Apples In Stereo: The Elephants Are Coming
(Copyright © 1998 Rockerilla)

Apples In Stereo have been catapulted to the forefront of alternative rock by their sophomore effort, {Tone Soul Evolution} (SpinArt, 1997), a sophisticated essay of manipulation of pop stereotypes. Behind their story hides the genius of a Robert Schneider, a humble Phil Spector of alternative rock, and behind his career opens the background of a small town in Louisiana, Ruston. Here, in the early 1990s, the foundations were laid for a new musical movement, which now gathers around the indie Elephant 6 and Schneider's Pet Sounds Recording Studios. The founders were a group of high school friends, including Schneider, Will Hart and Jeff Magnum. Today, Hart leads Olivia Tremor Control and Magnum leads Neutral Milk Hotel, two groups which deserve as much attention as Apples In Stereo. What's so special about Elephant 6? Schneider gets excited the moment he starts recapitulating how it all started:
"We're a group of friends who enjoy making and recording music. Since our common passion is music, and we grew up with music, it came natural to help each other and to improve as a collective rather than as individuals. Today, the only truly common factor of our groups is the attention we pay for the details of production. The style can be wildly different, and of course we are conditioned by our partners in our respective groups. When we started E6, in 1992, after I relocated to Denver, we didn't have an artistic manifesto. It was simply the materialization of a dream. It meant the possibility of recording our music, and of helping other kids record their music. E6 is, let's not forget it, just a small, very small, independent label. One of the many. We put out 7" and EPs aiming for good records for a small audience. I started recording my and my friends' music when I was 15 on a 4-track (note: today he's 26). Today, E6 is a collective of about 20 musicians which form different bands in different combinations. The fascinating thing is that now E6 has split in two branches: "E6 East", which means Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Music Tapes, etc., is based in Athens, Georgia. "E6 West" is spread around the Western states and includes Apples In Stero, Secret Square, Minders, Beulah. This is now a diverse and scattered group of people. I would say that "E6 West" is a loose aggregate of different bands, whereas "E6 East" is the same people in different combinations. E6 was largely inspired by the experience of Flying Nun Records in New Zealand: a group of alternative musicians who grew up together, influencing each other, helping each other, combining to form bands. You'd buy a Flying Nun record and you knew what you were getting into. We also followed the spirit of the Athens, Georgia contingency. My own recording studio is in Denver and I play the role of the "glue" of this movement. After all, I sort of engineered the whole thing."

Schneider is recognized by the others as the most skilled producer. Their records would be simple "do it yourself"endeavours, were it not for his formidable and painstaking studio work. How do you overcome the limitations of the "do it yourself" style?
"I want to make records that are a real sonic experience, records that will last for generations. It requires a mix of skills, because in the end we want the best production, songwriting and even packaging of the music. There is a homogeneous feeling, not surprising since all the elements of recording and producing are done within the E6 group. My expertise is incredibly limited. I would say that the sounds I make are the sounds that I am able to make! That's why my studio is called "Pet Sounds": my sounds are like pets, they are the sounds I like, I care for, I feed, I grow. I try to make my favorite sounds. Technically, I don't really use any sophisticated technique. I just try to get a natural sound from the instrument. Before I start recording, I listen to a good record I like for inspiration: I tune my ears. I use no digital effects at all. I love tape delay and spring reverb, which are considered obsolete techniques. And I like to use compression on everything, maybe because everything is so very primitive. The only good thing I have is the recording consolle. The new album was recorded in a real recording studio, and you can tell the increased sound quality..."

If there ever was a modest... His albums are speckless productions! What about your songwriting skills? Do you write most of Apples In Stereo material?
"Yes, I do. I have a good ear for melody. But, again, our philosophy is to make better and better music, to make the best rock music ever. Songwriting skills are not enough. We are aware of being a privileged band, that has its own studio. We don't have to bother with commercial pressures. That helps focus on what we want to do, rather than on what we "need" to do... Every time we make a record I have a masterpiece in mind."

Their discography includes their debut album {Fun Trick Noisemaker} (spinArt, 1995), the anthology of early recordings {Science Faire} (spinArt, 1997), and the latest {Tone Soul Evolution} (SpinArt, 1997).