Music Xtra: Wanderlust and inspiration – Cooper finds creative ground in Eluvium

A bunch of years ago, Matthew Cooper left Louisville in favor of Portland, Ore. Once he settled in, Cooper began paying more and more attention to the sounds in his head. He recorded those sounds for what would become Eluvium, a solo project that has since blossomed into four albums’ worth of beautiful, ethereal mood pieces.

Eluvium’s new album, Copia, comes out next month on Temporary Residence Records. LEO caught up with Cooper via e-mail.

LEO: What was involved in your decision to move out West? Was it wanderlust or something more tangible?

MC: I moved out to Portland roughly a little after high school (’98-ish?). A part of it was due to wanderlust, but I had visited Portland earlier to stay with my brother, and I fell in love with it. It seemed obvious to me that I had to go and do something on my own.

LEO: When you started Eluvium, did you know what kind of music you wanted to make?

MC: I’m not sure I know what music I want to make now, but I suppose I had a certain mindset for Eluvium. I simply gave up making music for anyone else’s concerns and started creating sounds that I wanted to hear but couldn’t find elsewhere — sort of blending theories about sound. Strangely enough, that is when people started to take interest.

LEO: Did your surroundings influence the sound of Lambent Material (Eluvium’s first record)? If so, how?

MC: Somewhat. If I had to reason with the theory, I’d say I was influenced by living in the downtown area of Portland, often with interesting views of commerce and commotion, and what came from it seemed to be a sort of example of white noise and humdrum that the autopilot mind might create: exhaustion, much-needed sleep from the world, or even simply turning the world of distraction and disinterest into a musical, to find some beauty and solace within all of that.

LEO: How do you approach a new song?

MC: I let it come naturally. I rarely force myself to work on something. A lot of songs come to me from walking around and looking at nature and anything in progression. Sometimes they stick with me, and I jot them down when I get home. Sometimes they are lost forever.

LEO: Who or what has influenced you the most musically?

MC: Nature seems to influence me a ton. My dear friend, artist Jeannie Lynn Paske, has also influenced me more than I can express. I seem to be more influenced by my reactions to things like nature and people and books and vision as opposed to listening to other people’s music.

LEO: How have your musical tastes changed?

MC: My musical taste is always evolving and expanding. As time has moved forward, it has become a lot less pigeonholed. Working at record shops has been helpful in that manner. But because of the intensity of my musical interests, I find it best to enjoy it ephemerally from a mental standpoint and not let it be a part of my own creative expression. It is probably easier to relate to a different art than music. For example, it might be easier to say, “I enjoy reading, but it does not compel me to write.” In fact, I am probably musically influenced more by other arts (literature, film, painting, etc.) than by other music.

LEO: What instrumentation do you rely on the most when making a record?

MC: I try not to rely on specific instruments. If I can’t create the sound I hear with the instrument I have, I try to find another way to do so. It isn’t always important to know how to play an instrument properly or at least with professional skill in order to get what you need from it … A lot of times the song never comes to be, or I will just dramatically change directions in order to get it out of my mind until I can come back to it. If it is absolutely essential that I continue working on the piece, I will flesh it out on the piano and practice with it there, waiting for a chance down the road to give it a proper compositional home.

LEO: Where was Copia recorded? What is that studio/recording area like, and why is it conducive for you to make music there?

MC: Copia was recorded at my home, in my studio — I have recently christened it Watership Sounds. I have always preferred the ease that comes from working at home: no schedules to arrange and pay for. It would be hard to work at your own pace when you are being charged for it. It is easier to get lost in your own world without the distraction of working with someone else, an engineer perhaps. I do often think of hiring an engineer or producer. It would be nice to see how it works out. Perhaps it is easier to do the more comfortable you become with your material, but a lot of my work has come spur of the moment.

LEO: Have you ever thought about playing in Louisville?

MC: I thought I was going to this spring, but now that I check, I don’t see it on the list. I hear many things have changed. It would be interesting to see. Although sometimes, Kentucky seems it might be nicest in my mind, and I would hate to ruin the image in my head. Swinging through for an evening probably wouldn’t cause any serious damage.

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