Mount Eerie on “Now Only”

The Absurd Truth

Jun 25, 2018 Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett Photography by Jeff Miller Bookmark and Share


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"Absurd"that's the word Phil Elverum uses to describe the last year. In early 2017, he released A Crow Looked at Me, his universally-praised examination of the devastation brought on by the death of his wife, artist and songwriter Geneviève Castrée. Everything since thenthe glowing reviews, the crowded festival shows, the fact that crowds clap and cheer after he sings a song about his dead wifehas been absurd, he says. There's a moment on Now Only, his follow-up, that captures the strangeness of his life now. Though the album is a natural extension of A Crow Looked at Me, continuing Elverum's examination of grief and loss, it's also different, more emotionally and texturally varied. On "Now Only," the album's shape-shifting centerpiece and title track, it features what can only be described as a brief sing-along, a playful recitation of the phrase "People get cancer and die."

"I tried to make it have a hook, and I've maybe never written a hook in any of my songs ever," Elverum says with a laugh. "That part is about the absurdity of everything by making it catchy and pretty and making it sound like country music a little bit, just for a second. It lasts about 10 seconds long, but I tried to make a Nashville country 10 seconds. But then the clash between what is actually happening and the words, that is what it feels like to be alive nowthe clash between the facts and experiencing beauty and devastation in the same moment."

These are the momentsthose "jarring feelings of juxtaposition"that Elverum lives for in his art. It's in those moments of groundlessness that a person has to confront the present for what it is, not what is hoped for or imagined. Living in the present moment has been Elverum's only option since July 9, 2016, as he has made art in the house he shared with his wife, raising their daughter as a single parent. Even going on tour provided no distraction from his grief, as person after person approached him with their own stories of loss. Though he doesn't want to be known as the guy who sings about death, he's coming to terms with the fact that his art is now playing a different, and in some ways more healing, role than it ever has before.

"Just when you called, I was dealing with my email, and there's so many big ones in there of people's stories," he says. "Sometimes people have the same exact story as mine. Their husband died and they have a two-year-old kid. Those types of stories feel weirdly good, because being in this rare circumstance, it's like an extra layer of suffering to feel isolated in the world. Even though I wish there were no other people out there who had to experience these things, to know that there are a few alleviates that isolation. I don't dread [that conversation]. I'm fully open to it, and I'm having that conversation with everyone else by standing on stage and singing my songs," he says, trailing off with a laugh. "I started it."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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engdoor
July 4th 2018
4:00am

beautiful album

Terrell Owens
July 6th 2018
8:33am

This honestly touched me that I had to take a break from my custom writing work as I got a little teary. Maybe it’s the imbalance but truly touching.

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August 9th 2018
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