Interview: Tyler Hanan [6/14/13]
Matthew Cooper, as Eluvium, is one of the most highly regarded artists in ambient music. On May 14th, Eluvium’s followup to 2010’s divisive Similes, Nightmare Ending, was released on Temporary Residence LTD; since then, it has garnered high praise the internet over and landed high spots on many mid-year best album lists. Nightmare Ending, is a lush, gorgeous double album journey. This is music to immerse and cleanse oneself in, emerging with a clear mind and a goofy half-grin.
Matthew was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about creating the album, potentially playing it live, and his working with his wife, artist Jeannie Lynn Paske, who does the artwork for Eluvium and will be Kickstarting a book of her artwork entitled “Wisdom For Debris” later this year. Find Matthew’s answers below, and Jeannie’s art here.
Tyler Hanan: The press releases pushing Nightmare Ending as a project that has been in the work for many years, one that was even shelved for a while. Now that the album is out and rave reviews are in, how are you feeling about the long process of making the album? What do you think it added to the album?
Matthew Cooper: Most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to try new things and create an album I’m extremely proud of called Similes. As well, there are always going to be thoughts in my mind about choices that I’ve made when creating an album - I’m sure a lot of artists can relate. Having so much time for some of the music to rest and get comfortable, it allowed me to review it with a fresh perspective and go in and make changes if and when I felt the need to do so. I became extremely tunnel-visioned when I first began working on Nightmare Ending; after making Similes, I came back to it with a lightness that allowed me to really set myself free, so to speak - to go with the flow a bit more, instead of trying to control it.
TH: There’s been a good amount of talk that this album serves as a summation of your releases so far, of the different musical styles you’ve tried. Is that something you strove for? If not, how do you feel about this idea as you look back on the album now?
MC: I didn’t really strive for that, but it does seem like an obvious natural occurrence to me at this point. I’ve had a tendency to put down ideas or styles I’ve worked with in order to pursue new and interesting ones that excited me at that moment. I think perhaps having a relaxing momentum to explore also allowed me the opportunity to play with things I had done in the past and see what other surprises they might hold.
TH: The press release also makes it sound as if you were searching for something, some certain, whole sound, or artistic vibe of sorts. More simply, did you achieve what you initially had hoped for, or did the album end up being something completely unexpected?
MC: Hm… I was hesitant to suggest that the press release shouldn’t have given you such an idea - that in fact it might have given off the idea that I was coming to a place of comfortability within myself - but on second thought, I can see how perhaps that was, in a way, the expected outcome - to loosen the ties that bind and gain a comfortability within myself and a certain acceptance, for a lack of a better way to describe it.
There are so many ways to approach it (what was occurring with the record), and I think that was my ultimate goal - to find a certain comfort within myself regarding bits of life, to provide a certain amount of comfort to others that they could always come home to, and to also create something that was ambiguous enough to work as a “what’s the sound of one hand clapping,” to clear the mind and have it create whatever the listener puts into it. But for somewhat lofty goals - at least speaking for myself - I feel quite satisfied.
TH: With Nightmare Ending now out there, what’s next? Does following up this double album weigh on you heavily, or are you simply eager to get back to work?
MC: Haha - no weight at all - though I have been trying to take some time off, here and there. For the most part I’m pretty deep into multiple new projects already - if Nightmare Ending has any effect on them at all, it is at such a subconscious level I would be unable to report on it. It has always been about following what excites and inspires me at that moment and never about trying to make a calculated next move, thank god.
TH: Playing music that’s a little subtler or more ambient or atmospheric can be a challenge live. How do you plan on tackling Nightmare Ending’s songs when you’re performing it? Possibly stripped down, straight from the album, rearranged for a wholly different sound?
MC: This is yet to be determined, but I’m in talks with myself and others about it. Not to sound like a broken record (I think I’ve made a pun there) - but performing live is also about doing something that is challenging and doesn’t bore me - and I can only hope that it will have the same effect on the audience.
TH: You’ve spoken on how this is an album of “perfections” versus “imperfections” and how you grew to love the latter. Is that something you’d felt coming earlier in your career, or was it something that really came to the fore with Nightmare Ending? Will it alter your songwriting at all going forward?
MC: It is something that has been of note to me before working on the album, whether in relation to music or not. But having challenged these theoretical notions within myself, I can definitely see it having an effect on how I approach things - again, whether in relation to music or not.
TH: The contributions from Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and Explosions in the Sky’s Mark T. Smith went off spectacularly well. Would you consider trying an even greater number of similar collaborations/guest spots on your albums in the future?
MC: I wouldn’t want to force it, but if there was something that called for it, and no one had to pull any teeth I would be happy to. There is a certain greatness that comes from collaboration and giving up a certain amount of control - Nightmare Ending just happened to be a good place to experiment with this. Ultimately, what the tide brings in the future is anyone’s guess.
TH: Your wife, Jeannie Lynn Paske, has done quite a bit of art for you. It all fits quite well aesthetically with your music. How do you work together on the art?
MC: For the album art, I generally tend to suggest a certain concept, whether emotionally or otherwise - and maybe even reference other things she has done in the past - and then I really just let her do her thing. She is an immensely gifted individual and I try not to get in the way of her creative forces, but she is kind enough to sketch out some things lightly for me to agree with, and then from there on, she is in her world.
TH: You two also do a fair amount of cross-promotion, her posting about your music and you posting about her paintings and sketches, particularly her upcoming art book “Wisdom For Debris.” Have you contributed to her art at all? Do you two give a lot of input to the other on your projects, or are your processes more solitary?
MC: We are always there for each other when thoughts and opinions are needed. We both can sometimes have a habit of working things to death, and it’s good to have someone else there to say “DON”T TOUCH A THING - IT”S PERFECT.” Our studios are right next to each other - connected by a small record room - so I think having that environment helps us both feel inspired by the other.
When we first met we collaborated on a few stop motion films together, and we’re hoping to find some time to do something like that again in the future. Her book “Wisdom For Debris”, is shaping up to be something truly unique and special and just simply insanely beautiful, and I’ve gotten the go ahead to contribute music that will come with the book - so I’m quite looking forward to that.
TH: On a related note, do you think about trying other music-related projects, other than the traditional album? Possibly something involving visuals, like a film soundtrack or art exhibit accompaniment, something like that?
MC: All the time.