by Carey Murphy & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & ormer K Records recording artist Phil Elverum does not sit still for long, so it was fortunate to catch him recently on brief hiatus from his relentless schedule of enthusiastically criss-crossing the country. The former frontman and chief creative officer behind the defunct Microphones has risen again with the ominous-sounding Mount Eerie.
The differences between the two remain subtle, at best, especially considering the profound overlap between the mythologies Elverum has created around their connectedness. The backstory: In a five-year period, the Microphones released a series of progressively more sophisticated albums -- 1999's Don't Wake Me Up, 2000's Window and It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water, 2001's seminal The Glow, Pt. II, and concluding with 2003's Mount Eerie, the first fusion of the two concepts into one project. With the release of 2004's Live in Japan, Elverum's notion of the Microphones changed, particularly since none of the songs on the live album appeared on the studio albums, a possible acknowledgment made by the use of quotation marks around the band's name on the album cover. And it is at this point that Elverum's mythology begins to work its magic, articulated still on his K Records link.
The progression and ultimate dissolution of his former band "culminated in the 'death'-themed album Mount Eerie," Elverum reports. "In 2002, I went on an endless tour and stopped for the winter in northern Norway and died. The next spring I returned and pretended I was a different person and a different 'band' and 'artist' and 'singer' and everything. I began calling my songs 'Mount Eerie' songs and working slowly on a new idea: dark mountain, mount eerie, cold songs, grandmother's face, and so on. I moved back to Anacortes, Wash., where a renaissance had begun again (finally!)."
Last year's No Flashlight served notice that Elverum's new project is a force of its own. Though fans of Elverum's former project no doubt continue to follow his lead, he offers something of a consolation for those who still lament the passing of the Microphones (and this writer numbers among them). "I see [the two groups] as the same thing, a linear progression," he says. Then he quickly qualifies that statement: "But it is a different project."
The Anacortes renaissance continues, seemingly as it has from album to album. Not only does Elverum refuse to stagnate by remaining in the same physical space for long, he continues to reinvent himself through the evolving aesthetic of each new album. Differentiating between the goals of the Microphones and Mount Eerie, he notes: "Even within the projects, the subjects changed from album to album. I'm totally different as a person. I used to write more about personal experiences in the world. And now the songs have been more focused outside myself on more general experiences." Not that this shift in perspective has altered fan reception. "I think people are still into it," Elverum modestly notes. And his acknowledgment fails to address just how challenging the prospect of getting into his music can be. Like many artists at his former label, Elverum creates music that asks the listener to meet him halfway.
Regarding his songs, Elverum admits, "In general, people are perpetually on the brink of confusion, which I really like. I think that it's interesting as an audience member to be partially confused while having a feeling that there's some profound thing that's happening." The profound and the confusing tend to intertwine in his normally acoustic shows. Always, though, with a ready-made twist. "Lately, I've been getting into playing louder electric shows. At the core, I'm trying to sing these words, and in the electric show it is more challenging to say these words."
Much like K's mastermind, Calvin Johnson, Elverum makes conscious choices about the venues for these sonic explorations. The all-ages format -- like the one at Whitworth College next Tuesday -- remains a constant. Elverum avoids more traditional music venues as a matter of "attention," he says, adding that "People come to all-ages shows because they want to watch the show." He's impatient with people who pay more attention to themselves and to getting drunk than to the music.
With the short touring break, Elverum is indulging in some light reading, like Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind's Lords of Chaos, a history of Norwegian black metal that ties into occultism, folk traditions, church burnings, murder and mayhem of various sorts. Having brought along a Norwegian friend for drumming duties on the current segment of the tour, he's already begun turning what he's learned and making raucous new art. Whitworth will be a test site for the folk carnage.
Mount Eerie with Karl Blau, D+ and Jason Anderson at Whitworth's Huxley Union Building on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 9 pm. Free. Call 777-1000.