INTRODUCTION: Apples In Stereo was the brainchild of eclectic pop-lovin’ music freak, Robert Schneider. He continues to release great stuff, such as ‘07s wonderful New Magnetic Wonder. Since this 2000 interview, he divorced drumming wife Hilarie Sidney, whose ensuing band, High Water Marks (with new husband, Per Ole Bratset), released a few brilliant low-key pop gems such as ‘07s Polar and ‘09s Arivar Sullimer. This article appeared in HITS magazine and the earlier ’99 interview at Maxwells that follows originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
When I first had the pleasure to meet underground pop staple Robert Schneider following an energetic Maxwells set by his combo, Apples In Stereo, the friggin’ guy couldn’t stop fidgeting and jittering while he went off on numerous humorous tangents. Was he some goddamn half-baked ADD case or just hyperactive? All I know is the instant melodic hooks and shimmering insouciance of Apples In Stereo’s startlingly bright-eyed ’97 release, Tone Soul Evolution, and its yummy quickie follow-up, Her Wallpaper Reverie, knocked me off my feet.
Now bearded, balding, and married to bandmate Hilarie Sidney (mother of his 1-year old son, Max), the pre-pubescent Schneider originally met classmate Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) in Ruston, Louisiana, forming the vibrant musical coalition known as the Elephant 6 collective in creative hotbed Athens, Georgia. Releasing interesting lo-fi indie pop by Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control, and the Minders during the late-‘90s to counter corporate-sponsored teen-pop tripe dumped upon Barney-generation pre-teens, Elephant 6 represented freedom of expression and a bonding of mutual admiration.
While ‘00s fabulous The Discovery Of A World Inside the Moone preserved the harmonic sensibility and bubblegum melodicism of Apples In Stereo’s wild, garage-driven, neo-psychedelia, the recent Velocity Of Sound rocks harder than anything in their growing catalog. From the candy-coated urgency of “Please” to the Ramones-like stammer of “She’s A Little Girl,” Schneider’s terse nuggets blast out of the speakers with newfound grit. Even catchy kitsch like the hummable “Mystery” and the Cheap Trick-clipped scorcher “Rainfall” carry extra weight and pack a harder punch than previous endeavors. Those in search of lighter, easygoing fare are directed towards the toot-sweet emotionality layered across the absorbing “Where We Meet.”
I caught up with the busy Mr. Schneider after he had finished an instrumental remix of Discovery’s bouncy “Go” for an unspecified t.v. commercial.
AW: Incredibly, you’ve managed to condense your musical ideas even further on Velocity.
ROBERT SCHNEIDER: I’m not conscious of that, but it’s what I’m trying to do – make a simple, pure statement in song that has depth without sophistication and complexity of delivery. We strip away past elements and add other direct elements. This record is a culmination of that. I cultivate amateurism in our band by changing up what we do. New influences come to us and we try to head in different directions. We were obsessed with R & B on Discovery. But to do raw R & B, we had to do what came natural by playing garage songs the purist way. There’s an essence and spirit of stylistic pop that doesn’t require thinking. This record is more pissed off, not in a drastic way, but the contrast is the sadness, cynicism, and loneliness get transmuted into pleasant perspectives. It’s obvious to write about being dismal, but making misery sound happy has been our objective. Take something sad and marry it to bright pop instrumentation.
Hilarie has a more prominent role harmonizing on Velocity Of Sound.
Our harmonies tend to be more of a wash so she’s in there with a bunch of singers. I always used her to double my lead vocals, but I spent so much time on instrumental arrangements I didn’t put as much focus on singing. This time, we practiced singing these songs around our house and I captured the purity.
The teen-spirited decadence of “That’s Something I Do” and the Beatles-esque “Baroque” feature Hilarie’s lead voice as she growls in a manner reminiscent of the Muffs’ Kim Shattucks.
That’s cool. They’re an awesome band. I’ll tell her you said that.
“Yore Days” has to be the most pungent, hard-hitting song you’ve recorded yet.
Eric, our bassist, wrote that. I love it. It’s the first thing he wrote and I was excited so the enthusiasm and creativity shows through.
What’s with the Powerpuff Girls connection?
Craig Mc Crackin, the creator, was putting together songs inspired by Powerpuff Girls. I was super-psyched. They sent us a package of comics. As soon as I hung up the phone with him, I came up with a large chunk of the song, “Signal In The Sky,” in five minutes. Then, they did little videos to play between cartoons. We dressed up in different costumes and play-acted in front of a Godzilla-styled Powerpuff Girls video with puppets.
Tell me about the tracks you’re working on with XTC’s Andy Partridge.
I was making a solo record, Marbles, and he received copies of it, slipped them under the bed, and didn’t listen to them ‘til two months later. He’s one of my heroes I admired above the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Velvet Underground. I was so nervous I didn’t call him back for a month. Hilarie encouraged me and we got along right away. Every conversation we had, we’d write a few songs. We both strummed guitars and made so many songs it’s going to be a separate record, tentatively as Trombone Or, which means golden paper clips in French. It’s like a swinging psychedelic Lovin’ Spoonful record with a jugband Riverboat feel. We’ll record in Swindon, England, with Andy next spring. He knocks off free-flowing melodies off the top of his head. You feel you know someone through their music. But when you get a feel for their personality by talking to them, you see what an interesting, creative person they are. I met Brian Wilson and talking to him gave me a new view. He’s so sweet and interesting. Andy’s more talkative and outgoing.
As a founding member of the loose, closely-knit Elephant 6 collective, you’ve sharpened your skills using home studio equipment.
I began 4-tracking as a teen. I’ve produced records by the Minders, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Olivia Tremor Control using 8-track. It’s what I’m comfortable with and seems essential to our sound. There’s a different vibe waking up, stretching over, and picking up a guitar as opposed to driving to a studio to work. I’m turning the garage in our new house into a studio, but Velocity was done in a separate Denver studio. We did Tone Cool Revolution in a Connecticut studio, but I’m happier with the recordings we did on our own. The 16-track recording of Discovery was more hi-fi and clear. Bryce Goggin (Pavement/ Ramones) mixed half of Velocity. I wanted a direct, fuzzy electric sound so rocking, louder songs sounded like the Ramones instead of Blue Cheer. My mixes sound live, but his were roomier, less slick, more raw. I was frustrated my mixes weren’t in the speakers enough. I’m used to mixing psychedelic stuff with a headphone-y vibe. On this album, the basic band tracks were transferred from 8 to 16-track and I did some editing for a symphony of guitar fuzz. I don’t want to be a perfectionist on detail. We tried to capture our live train wreck sound in thew studio by using no acoustic instruments so we wouldn’t get hung up on standard sounds.
FOREWORD: Originally, I spoke to Apples In Stereo brainchild Robert Schneider after a colorful pop set at Maxwells in Hoboken during ’99. He was a hyped-up fast-talkin’ dude with a great sense of humor and even better sense of melody. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
After relocating to Denver, Schneider formed the Apples In Stereo and continued to produce Elephant 6 projects. Doused with bright, sunshiny, late-‘60s hippie idealism and that bygone era’s daisy age innocence. The Apples In Stereo combine quirky Beatles melodies, charming Beach Boys harmonies, and glazed Summer Of Love psychedelia.
A major architect in the ever-expanding Elephant 6 collective – an independent-minded community of DIY home studio recording retro-pop enthusiasts – singer-songwriter Robert Schneider began producing and collaborating with Olivia Tremor Control’s Will Hart and Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum while living in Louisiana.
Romanticizing exuberant, free-spirited ‘60s pop with an inescapable amateurism and endearing naivete, these welcome individualists have captivated and inspired a good part of America’s current underground rock scene. Bands as diverse as the Minders, Beulah, Elf Power, and the Music Tapes share musicians, song ideas, and instruments under the Elephant 6 banner.
Unlike some of their peers, the resilient quintet refuses to rely on whimsical unfinished demos or obtuse half-baked kitsch to fill out its infectious oeuvre. Apples In Stereo’s paisley ’97 sophomore set, Tone Cool Revolution, blew away formative ’95 debut, Fun Trick Noisemaker, as Schneider’s troupe found a way to really jam-pack condensed song ideas over an entire long-play disc. And now they return with ‘99s playful Her Wallpaper Reverie EP, connecting lysergic ditties with twinkly commercial interludes.
At Maxwells in Hoboken, the Apples In Stereo adrenalize their shaggy pop-rooted songs with shambolic Velvet Underground-derived spontaneity, employing high-powered amps and cracklin’ feedback residue. Live, the fuzz-toned “Allright/ Not Quite” gets its swaying Syndicate Of Sound/ Big Star studio sheen replaced by a dusky garage rock tone strikingly similar to Boston legends, the Lyres.
After a magnificent one-hour set, Schneider is a hyperactive speed-talkin’ demon constantly shaking hands and taking pictures with fans and local radio personalities. Somehow, I got to catch up with him and bassist Eric Allen for a few moments of conversation.
ROBERT: I grew up in Northern Louisiana and I was originally from South Africa. The social influence from growing up as a kid got me into music. I’d listen to the radio and watch MTV. My parents sent me to Beatlemania, and Cheap Trick was my first real concert. The Beatles and pop music have always been an influence on a lot of our taste preferences. That’s what we’ve gravitated towards and been obsessed with. We love those songs because they’re so great sounding. On top of that, the recording style, songwriting, and the amount of rock energy they put into them was important. The soul of the music is so great. I hear so much humanity in it.
ERIC: My dad had all these records. By the time I was in fifth grade, I’d listen to all the Beatles records. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers is still my favorite record. I have three copies on vinyl, a CD, and a tape for my car. It’s the same thing with Exile On Main Street. Also, as a kid, one of the first words I ever said was “Moonshadow,” because my parents had the Cat Stevens album that song’s from. So I got interested in my parents’ collection.
ERIC: One thing that makes the new album kind of different is we got a 16-track two-inch machine which is what Led Zeppelin I and II were recorded on. Also, we were listening to more rhythm and blues and it came out in our playing. It’s weird. In the studio we may go over a song laboriously. We play live, work on it in practice, but if no one’s excited about it, we won’t record it. Then, there’s songs that immediately click. And there’s studio songs which Robert teaches us. He’ll say, ‘There will be only bass on the bridge and the choruses.’
ERIC: The candy coating gets disseminated for an MC5/ Blue Cheer sound. I think the new album has heavier songs. It’s going for a Led Zeppelin/ Sly & the Family Stone warmth.
ERIC: It seems absurd that there are great pop songs that stick in your head being made all the time, but radio is looking so hard for the newest thing, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Maybe these songs will be heard on oldies radio at some future time. Look at old AM radio and its recycling of R & B and jump Blues. Someone would take an old song, take the same lyrics, and have someone honking on the baritone sax instead of playing it on the guitar. It becomes a new song and a new sound. Everyone loved it and it got through to the kids. I think that’s how pop music carries on the tradition. There’s always going to be 13-year-old girls who get into trendy Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jennifer Lopez. But does radio have to spend 100% of its time exposing that?
ROBERT: We jam. But we try to keep it under two minutes. The Minders lived out there, and they’re a cool pop band. But they moved away. There are a lot of bands out there, but the music scene is very stylistically diverse.