Living in New York, you may not know the name Phil Elverum but there is a good chance you have heard music he has collaborated on, and for that matter, laid eyes on his art. He wouldn’t want us saying this, but he is kind of a big deal. Working as one of the pivotal members for a number of North Western bands including Old Time Relijun, D+, The Microphones, and now Mount Eerie. He is something of a musical oddity given his ability to play multiple instruments and has also been asked to help produce or engineer the work of other bands such as Little Wings and Beat Happening. Even given his success as a musician on multiple fronts, he is often driven to produce visual work for the love of the game. It just so happens that his visual aspirations sometimes line up to benefit his musical accomplishments. Phil often contributes to the musical compositions as much as he is responsible for the art that adorns the covers of the albums he has worked hard to make happen.
As a kid, Elverum was fortunate enough to be born into a family that was appreciative of the visual arts. As he puts it only half jokingly, “Doesn’t every kid make visual art?…Childhood scribbling flowed seamlessly into my involvement in the DIY punk music world. It’s all the same kind of revolutionary participatory world-making.”
We’d have to agree. The unfortunate fact is that every artist also has to live. What this means is that in some ways we are always balancing the acts of free creation with the necessary pursuit of monetary gain. The one thing these two have in common is that capitalism, at least in a more abstract sense, makes a case for the fact that each can be of equal value in today’s society. Culture can be seen to influence trends in commerce by introducing new perspectives on the popular aesthetic, and therefore alter the trajectory of the market–in some cases at least. Phil seems to be one of those rare cases where an individual feels comfortable disregarding the principle nature of the times, no matter what describes the artistic or commercial climate, in pursuit of what comes natural and as a direct result of organically occurring inspiration.
Working in multiple mediums including collage, photo, and paint, Elverum always has work going in some studio, whether it be the one he uses for recording, or his space reserved for visual art. When asked if there was an album cover he would be excited to asked to make given a choice of any band or album in the world, he did us one better,
“I actually create album art for all the music that I put on my iPod. In some rare cases I’ll keep the official album art if I find it fitting, but it’s much more fun to make my own quick jpeg. Usually it’s just an image search for something that feels like my experience with the music, or sometimes an inside joke reference that only I will get. Months later I’ve forgotten and then I look at the tiny iPod screen and chuckle to myself. ”
It’s good to keep a sense of humor sharp at all times, especially when you are your own audience. Phil keeps things light, even though he is clearly very serious about his music.
As visual artists ourselves, we know how hard it can be to make a life for oneself doing the thing that we love. The only other creative profession that may present a harder uphill climb would be the work of a musician. For Phil, this paradigm may be the other way around. Involved in multiple successful bands simultaneously, Phil has a strong following and feels he receives the critical feedback he craves more readily in the world of music rather than visual art. When asked whether there was a creative pursuit he put first he replied,
“I think of them as the same project. Each album or picture is obviously its own thing, but I aim for a sense of continuity and vastness among and in between all the various things. It’s convenient that we’re accustomed to thinking of music as having ‘album art’. I like the potential with the interplay.”
Elverum is a great example of someone who follows his passion and makes things work for him no matter what creative pursuit he decides to sink his teeth into. We look forward to hearing more of his sonic experimentation while looking at the art he decided was fitting for the cover. It makes for a skillfully packaged multi-sensory experience that we can’t get enough of right now.