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Monday, January 14th, 2013

Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum is Funnier Than You Think

Independent musicians are often thought of as self-serious crybabies, holding their craft to the highest imaginable standards and scoffing at anything resembling fun. Often, that's not the case, however, as many musicians moonlight with comedic output. From follow-worthy Twitter accounts to viral videos and other projects, we're here to point out some of the best secret comedians in the world of independent music.

To the untrained eye and ear, Phil Elverum may come across like an incredibly serious dude. The Anacortes, Wash. based musician has built a career making experimental rock music under the monikers The Microphones and Mount Eerie, among others. Associated with Calvin Johnson's K Records label before taking an in-house approach to releasing music with his P.W. Elverum & Sun imprint, he's released some inarguable classics like The Glow Pt. 2 and last year's one-two punch of Clear Moon and Ocean Roar, among many others.

A nature-obsessed and often confessional songwriter with a penchant for complex recording techniques and a respectable knowledge of black metal, the immediate perception of Elverum would be that he's a serious nerd who'd scoff at your dick jokes and belittle your Twitter feed. Thankfully, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Without self-promoting, Elverum has spent over a decade creating the fantastically absurd webcomic Fancy People Adventures. Crudely drawn with an equally crude sense of humor, he's established a messy, laugh out loud world packed with wacky characters, fast food references and ice cold BJs.

Then, in June of 2011, Phil Elverum joined Twitter. Attempting critique the social media platform's encouragement of oversharing, he racked up 200 Tweets in a mere three days, writing things like, "Might have a sandwich for lunch. Maybe not," "On the side of the road I saw some garbage! Wtf," "Decisions decisions. Chocolate milk or just milk milk," "What was Tom hankses first big movie?" and "I wonder if hockey is still going on. What are the rules even?"

Since then, his account has evolved to one of the most bizarrely entertaining and sorely underrated on the web. Catching up with Elverum via email, we avoided questions about songwriting and mic placement to find out how he comes up with such weird jokes.

Do you find that people expect you to be more serious or humorless because of your music and other projects?

People used to assume I was a serious/sad person because of my music for some reason. Maybe since I made that twitter in my own name that perception is less strong lately. I don't know.

Do you find that working as a full-time musician has changed your sense of humor at all or developed it in weird ways? Maybe as a coping mechanism on tour or something?

No. I mean, maybe?  Being a musician means I am "hanging out" a lot, like driving on tour or being at a show or whatever, so maybe there's more time to interact with peers and develop jokes. But maybe it has nothing to do with lifestyle/career. I think I just am the way I am.

When did you first start Fancy People Adventures? What was the motivation to start a comic strip?

Probably in 2000 or so. I lived in Olympia and we were drawing on junk mail envelopes, just making single panel documentation of the dumb jokes we'd been doing that day. (Me and my friends Jason Wall and Karl Blau). Also around that time I was on a family vacation and me and my little brother started doing cartoons to entertain each other. We'd grown up with Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes and stuff so it was a familiar format. Plus, around that time in the Stranger (free Seattle weekly) they had an amazing comics page featuring Michael Kupperman's comics (like Snake & Bacon) which were pretty inspiring in their deadpan meta style. Fancy People Adventures was not intended to be a public thing. Just documenting jokes on scraps of paper and saving them in a drawer. Then eventually I compiled them into a garbagey zine photocopied at K and left them around the office. That was the entire distribution. Maybe 15 copies circulation.

How has the project changed over time?

I stopped drawing jokes when I moved out from the house I shared with Jason Wall since most of the comics were literally just writing down what he said. It developed into a less concentrated form of "journaling". Like "what was that hilarious thing you said in the car yesterday?"  Then the joke twitter came along and that kind of took over whatever possible gags could have been comics.

What's your process? Do you think about jokes before you draw a comic, or is it more stream of conscious?

Like I said, just documentation. So with all the comics there's a very specific voicing and delivery that goes along with it that only I know, and maybe the bystanders at the original real-world inception.

What do you get out of making a comic strip that you might not get out of your other projects?'

It's nice to have a bunch of jokes written down so I can return to them and amuse myself after they're forgotten. Comedy is deep and wild and I am excited about the mysteries within. Music is interesting too, but almost too explored maybe.

What would you like to do with FPA in the future? Is the project done or do you have more plans for it?

I'd like to be more on top of getting the jokes on paper instead of twitted. I'd like to make a stupid hardcover book, but maybe the joke of such immediate throwaway humor in a commemorative hardback is too extravagant of a goof.

I'm also interested in your Twitter… I know it was meant to be a sort of anti-Twitter, but it has evolved into its own unique project. Why did you finally decide to start a Twitter?

Originally I wanted to pre-write all possible tweets. Just neutral banal ones like my earliest tweets. "I ate a sandwich."  "Good morning."  I wanted to have a database of like 75 tweets and get an intern to write a program that would randomly tweet those at intervals of 30 seconds for months on end to see if people would still follow, because that's what Twitter seems to be. Just too much information about NOTHING. So it was just pushing it to the extreme. Maybe such a project already exists, I don't know. But yeah, then I got into it as a forum to play with how I am perceived, and also to just try out new absurdities. We live in ridiculous times.

There was a time that you wanted to quit Twitter, but then you kept using it. What sucked you back in?

It is addictive, straight up. But also, I actually do really like the creative writing assignment that it can be. I find that it can push my mind into a nice wild realm where I am reaching for the most unknown absurd place. It can be a good exercise. It just requires discipline, and no replies or retweets!  It is not for conversing, it's for shouting.

Like the comic strip, do you find yourself planning jokes to post on Twitter, or do you just think of things off the cuff.

Only in the moment.

Who, in your opinion, are the funniest people in the world?

My grandpa is the funniest person in the world, straight up. But mostly everyone in my family groans when he is "on." I am his biggest fan.

Josiah Hughes is a freelance writer and the music and film editor for Fast Forward Weekly. Unfortunately, Bio-Dome is his favorite movie ever. He Tweets.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/chrishudson918 Chris Hudson

    awesome