Phil Elvrum aka the Microphones aka Mt. Eerie aka whatever he's calling himself right now chatted to us in the lead up to his third Australian tour. We discussed living in a log cabin alone in Norway for an entire winter and not remembering anything about his previous Australian tours. Which says a lot for Norwegian isolation, but unfortunately not a lot for us.
VICE: You’re often cast as this somewhat dour man of nature, crafting earnest folk songs. I was revisiting your old records, live performances and reading over your lyrics, and there’s a humor a lot of people seem to miss. Would you agree?
Phil Elvrum: I totally agree, and I am glad you noticed. I never really got it. I don’t know how the humor comes through in the music, maybe my music is mostly serious but…
I just think it has this really sardonic wit and I remembered the show I saw had all these weedy indie rock men staring up at you as this shaman wearing a white kimono and I was appalled by the audiences seriousness when you were clearly humored by or at least uncomfortable with the situation.
It’s true that there can be some over-reverent fans, and that is uncomfortable and I don’t know what one does in that situation because I am just doing my thing. I guess if you make an effort to sing songs that are realistic, that aren’t too mystical or too romantic, but I don’t think I write songs like that so it is a little bit disheartening that’s how they are heard sometimes or misinterpreted. On my last record I straight up sang about websites and parking lots to try and anchor them in the real world.
So where do your recent songs “Get Off The Internet” and “Don’t Smoke” come into this? It is a pretty different style of lyrics to your earlier work?
That’s true. That was a phase I went through of telling people what to do by overtly giving instructions and it was a little uncomfortable for everyone.
It’s been ten years since you spent that winter alone in a shack in Norway. What does the winter represent to you now, and how did it affect your work?
I wish I could do that again. I loved it. It was essential. It would be good to spend a couple of months alone for anyone, for most people at least. Having that much time alone with yourself was basically a meditation retreat that was unaffected by anyone else.
So you were totally alone through a Norwegian winter?
Yeah. It was fun. It was awesome. I got very sad and also very happy. I went through all kinds of crazy stuff by myself.
Were your forays into black metal a product of the isolation and environment?
I didn’t listen to any black metal or get exposed to it while I was there, that came a little later. I have been into Norwegian stuff for a long time. That’s what my cultural heritage is so I grew up identifying with that. I don’t know, it’s a cool place and lots of cool things have come from there but I thought I would go there and feel at home and that I could just move there forever. But so much of what is from there appealed to me from a distance but actually being there I realized it was not home so I came back to the pacific northwest which definitely feels like home.
Was the decision to record your latest album in a church influenced by a convenience or was there higher symbolism at work?
No, there was no religious or anti religious connotations. It was more a friend and I had a studio together and we didn’t have a good space for it and the church building was becoming available to rent. We put our money and equipment together and set up this awesome recording studio in this old catholic church.
What do you remember of your last tour to Australia?
Gosh I am so bad with remembering, it’s embarrassing I don’t even remember what year it was. I have been to Australia twice I am pretty sure (laughs hysterically).
What can we expect from this tour that is different to your last two tours?
I don’t know, I think I am better at music than I used to be.
Good on you, so you finally found the 7th diminished minor chord?
I am just better at it and more skilled, I am being sarcastic but I think I have honed my skills.