BY CHRIS WEBB
Few bands can paralyze pop listeners like the Apples in Stereo (iTunes). One peek into their surreal world and you’ll realize they’re one of those once in a lifetime bands, a gleeful pop virtuosity capable of effortlessly producing a dreamy cycle of feel good tunes and catchy ditties.
Basking in the rays of sunny pop, the Apples in Stereo (part of the revered and influential Elephant 6 Recording Company collective) blend gorgeous melodies and harmonies with fuzzy guitars, shamelessly declaring their unabashed love for swirly, vintage tones.
A South African native, principal singer/songwriter Robert Schneider moved to Ruston, Louisiana in 1978 at the age of seven. There, he made boyhood friends with future Elephant 6 partners Bill Doss, William Cullen Hart (Olivia Tremor Control) and Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel).
“By high school,” explains Schneider, “my friends and I were fairly obsessed with psychedelic music. I was pretty into the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Syd Barrett, and XTC. Jethro Tull, that was a big one. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground, those were all my high school obsessions.”
Shared interests in music and recording led to a series of exchanged home recordings and band member swapping. After college, these artist friends went separate ways geographically, but stayed together musically, combining efforts to explore their individual musical notions.
In Denver, Schneider and Magnum struck up a friendship with bass player Jim McIntyre and enlisted the help of other musical acquaintances, drummer Hilarie Sidney (whom Schneider later married and whose mother resides in Lexington) and guitarist Robert Parfitt. The Apples were born and their string of successful pop releases began soon after.
Schneider says that, early on, the Apples “sounded like an artless trainwreck: sloppy, loud as hell, catchy as hell too, but a complete shambles. We have progressed through the years to an incomplete shambles. We could barely make it all the way through a song, but we believed in the songs and the sound and we figured our playing would catch up.”
And catch up it did. From 1993’s Fun Trick Noisemaker through 1997’s Tone Soul Evolution to last year’s The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone, the band grew by leaps and bounds. Now, the Apples have cemented a reputation as the best psychedelic pop band since the glory days of Three O’Clock.
Penning beautiful pop songs around simple lyrical ideas, Schneider can take one thought or emotion and build an amazingly memorable tune around it. He clearly sweats over every detail and in the process, has forged a signature low-tech/high density sound that’s instantly recognizable. Like some kind of warped genius, he’s led the Apples to a fully realized vision filled with shaggy Beatles-worship and, of course, Beach Boys influence.
“Pet Sounds was the most life-changing record for me,” Schneider admits. “Just because I really related to it when I was a teenager, and since then it’s been the background music to most of the nice times in my life. When [Sidney] and I got married, we even played it at our wedding while we were marching down the aisle!”
The Apples’ fanciful universe is a weird and wonderful place indeed. The current kings (and queen) of the indie-pop world, they’re postmodern purveyors of breathtaking pop music. They make records like they did back in the 60s, striking with all manner of sonic weaponry.
On record, Schneider and company take listeners on a magical mystery tour of Technicolor musical design. With several EPs and full-length records under their belt, the band continues to broaden their musical palette with peculiar sonic notions and plenty of sugary coating. Add the remarkably sweet singing of Schneider and Sidney and you’ve got some cloyingly infectious songs.
The critically acclaimed Discovery of a World Inside the Moone made quite a splash and this year’s EP, Let’s Go, continues down the same praiseworthy path.
Schneider says that the band enjoys “making records that are motley. Not orderly like a checkered tablecloth, but a big raggedy patchwork of an album where there’s all these little pieces of handiwork.”
Maintaining a clear vision the whole way, Schneider is sticking to a simple plan.
“We wanted to make the ultimate psychedelic pop record,” Schneider explains. “Somewhere between the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Zombies, and Velvet Underground – natural-sounding, spaced-out, and entirely harmonious.”
And many would argue that they’ve made that record, and that they continue to do so time and time again, outdoing themselves with each subsequent release.
“All things considered,” Schneider explains, “I play in one of the most exciting, loud, frenzied, fun, and musical rock bands in the world, with the most friendly and compatible bunch of guys and a girl I have ever met. And that is a constant high. In addition, I am surrounded by talented, ambitious friends who constantly challenge my skills as a songwriter and record producer, in a decade producing some of the best and freest music in the history of our genre. I am a lucky boy and this is a good time indeed.”
The Apples in Stereo play Saturday, September 22, at Mecca (209 N. Limestone) at 8pm w/ the Speedtrain. Tickets are $5 in advance (available at CD Central) and $7 at the door. Call 254-9790 for more info.