I walked into the crowded DC art gallery Signal 66 not knowing what
I was in for or who Phil Elvrum was. His presence came apparently clear
to me when I saw a bare-footed guy in the corner of the room painting
a 10’x10’ map of his life. I introduced myself and we talked
for a little bit about the painting. He was an amazingly nice person and
I knew that I was in for a special treat.
RJ: Can you talk to us about your new album?
Phil: It’s called The Glow Part 2,
and it’s kind of long. It’s longer than the other ones have
been. I don’t know why… On this album I was trying to go for
a theme of fire. Like big fires, campfires, camping, the focal point that
fire can be… Yeah, it’s a fire themed album, as the other
albums have had other themes. Well, in retrospect they’ve had themes…Half
way through making this album I was like, “Hey, a lot of these songs
are about fires and glowing and stuff like that.” ...I was watching
all the Twin Peaks episodes for like the 4th time, and noticed
that whenever they went to Pete’s house (Pete, Katherine, and Josie
lived on the water) every 20 seconds there would be this ‘hoooo’
noise [Phil makes a fog horn sound.] It was so subtle, so low
key, and set the mood so perfectly. And maybe because where I grew up
there was that sound going…it really struck a cord with me. I wanted
to make the whole album exist in that same world…as in that scene.
RJ: Were there any special recording processes, special
instruments, or anything new discovered on this album?
Phil: …every song is always kind of new to me.
Whatever gets me to the idea that I have in my head and how I want it
to sound. I try all kinds of different things. I’d get bored if
I ever got comfortable with a way of recording… like where to set
the mics or instrumentation.
RJ: Do you try recording multiple takes for different
Phil: No usually I keep the first take, first or second
take, but will try different ways of recording it.
RJ: Does that take a while?
Phil: I’m pretty sloppy with it. I really don’t
worry about it that much. I just turn the mic up, or whatever. I turn
the sound up if it’s going through an echo machine or have the mic
far way. I get the sound and go for the feeling rather than the precise
RJ: Do you have another tour coming up?
Phil: Yeah I’m not sure what is going to happen
on that tour. I’m going all by myself for 6 weeks just driving around
the country... I’m pretty intimidated by the idea of it, but it
seems like it could be good. I’ve only driven on a short trip by
myself once. All my touring has been with at least one other person. I’m
excited and scared. I’ll pick up some hitchhikers and have them
join the band.
RJ: So what else is going on?
Phil: On this tour I’ve written a couple little,
short, plays… that death
play. I wrote it in the van on this tour because I’ve been reading
a book of plays and it’s totally inspiring. I really love exploring
that. So, I imagine doing some more of that. If not performing plays just
writing them is really exciting….Because, in a way, I feel like
the way I write songs, or think about albums, and the way they flow together,…is
in terms of telling a story and different scenes and different characters
coming and reappearing.
RJ: Tour highlights?
Phil: We are doing this tour in a way that we’ve
never toured before. It’s sort of being presented as this thing…not
just a music show. We’re playing at art galleries and theatre type
places so there’s this expectation that we’re going to do
something other than play our sets. And we haven’t really prepared
anything. So, everyday we go into the place with preparations to do. We
try to get to the place early and build a set, just kind of stake it out.
Every show has been completely different. It’s totally based on
getting people involved (assimilating people). That is our main focus.
It was tough tonight. People seemed kind of reserved.
RJ: Have you done anything like this in the past?
Phil: Not like this. I went on this tour where it was
sort of like “Wow, you mean like I don’t just have to play
songs…” It was really fun and really short. But it seemed
really long because everyday was so action packed. This is the first tour
that’s being presented as a cool thing, or a special thing, which
makes it kind of weird… I definitely don’t want to play a
normal show again or not talk to the audience or anything like that. It’s
just what the show is being presented as that makes this weird expectation.
It’s just a different challenge.
RJ: I love the drum sound you get on your records how
do you do it?
Phil: I’m really lucky to record drums at Dub Narcotic
studio. It’s a huge room that has this giant sound and I really
use that a lot. I also just distort the mics a lot and turn them up. I
really love distorted drums. And, I also use compressors - I don’t
really know how to use compressors properly. I just turned them on one
day. I use them on drums and it sounded incredible. The whole drum mix
goes through a compressor. The way it sounds really trippy. Cymbals and
stuff are really weird sounding.
RJ: Can you talk about how you mic stuff?
Phil: There are some good mics at the studio that I feel
really lucky to use. I usually just set up one mic and then record the
whole song with it. I just bring the instruments to it or move it around
the room rather than setting up different mics for each thing. I record
so sloppily that it doesn’t matter.
RJ: Do you prefer any special mics?
Phil: Neumann U67 - really small Altec mics that are
also condensers. They’re really amazing sounding. (Also) Senheisers
mkh405- I recorded a lot of drums with them. Just amazing drum overheads
or drum mics. I usually just record drums with overheads and a bass drum
mic, unless I am doing some special thing. A lot of times I record drums…like
multi-track them. I do the bass drum and the snare drum later. That way
I can do like two bass drums at the same time and do stuff like... “Duga
duga duga’ I really love stereo.
Phil: My friend Karl gave me a really good tip when I
first got my 4- track. He was like, “Have you taken it into the
kitchen yet? …You have to take it into the kitchen and get out the
pots and pans. It’s the best”. I did, and it was awesome.
The whole idea of using every single thing... I think the first thing
I recorded on eight track was just testing it out. I had a mic set up,
and recorded 8 tracks of different beats on my teeth. I had different
drum sounds just with my teeth. It was so fun. Turns out it sounded like
a drum set. My friend Karl has taught me so much about seeing things from
every angle and being able to use anything……Like being stuck
in the middle of Alaska and making a drum set out of rocks and ice or
whatever. Being resourceful, I guess. And trying to do things wrong…..Often
produces something real interesting. Like plugging the drum set into the
compressor. It was so mysterious. But now I do it all the time.
RJ: How long have you been recording at Dub Narcotic,
how many albums?
Phil: I’ve been recording there for 4 years…But,
probably about 10 albums including my own.
RJ: Have you ever thought about using a computer to record
Phil: There’s this guy who set up his computer
in the studio. I’m pretty much against it through and through, but
the more I think about it…..”you mean I can just like put
this here and this here just like that”. [scratches chin] When I
get back from these tours I’m going to mess around with it maybe.
I’d have to justify it for myself by recording it on a computer
then…onto the eight track or whatever and add stuff there. I am
a total purist. …I want to get a sampler though, like a digital
sampler. I want to do some drum loop rhythm stuff, techno music. Yeah
my next album hopefully will be like techno-y not computer(ish)-mechanical-techno
sounding, tons of beats and sounds. ...I’ve already done an air
themed album, water, and air. So, now I need to do the rock themed one.
So, I‘m going to think of it as like a mountain. Mountain album--
It‘s going to be sort of a fear theme album. Like scary, scary,
mountain, rock, fear, techno singer /songwriter techno, open mic blues
jam, singer songwriter fear techno. Analog.
more information about The Microphones check out their official
web site, or go to k
Records to buy The Microphones albums and other great stuff.