Perhaps the best analogy for storied indie-poppers The Apples in Stereo is the old adage about The Velvet Underground; not a lot of people heard them, but everyone who has, starts a band. There’s no denying that the band’s brand of keyboard space-pop shares many of similarities with the experimental, sampling, psychedelic pop movement of today, except The Apples is already fifteen years old. Their 2006 album "New Magnetic Wonder" put them back in the spotlight, and they received an Independent Music Award in 2008.
The rockers’ newest effort, "Travellers in Space and Time," is due out April 20, and the first single, "Dance Floor," complete with a cameo appearance from Simian Records’ founder Elijah Wood, is already making viral waves. Blast got to talk to bassist and long-standing member Eric Allen, about the new album, unfair categorizations, and the Powerpuff Girls.
BLAST: Does it make you proud to see this explosion of electro, psych and indie-pop en vogue now? Do you see yourselves and maybe the whole Elephant 6 scene as luminaries for what’s going on in popular music today?
ERIC ALLEN: Well I couldn’t speak for everyone, but I could speak for myself and maybe my band a little bit. I don’t know about luminaries, but maybe if we’ve influenced bands like MGMT then that’s a great thing because they’re a great band.
BLAST: Do you get frustrated when people try to categorize your music?
EA: It’s not frustrating as long as they’re characterizations I’d agree with, which all of the ones that you said I would agree with. You know, it kind of varies, like you said, from album to album and even song to song. I guess it’s frustrating if someone tries to categorize our entire catalog of music as only saying Beach Boys or kind of categorizing us by one band, because it’s short-sighted, but I also understand that you try to boil things down for people that haven’t heard a band before, so you know, indie pop or psych pop, all of that is agreeable with me.
BLAST: Does the stereotype of the Apple’s music being childlike bother you? Was Powerpuff Girls a mistake?
EA: Well the Powerpuff Girls, kids listened to that, but at the time it came out it was a pretty hip cartoon and, you know, and adults were watching it too. But that’s just a little segment of our career, we’ve been a band for fifteen years. It kind of goes back to your question about descriptions of the band, and it’s just a limiting description, I don’t think you could listen to the Apples and say it’s childlike music. I mean I do think there’s a certain innocence and beauty in Robert’s songwriting, but there’s also a lot of sadness and there is anger in it sometimes, other emotions and sounds that I wouldn’t associate with being childlike.
BLAST: Your signed to Elijah Wood’s record label and he’s in your new video for "Dance Floor." How did you meet Elijah, what was the process of signing with Simian Records, and what’s the relationship like now?
EA: Well the first time we met him, he came to a show of ours at SXSW and he was a big fan, and it was kind of like, "Wow, really? Ok, cool," and so we sort of kept in contact with him over the years and then we heard about him wanting to do a record label and he talked to us about it. And it was at the point where we had ended our relationship with spinART, our old record label, so it just kind of worked out well. It’s been a really good relationship so far, you know, he doesn’t help us musically or anything but as far as PR and wanting to do videos with us and stuff like that, and just being a great person, it’s been great.
BLAST: He seems pretty normal and down-to-earth for a guy that’s been in some of the highest grossing movies ever.
EA: (laughs) Yeah, he’s ridiculously normal for a guy that’s been in Lord of the Rings and been acting since he was a little kid.
BLAST: I’ve heard that a lot of the difference between Velocity of Sound and New Magnetic Wonder was what you guys were listening to at the time; that you were kind of disenchanted with baroque pop and then made Velocity of Sound. What are you guys listening to now and how has it affected Travellers in Space and Time?
EA: Well, I wouldn’t say that we were disenchanted with baroque pop, it was more that those were the records we were trying to make, those orchestral pop records, and we just wanted to do something different, and with Velocity, do something that sounded a little more like we did live at the time which was more stripped down. I think with the new record, part of the change is we’ve got two keyboard players now, so it’s really more of a heavy keyboard album, so that’s really what has changed, just sort of a natural evolution.
BLAST: "Dance Floor" sounds retro-futuristic in that I could believe that the song was made in 2020 or in 1980. How do you guys manage to blend old and new sounds or influences so well and pack it all in a three minute song?
EA: Well I think we try to draw on our influences without trying to steal from them so we end up sounding like the Apples and not like a direct lift off 80’s synth-pop or something like that. So yeah, I don’t know if I can put my finger on exactly how we do it, but hopefully we do do it.
BLAST: The Apples have promised a record of "early seventies R&B as played by a UFO.” Do you feel the record delivers on this promise.
EA: I’ve never been on a UFO, so I can only imagine, so I’m going to say yes.
BLAST: Is "Travellers" your most poppy record?
EA: I guess I would think so, we really were going for a super-poppy record, which Robert in particular, he’s great at writing poppy songs, and he goes for that, so it’s not like anything strange to do something poppy for the Apples in Stereo. But yeah, it almost seems like the pop is distilled on this record, it is just really boiled down.
BLAST: You guys put a ton of different sounds (ie Vocoders, "blips and bleeps," keyboards and Mellotrons). When do you finally say ok this song is done, because it seems like you could keep tweaking little by little indefinitely.
EA: I think Robert is pretty good about, um, he has a lot of ideas and usually wants a lot of different things on the record, so it’s really more of putting a bunch of different tracks down and then mostly tweaking. I think sort of when it comes down to the nicks he has a pretty good idea of how he wants it to sound. But yeah, every little space, he’s got some kind of instrument that he’s imagining in his mind to go there, even if it is a tiny bleep (laughs).
BLAST: A bunch of indie rockers are covering Apple’s in Stereo for an album called "Future Vintage: Covers of The Apples In Stereo." Have you heard any of it, and is it a trip that your band will have a tribute album?
EA: Yeah it is a trip, I haven’t heard it yet, but just the fact that a couple bands, like I haven’t seen everyone that’s on it, but like Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and Elf Power, who are two bands that I really like and have liked for a long time, that they would take the time or even dignify the Apples with a cover, yeah, I feel almost kind of sheepish and definitely proud and awe-struck.
BLAST: Are you guys still chasing the perfect pop song?
EA: Yeah, I think there’s probably broader things, though. I think shortly thereafter that Robert was trying to chase the perfect pop album, so in some ways, the vision has gotten bigger. But yeah, it does all boil down to the perfect pop song, absolutely. It’s all about the songs.