Happy (My Bloody) Valentine’s Day!

Forget to get your own special sweetheart a gift this Hallmark holiday? We have you covered: Just read her/him/them this classic MAGNET feature from 12 years ago, when Kevin Shields first talked publicly about My Bloody Valentine finally following up 1991’s seminal Loveless. Never mind the love, here’s the Loveless.

Loveless isn’t simply My Bloody Valentine’s shoegazing masterpiece; the 1991 album is also the basis for one of alt-rock’s greatest yarns. It’s been reported that MBV leader Kevin Shields spent three years and a half-million dollars painstakingly piecing together Loveless in the studio, bankrupting the band’s label, Creation Records, in the process. On the 15th anniversary of the LP’s release, Shields tells MAGNET that things aren’t always as they seem.

The two things we’re really known for are spending Creation’s money and making records with loads of overdubs on them. The exact truth is this: About a month before we started Loveless, Creation pulled away from Rough Trade distribution and said, “Our contract is up with you. We don’t want to sign again.” By the time we resumed recording in September of ’89, Creation was already bankrupt.

When we first started Loveless, no one signed to Creation. When we finished the damn record, they had hit records and bands on Top Of The Pops. They were a very successful label. All that stuff about us nearly breaking Creation because we spent all their money is literally 100 percent lies.

Another interesting fact is that we were only in the studio a year and 10 months. We spent six months out of the studio touring behind (1990’s) Glider EP, so really, we were only in the studio a year and four months. The last two months, it was £600 a day. Every studio before that was between £200 and £250. If you actually do the math, you realize that those figures don’t add up (to the records’s reported £250,000 price tag). About a year after Loveless, Creation got in trouble, right before Oasis, because Primal Scream spent £1 million on Give Up But Don’t Give Out.

Creation’s financial situation had nothing to do with us, except we made them much richer by getting tons of bands to sign to them that wouldn’t have otherwise. We signed to Creation because of the Jesus And Mary Chain. I do sound like I’m being pretty negative about the whole Creation thing, but it’s more that I just get bored when people ask me. I’m just going to tell the truth now. I always used to gloss over it, but I’m bored of glossing over the truth.

Basically, Creation was out of their minds on drugs. No one was prepared to front us the money to get our act together or give us the money to get equipment. Between having nowhere to live and having no real equipment, we were actually getting somewhere with an audience. When we made Loveless, no money had arrived. We thought we had proven ourselves; at that point, it was the whole music scene that came after us. People were into the whole juxtaposition of the kind of gentleness with the extreme violent side of the music.

Creation founder Alan McGee is kind of an unusual character. Our relationship with Creation was mostly through label manager Dick Green. McGee was really excited by us, but he was never around. We’d see him once a month or once every few weeks, but he didn’t understand when we’d do the slow songs. When we were recording, he told me that it should be more like (1988 EP) You Made Me Realise. He spent all that year trying to get us to release another song off Isn’t Anything called “(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream” as the next single. We were like, “No, we’re finished with that now. We’re moving on to a new thing.”

Basically, when he’d come to these sessions in January and April of ’89, I just said, “I don’t want you to come to the studio anymore.” He didn’t like that very much, but before we even started Loveless, there was a problem. I know he was only trying to be helpful, but he was jumping around saying, “This has to be the best record ever made!” He was looking for a group to be the next Primal Scream or the Sex Pistols. We were his biggest bet. Instead of us including him and bringing him in, we just sort of pushed him away. They thought it was strange that I wouldn’t let them in the studio—like I was being overly artistic—but it was more because a studio for us was like home. We were all homeless until after Loveless got made.

The way I saw it—because I was the producer and kind of in charge of everything—I was a bit of a tyrant. I would just really be strict. It got to the point where I lived with these songs for more than a year, and the melodies were only in my head.

I’ve always told people exactly how I’ve made a record. The average My Bloody Valentine track is about one or two guitar tracks: less than a White Stripes or Cramps record. I could only get away with having one or two guitars at any one point because if you put a few on, then it took away from the effect, it sounded smaller and smaller. Basically, a My Bloody Valentine record has the same amount of tracks on it as most bands’ demos do.

When making records, I got it into my head that some of the big no-no’s were no echo, no reverb, no chorus or flanger and no panning. The one effect I would use was this reversed reverb effect, which is very reverb-y, all of these things I was against, right? But the irony was that with these effects, you could actually play harder and it sounded really different. If you played softer, the sound changed dramatically. I would work with a tremolo to get this other dynamic and suddenly had a language I could kind of express myself with, which I never really had before. I found a voice, and I could do it well.

After a while, I was playing in such a way that people thought it was some weird effect or studio manipulation. People in the press couldn’t get their heads around it. We were going for a sound that drew you in. When people make records, they add; they try to clarify everything with cue and compression and stuff. Everything has its own space and doesn’t sound like it’s happening in the same place. We weren’t trying to make anything stick out too much. Everything was quite full on. The vocals, especially. We were kind of amused that people would think we were singing softly, but in fact we were singing in a very controlled way. Then we’d get compared to a lot of other shoegazing bands; they were doing everything we hated, using loads of chorus, flanger and all these effects on their guitars and singing genuinely softly and it was all whispery. It was so hard to get away from that. We were singing as loud as we could to sing the way we wanted to. (Singer/guitarist) Bilinda Butcher’s voice in particular had a really breathy quality to it, but she sounds like that when she sings pretty loudly, too. Neither of us could sing in a shouty sort of a way.

Anyway, people forget now that “alternative” is just another way to make a million pounds. Back in those days, it was really hard to get a publishing deal if you weren’t on a major label. We only got our publishing deal around Christmas of 1990 because we had done our licensing deal with Warner Bros. We never got paid a penny for any records we sold in America. We’ve never been accounted to by Warner Bros. Alan McGee and Dick Green were only 27 or 28 and weren’t experienced. They were guys who had never in their life managed a band’s career. They’d only had bands who’d done well, like the Jesus And Mary Chain or the House Of Love, who’d leave the label the minute they were playing to 1,000 people.

The really sick part of the whole story is that we’d been offered two different major-label contracts. Seymour Stein wanted to sign us to Sire, but we didn’t want to sign a major record contract. We wanted to be in charge of everything. We signed to Creation for £15,000 even though we’re being offered £150,000. I would never accuse Creation of ripping us off. It was all down to the human inexperience, drug taking and lack of awareness and petty mistakes. I resent Alan McGee’s lies, but he can’t help it. He lies about everything. That’s just his style. If people choose to believe that, that’s their business.

A lot of people say the reason My Bloody Valentine didn’t make another record is because we couldn’t. That’s mostly true, but not because we couldn’t make another record, but because I never could be bothered to make another record unless I was really excited by it. And just by fate or whatever, that never happened. I’m quite optimistic about the future, even though experience has taught me that I’m probably just delusional. I do feel that I will make another great record. We are 100 percent going to make another My Bloody Valentine record unless we die or something. I’d feel really bad if I didn’t make another record. Like, “Shit, people only got the first two chapters, but the last bit is the best bit.” It’s just that it’s taken me such an oddly long time for that to happen. How long will that take to transpire into an actual physical record? I don’t know.

—interview by MacKenzie Wilson

Don’t You Forget About Simple Minds On Tour Starting Tonight

Long before they wound up having smash hits in America with grandly melodic anthems, rousing choruses and devotional lyrics, Scotland’s Simple Minds were a dark and obsessive poetic post-punk ensemble whose music was inspired as much by glam’s masters (Bowie, Reed) as it was krautrock (Neu!) and early, arpeggio-heavy electronic disco (Giorgio Moroder). That Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and Co.’s most recent works seem to reach back into deep past probably says as much about youthful zeal—and intimacy—as it is a need to outrun the band’s reputation for arena-filling sound.

That said, tonight Simple Minds kick off their first North American tour in half a decade, playing arenas (albeit smaller ones) and promoting excellent latest album Walk Between Worlds. To get you ready, read our Simple Minds features from earlier this year:

Simple Minds: Alive And Kicking

Simple Minds: The Truth About Charlie

9/24 Sands, Bethlehem
9/26 Basie, Red Bank
9/28 Metropolis, Montreal
9/29 Bud Gardens, London
9/30 Sony Center, Toronto
10/2 Beacon, NYC
10/3 Orpheum, Boston
10/5 Tower, Philadelphia
10/6 930 Club, Washington DC
10/8 Tabernacle, Atlanta
10/9 Ryman, Nashville
10/11 Hard Rock, Cleveland
10/13 Pabst, Milwaukee
10/14 Fillmore, Detroit
10/15 Chicago Theatre, Chicago
10/18 Paramount, Denver
10/20 Grand Sierra, Reno
10/21 Pearl, Las Vegas
10/22 Humphrey’s, San Diego
10/24 Orpheum, LA
10/25 Masonic, San Francisco
10/27 Roseland, Portland
10/28 Moore, Seattle
10/29 Orpheum, Vancouver
11/2 ACL Live, Austin
11/3 Toyota Music Factory, Irving
11/4 Revention Music Center, Houston
11/6 Saenger Theatre, New Orleans
11/8 The Fillmore, Miami
11/9 Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg
11/11 Hard Rock Live, Orlando

Frigs: Forever Changes

After years of trying to find their identity, Frigs are finally ready for their closeup

In the eight years since vocalist/guitarist Bria Salmena and guitarist Duncan Jennings started playing together, the pair has endured a wholesale variety of change. Originally dubbed Dirty Frigs while pursuing undergraduate degrees in Montreal, the now Toronto-based abrasive-pop/ noisy-grunge outfit has dropped the “Dirty,” gone through different rhythm sections and experimented with a host of styles before zeroing in on sounds inspired by PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, the Breeders and Sebadoh on 2016’s Slush EP and debut full-length Basic Behaviour.

For Salmena and Jennings, the upheaval was necessary: Montreal is a tough slog if you’re not somewhat bilingual, their previous moniker felt uncomfortable to them, band members came and went, and it wasn’t until they wrote (as Dirty Frigs) an older song called “Swampy” that Frigs found directive and direction.

“We took a really long time to figure out what kind of music we wanted to make,” says Salmena. “We came from different backgrounds and were trying new things. We’ve always fallen into the alternative-rock frame, but we experimented with a lot of different genres, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We wanted to dip our feet in a lot of places and see what we could take from that. Years later, it’s resulted in this record.”

This trial-and-error approach and ongoing transformative air haven’t abated despite Frigs’ growing popularity and their inking a deal with popular Canadian label/management company/publisher/merchandiser Arts & Crafts. Basic Behaviour was recorded over a 16-month period at different locations, including a makeshift home studio where early sessions and the record’s first half were captured. And the plan going forward is to not rest on their laurels or play things safely.

“Our new stuff keeps evolving because now we’re not afraid to veer off into weird places,” says Salmena. “I think it’s uninteresting when there’s no real musical growth or when every record sounds the same. You want people to rely on a certain sound, but you want to make it special and stand out as something that only this band could’ve written.”

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH BRIA SALMENA

Dazed And Confused
“I rewatched it the other night, and it’s very problematic, incredibly sexist and very fucked up, but it was a turning point in my adolescence for understanding ’70s culture and music. Despite the movie’s problems, there is a sense of nostalgia for 14-year-old me.”

Human Touch
“Duncan has been really inspired by this record. It’s been on repeat at his place for a while.”

Tinsel
“I discovered I had a bag of silver tinsel in my closet left over from an old Frigs show where we hung it everywhere, and now my office/studio room is covered in tinsel. It’s gaudy and stupid, but fun and I love it.”

Palm: The Philadelphia Experiment

Urban outfit Palm retreated to a rural farmhouse to make Rock Island

Every seven minutes or so, Palm’s Philadelphia apartment roars and rattles with the passing of another train. The row home abuts the tracks of the Market-Frankford El, which zips by the upstairs windows with regularity. It’s seen in full display in Palm’s recent “Dog Milk” video, where the band performs on the rooftop, unfurling spectral guitar tones into the evening air as the B train rolls on through.

“The train’s great,” says Kasra Kurt, who shares guitar and vocal duties in Palm with Eve Alpert. “Except when you’re demoing and trying to get a vocal take. You’ll think you got ‘the one,’ and you’ll listen back and it’s just this rumble under it.”

“Or when you’re watching Netflix,” says Alpert.

The noise was part of the reason why the experimental-rock quartet—which also features bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos and drummer Hugo Stanley—decamped to a farmhouse in the Hudson Valley last fall to record its new Rock Island (Carpark). They formed in Hudson, N.Y., in 2012, and it was less that they sought to return home or that they craved quiet, and more that they wanted to make a little noise of their own, to be loud into the night without neighbors complaining.

“We liked the idea of going somewhere else,” says Alpert. “Especially being in the Hudson Valley where it’s so familiar to us, and having a chunk of time with no distractions.”

In total, it was three weeks of 18-hour days with their friend Matt Labozza, engineer of last year’s excellent Shadow Expert EP. The resulting album juts and jars with unconventional intersections of melody and rhythm, but the overall tone is sugar-sweet, and when Kurt cites Captain Beefheart and the Beach Boys as two artists his bandmates keep in regular rotation, it makes sense.

So how does the city-dwelling Palm of 2018 relate to its countryside origins?

“We were a really bad band for a really long time,” laughs Kurt, wistfully recalling excitable young artists with a voracious musical appetite trying to hone in on a voice. “I think that if we lived in a city playing shows while we were trying to figure out what we were doing, we would’ve gotten really disheartened really quickly.”

Alpert adds that the upside of being in the city today is proximity to peers, like the Guests and Mothers. “It’s just having more people that we’re inspired by,” she says. “We can rub off on each other.”

—John Vettese

UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH PALM
Soccer
Kasra Kurt: “Me and Gerry both follow this team in England called Arsenal, and there’s something about watching a team of people play a really flowing and free sport together, in sync with one another. It’s very visually pleasing and creatively inspiring.”

Friends Who Make Music
Eve Alpert: “Our friends Mothers, from Athens, Ga., moved to Philadelphia recently, and our friend Ada Babar from Atlanta moved here, too. They lived with us for six months last year. We’ve always kept in touch through text, sent each other voice memos of what we’re working on. I feel more sane with what we’re doing when I have friends who are also working nonstop on their craft.”

The Settlers Of Catan
Gerasimos Livitsanos: “It’s a board game we’ve been playing a lot that involves cooperating with the other players at times, and then sometimes not. It’s gonna be the downfall of us.”

The Monochrome Set: Trinity Road

Hopefully, you’ve already read our brand-new feature on longtime MAGNET fave the Monochrome Set. If not, do it right here, right now:

http://magnetmagazine.com/2018/06/20/monochrome-set-bids-boutique/

Given it’s Bid and Co.’s 40th anniversary this year, it got us thinking about their past, especially their prolific period following their second reformation, starting in 2010. That year, the great Jason Falkner (Beck, Air, Paul McCartney, Jellyfish, etc.) wrote in MAGNET about his love for the Monochrome Set, dating back to his high-school years when he started playing music with a friend who had given a tape of songs he claimed as his own but were really the Set:

Jason Falkner Don’t Mind: The Monochrome Set

In 2015, the Monochrome Set released Spaces Everywhere, its 12th album overall and third since reforming half a decade earlier. To us, the LP proved that this wasn’t just one of those bands getting back to together for some quick cash but one that was still capable of making music as vital and relevant as its early material. We were proud to premiere the video for Spaces Everywhere‘s first single, “Iceman”:

Film At 11: The Monochrome Set

The next year brought with it not only another great studio album, Cosmonaut

Essential New Music: The Monochrome Set’s “Cosmonaut”

… but also Volume, Contrast, Brilliance … Unreleased & Rare, Vol. 2:

Essential New Music: The Monochrome Set’s “Volume, Contrast, Brilliance … Unreleased & Rare Vol. 2”

Which, with our aforementioned new feature surrounding the release of latest LP Maisieworld and retrospective The Monochrome Set 1979-1985: Complete Recordings, catches you up with the Monochrome Set 3.0. The Set has gigs set up this summer if you find yourself in the U.K. or Spain, and we highly encourage to see them if you do. But until then, we Bid you adieu.

The Monochrome Set: Bid’s Boutique

In most professional contexts, 40 years of service puts you squarely at retirement age. In the music business, it may as well be several lifetimes. Yet here’s Bid (née Ganesh Seshadri), for four decades the face, voice, guitarist and primary songwriter of the Monochrome Set, marking the band’s ruby anniversary with not only a boxed set of its long out-of-print first albums and singles but a new LP, Maisieworld, that further expands its sonic palette.

The Monochrome Set really should’ve been bigger. Or maybe not. Maybe, in a sort of Alice-through-the-looking-glass way, the band’s low-flame simmer is what’s allowed it to last this long.

“You know how it is,” says Bid. “To get on the charts, you need to sell a lot of records in a short span. We never did. But then, what was happening on the charts didn’t necessarily reflect what was happening in the clubs. And we had a huge live following. Many bands who were much more commercially successful than us at the time have disappeared. We kind of just carried on.”

And how. Witty, wildly literate and steeped in American psychedelia and experimental pop, the Monochrome Set’s warmly brainy music has long been a poorly kept secret among career oddballs from Morrissey and Marr to Franz Ferdinand. But the Set’s earliest work has been difficult to find, having been released and re-released on a smattering of since-folded small labels, making The Monochrome Set 1979-1985: Complete Recordings an especially happy-making occasion.

Sometimes the stars align: Just ahead of the band’s 40th anniversary in January of this year, Bid discovered that the rights to the Monochrome Set’s first two albums, Strange Boutique and Love Zombies (both 1980), had reverted to him, after years of languishing under various ownerships. The band also had recently moved to a new label, Tapete Records, that was not only gung ho on its new music but committed to curating a full retrospective of its formative years. Complete Recordings packages the Monochrome Set’s first two albums, plus 1982’s Eligible Bachelors and 1985’s The Lost Weekend (the Set’s only major-label release) along with all of its singles and EPs from the same period. Full lyrics and liner notes from Bid augment a deliriously rich six discs’ worth of music.

“It feels good,” says Bid. “We were always very inward-looking. We were often described as post-punk or new wave, but we were nothing to do with new wave. We were much more American in our leanings—garage rock, experimental pop, the whole Northeastern pop feel. It’s a bit like a band like Pere Ubu, who always went with their own thing, got it down tight and then took it to the public, and didn’t really worry much about the commerciality of it all.”

Looking back, Bid sees a kind of limited window that allowed bands like the Mono- chrome Set (and also Pere Ubu, for that matter) a rewarding longevity without ever having scored anything in the way of mainstream success.

“It was really only a period of the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s where there was, shall we say, a middle class in the pop-music industry,” he says. “Now it’s all the aristocracy: There are the Taylor Swifts and the Blind Willie McTells, and nothing much in between. It’s either massive stars or these sorts of troubadours who go around making stuff for people in bars. That’s why it’s quite important for us to play as many countries as we can. You can pick up newer audiences. Whatever rubbish you come up with, there’ll be someone in the world who thinks you’re great.”

—Eric Waggoner

Flashback Friday: Wooden Shjips (Smoke On The Water)

Wooden Shjips are releasing new album V. today via our friends at Thrill Jockey, and trust us, it’s a must hear. As you might gather from the LP’s title, it’s the San Francisco band’s fifth album, though these psychedelic sailors insist the “V” references the two-fingered peace sign. (We’re more familiar with the one-fingered salute, but we digress … )

Lazy music journalists might say Wooden Shjips sound like what would happen if Spacemen 3 were American and listened to a lot of the Dead and Suicide, but it is the Friday before Memorial Day, and marijuana possession has been decriminalized in our hometown of Philly, so go ahead and call us lazy.

Speaking of weed, it’s Flashback Friday time, man. We first introduced you to Wooden Shjips in issue #81 back in fall 2011 around the time third album West came out. We’re bringing you that article today, published online for the very first time. Get psyched:

WOODEN SHJIPS: FIRE SAIL

Wooden Shjips

Brevity becomes Wooden Shjips on their best album yet

Wooden Shjips don’t know when to stop—in the very best way imaginable. Newly out on Thrill Jockey, West provides a fresh perspective on (alien) terrain once broached by the likes of Chrome and Spacemen 3. But the San Francisco-based (still, kinda) psychedelic quartet pursues their mission with a restless inventiveness that makes seven minutes seem too short, and seven songs too few.

“When it came time to record the album, we really didn’t talk about how long we wanted songs to be,” organist Nash Whalen explains by phone as he prepares for a string of tours that’ll last into late fall. “We just played them in the studio, and then later on, we were like: ‘Wow! That was only four minutes?’”

Granted, they were working in unfamiliar surroundings. Recorded and mixed in six days by Phil Manley (Trans Am, Oneida, the Fucking Champs) and mastered by psych/experimental legend Sonic Boom, the band’s third album (not counting two singles collections) is the first they’ve recorded away from their practice space. The added clarity brings West’s constituent parts into sharper relief without sacrificing anything in the way of immediacy.

As always, Whalen, bassist Dusty Jermier and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin mostly contribute momentum and texture—though Whalen occasionally steps to the fore. Founder, singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson’s spectral croon sounds more disembodied than ever, a perfect foil for solos that unfold like some cosmic rupture the Hubble might capture a glimpse of.

With the likes of Animal Collective introducing the indie rock masses to psychedelia and events like Austin’s annual Psych Fest enhancing their visibility, it’s no wonder that demand for the band is rising.

“It’s one of those kinds of music that’s always going to have hardcore fans,” says Whalen. “But when more good bands come along, the genre expands and more people are able to get excited about it. It seems like right now a lot of bands are tapping into it, and I think it’s a good thing. Everyone’s coming at it from a different place. It’s not a one-trick pony, not a one-dimensional genre at all.”

—Rod Smith

Prism Tats: Mamba King 

Prism Tats produces political post-punk with a progressive pith 

Garett van der Spek, the South African expatriate who records as Prism Tats, is proud that sophomore album Mamba (Anti-) is a guitar-driven effort. “I achieved a tone on the guitars— a sense of venom and aggression—that I could never get recording at home,” he says. “Chris (Woodhouse) took the sound to a new level.” 

The L.A.-based van der Spek and producer Woodhouse (Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees) took the home demos the former made on his laptop, used them as a template and redid the songs in the studio, recording on 16-track analog tape and pushing van der Spek out of his comfort zone. 

“Analog isn’t as unforgiving as digital, so you come out of it as a better musician,” says van der Spek. “We considered what we could do to make every note resonate. Stacking the tracks up to get that spacious, oceanic sound takes more time, but the music is warmer, closer to a live performance.” 

The ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic arrangements on Mamba balance van der Spek’s understated vocals with bracing blasts of guitar noise and hypnotic layers of Farfisa that suggest the outer limits of krautrock experimentation. The emotional landscape of the tunes is just as complex, moving from the sparkling, keyboard-driven serenade of “Ocean Floor” to the grinding, post-punk attack of “The Liar,” a harbinger of impending doom written during the 2016 election cycle. 

“I went into the studio to record right after the election, and it cast a shadow over the sessions,” he says. “There was a doomsday feeling, like the world was ending. I’ve been in America for 10 years, but I still I feel like an outsider. That may give me a unique perspective. I write pop music, but I relate better to music that’s realistic. To sum it up, I prefer documentaries to romantic comedies. There’s a time and place for lighthearted entertainment, but that time and place is not right now.”

—j. poet

UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH GARETT VAN DER SPEK

Nick Cave
“I was lucky enough to see Nick Cave last year. It was a profound and inspiring experience to see someone who has become an icon and a legend for doing the thing he does and never straying from it.” 

Zanele Muholi
“Back in South Africa, I went to the Zeitz MOCAA museum. The building is a work of art, and I got to see some work by Zanele Muholi. Her art is striking and beautiful.” 

Hailu Mergia
“When your partner asks you to play anything but that record, you know you’re obsessed. Mergia & Dahlak Band’s Wede Harer Guzo has been on repeat of late.” 

Mount Eerie: Misty Mountain Hop (Phil Elverum And Josh Tillman’s Not-So Strange Encounter)

The truth about the night Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum met Father John Misty’s Josh Tillman

On Now Only’s title track, Phil Elverum sings about meeting Father John Misty last year at the FORM Arcosanti festival in Arizona: “I had stayed up till three/Talking to Weyes Blood and Father John Misty about songwriting/In the backstage bungalows.” On the song, he calls the exchange “a self-indulgent all-consuming wreck of ideas” in comparison to the grief he was experiencing. We asked him to tell us more about that night. 

“It was really a fun night, actually,” says Elverum. “I had never heard Father John Misty before, but I watched his show at this festival, and then I went backstage. He’s very popular; I didn’t know anything about him. He was surrounded by people. 

“I thought it was interesting, his way of songwriting. I didn’t really like the form of the songs or aesthetic so much, but the writing was inspiring to me. I felt like I’d never heard anything like it before, a songwriter’s willingness to use the vocabulary of the banal realities of our modern day. It seemed fearless to talk about dumb bullshit in an honest way and make it beautiful and deep. 

“So that’s what we talked about: ideas, from different perspectives, and different ideas of identity and your public self and authenticity and trying to get underneath all these layers of performative persona and how tricky it is. We’ve had different lives, too. My situation is that actual death happening obliterated any pretense, and I could only tell the truth. I think he was struggling with it more, trying to find a way to truth through other methods.”

—Steve Klinge

Mount Eerie: Songs Of Pain And Devotion 

With Now Only, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum is turning loss into art again

From 1996 to 2003, Philip Whitman Elvrum recorded as the Microphones. Then he rebranded himself as Mount Eerie. And as Phil Elverum. And now … 

“I’m a single parent of a three-year-old—that defines me,” says Elverum. “Right now, she’s at school, and I pick her up in an hour. When she’s home, she doesn’t let me talk on the phone for very long before she starts yelling at me.” 

Although he has a new album to talk about, he has only small windows of his day available. After the death of his wife, artist Geneviève Castrée, as a result of pancreatic cancer in July 2016, Elverum had to redefine himself again. Last year’s stark A Crow Looked At Me documented, in unflinching detail, his attempt to process the unfathomable event. And now comes Now Only (P.W. Elverum & Sun), which extends Elverum’s self-examination, both in continuing to talk through the loss of his wife and in articulating his conflicted views about turning his intensely private experiences and thoughts into songs and performing them in public. 

“I don’t know how I’ve been able to make two albums during this life,” says Elverum. “That explains why the two albums I’ve made are so spare in their production. I made them in this room upstairs in times like this when she goes to someone else’s house for a couple hours or after she goes to bed.” 

A Crow Looked At Me and Now Only aren’t radically different in tone from the quieter end of the spectrum of Elverum’s Mount Eerie work, but they are unprecedented in their explicit autobiographical subject matter. “Although I think of all of my work as part of the same flow, there’s definitely this dividing line in my life now, between pre-Geneviève dying and post-Geneviève dying, and the creative work also obeys that boundary,” he says. “I’m not going to play any work from before that. I feel like that person is gone, that version of me is gone.” 

As on A Crow, Elverum directly addresses his wife in most of the tracks on Now Only. “I recorded all these songs about the echoes in our house now/ And then walked out the door to play them on a stage/But I sing to you,” Elverum sings on opener “Tintin In Tibet.” He’s aware of the artifice and layers of irony embedded in that statement, though. 

“That’s one of the themes that runs through both of these records: the absurdity of doing these extremely private things on a stage and being looked at while I’m doing it, and knowing that I’m doing it, but pretending that it’s not public,” says Elverum. “It’s the interplay between public and private. That’s one of the things I poke at in the songs.” 

In conversation he’s thoughtful and analytical, but also cheerful and quick to laugh, even when discussing the weighty subject matter that his songs tackle. “Even within these super-heavy, sincere songs, there’s irony and satire,” he says. “Even on the very beginning (of A Crow), where ‘Death’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art’: There’s contradiction and irony, and there’s playing with the form. I can’t help it. Even when I’m trying to be honest, I can’t help joking around.” 

Elverum sees Now Only as “part two” of A Crow. It extends and deepens the exploration of loss and grief, but it also includes self-referential examinations of his experience touring the album. The title track recounts, in part, his experience going to a music festival in Phoenix “to sing these death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs.” On “Two Paintings By Nikolai Astrup” and “Distortion,” he’s thinking about legacies and what’s left behind after death. At around 10 minutes each, those songs are longer than anything on A Crow. 

“I had more to say, and I still feel they’re short,” he says. “I’m interested in saying something that’s full of content, rich and potent. With A Crow Looked At Me, I feel it had depth, but a lot of it was just the initial impact feeling, like a blunt blow. There’s a place for that, but I’m interested in having a more nuanced conversation. That’s what these longform songs can do. It’s not for everyone. It’s probably not going to be that popular. People don’t like to sit around and talk for 45 minutes about mortality. But I do.” 

Elverum knows that these albums can challenge listeners: They demand attention, and the experience isn’t a comfortable one. While Now Only has a few moments of noise and volume, its aesthetics are still as stark as its lyrics. 

“I don’t think of them as songs,” says Elverum. “I know that’s what they are, but I think of them more as me writing about these big issues, about what’s on my mind and in my life. This is what my life is like now. It’s interesting and emotional and painful, and there’s beauty and joy and residual love. They’re barely musical, like the last record. They’re in the shape of a song, but they’re huge piles of words and ideas that hang on rhythm and vague melodies.” 

Being a single parent dominates Elverum’s life, and he doesn’t plan to tour much, but part of him continually focuses on turning his ideas into art. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m always chewing on these ideas and working on them,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to come next, but I can vaguely make out the shapes of one more very wordy record. So maybe there will be a part three. Then, hopefully, I’ll find something new to do.”

—Steve Klinge