Kornhaber: There are so many moments when it’s a shock to hear you sing about a particular subject at all. Like on “Earth,” when you’re literally talking about encountering human remains in the part of your yard where you buried her ashes. Are you holding anything back?
Elverum: Hmm. Maybe none. When I was writing those words in “Earth,” about finding her chunks of bone, if anything I didn’t want it to seem gratuitous—that’s what I was worried about. I didn’t want to be perceived as veering into that realm of what I was talking about in metal, saying gory, shocking things just for the cheap impact of it. I knew for myself I wasn’t: It was real, and I was just telling the truth. I did go out in the yard, and I found her bones. It wasn’t heavy or shocking, and that’s not the point I’m trying to make in the song.
Kornhaber: At the same time, while the listener may feel they learn so much about you, they don’t hear a lot about the specifics of your relationship, for example. How much are you conscious of leaving some things out?
Elverum: When A Crow Looked at Me came out, people said a few times, “Oh, this is a beautiful tribute to Geneviève.” I didn’t like that. It’s not a tribute to Geneviève. These songs are about grieving and death and loss. If I make a tribute to Geneviève, it will be about how great she was and who she was. There are a couple parts on this record that did make an effort to describe our lives together, but the project isn’t for me to convey her as a person through song. That maybe will exist someday. These albums are purely just me exploring my own turmoil.
Kornhaber: The closest you get to really describing her is on “Distortion,” when you’re talking about watching a documentary about Jack Kerouac and thinking Geneviève looked like his daughter—who you say described her dad as a “deadbeat … taking cowardly refuge in his self-mythology.” Is that anecdote there because of the resemblance, or because of the cautionary tale of Jack Kerouac?
Elverum: Geneviève was such a unique alien that I never got reminded of her by anyone. So it was striking to see Jan Kerouac and go, “Oh, she looks like her. Oh, she’s talking like her. Oh they’re both of French Canadian decent.”
But the point of that song is shifts in memory and posterity, which is the theme of the whole album. The shift is having Jack Kerouac’s daughter crack the romance of this guy, and be like, “No, he’s just a shitty dad.”
Kornhaber: You say you don’t believe in ghosts or the afterlife on the album, but you’re also working through your desire to believe in them, right?
Elverum: That’s true: “I sing to you” and “you don’t exist.” I guess I’m just comfortable with gray area.
Kornhaber: How did you come to nonbelief?
Elverum: If anything I’m less atheistic than I used to be. I grew up without religion, but my parents have always been somewhat mystical about nature: The mountain is looking at us, stuff like that. Only in this last year did I let go of striving toward any sort of certainty about “do I believe or not believe?” I will say, out loud, words to Geneviève when I’m in the house, and it’s funny to allow myself to do that. Everything only exists in our minds anyways. The world is created by our own perception of every moment.