US - Colorado - Full Moon 75 - 11/20/02
The Apples In Stereo
- an interview with Robert Schneider
Hey ho, let's go!
The Apples In Stereo are back - louder than ever! A year after the aptly titled compilation
Stereo Effects 92-00 collected the best of the gorgeous 60s-influenced lo-fi pop, the band
from Denver, Colorado, heads into an excitzing new direction. If their sound used to be 60s-based
up to this point, the new album Velocity Of Sound sees the band's arrival at New Yorks CBGB's
- or so it seems. With the help of mixing engineer Bryce Goggin The Apples' mainman Robert Schneider
has produced an album of wild 'n' raw Bubblegum-Rock, that will remind many of the Ramones (as
produced by Phil Spector, of course), an album, that just might as well be the finest Apples records
to date. After returning from a tour of the States recently, Robert took the time to answer our
Luna Kafé: What's it like to be in the Apples In Stereo in the fall of 2002
(and is it any different compared to, say, 2000?)
Robert: "It's like being in the Apples in summer 2002, but a few months later - and 2 years
later than 2000. Just joking. But we are playing tighter and rocking out harder and enjoying
ourselves more than ever before - I can honestly say that all of us are more psyched about playing
together and touring and recording than we have been for years. Not that we weren't excited before,
but we are doing different things now and we are all really into making new sounds, exploring
different styles and pushing our music into a different dimension. I have so many ideas I can't
hold them in my head. Also we took time away from recording and touring during 2001 - Hilarie (our
drummer) and I had a baby in 2000 and we spent 2001 getting to know him - that was like drawing the
bow, and now we are letting the arrow fly. So we are all attacking our art with a vengeance, with
new perspectives and goals and really with quite a new direction. It's pretty exciting."
Luna Kafé: I guess the new album is sort of a departure in sound. Was there a
special kind of turning point, when you realized that you wanted to change after your last album?
Robert: "You're right, the new record is very different from our recent albums - although
it really is closer to our earlier work, like on the Science Faire compilation. I sort of
have the feeling that we are starting over from what we originally conceived our band to be, and
are striking out in a new and different direction - not heading into 60s psychedelia but rather
into a new, more pure and strange psychedelic rock of the future. And most exciting, we have only
taken the first steps and have a long way to go, and who knows where the music will lead us?"
"One specific point of departure is that in the past, I had gotten a lot of pleasure from putting
in little hints and references to our heroes, to the Beach Boys and Beatles and Syd Barrett and
Velvet Underground and other great bands who inspire me every day. Mastering the sounds that these
guys produced was like the Holy Grail to me, and I really thought that to make a classic record,
I needed to master the way other classic records were made, as a producer and engineer. But in
the time we took off from working, it struck me that in order to make a record as great as Pet
Sounds or Sgt. Pepper, I would have to make a record that sounded nothing at all like
these other records. You see, what is so great about these great albums is that they are so unique,
so different from other records of the time, and from those bands' previous records. If I want to
make my own Pet Sounds, I need to stop trying to make Pet Sounds and do something
different and completely original. I'm not saying I've accomplished this goal yet, but realizing
this is a first step and gives me something to shoot for."
Luna Kafé: When you started out making this album, did you set different goals
than usual? The info sheet suggests that you wanted to blow speakers and annoy neighbors... was
that the masterplan behind the album?
Robert: "Yes, that was precisely the goal - I think I had become too comfortable with
making comforting music - I'm really good as a producer at making layers of beautiful sound and
I wanted to do something more challenging to me, and something more true to the live sound of our
band. Plus I'm a little more pissed off than I used to be, in general, and I'm not satisfied with
making dream-like productions, I want to do something direct and real. We have always been such
a loud raucous fuzzy rock band - to the delight of many fans, to the dismay of others - and it
seemed a shame to me that the unique sound we make together might never be captured on record. So
that was the number one goal, to capture the energy and excitement and fun of me and my bandmates
playing together. To blow speakers and surprise the listener. First, we set down a rule - I like
to work like this, to set rules and limitations from the start, so that a certain concept might
not get watered down in the recording process - and the rule was "NO ACOUSTIC INSTRUMENTS". That
is, no pianos, no acoustic guitars, no horns or flutes or melodicas or any of the traditional
instrumentation which we had delighted in on our previous records. Only electric or electronic
instruments would be allowed in the studio - except the drums and percussion of course, we didn't
use electronic drums - and this was to take away the comfort factor, forcing me to conceive new
sorts of arrangements and also to keep the record from sounding too Sixties."
Luna Kafé: Is there anything in particular that inspires changes in your
music in general (events in your life, people you've met or maybe just new records you listened
to or new equipment you bought?)
Robert: "You're right on, all of these things inspire change in us - we usually change
quite a lot from record to record, though I think the new album shows the biggest leap we have
made so far. Of course, we are mostly influenced by the music we listen to, and my taste changes
a lot from year to year. I got really burned out on oldies and old pop records, having devoted
such a large part of my life to these sounds - like all artists, we are influenced by our
contemporaries and our friends, even if that influence is to avoid doing what everyone else is
"Also we have a baby boy, and I want to do something that he will think is cool when he grows
up, that he won't think is lame. So I tried to conceive what kids in the future will rock out to,
and go in that direction instead of following up where our own parents' generation left off.
Also, in the last 5 or 6 years, since before we recorded
Tone Soul Evolution, I have been extremely
influenced by R&B music, especially Motown and 60s R&B, though I love 70s and 80s R&B and also
like hip-hop and some modern stuff, although I despise slow-jam with few exceptions. After pulling
off quite a few R&B-influenced songs on Apples records, I had this revelation about what soul
music really means - soul music isn't a STYLE which can be mimicked, it isn't just about songwriting
and production conventions, although those are the most obvious elements of R&B, the stylistic
elements. The soul of soul music is the energy, the humanity, the magic which is captured on
record and which is not composed or thought out, but is the genuine spirit of the artists on the
recording. I don't know how to put it without sounding metaphysical, but it is the direct
communication of the singer or artist's soul, from the on-the-spot performance through the tape
machine and across time and straight into the heart of the listener - that is the essence of R&B."
"This energy is a separate element from the songwriting and production styles which are also
part of R&B, and is by far the most vital element, which makes old R&B records sound fresh and
exciting even today. And having realized this, the most precious goal for me has become to capture
something real, something human on record. In the past I had always wanted to transport the listener
to a different world, to some dreamlike place different from the world we inhabit. Now I long for
this direct connection, this communication which really is the essence of being human, what makes
us human - that is, human contact."
Luna Kafé: For a lot of bands these days the "getting there" during the
songwriting and recording process sometimes seem to be more important than the finished record.
With your band, it feels as if it's the opposite, because the songs and the production sounds so
immediate and almost spontaneous. Do you really work quite fast these days or does it take you hours
and days to figure out what you want to do with a song?
Robert: "No, in general I have never spent a lot of time in between creative acts, planning
or mapping things out. For the most part, the arrangement and musical parts of a song present
themselves to me at the instant I write the song. And I write extremely quickly, I just like to
let the song pour out of me uncontrolled. But the instrumentation and backing vocals and production
pretty much come to me at the same time as the song comes, I get a general feeling and hear parts
in my head, and I put off working this stuff out until I'm in the studio and the tape is running.
The lyrics are the only thing I really work hard on. I know a lot - maybe too much - about music
theory and composition and arrangement, and I consciously don't allow myself to think of this
stuff when I'm writing. I let this knowledge work through me spontaneously when I record, and it
really helps me write good arrangements and harmonies on the spot. Also, understanding composition
helps me as a producer, in placing instruments within the stereo spectrum, and in letting sounds of
different colors work together and play off one another when I'm mixing. I am easily bored, and if
I spend too long thinking about a song it loses its appeal for me. So when I write a song, I might
hum it to myself or go over it in my head while I'm doing other things - but I don't really like
to dwell on it, I like to move on and write more songs and deal with them one by one when I get
to the studio. Working like this keeps things exciting and natural for me, and is as much to keep
me interested as it is to make interesting sounding records."
"So I guess to answer your question, the "getting there" is what I want to capture on the record
- and when people hear our records they are hearing us learning and changing and experimenting on
the spot. It might sound worked out, but that's just because we're good at what we do. We are lucky
to own our own studio, and to have the free time to work this way - a band in a professional studio
with the clock ticking wouldn't have this luxury, and that is why we have been so strong-headed about
producing our own records."
Luna Kafé: You are often described as a workaholic who hardly ever stops
thinking/working about/on music. But is there actually a certain setting in which you are the
most productive? And if so, what is it?
Robert: "When I work on music I am pretty focused and single-minded, as far as productivity
goes. I think I could do a little better than I do, and I'm working on my time-management skills.
But I am also very into other things, mathematics and physics and poetry, and my baby Max, and my
friends and family - I can't focus on more than one thing at a time, so when I have my mind on
something it is literally impossible for me to talk or think about anything else. Which comes off
like I have attention-deficit disorder because I can't focus on anything else or hold onto a train
of thought for more than a few seconds. I'm much too lazy to be a workaholic, though. I love leisure,
I love to watch TV and zone out and do nothing above all other pursuits - I guess I'm most productive
when the TV is off. Also, when I have a lot of things to do I get overloaded and my mind feels too
full, and I can't concentrate on anything, and I have a hard time doing anything because I don't
know where to begin."
Luna Kafé: How difficult was it for you to allow an outside producer/engineer
to work with you on this record? And did you decide Bryce was the right person to ask on the
strength of the records he worked on before or because you met him and liked as a person?
Robert: "It was not difficult at all, in fact, I didn't "allow" Bryce to work on the record,
we sought him out and asked him to do it. Two of my absolute favorite bands, and biggest influences
on our new record, are Pavement and the Ramones. Bryce has mixed both bands and so he was a shoe-in.
I really wanted Velocity of Sound to be different from our previous work, and about halfway
through the mixing of the record I began to get dissatisfied with my own mixing style, especially
on the harder more rocking songs. My mixing style is just a little too trippy, a little bit too
organic for the way I conceived these songs to sound. I wanted certain songs to sound direct and
loud and I didn't feel like I was qualified to mix this way, as a producer of psychedelic records.
So it was a conscious production choice on my part, to have somebody else mix these songs with
little or no input from me. Bryce was the best candidate - probably the only candidate - and we
were very lucky that he was available. He did an amazing job, and I really want to work more with
him in the future. Actually, we still haven't met in person, which lends to Bryce an extra level
of coolness and mystery which is very appealing to me."
Luna Kafé: On the new album you seem to draw your inspiration from an even
wider range of musical eras and genres. Do you just feel more confident as a musician and producer
now so that you decided you were ready to try out more things or do you just care less about what
people might say about your albums?
Robert: "Yes, I feel much more confident now, and am not happy with basking in the light
of my heroes any more. Also, in regard to what people think, I wanted to throw everybody for a
loop - us included - and use the element of surprise to our advantage. Keep ourselves and our
fans wondering what will come next..."
Luna Kafé: What the story behind the different colors of the album sleeve?
Robert: "We have done this before, given different colored art to different territories
around the world (green in Europe, blue in Japan and orange in the USA - editor's note).
We just think it is a fun thing to do. One day we want to have a completely different cover for every
single country in the world."
Luna Kafé: Do you ever think about the audience while writing and recording? And if
you do, how important is that?
Robert: "I don't really think about the audience as a whole. I generally write my songs
addressed to some hypothetical person, the listener. But I just use the listener as a muse, not
really as an influence on the direction our music will take. I do want to make records that are
interesting and keep the listeners on their toes from record to record, but this is really an
outgrowth of my own experiences and needs as a music fan myself, and of what I like about records
that turn me on. "
"You imagine that the listener is like yourself, that they want what you want, and that they
will understand what you have to say. in this way the IDEA of a listener is important, but I think
it is dangerous artistically to base your music on what ACTUAL listeners want or on what you think
they might want to hear - this is pandering to the public and is generally not seen as a positive
influence on art."
Luna Kafé: Was there a special event in your life, a piece of music you heard,
that made you decide to become a musician? What was it?
Robert: "My dad played classical guitar when I was a little kid, so I always wanted to play
guitar as far back as I can remember. I don't remember exactly when it was, but when I was like
11 or 12 I was air-guitaring with a tennis racket along with the radio and I remember thinking
'If I can ACT like I'm playing on a tennis racket, I
bet it isn't too hard to play on a real guitar, I bet I could be really good.' But I've
always been good at music and understood music and notation and stuff, even as a little kid in
school music classes. It has always come pretty naturally to me, and when I got my first
instrument which was a Moog synthesizer, I started recording and writing little electronic pieces
- and when I wrote my first real song on guitar, I rented a four-track from the local guitar shop
and recorded the whole song, with piano and harmonies and lots of layers. So recording and
songwriting and playing music have always come bundled together for me. I can't think of any
specific event - or rather, there were many such events - that inspired me to do this. Music has
always been there for me, and I always saw it as a possible direction which I could take in my
life. But it wasn't until we started the Apples and I dropped out of college, that I really decided
that it was music over all my other interests which I wanted to devote my life to."
Luna Kafé: The Apples seem to be quite well known these days. So I'm wondering
if there was a turning point where you decided that being a cult band was fun, but that proper
overseas distribution and the like probably wouldn't hurt either?
Robert: "As far as I know, we are still a cult band, the cult is just growing bigger all
the time. Really distribution and such are the record label's job, and we are lucky that we have
been on spinART for our whole band's career, because they have done a good job in promoting us
and in trusting us to make our own way artistically, and in supporting whatever we do, which
changes from record to record. To be a mainstream success has never really been one of our goals.
As much as we change and as peculiar as our vision is, I think it would be an unrealistic hope.
If it happens then all the better, but really I take our success as a band as a bonus. We would
be just as happy to make music in obscurity, although not having to work day-jobs does provide
us with a lot of freedom creatively, which we would have to be crazy not to appreciate."
Luna Kafé: Do you think of the band as "a career" now more than before?
Robert: "Only in that the word "career" implies a history, and implies work spanning time.
Also, in that we don't have to have other jobs to call our "careers," I guess that word may be
attached to our musical endeavors."
Luna Kafé: How important is Elephant 6 [the label Robert was involved in with
Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control among others] to you these days?
Robert: "It was a highly creative movement and many great records came out of Elephant 6,
and many of our closest friends were involved, who are still our close friends. Elephant 6 to me
describes a certain musical style and a certain aesthetic, of making interesting records
containing classic songs but also pushing the boundaries of pop songs in an experimental direction
to some degree - and of controlling your own recordings and helping friends on their recordings -
with a strong anti-commercial vibe, an unwillingness to accept outside input, and of keeping
rough edges intact and a personal homemade feeling in your art. As an organization and record
label, Elephant 6 is not currently functioning - at least not as far as I am aware. I haven't
been directly involved in E6 since 2000."
Luna Kafé: Any famous last words?
Robert: "Not really. I just want to do what I love, make music and make the most of my
time, be kind to others, and not take things too seriously. Thank you for asking such stimulating
Copyright © 2002 Carsten Wohlfeld