Last month, Phil Elverum — who records under the moniker Mount Eerie — released “Distortion,” an ominous, 11-minute waltz through loss, pain, and acceptance.
It was the latest heartbreaking attempt from Elverum to come to grips with the sudden passing of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, whose death in 2016 inspired Mount Eerie’s hauntingly gorgeous album, A Crow Looked at Me.
“All I want is to write about something else,” says Elverum, who plays two shows at the Swedish American Hall on Feb. 22 as part of the 2018 Noise Pop festival. “But I have to be authentic to myself. This is where I am. This is all I can do.”
One of the most critically acclaimed albums of last year — a reaction that Elverum finds almost absurd — listening to A Crow Looked at Me can feel voyeuristic, as it paints a devastating portrait of death and mourning. The lyrics are direct, naked, and unsparing.
“Writing like that was the only way that felt appropriate and real for me,” says Elverum, who first rose to prominence as the creative visionary and founder of the indie band The Microphones. “It felt like decoration and metaphor were cowardly and pointless.”
Castrée passed away from pancreatic cancer, less than a year after the birth of the couple’s daughter. The death came as a complete shock — the cancer diagnosis was delivered during a standard postpartum checkup — and Elverum has not shied away from addressing the matter, both in his art and in his dealings with the public.
He says he is typically a very internal person, and confronting the pain in such an open fashion has been both a challenging and illuminating process. On “Real Death,” the opening track of A Crow Looked At Me, Elverum acknowledges the surreal nature of his art, noting that death is “not for singing about.”
“I knew that there were contradictions, and it felt strange and wrong in a lot of ways,” Elverum says of making A Crow Looked at Me. “But it also felt mandatory.”
Although he has posted about his depression in the past on social media, Elverum said he is feeling better now. He is set to release a new album, Now Only, in March, a successor to A Crow Looked At Me. He recently wrapped up a tour of Australia, and has a few shows lined up in 2018, but for the most part, he plans to take it easy, focusing on building a new home and raising his 2-year-old daughter.
In the interim, he will continue to create art that honors his late wife. He said the songwriting process is cathartic, but not violently so, and he still has more to say on the subject of her death. And pursuing those artistic endeavors offers him a brief portal back to their moments together.
“It feels like I’m hanging out with Geneviève when I’m singing those songs or working on new ones,” says Elverum. “It feels like going to the place where she still is.”
Mount Eerie, Friday, Feb. 22, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., at Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St. $25; swedishamericanhall.com
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