It’s summer’s last breath and the air hangs like sheets of silk that grace your skin with each step. The sun is just setting—or maybe it’s rising, but it’s no matter. The world melts around you, as you begin to exist in feeling rather than words, in tastes rather than physical terms, floating in and out of coherent consciousness. There’s a very specific feeling growing inside you and it’s all poetic and encompassing, yet if asked to articulate it, you’d most likely fall short—but you can feel it, so you know it to be true. It’s as if you’re seeing the world shone in a fresh light, understanding the ineffable things that eluded you so heavily in the past.
You feel on the edge of something—a breath, a moment, an epiphany, the edge of love or anger—that vast space between moments where you can either let go or sink down into an abyss of emotion. You feel as though you’re watching the world turned on high; every dial raised just a notch, everything flickering just a bit more beautifully as everything feels a bit more melancholic, but it’s all golden and like swimming through honey. And no matter where you find yourself, no matter where you actually are, this moment or this image, is precisely the feeling that’s evoked when I listen to Eluvium.
As the ethereally beautiful musical project of Matthew Cooper, Eluvium has been providing our senses and brain waves with sweeping noise and gusts of intense emotion for years now with ambient worlds of sound. Vacillating from all-consuming atmospheric and hypnotic songs that cast you off into the space between words or the minimalistic piano numbers that feel so delicate and fragile it almost hurts to listen, Cooper has built his own sonic universe—and after 2010’s Similes, he’s back with the stunning Nightmare Ending. Seven years in the making, the double-album feels like the synthesis of everything you’ve loved about his work—fascinatingly grand in scope and sound as it mixes the softness of songs like "Entendre" with the towering power of "By the Rails." His music washes over you, transporting you to an incredible place you want nothing more than to get lost in.
A few months ago, I got the chance to have a long chat with Cooper about the freedom of Nightmare Ending, exercising different parts of he brain, and finding beauty in imperfection.
Nightmare Ending is an album you’ve been working on for quite a while now.
Yeah, it was originally going to be the album after came after Copia, but I started having internal conflicts about the way the songs were coming out and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about them. At the same time, my mind was starting to focus on more wordy concepts, and lyrics just started coming to be me—this feeling about a certain something was making itself apparent to me. So I decided to focus on that for a while and that became Similes.
It was definitely exercising ghosts for sure, and when you have something weighing on you—not necessarily a bad thing just a heavy feeling—it was important for me, just from being a human, to work through that and shed it and be able to move freely again. Finishing Similes opened me up in a new way, something that was a lot more loose and free and gave me a lot of energy to go back to Nightmare Ending and really see it through.
It’s a little bit of both really. I would say a lot of it is psychological, or at least being somebody with a brain, it seems that way to me. There are obviously other things that do play roles; even as simple as hearing a melody in something or getting an emotion from something—whether it’s an external sound that I’m walking by or a film or a book that I’ve read, etc. But usually most of what I’m doing has been roots in my brain activity.
I think mood is precisely it. In some respects, like with piano work, I’m a bit more studious about it—I work on pieces and develop them and try to study a new way of approach. With other stuff, I’m not really in the studio working; working is a lot more sitting on the back porch starting at bamboo, and eventually something hits me and I immediately go in and start working on it. So it’s a come what may sort of vibe and it is very emotion-based—not necessarily any specific emotion, but it comes from something outside of me or deep inside me that I don’t know.
It’s mediative and it’s cathartic as well; it’s very revitalizing. When something percolates up into you and you have this ability to go and translate that into something that elevates whatever pressure has been building up.
Generally, yes. That’s sort of that feeling is mainly what I feed off of. Like when you wake up in morning after having a very lucid, heavy dream—whether it was a good, wonderful dream or a horrible dream—you have those days that just no matter what you’re doing in reality, you just can’t shake that feeling, and it stays with you all day. Those sorts of things are interesting to me, and I don’t think they just come from dreams, I feel like they come from just interacting with the world as it is.
I definitely think that with a lot of the stuff that I’ve done there can be a lot of repetition involved; I try to bring out subtle nuances that either bring certain parts of that repetition up or disguise them in the background. I’m consciously trying to give this full retrospective of that emotion or that feeling or that place, to try and get to know it as clearly as possible and spend as much time with it as you can and know all the nuances of it.
Yeah this was my first time to be able to experience that in the same way that a listener might. So although I do see more specific imagery in relation to myself, I try to not get bogged down or give out too much of that because it is important for people to be able to experience their own version of whatever it means to them.
Oh absolutely. I totally adore Max’s work; I’ve been enjoying his stuff since forever ago. I used to work at a record shop for a long time and I found his first album there.
Terrence Malick films would be great.
Or Gondry films would be cool. I’m a huge film buff, so it would go the entire gambit. Kubrick obviously would be really cool as well. But most of what I’ve done has been in the more indie scene and it’s fun to be able to do stuff that’s a little more playful depending on what the film is calling for; but that’s something I don’t really do as much under the Eluvium name. So it’s really fun to be able to experiment with different sounds and moods of that sort as well.
A great plethora of things. My wife is huge influence to me; she’s a painter, and not only is her work itself inspiring but her ethos is a huge inspiration to me and has been for a very long time. But yeah, experiencing the world in and of itself is a pretty big inspiration—whether that’s nature or other people’s art via film, music, literature, anything—these are all sources that I draw from and they culminate into different moods and feelings, which I try my best to translate.
To me, the album became such this insane kind of expression of multiple things, and that’s why ultimately I ended up be two discs to be able to try and get all of that out. There was a great comfort that came, and being able to do that, you learn things about yourself as well. There’s something comfortable about that and becoming comfortable with who you are as a person. The last song is supposed to encapsulate that and make you feel like it’s okay. So I worked with the gentleman who did the lyrics for that and I gave him free reign, and he came back with the perfect amount of words to sum everything up.
It was a long summation. But certain things came to light after I was finished with it; it wasn’t really purposeful, it just happened naturally. Without limitations it created this large picture of everything I had done before.
Yeah, absolutely; I would call it something very specific. It’s the unspeakable or unknowable, and it sort of lies in the line between reaching for it and realizing that you’re already experiencing it.
Yeah, it’s mental but it’s about that feeling as though something’s unattainable but realizing you already have it at the same time.
With difficulty. I’ve struggled a lot with live performance, and initially I set out to not actually ever do it. But through other bands that I had a lot of respect for and doing support and things like that, I ended up going out and enjoying myself. So I’ve gotten a little bit more used to it, but that being said, I’m not really the type of person that wants to go out and create the same thing over and over again—driving city to city and pushing my body to these limits I’m not comfortable with. I’m much more of a homebody but I’m still interested in sharing the energy with a large group of people in a room—or hopefully a large group of people in a room. And I like the idea of creating something unique for that experience and trying to create that, as opposed to going out for 30 days doing these shows of relatively the same idea.
I think there will be some dates for sure; it’s sort of came as an afterthought at this point because I went directly from finishing this record to doing soundtrack work and I haven’t really had a lot of time to explore the options. But some minor footwork is being done as we speak.
Maybe I can do some sort of train tour where everybody gets on a train together.