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pic flag 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 questions.

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."

pic 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 doing."

"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."

pic 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 questions!"

Copyright © 2002 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Apples In Stereo articles/reviews: #1 Hits Explosion!, The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone, Tone Soul Evolution, Velocity of Sound, Electronic Projects for Musicians, Holiday Mood, New Magnetic Wonder, Travellers In Space And Time.

© 2011 Luna Kafé