Phil Elverum, who married Michelle Williams in a private ceremonyin the Adirondacks in upstate New York this month, may not possess the sort of tabloid-baiting fame as his Oscar-nominated spouse, but he’s acquired a long-devoted following as a singer-songwriter. A leading light of the robust indie-music scene of the early 2000s, Elverum recorded as the Microphones, from 1996 until 2004, before adopting the moniker Mount Eerie.
Elverum, 40, was raised in Anacortes, Washington, a small town on Fidalgo Island, where he lived until July 2018, when he moved to Brooklyn to be with Williams. His music is notable for its sonic expansiveness, its skittering rhythms, and an acoustic aesthetic that is stripped-down and ponderous. The mythology of the Pacific Northwest has been a long-standing subject for Elverum, and many of his lyrics reference his hometown and his appreciation for the outdoors. Before launching his own label, in 2004, Elverum released his music on the storied Olympia label K Records and helped define the sound of K’s late-90s renaissance, producing albums for other artists that featured his trademark merging of drum machines and earthiness.
Like Williams, Elverum is a single parent who has experienced tragedy in his personal life. In 2003, he married Geneviève Castrée, a Quebec-born artist and musician, known for intricately drawn comics that dealt frankly with such fraught topics as her difficult relationship with her parents and childhood abuse. Elverum’s record label, P.W. Elverum & Sun, released albums by Castrée’s musical projects Woelv and Ô Paon, and its Web site serves as a clearinghouse for her many books, including Susceptible, a 2012 graphic novel based on her experiences as a young girl. In 2015, Castrée was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, just four months after the couple’s daughter, Agathe, was born. The couple announced the diagnosis on a GoFundMe page in June 2016, and she died the following month. In a tribute to Castrée, Elverum wrote, “She was a firehose of brilliant ideas that never turned off.” Her final book, a children’s story dedicated to Agathe called A Bubble, was released in early 2018.
A few months after Castrée’s death, Elverum began writing and recording songs about the ordeal of her illness; they eventually became the album A Crow Looked at Me. The album is mostly addressed to his late wife and documents everyday scenes of heartbreak and loneliness of living without her. It opens with the line, “Death is real, someone’s there and then they’re not / And it’s not for singing about / It’s not for making into art.” It was released to widespread critical acclaim, and The New York Times named it one of the best albums of 2017. In March 2018, he released his 14th album, Now Only, comprised by a second suite of songs about the aftermath of Castrée’s death.
Elverum and Williams kept their romance entirely out of public sight, but in retrospect, there was at least one digital clue: an Instagram from the Los Angeles March for Our Lives on actress Busy Philipps’s account. Williams and Philipps, who met on the set of Dawson’s Creek in 2001, often refer to each other as best friends. The photograph from March shows Elverum holding a protest sign with Philipps, her husband, screenwriter Marc Silverstein, and their two daughters.