A letter to musician Phil Elverum

A letter to musician Phil Elverum and some answers to some questions



Dear Phil Elverum,

I have been on the living room floor listening to and reading your No Flashlight album. Its sincerity reminds me that having a personal relationship with abstract/unspeakable/unseen ideas is possible and well worth the effort. The huge map you included with the white-vinyl record and CD really helped guide me deeper into the album. Your song explanations go beyond the sound of music and lyrics. What you have created is not an album of songs but a treasure map with atmosphere. If more songwriters included explanations to their songs, less people would be thrown off by the tragically hip.

I have some interview questions for you. If you could please find the time and generosity to answer them, I would give you some thanks.



Justin “Scrappers” Morrison


What does Mt. Erie mean?

All the songs.


What is the difference between writing poetry and song lyrics?

No difference.


What are the most common misunderstandings that exist between the “hearer” and the “singer”?

I cannot generalize about that. There are a million understandings and misunderstandings.


In “Stop Singing” the idea is that singing about the world (a dawn for example) is to stop experiencing the world, as if you can’t sing and listen at the same time. Isn’t artistic expression (singing in the rain) a form of experiencing the world or being more connected with it?

To me it seems like we experience the world, then sing about it. When I sing I am only experiencing my own self singing. To me, "experiencing" happens when I am empty, quiet and receptive.


How are your photographs like your songs?

They are very similar. I think those photos are the closest visual version of the sound I try to create, and the world I try to make in the words. In many cases the song is inspired by a photo. One way the photos are like the songs is that the photos usually don’t look like the real world through the naked eye. They’re night photos with long exposures and stuff. So, they are an exaggerated expression of the world, just like the songs are an exaggerated expression of the same world, but in word and sound rather than in color.


Why the big foldout poster and map instead of a book?

I like imagining people in the act of unfolding it and unfolding it and unfolding it, surprised that it keeps going. I would like to do one 100 times as big.


The point of No Flashlight, I think, is to find our hidden sensitivity, on our own without the help of a flashlight in the dark. Why is sensitivity worth the trouble?

Some people prefer to be numb and asleep I suppose. It’s worth the trouble to me. I prefer to wake up. That’s also why I think drugs are dumb.


Can you explain how the night overflows with generosity?

Because it is empty. In the dark you could be anything anywhere. This is generous in the same way that being a good listener is generous. The night is completely receptive.


In a song explanation you wrote, “Fuck ambition. Fuck nostalgia. Fuck perfection. Fuck fuck.” I think it’s a good idea, but how can we do this?

I just meant that we don’t have to try so hard. "It’s not meant to be a strife." "Everything is given, nothing is due."


In “What?” you admit that you are not as sturdy as a mountain, but more like thinning clouds. Is this a sad realization?

No, it’s a relief. It’s like a football player admitting that he wants a kitten. Everyone knows it’s sweet and honest and rich to surrender.


Is wilderness real? If so, got any examples?

Wilderness is real, but I was just saying that also Everything is real. Since I have written so many songs that apparently take place in "nature" I have become known as a "nature type of guy" and I feel like it’s sadly missing the point to focus on this idea of an "unspoiled original world." It would be dishonest of me to only sing about soft mossy groves with newborn baby deer jumping around in them. It’s 2005. I’m making vinyl records out of petroleum and cutting down forests to make my huge posters. I am not that hypocritical. My point about nature is that we are in it now, where we live, and that a good "wilderness management" plan is actually just a good "neighborhood management" plan, because why should we look at ourselves and the machinery of our existence as "spoiled" or "less pure"? It is better to become acquainted with the little wild parts still left inside ourselves and look at the parks as the same world as our parking lots. No park boundary.


Thank you, Mr. Phil Elverum.


To learn more, make a trip to pwelverumandsun.com