[COUNTRY DARKNESS] It is not unusual for a Mount Eerie show to be booked thusly: "A kid in a small town in Wisconsin or whatever will write and want me to come there," the band's sole static member, Phil Elverum, says over the phone from his native Anacortes, Wash. "And I'll write back and say, 'OK, where do shows happen? Have you ever set one up? Let's figure this out: Go to the library and see if they'll rent out a room to you or something.' That's how I wind up playing in these unusual places."
Rock clubs have never been Elverum's thing. Playing them, as Elverum did on Mount Eerie's recent tour of Europe in support of Seattle drone-metal outfit Earth, is "like staying at chain hotels," he says. "You know what you're gonna get and it works. Some of those places were magical, but for the most part, rock clubs around the world are pretty standardized."
Mount Eerie's visit to Portland this week is anything but standard. First, the band—the current Mount Eerie lineup is composed of "young people from Anacortes," and in an unusual move for Elverum, the group is practicing new material before hitting the road—will break in a brand-new, 50-capacity all-ages stage attached to the Common Grounds Coffee House on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard for two already sold-out shows. The next night, the band will play the equally tiny downtown bar Valentine's, with concertgoers fogging up the club's windows and almost certainly spilling out into the alley on Southwest Ankeny Street.
The day may come soon when Elverum's growing popularity demands more traditional bookings. Though a respected staple of Northwest underground music since the mid-'90s—Mount Eerie's previous incarnation, the Microphones, was a shining light of Calvin Johnson's Olympia-based K Records—Mount Eerie's 2009 effort, Wind's Poem, attracted Elverum a new level of attention. That LP, beautifully hand-packaged and inspired by black metal and the coastal Washington landscape, garnered Mount Eerie considerable praise and raised expectations for Elverum's follow-up.
In many ways, last month's Clear Moon (the first part of a two-album set) exceeds those expectations—it's a gentle, masterfully constructed album that is mesmerizing where it's not downright trance-inducing—but it will be a curve ball for fans of the project's heavier recent work. The through line is Elverum's naturalist lyricism, which is often misconstrued as something witchy or New Age. In Clear Moon's opening track, "Through the Trees Pt. 2," Elverum explains in blunt terms that he's not some mystic. "I know there's no other world," he sings. "Mountains and websites."
Elverum says he used the song—as he often does with opening tracks—as a way "to set the scene for the more ambiguous stuff that comes later." That ambiguous, natural-world stuff, though, is what he loves writing most. "It's what I'm into," he says of Anacortes, the small town he loved even as a teenager, when the kids around him were itching to leave. "I live in this town, and it's beautiful. I don't actually go into the forest that frequently, but itâs whatâs on my mind.â
Whether he's playing a library in Wisconsin or a coffee shop in Portland, Elverum always seems to bring Anacortes—or his version of it, anyway—into the room. "I'm just grateful that people keep inviting me," he says.
SEE IT: Mount Eerie plays Valentines, 232 SW Ankeny St., on Tuesday, June 19, with Key Losers. 9 pm. $5. 21+.