up the vocals. It’s intense and epic.
“It’s corny. Some [black metal] is really bad. But some of it has images that are totally extreme—pure heavy or pure black—I’m into stuff that reaches those levels of intensity,” he said. “I’m really into extremes, I guess.”
Elverum recorded both albums inside a church, in a room he converted into a studio. It allowed the instruments and his vocals more room to breath, and the new environs give the songs a richness not found on his previous work (most of which was recorded in his basement). The new studio also directed his approach to making the records—that is, there was no set plan in place.
“The church was very much a part of it,” he said. “Feeling out this new space was the reason for these songs being so abstract. I’ve always tried to get the best sound possible, not that it’s my goal to make a clean-sounding Nashville record. I just think in recent years I’ve improved the tools I have.”
Elverum played most of the instruments on the records himself, although a five-piece band will join him on tour. He says it’s the first time he’s set out to replicate the sounds he put to tape. It’s also the first time Elverum is touring behind an album instead of dipping into his back catalog.
While Elverum admits to trying to stay busy at all times, he’s not working on any new music right now. And you won’t find notebooks filled with potential lyrics to new songs. Simply put: The songs will come together when Elverum hunkers down in the studio.
“They’re inseparable,” he said of his lyrics. “I’ve never spent time with songs as just words on paper—they only work within these nests of sounds.”